11 October 2018

One of the best kept secrets of North London - Forty Hall Estate

One of our favourite places in North London is the Forty Hall Estate. It is a great place for simple family fun, usually free or quite inexpensive, and combines beautiful surroundings, a farm and a bit of history. What's not to like? And because I like it so much I wanted to share it with you guys too - it is definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in North London.

girl with lion statues

red brick wall

picnic under a tree

table arrangement

stained glass windows

old bed

Forty Hall is a Grade 1 listed Jacobian Manor House, in Enfield. It was also the location for Elsyng Palace, a Tudor palace used by Henry VIII as a hunting lodge, although this palace was demolished long time ago and only archaeological digs remain. As we live at an easy distance away we have been to Forty Hall loads of times, and this post includes a collection of photos from a few different visits. We've been there for a sunset picnic, then we went to an Apple Festival, and a lambing event, and just to walk around the woods, and many more times.

So why do we like Forty Hall so much?

mum and pram

red brick wall

sheep on farm

girl feeding a lamb

girl laughing next to a lamb

goats at a farm

dad and toddler watching a goat

There is a working farm open in the summer (£2 for adults, kids go free), and they occasionally have special events at the farm too, like lambing in spring or apple festival in autumn. You can buy farm produce from their shop (open Fri to Sun), and we have bought organic veg, free range pork sausages and even wine, all made at the farm, right here in North London. Talk about eating locally!

The grounds are gorgeous. You can have long or short walks around the estate, and go for forest walks too. We have been to the grounds for a picnic numerous times and there is a cafe too is you don't want to lug stuff with you. It is quite common to see people picnicking during summer days, and that's what we usually do. There are ducks and geese to feed too (they prefer thawed frozen peas and lettuce).

The museum is an interesting place to wonder through. Many of the rooms have been set up as if in the old days, and you can learn about the life back then. For kids there are a couple of areas where they can dress up and play with toys, and my 5 year old loved it.

There are some special events too, which are great - Halloween, Christmas, Easter and all generally have their own special events. There are farmer's markets and handmade gifts markets. Sometimes there are different work shops for crafts and even concerts and plays. So lots of things going on!

scones and jam

mum and baby eating scones

forty hall after sunset

Must-visit North London gem for families! Forty Hall Estate is a great family oriented manor house in North London, with a farm, museum and outdoor walks. This post explains why we like it so much and what is there to do for families!

Top tips for Forty Hall:

  • Easy to get to by car (from M25 / A10). It is possible to get there by public transport too, although it requires a 10 minute bus ride (191) from Enfield Town Station.
  • Parking is free! 
  • Generally a fairly cheap day out, and can be made even cheaper by bringing a picnic. 
  • There is a cafe, a farm shop and a gift shop if you need anything. 
  • Only the bottom floor of the museum is accessible with wheelchairs / prams. 
  • Museum is free! And best suitable from school ages upwards as kids get more interested in displays. There are some toys for kids to play with too. 
  • Check the events before you go - big events may make parking a bit more difficult, but on the positive side, they add fun to the day!

Have you been to Forty Hall? Do you have any other recommendations for North London?

You might also like: Rainy day fun in London: V&A Museum of Childhood and Our sunset picnic at Forty Hall

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1 October 2018

My mum hack for free time using Smyths Toy Catalogue

Guess what has finally arrived? The new Smyths Toy Catalogue, right in time for Christmas! You can get yours (for free) through this link too.  Now, I hear you wondering, what is this mum hack then. Well. It is as simple as ordering the toy catalogue and letting your kids run wild with it. Guaranteed quiet time as they leaf through the toy catalogue, look at all the things they want (and there is so much!) and then use it for crafting. 

Please note, this post is in collaboration with Smyths Toys.

girl reading a toy catalogue

girl reading a toy catalogue

So, get the toy catalogue. Sit your kids on the sofa or at the table, and give them the toy catalogue. Off you potter to do important mum or dad stuff, and I can guarantee you at least 30 minutes of peaceful quiet time, as the kids are mesmerised by the toy offers. 

Once the noise starts again, get out paper, scissors and glue. Get your kids to cut out the toys they want and ask them to glue them on an A4. Guaranteed easy-peasy and quiet craft session, and as a bonus, you've got their Christmas wish list sorted without doing any of the thinking effort yourself.  For older kids feel free to set them a challenge, such as using the cut-outs to make a mosaic picture, or to make a colour coded mosaic art work.

toy catalogue

girl reading a toy catalogue

My five year old daughter loved this challenge, and so did I, as the house was unusually quiet during it... Several days later she is still going back to her toy catalogue and cutting and gluing her favourites on her Christmas list. So far it looks like anything of PJ Masks, The Incredibles and Lego Princess are at the top of the list, and some Barbie, Sylvanian Families and Paw Patrol things have found their way to the artwork too.

As Smyths Toys also sent us a gift card to go explore their site, I chose a bunch of Lego for Santa's Christmas sack - they had a great selection of both classic and other Lego, and some pretty good deals on Lego too!  If you want to check out their toy catalogue and get some quiet time in your house, order it through this link for free

30 September 2018

What happened in our lives in September 2018

This month I've only got one family photo. You know how it is when you hand the camera over to a stranger to take a picture. You are lucky to have any useable pictures! We were at Kensington Palace and with a whinging 5 year old there never seemed to be another opportune moment to start taking family portraits, so this will just have to do. And just to make it go a bit further I've also cropped it in two different ways ha ha. 

But anyway, without further ado, let's see how our September went. 

family photo in front of kensington palace

I have loved:

  • Watching GBBO - although I haven't done quite as many bakes as I had planned... 
  • Going to a talk about bilingual families, understanding the issues better and learning loads of new ideas I can use in our family. 
  • Being proud of my little girls - Aili got a Headteacher's Award and Aija has learned to bounce herself on her bouncer. And is loving it. 
  • Our new smart kettle. It's a game changer. Turns out green tea, if you brew it at the right temperature, doesn't need to taste bitter! It has pre-set temperatures for different varieties of tea and coffee, and of course a normal boil. Makes it easier to do milk bottles too. I love it. (It's official, I've reached the age where I get excited about good quality utility items...)
  • The last sunny summer days.
  • Reading books gain - this month have finished The Secret Barrister and This Is Going To Hurt.

Aili has loved:

  • Starting swimming school. We've been lazy about finding time to teach her to swim, so this year I decided once and for all, it's time for her to learn. So swim school. Thankfully she loves it. 
  • Getting back to ballet. Last term ended up in a high with a ballet show, and soon it's time for her first ballet exam.
  • Starting school in general - and she is going to her first after-school club too and doing gymnastics. 
  • PJ Masks and The Incredibles - this girl is obsessed!
  • Getting her hair cut to a short bob. This is apparently the Elastigirl haircut, and she brought Elastigirl with her to the hairdressers to show what it needs to look like. 

Aija has loved:

  • Milk and cuddles. 
  • Lots and lots of cuddles - our velcro baby does not like to be put down. 
  • When she does get put down, she loves her BabyBjorn bouncer and her Moomin play gym
  • Gnawing on her fists, but no teeth yet. 
  • Moving and grooving. She manages to advance about a meter or two on her own, doing a mixture of shuffling, rolling and pulling herself ahead with her arms. 

Hubby has loved:
  • Our new smart kettle. A perfect cup of coffee everytime. 
  • Going to the gym. 
  • Getting the little one out of the house and back to school - makes it so much easier to work from home.
  • Dozing off very early every night, seems like the life being a dad of two is knackering!

family photo

How was your September?

You might also like: What happened in our lives in August 2018

29 September 2018

My second-born at four months old

I can not believe how fast time is passing. Only yesterday I had a newborn, and now I've got a four month old chunky baby. Gosh. So here is how she has been over the last month.

baby with number four made out of conkers

baby grabbing its toes

Physical development
She has started moving a bit, and cover a decent distance if you leave her to it. She doesn't quite crawl yet, but she is exercising those muscles, lifting her bum up in the air and trying to get those legs underneath. She does move a fair bit though, and that she does by either rolling, or pulling herself  forwards with her arms, and sorta shimmying ahead. She can advance a meter or two if we leave her to it.

Gnawing her fists and chew toys is a regular occurrence now, and I suspect we may have teeth appearing soon. Occasionally I let her gnaw on my knuckle but so far no sharp little nubbles!

It's probably the fate of the second-born, but I have forgot to get her measure this week, so not sure how much she weighs exactly. She has been growing at the 50-75th percentile, and looks pretty much similar so I am guessing she might be something like 6.5 to 7kg. And also, the fate of the second-born, I still haven't updated her baby book, bad mummy me, but at least I can retrospectively fill it using these blog entries I suppose!

baby in a circle of conkers

baby smiling

baby smiling

baby with number four made out of conkers

Special happenings
She has had all of her vaccinations now, including the 16 week mega-vaccinations, which affected her a fair bit. As nowadays the vaccinations have the Men B included, babies can get quite poorly. Our normally well-sleeping baby was running a mild fever (despite giving her Calpol) and was up and crying all night long. It was a long two nights, but thankfully lots of cuddles and a bit of time helped, and she was back to normal fairly quick.

Personality and loves
As for personality, she has a gorgeous smile but is also a real velcro baby. Often you cannot put her down, or it is a crybaby time instantly. So in many cases days end up with me cuddling her on the sofa, trying to do something useful but mostly failing miserably.

When we do manage to get her to sit on her own in her bouncer, we often spot her just observing us, sitting in her seat, staring. How interesting it would be to know what she thinks! She also loves watching her big sister and follows her around with her gaze, although complains about the rather rough cuddles she often receives...

So that's that, she is not quite crawling yet but for sure soon will, she loves observing her family members, and is very cuddle-hungry. And knock wood, she is quite a good sleeper!

baby grabbing toes

baby at four  months old

7 September 2018

What is the SEALife London Aquarium like for kids?

The London Aquarium is one of the attractions in London I always recommend families visit. It is a fantastic place for both younger and older kids, and there is such a great variety of things to see, everyone will find something exciting about it. When they recently invited us over to come view all the new things that have been set up, I jumped at the chance to review it. Here is what we thought of the attraction and also my top tips for visiting the London Aquarium.

London Aquarium - review and top tips for visiting

london aquarium tunnel

girl in front of shark tank

woman and baby in front of fish tank

Over the last few years the SEA LIFE London Aquarium has done loads of work on their premises and increased both the exhibition space and spruced up some of the existing areas. Newish additions include the penguins and the jellyfish, and the rainforest area has new decor and play areas for the kids. 

We visited the jellyfish section last year, and absolutely loved the strange world of the jellyfish - it was another fun and interesting addition to the aquarium. This time my daughter was very keen on seeing the penguins, and it was great to see them toddle on their icy little enclosure. The rainforest section had loads of creepy crawlies, crocodiles, tortoises and fish (like piranhas!) and my daughter loved playing at the new play areas - it made it a bit more fun and play-oriented for little ones, enabling us adults to really look at the animals and have a moment to read the signs too, which was great.

mum and daughter in front of fish tank

peep hole

piranha at london aquarium

girl looking at tarantula


penguins at london aquarium

penguins swimming

woman looking at jellyfish

jellyfish london aquarium

Other than that, my absolute favourite is the big ocean tank, with all the sharks and giant turtles. It really is fantastic, and you get to view it at so many points during your tour. You get a glimpse of it at the very start, when walking above the sharks and then later when you walk through the tunnel. 

This year we also attended the Behind the Scenes Tour. I would really recommend this from years 5 upwards - our daughter found it absolutely fascinating to learn more about the aquarium practices and see the areas normally only the staff get access to. As an adult, I found it fascinating too! We got to see the quarantine area, hear more about the aquarium practices, and also see seadragons, fish that is not on display as they are so delicate and get disturbed by the noises of viewers. We got to hold a shark and a ray egg (empty of course) and see their breeding areas. We learned what they feed the fish, and how thick the aquarium glass is, so lots of learning. It all felt pretty special.

london aquarium back room

quarantine tank london aquarium

sea dragon tank

sea dragon through a peep hole

aquarium glass

coral tank

family photo in front of coral tank

The unfortunate thing about the aquarium is that it gets very very busy, especially between the hours of 11AM and 3PM. It can be difficult to secure good viewpoints, and you may have to wait quite long. As the tickets are expensive, this can be quite disappointing. On our visits we have always used the priority entrance, although this time as we visited in the afternoon, it was quite slow and we had to queue a relatively long time (15 minutes I think). On previous occasions when we have visited as they have opened, it was a lot speedier and you were pretty much waved straight through which was great.

Another slightly problematic thing of the aquarium is also that it is quite dark (as aquariums are!). Because some of the passages are narrow and winding, you have to be quite careful and keep an eye and a hand on your kid at all times as they can get so excited and start running off!

mum and daughter in front of shark tank

London Aquarium - review and top tips for visiting

So that's what we thought about the London Aquarium - great place to visit, loads to see, kids love it, but it can get VERY busy around midday. Definitely worth a visit though. See my top tips for visiting below!

Top tips:

  • Visit before 11AM or after 3PM - it is very busy midday.
  • It is fully buggy and wheelchair friendly. The closest buggy/wheelchair friendly tube station is Westminster. 
  • Under 3 year olds are free!
  • Lovely place to visit in the heat of summer as it tends to be very cool down there.
  • Don't bother too much with taking photos - unfortunately due to the darkness most photos just won't work. 
  • Best place to have a selfie is right after the see-through tunnel - a little enclosure that goes inside the tank. 
  • Behind the Scenes Tour is great- well worth it for both kids and adults. Best suitable for kids over 5.
  • You get to pet a starfish - so amazing! Don't rush though as it can take a while for kids to gather the courage to touch it. 
  • If you are peckish, there is a McDonald's right next door - as well as other restaurants nearby. 
  • South Bank is lovely to walk on before or after the Aquarium - there is also a small playground next door to the Aquarium, in Jubilee Gardens. 

Review of the SEALife London Aquarium and the Behind the Scenes Tour, and top tips for visiting. There are sharks, sting rays, jellyfish, penguins, and all kinds of bugs and fish. We think it's great place to take the kids in London!

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