November 28, 2009

Plus ça change

Filed under: Uncategorized — steve @ 7:14 pm
Tags: ,

After getting fed up with the constant fight to keep my wordpress installation running at something approaching a reasonable speed, I have given in and moved my blog to a wordpress-hosted location. Hopefully this should have no impact, particularly if you are following this via the all-you-can-eat RSS feed.

July 5, 2009

Thorpe Park, Surrey

Filed under: out and about,outdoor — steve @ 12:00 pm

Having recently been to Chessington, the next destination on our list was it nearest competitor: Thorpe Park. Again, this is included in the Merlin Annual Pass, which makes the entrance price far more attractive.

Thorpe Park sits within a group of reservoirs, which gives a clue to its raison d’etre: water rides. Although it also has the usual suite of “dry” rides, to really have the full experience you need to expect to get wet. Very wet. Consequently, it probably pays to go when the weather is hot.

Although of a similar size, if not slightly smaller, than Chessington, the site feels more expansive. This is primarily because the rides tend to be bigger. The increased size of the rides does mean, however, that there is less here for younger, less risk-taking children, something to bear in mind given the entrance price.

As with Chessington, there is a slightly dependency on extra cost fairground stalls and attractions, which would be a bit galling if we hadn’t got in for “free”.

Hold On!

For adults and the adventurous young, Thorpe Park probably sits somewhere between Legoland and Chessington in terms of attractions. It is more exciting than Chessington, but not as all encompassing as Legoland. Depending on the weather, and the availability of a change of clothes, the amount you will get out of the park will change dramatically. As with all of these parks, the entrance price is steep and you really need to partake fully to get your monies worth. I wouldn’t recommend going when the weather is less than hot.

Child-Friendliness: 5/5
Value For Money: 3-4/5
Acceptable Distance: 60 minutes

Website / Map

May 17, 2009

Chessington World of Adventures, Surrey

Filed under: out and about,outdoor — steve @ 10:23 am

It is probably a sign of my age that I still picture Chessington as a zoo rather than the more grandiose “World of Adventures”. Although the zoo still exists, in much reduced form, the site is now home to a collection of rides and entertainments that will be familiar to anyone who has been to Legoland.

Previously Chessington had not been high on our list of places to visit, due to the high entrance prices that are typical of such places, however, due to the acquisition of “free” tickets (courtesy of spending a small fortune at Tesco), we are finally in a position to see how it compares with Legoland and (hah!) Disneyland.


In terms of size, Chessington is surprisingly small, although “compact” may be a better term. Having said that, it does pack a fair amount into the limited space. The usual roller-coasters and water rides are all present, however the majority of rides tend to be on the smaller side, with the general impression that this is aimed at the younger child. For inexplicable reasons, the ride that made the greatest impression on our youngest family member was Bubbleworks, which is a rather tame (albeit wet) boat ride through a bubble factory. For those with stronger constitutions, the Vampire ride, with a height restriction of only 1.1m, offers the chance for a first go on a real roller coaster.

One slightly disappointing feature of the park is the prepondernace of small fairground-type stalls, all of which require you to pay extra. Given the steep entrance prices, this seems a little cheeky.

In conclusion, while the park packs a lot into a small area, however it is always going to suffer in comparison to nearby Legoland, particularly since the entrance prices are comparable. Since Legoland itself suffers in comparison to Disneyland, it is not really fair to mention the House Of The Mouse in the same sentence as Chessington. The zoo, or what remains of it, has a collection of surprisingly large animals (e.g. tigers, gorillas etc) however, since this is now really a diversion from the main purpose of the park, it does seems a little unnecessary, particularly since some of the enclosures are quite small. The entrance prices are steep, particularly since they seem to expect you to spend considerably more once you are in the park, however if you can get a Merlin Annual Pass then this is less of a concern.

Child-Friendliness: 5/5
Value For Money: 3-4/5
Acceptable Distance: 60 minutes

Website / Map

April 26, 2009

Knole, Kent

Filed under: indoor,out and about,outdoor — steve @ 7:56 pm

This National Trust property consists of a Tudor-period house set in an extensive deer park.


The house is an impressive example of Tudor architecture, with an unusual paved inner courtyard, while the deer park is a very pleasant place for a stroll. The herds of deer roam amongst the visitors, showing little fear (although frequent signs warn not to approach too closely).


Children will probably get more from the park than the house, although a “find the object” activity leaflet is provided, which can be used to entice them to explore the house.

A small cafe is provided, however if the weather is nice you would probably do better to take a picnic.

Child-Friendliness: 4/5
Value For Money: 4/5
Acceptable Distance: 45 minutes

Website / Map

April 13, 2009

Michelham Priory, East Sussex

Filed under: indoor,out and about,outdoor — steve @ 5:56 pm

As the name suggests, this is based around the site of a medieval priory, which was later converted into a house. It is located within “England’s longest medieval water-filled moat”, the waters of which power a small mill (which is external to the site and may be visited for free separately).

Michelham Priory Moat

The grounds are pleasantly landscaped, with a small sculpture trail to lead you through the gardens. The interior of the house can also be visited, detailing the history of the priory and its subsequent inhabitants.

Michelham Priory

We visited at Easter, when an Easter Egg Hunt was laid on, plus a Easter Bunny hunt in the house.

Although the overall site is small, it makes a pleasant enough place to slowly while away an afternoon.

Child-Friendliness: 3-4/5
Value For Money: 3-4/5
Acceptable Distance: 45 minutes

Website / Map

April 11, 2009

Leonardslee Gardens, West Sussex

Filed under: out and about,outdoor — steve @ 6:54 pm

Leonardslee Garden is based around a valley containing a series of small lakes. The main attraction is a large collection of gloriously coloured rhododendrons and camellias, which explains why there is a sudden jump in the entrance price for the month of May. It also has an extensive rock garden.

Leonardslee Gardens

Further attractions include wallabies, which can be found roaming the valley, and, occasionally, deer. There is also a (very) small motor museum consisting of cars dating from the end of the 19th Century. An unexpected surprise is what is termed the Doll’s house but is actually an extensive tableaux in miniature, the detail of which goes beyond obsessive (it apparently took 10 years to create).

Leonardslee Gardens

Child-Friendliness: 4/5
Value For Money: 4/5
Acceptable Distance: 45 minutes

Website / Map

February 7, 2009

Brighton Toy & Model Museum

Filed under: indoor,out and about — steve @ 6:50 pm

Situated underneath Brighton Railway Station, this does exactly what it says on the tin. The museum contains toys and model stretching back over 100 years or so, with the emphasis on early to mid 20th century.

Brighton Toy & Model Museum

While the collections are reasonably exhaustive and well laid-out, it is not immediately clear who the targeted audience for the museum is. Although you would expect this to be a particular draw for children, the presence of various “do not touch”, “do not run” signs do not make for a particularly jovial atmosphere. There is little in the way of interactivity, barring a couple of buttons and coin-operated slot machines. This is not the place to run wild.

The clue to the target audience is probably indicated by the prevalence of model trains, and the earnest, retired gentlemen who are poring over them. If you know – and care – about the difference between Triang and Hornby, this is an ideal destination. It is probably also a good destination if you were a child in the 50’s and looking for nostaglia.

So, in summary, while collection is certainly interesting, it probably couldn’t be described as entertaining. If you are looking to keep the kids amused, this is probably not the place. I would recommend heading over to the Hove Museum & Art Gallery, which, while smaller, is much more fun and has the added bonus of being free.

Child-Friendliness: 3/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Acceptable Distance: 20 minutes

Website / Map

January 4, 2009

Sheffield Park, East Sussex

Filed under: out and about,outdoor — steve @ 4:00 pm

Very attractive grounds. Not as varied as nearby Wakehurst but can be combined with the Bluebell Railway to make more of a day out.

National Trust.

Update: Over Christmas the gardens are lit for special evening openings. These are a bit pricey but, if you are lucky enough to get a calm evening, the reflections in the lakes are magical.

Sheffield Park at Night

Child-Friendliness: 4/5
Value For Money: 5/5
Acceptable Distance: 30 minutes

Website / Map

January 3, 2009

Wilderness Wood, East Sussex

Filed under: out and about,outdoor — steve @ 3:56 pm

This is an excellent, inexpensive nature trail in East Sussex. It has a small children’s play area, but the main attraction is the extensive woodland that holds numerous little nooks and crannies in which to mess around.

The best way to explore the woods is to pick up one of the trail guides from the cafe at the entrance and then head off into the forest.  There are numerous items of sculpture and similar objects distributed along the route, all of which can be used as fodder for young imaginations.  If you’re lucky you might catch sight of the deer.

It takes a couple of hours at a leisurely pace to do the entire loop.  There are a couple of small inclines, but nothing that should tax anyone over the age of 4.

If you go down in the woods today...

Child-Friendliness: 5/5
Value For Money: 5/5
Acceptable Distance: 45 minutes

Website / Map (note that the website appears to be, rather annoyingly, IE-only)

December 26, 2008

West Wittering Beach, West Sussex

Filed under: out and about,outdoor,recommended — steve @ 3:56 pm

Huge sandy beach. Great for all times of the year, although I imagine you would have to get their pretty early in the day during the summer as the car park could fill quickly.

West Wittering

Child-Friendliness: 5/5
Value For Money: 5/5
Acceptable Distance: 60 minutes

Website / Map

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