Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Fossil hunting at Dryhill

Calum and the log house
Time to work off that Christmas dinner! We decided to try out Dryhill Nature Reserve - not far from us but somewhere we've never managed to get to before.

We spent the afternoon exploring the woods and looking for fossils in the rockface. No success I'm afraid, but we did find plenty of rabbit holes, part of the woods covered in Christmas decorations and a log house (which made for a very excited five-year-old!)

We had the place to ourselves, except for a couple of dog walkers, so we really did feel like we'd found a well-kept secret.

We finished the round-walk in about an hour, but there are lots of small paths to try out along the way.

It was very muddy today, so remember to take wellies if you decide to go in the winter. In summer Dryhill could be a perfect picnic spot. There are lots of picnic benches and open spaces if you want to spread out a bit.

You can hear traffic through most of the reserve. There. My only grumble!

Dryhill Local Nature Reserve
Dryhill Lane
Near Sevenoaks
TN14 6EP

Opening times
9am to dusk or 9pm. Whichever is earlier. Park closed Christmas Day.

Free parking

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Struck down!

Calum's festive creation

Our family has been out of action for the whole week up to Christmas . . . horror! No voices, no fresh air, and no real communication with the outside world for the last seven days.

There's only so much Christmassy television I can stand, so today Calum (5) and I had a go at making our very own salt-dough Christmas decorations.

Here's what you'll need if you'd like to try your hand:

* 1 cup of plain flour
* 1/2 cup of table salt
* 1/2 cup of water

We added a very small amount of sunflower oil to make the dough easier to use. We followed these instructions, my dough was horrendously sticky so I added a lot more flour.

We ran out of plain flour so threw in some wholemeal (ha!) self- raising flour and the decorations seem to be fine (they're still baking, so they still have time to grow . . .)

We had more than enough dough to make 20 decorations. Do we need that many?!?

We threw some glitter into the left-over dough and Calum has been playing with it for about an hour. In fact he seems to have had more fun since the decorations went in the oven!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Time Out!

I think I actually need a bit of time out when I've been to the Town Church's offering for babies and toddlers on Tuesday mornings.

Going to Time Out is like walking into a crazy alternative world, where what seems like hundreds of toddlers are staggering around, shouting at each other and brandishing toys. Add to that grown ups shouting to be heard over their offspring, and you have the noisiest Tuesday morning in Sevenoaks.

I might be a bit of a misery guts though, because everyone I've spoken to about Time Out really loves it.

There's an endless supply of tea, coffee and biscuits (for a small donation) and a baby clinic with health visitors. Just to make my point (again!) about the noise, one of the ladies has to use a microphone to call you when it's time to go into the clinic and is still very rarely heard . . .

Babies under one can also try out the much calmer Baby Time, downstairs. I sneaked in and it was so lovely I didn't want to leave!

And I also tried going to Time Out towards the end of the morning. Again much better if you're looking for something a bit less maniacal.

Time Out
Town Church
Mill Lane
Sevenoaks TN14 5AX

Tuesdays 9.30 - 11.30
Free parking

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Jumping up and down in muddy puddles . . . at Sevenoaks Nature Reserve

After a torrential downpour this morning, the sun was shining as we set off for Sevenoaks Nature Reserve.

Orla was very excited because she got to wear her new wellies for the very first time. In fact I think that could have been the highlight of her day if it wasn't for the amazing muddy puddles we found when we arrived at the reserve.

Sevenoaks Nature Reserve is a series of lakes made from old gravel pits. It's a bit of a bird watcher's paradise with little hides dotted around, and lots of different birds to look out for.

I will quite happily admit that I am no bird watcher - but I did spot a heron (whoop for my birdy knowledge) and as Orla loves everything airborne we checked out magpies and other probably much more exotic birds.

We followed the nature trail and spent a lot of our time going from puddle to puddle.

There are some lovely views across the lakes, and the visitors' centre is full of information about what you can see there at different times of the year. It's also full of stuffed birds which I find a bit creepy - especially when you can see the real thing outside.

There are lots of rules - no picnics, no bikes, no dogs, no jogging, try to keep quiet (not sure anyone with children can stick to that one!), but there are plenty of other places where you can do all those things.

Parking is free, and the cafe and visitors' centre are open on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 4pm this winter.

Sevenoaks Nature Reserve
Bradbourne Vale Road
Sevenoaks TN13 3DH

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Splish, splash, hop and all things glittery

Orla's wonderful Christmas decoration
Last Friday Orla and I tried out one of Spring House's free offerings. Splish, splash, hop is a great messy play session for babies to two-year-olds.

There was an amazing amount for the little ones to do - we tried our hand at Christmas decoration making (check out the photo of Orla's first ever glittery creation!) Sooo pleased we didn't attempt that at home . . .

Add to that sand pits, fabulously glittery play-doh and painting, along with colouring, toys and books, and you have a fun-filled morning for just about any tot.

Orla loved the sensory corner, with its different textures and water-filled light thing (sure it has a technical name, it was filled with fish and bubbles too).

At around 10am all the babies sat down for a little snack. And then Orla unfortunately went into meltdown because we'd missed her morning sleep so we hurriedly, and quite noisily, left.

We got a really nice welcome from the staff there. Most of Spring House's events have a limited amount of places so you need to get there early, but you won't have hundreds of children to contend with.

Spring House is just behind the hospital, through the top right hand corner of the main car park. It is sign-posted but can be a bit difficult to find if you haven't been there before.

Spring House has lots of free events for the under fives, and I'll be trying out more over the next few weeks. So keep an eye out for more reviews.

Splish, splash, hop
Spring House Family Centre
Hospital Road
Sevenoaks TN13 3PT

(0-2 years) Friday 9.15am - 10.45am
(2+ years) Friday 11.15am - 12.30pm

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Maracas, tambourines . . . and the wheels on the bus

On a damp and grey Thursday morning Orla and I headed off to the centre of Sevenoaks for a spot of singing.

We sneaked into the library late to find around 20 grown ups and their babies shaking maracas and singing nursery rhymes.

Baby Bounce and Rhyme used to be in the main part of the library, but it's now in the gallery upstairs. So everyone's singing skills are a little bit less on show than they were, and there's less chance of your tot getting lost among the books (happened to me more than once).

The volunteers that help to run the session look like they are really enjoying themselves, and there are lots of little instruments for the children to play with.

There was a bit of chatter towards the end as some of the grown ups and children (including mine!) got a bit restless. And the set-up could be a bit better - most of the adults sit on chairs in a circle while the little ones play in the middle.

But Orla loved it and even though she's far too little to join in the singing, she certainly made up for it with the shakers. And we got to sing some of our favourite songs, so Baby Bounce and Rhyme has definitely passed the no price tags test.

Baby Bounce & Rhyme 11 - 11.30am Thursday
Sevenoaks Library
Buckhurst Lane
Sevenoaks TN13 1LQ
Car parking 90p for one hour

More free singing sessions run throughout the area - check your local library and Children's Centre for more details.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Fancy a walk?

Pushchairs and country walks don't always mix . . . if you fancy a walk this weekend check out this website. The walks listed are all around the Weald and perfect for people with buggies and toddlers.

Lord Mayor's Parade - here we come!

Ok so it's not exactly in Kent, but just 20 minutes on the train will get us to the centre of London and right in the middle of the Lord Mayor's Parade this Saturday.

We'll (fingers crossed) be getting there for the flotilla of 40 boats that'll be setting off from St. Katherine Dock at 9.30am.

There are processions most of the day and fireworks between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges from 5pm. And with special events and free guided walks around the square mile, I'm really hoping it will be a fabulous free day out.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

A cool time on Coolings nature trail

*** Coolings isn't free anymore! Noooo! It now costs £1.50. So not a huge dent in your pocket. Which is why the review is still here . . .***

If you've an hour or two to spare at the weekend, you could do a lot worse than visit Coolings nature trail in Knockholt.

With wallabies, pigs, chickens and sheep, it's like a mini-farm. Add its wigwams and teepees, and its lakes and woodland, and you have a very good afternoon out (as long as the weather's ok).

When we visited the wallaby joeys were just getting brave enough to come out of their mothers' pouches - very exciting! The piglets were very noisy. And the human sundial kept my four-year-old Calum entertained while I fed the baby.

The nature trail is pretty flat, although I did need some help with the pushchair over some huge tree roots.

Parking is free (hurrah!), but don't take picnics. They're not allowed on the trail. There is a cafe onsite, which is not cheap (especially for children's meals) but has quite tasty food.

Oh and don't go to the wrong Coolings! The nature trail is at Coolings Green & Pleasant not Coolings Garden Centre which is very close by.

Opening times
Monday - Saturday 9am - 5pm
Sunday 10am - 4.30pm

Friday, 29 April 2011

Bluebells at Trosley

Our first free weekend has been quite a success if I do say so myself . . . we packed the family in the car and headed for Trosley Country Park.

Just outside Vigo, the park is great if you fancy a walk but have a pushchair or a little one who isn't too keen on hill walking! 

Its very flat path has woods on either side for children to explore, and a trim trail which helps to keep everyone moving along (my four-year-old couldn't wait to try out the next exercise. . .) 

A second track seemed a bit more challenging - we didn't try it this time - our pushchair is not an off-roader! 

The really beautiful views across the North Downs and hundreds of bluebells made it a great spring day out.

The visitors' centre is being rebuilt, although there is a refreshment van and loos with baby-changing facilities if you need them. 

Car parking: Monday - Friday £1.50 / Weekends and bank holidays £2.00

Opening times: 9am - dusk / 9pm whichever is earlier 

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Free pass at the ready

Ok, so it's not a real free pass, but over the next few months I will be trying out some of the best (and possibly worst) free things Kent has to offer.

The only things I'll put my hand in my pocket for are parking and travel - and even those pretty begrudgingly to be honest.

Yes I will be doing what I do best: resisting the temptation to spend, and dragging my poor family along for the ride.

And then I'm going to tell you all about it so you can try them out for yourselves.

Having a good time shouldn't cost a fortune, let's see if I can prove it!


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