Category Archives: days out

The Making of a Harry Potter Fan’s Holiday – Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Diagon Alley

My twelve-year-old placed the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio tour firmly at the top of her list of places to visit when we were in the UK.  Following our visit to the Dr. Who Experience her younger sisters were more cautious.  Friends who had visited previously, assured them that it was amazing and not a bit frightening but I’m not sure they were totally convinced. Of course, their friends were right, it wasn’t a bit scary.  You are taken on a journey to see how the film was created and  seeing the special effects behind the film alleviated all their fears, especially seeing how tiny the dementors are in real life.


Warner Bros Studio Tour is located North of London so we stayed nearby at North Hill Farm. As a family of five it can be difficult to find hotels and B&B’s that allow us to share one room.  The family room at North Hill Farm slept five and was perfect for all of us.

Excitement mounted as we drove into the car park and saw the signs and statues outside.  All visitors require advance booking with timed slots and this allows for a wonderful experience where you never feel overwhelmed by crowds and everything is easy to see without queues.

Hogwarts great hall

I have to admit to feeling a little emotional watching the introductory film and completely awestruck when the doors opened onto the great hall. Groups are led by a guide into these first two sections, while the rest of the tour is self guided.

audio tour warner bros studio tour

As a Harry Potter geek, my daughter listened to the audio tour.  I knew she would appreciate facts and figures but without it most exhibits have a guide or video screen telling you more about it.  My seven-year-old was enraptured by the talk at the wig stand and delighted in telling me stories about Malfoy’ wig.

There are plenty of exhibits young children can interact with from making magic to wand workshops and riding on a broom. The guides were so good at encouraging the kids as seen in this video clip.

Next stop Platform 9 3/4. Inside the Hogwarts Express, the carriages move through the movies in sequence , decorated with appropriate props.

Platform 9 3/4

This takes you to the outside lot where you can sample butterbeer or butterbeer ice cream. The detail in Privet Drive is wonderful, each certificate on the wall depicting Dudley’s pointless achievements.


The final lot features special effects, illustrated by a series of clever videos and the art of Harry Potter.  The tour ends with a surprise that truly takes your breath away, so I’m not going to offer any hints to spoil it.



There is so much to see at the Warner Bros. Studio tour. I would plan to stay at least three hours and allow extra time  for shopping. There is a lot of exclusive merchandise and entry to the shop is not permitted without a ticket for the tour.  We found some cool stuff although sadly I ruined my husband’s Slytherin Quidditch top with bleach after he had worn it once.  Looks like I have the perfect excuse to return some time. If you visit the café, the kids lunches come in this really cool knight bus box.

knight bus lunch box

There was never a complaint from any of the kids that they had seen enough, the whole experience was utterly engaging and we wouldn’t hesitate to return.  If you are looking for a full, well organised and good value experience I would put this top of your list. When I asked the girls what their favourite part of our trip was, the unanimous response was Harry Potter!  In case you need further confirmation, just look at these faces.

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Disclaimer: No payment or complimentary tickets were received for writing this post.



Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical



I took a blogging break this summer to concentrate on travelling with my family and now I am back, I have lots to share from my busy summer.  Today is Roald Dahl day and would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, so I thought it would be fitting to share my thoughts on the West End musical production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

This was our first visit to London with the children.  We only travel home every few years, so we wanted to show them the sights and experience a West End show.  To be honest, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wasn’t our first choice of show and we arrived with a little uncertainty.  We couldn’t have chosen anything more memorable or spectacular.  From curtain up it was visually mesmerising.  Costume and set design were out of this world and totally lived up to the company’s aim to astound the audience.

Roald Dahl’s original story was preserved throughout but was cleverly tweaked with  modern touches. The children were characterised perfectly and wonderfully portrayed by the cast.  My kids spent time discussing who they would like to play;  ballet dancing Veruca Salt, video game obsessed Mike Teavee or Violet Beauregarde the acrobatic child star. The parents were also brought to life in quirky and interesting ways.

Directed by Sam Mendes, this is the first stage adaptation in 50 years and completely surpassed my expectations.  We all came out of the theatre feeling a little emotional. We had clearly witnessed something  unique and special.

If you get a chance to see it before it closes at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 2017, I highly recommend it.  Don’t despair if not, a UK tour is coming soon and for US audiences, the Broadway production will open in 2017.

Disclaimer: This is a personal recommendation, no monetary compensation or complimentary tickets were received for writing this post.


Big Rock Park

We consider ourselves very lucky to live in an area where there are lots of great parks. Last week saw the grand opening of Big Rock Park, so we took a trip to see what it was like.

I liked that it didn’t have the same old playground equipment.  The slide was built into a hill, with a natural climb up to it and the zip wire was low enough for young children to climb on independently. There were also a number of climbing posts made from tree stumps and plentiful building blocks crafted from branches.


They have really tried hard to maintain this as a nature park.  The fences are all crafted from rough cut wood and they are still cultivating the meadow around the slide complete with little peep holes. In collaboration with STEM High School, Big Rock Park will design an environmental education programme and promote renewable technology.

Beyond the playground you can head down to the nature trails.  On the way admire the giant nest built by local families last year.


At Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands centre, in England, the playground (wellyboot land)  had giant bouncy eggs. This nest is crying out for some of those.

slimbridge eggs

As you head into the trails you have a number of paths available, all well signposted.  The trails aren’t very long, so perfect for little legs to explore.

Leading towards the trail is another little guest.


Where would Big Rock Park be without a big rock?


This was easily the main attraction. The trails circle around the rock and lead back to this wonderful natural climbing area.


We loved the new park and will be heading back soon with the older children, who were sad that they missed it.

We’re Going on a Bug Hunt

Some children hate bugs, they think they are disgusting or scary. That’s why I love our annual preschool bug hunt in the  woods. The children look for bugs, find out about them, collect them in bug jars and bring them back to observe in a terrarium for a few weeks.

bug hunt

In our front garden we have a wildflower border.  As we pass it each day we look out for bees, ladybirds and butterflies. When we found aphids on the lupins, we hoped they would attract ladybirds.

“Why can’t we spray them?” my daughter asked. She had been learning about aphids at school.

“If we spray them”, I explained, it will disrupt the ecosystem, “the ladybirds won’t come and ladybirds are good food for birds.  If we kill off all the bugs we will have fewer birds and small mammals in the garden.”

They don’t like every bug – they are a little afraid of spiders, think mosquitoes are a nuisance and my youngest is a little unsure about worms but they don’t see that as a reason to kill them. We know the worms in our compost bin turn our scraps into compost for the garden , spiders can be left alone if they live outside and they are good because they eat flies and even mosquitoes provide food for bats and birds. This is a useful resource for explaining to children why bugs are good.

There are two kinds of bug we don’t collect on the bug hunt.

  1. Termites because they will eat our preschool.  The children know that termites are important for breaking down old wood from fallen trees but they need to stay in the woods.


2. Slugs because they will eat all the produce we have planted.  There is plenty of food for them in the woods.


There were other bugs to collect.

Lots of worms and millipedes.






and evidence of caterpillars munching leaves.


We looked up
children and teacher look at trees

and down.
looking for bugs in a decomposing log

We saw evidence of how the bugs break down an old tree log so that it can go back into the soil.
tree log hollowed out

It gets smaller every year, we used to be able to fit inside.

girl balancing on hollow log

Sometimes it is useful to add a focus to a walk and those tiny bugs can easily be forgotten, so next time you walk with your kids, turn over some logs and stones and see what you can find.

You’re My Kind of Mum Friend Because…..

A few weeks ago I went for a walk to the park with my  daughter. She likes to climb to the top of the climbing frame and play pirates. The game involves roaming the edges of the park for interesting treasures and on this day, she discovered big rocks.  She proceeded to pick them up and roll them down the bank, watching them crash at the bottom. The only other child at the park was a little younger than my daughter and after observing her for a while, she found her own rock.  She used all of her efforts to lift the rock and proudly show it to her mum. At which point, she was greeted  with a look of horror and her mum quickly took the rock away and ushered her to ‘more suitable’ pursuits.

This kind of reaction is very familiar.  When my children were toddlers, other parents would often ask me if my children were okay when they climbed a ladder and slid down the longest slide, as I observed from a distance. I have never been a parent to shadow my child’s every move and rarely feel the need to step in.

It is always refreshing to find a parent who shares my attitude.  On a recent trip to the park with a friend, I was so happy to find someone who not only didn’t bat an eyelid when my eldest started paddling barefooted in the cold wet mud but actively encouraged the others to join in. When the children threw rocks on the ground to see if they would break , she gave them advice on how to do it safely, rather than stopping them because it was too dangerous.

You are my kind of mum friend because you let all these experiences happen.

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It’s fun to stand on the roundabout, when we fell, we worked out how we needed to balance to stay on.


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When you are 5 you can climb a big rock without any help.
I can test the ice if I stand on the edge and throw sticks to see if it will break.


I explore the size of the ripples as I throw stones into the pond.  If I get too close I might get wet and the water is cold!
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Mud is good – the squishier the better!
We don’t need a swimming costume to get wet.
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Who can find the biggest branch?


Don’t tell me it’s cold, I need to feel it!
Puddles are the best!

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It’s okay to play – even when you’re almost 12.
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If I ride on my coat, I go faster.
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It’s okay to remove your shoes and coat when it isn’t quite Spring.

Take off your shirt and play with a stick.
getting wet
I’m going to have a shower. I’m getting very wet, now the rain is staying on me.

And when you let these things happen, with a little bit of support they will have the courage to jump.





A Spring Day Out with Kids at Alki Beach


You might only consider visiting Alki Beach in Summer when the children want to swim and soak up the sun, but there are many things to do when visiting out of season. Alki beach is more than just a beach, it also has great  historical significance. Alki Beach is the site of the landing of the first white settlers in Seattle on a cold, stormy day in November of 1851. Chief Seattle and his tribe greeted them and helped them build their cabin to stave off the cold, wet winter.

You may be lucky and end up with a surprisingly warm, Spring day as we did.  Some attractions, like speciality bikes, aren’t available until Easter and the ferry to Seattle only runs on weekdays but in some ways this gives children more chance to stop and take in the simple things. Here are some of the things my children enjoyed.

  1. Build a sandcastle


The first thing my kids want to do when they see sand is build a sandcastle.  They found shells and feathers to decorate it and we had to judge whose was the best.
2. Climb on Driftwood
climbing on driftwood at Alki


Alki Beach has an abundance of driftwood and uprooted trees for little climbers.

3. Let the Air Vents Blow your Clothes and Hair

air vents at Alki

4. Visit the Miniature Statue of Liberty

liberty alki

The Statue of Liberty, a small replica of the original “Liberty Enlightening the World” in New York City, was a gift from Reginald H. Parsons and the Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America in 1952. The statue has become such a symbol of liberty and courage that it became a place to mourn, to reflect, and to leave mementos after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

5. Follow the Avenue of Stars

Avenue of stars Alki

if you continue along the path past the lighthouse you will reach a stretch of path where all the constellations are marked along the path. Great for an evening stroll as in the spring as you won’t have to wait too long for the stars to come out.

6. Search for Signs of Marine Life

seal statue Alki

All along the trail are signs outlining the wildlife you may find. Seal pups are common between June and September but even in March you may see evidence of seals, sea otters or whales in the water.  The girls were excited to see seagulls and enjoyed pretending to be seals.

7. Stop for Ice Cream

ice cream at gelarto alki

Not just any ice cream, Italian fair trade, organic gelato from Gelarto

8. Find the Little Lighthouse

lighthouse alki

Lighthouse tours are available during the Summer at weekends.

We’ll definitely head back soon with our bikes, scooters and roller blades for a safe and beautiful place to practice.

Bainbridge Art Museum: Not Just for the Grown-Ups

Occasionally, you come across an unexpected treasure. Anticipating a fleeting look around the Bainbridge Art Museum with the children in tow, I was pleased when the assistant greeted the children warmly and entrusted them with a task.  The children were given a list of thirty animals that were hidden in Nancy Thorne Chambers’ ceramic installation ‘A Story Place’.  If they could find them all, they would be rewarded with a special prize.

A story place - Bainbridge art MuseumMotivated by the prize at hand they made their way to the exhibit.  They worked together to find the life-sized animals , studying every angle of the exhibit. They were captivated by the detail and wondered how something so delicate was made and transported to the museum.  The animals are reminiscent of  Beatrix Potter characters and took me back  to my childhood passion for those stories.

The story place mole and Beaver

My favourite piece was the mole wrapped up in the girl’s sock and the children loved the girl and boy mouse, huddled together with their tiny tea tray.

the story of the story place

A Story Place remains at Bainbridge Art Museum until June and is worth seeing if you are visiting Bainbridge Island with children.  Entry to the museum is free of charge so visiting this installation alone is worthwhile.

The children were equally compelled by the adult exhibits.  It’s easy to assume that children will find art galleries boring but their fascinated faces reminded me that children often find pleasure in unexpected places.

bainbridge art museum

They were mesmerised by models that fold into boxes by Nancy Smith-Venturi and wouldn’t leave until they had seen the slide show of the whole collection.



The younger children wanted to understand  each of the models and read the descriptions with interest.


‘What does this one say?’ asked my youngest pointing to a textile on the wall.  I read the description. ‘How does it look like wind?’ she asked. ‘It could be because it moves’ I replied ‘ but you might see something different, you don’t have to see the same thing as the artist.

The girls were completely absorbed by the museum and we spent a leisurely few hours there.  I think we may have discovered a new passion.

* Children aged 5,7 and 11.