As the Queen of all things last minute it was with excitement that I spotted a comment on Facebook from a fellow blogging friend about the East Lancashire Railway’s latest event…a School of Wizardry.  With two children who absolutely adore Harry Potter I knew that this was the exact type of thing they would love.

We haven’t attended an event on the East Lancashire Railway before but it is located in Bury, about an hour’s drive from us.  For myself and the two kids it cost around £25 for tickets for the School of Wizardry tickets.



Our journey didn’t quite start at Platform 9/3 but it did start on Platform 3 at Bury Bolton Street Station with teachers from the Grand Old School of Wizardry mingling amongst the parents and children and talking about the adventures we were about to have once we had boarded the train.  The teachers came to introduce themselves and sang the school song and then we were led down to the train and our carriages.


The ELR staff were unbelievably accommodating.  We had chosen to pick our tickets up at the station and not only did they give me change for the car park (more on that later) but when it transpired that Meg had managed to lose our tickets they guided us to our seats.  We were unfortunately known as the ‘family without tickets’ for the rest of the trip but it was worth it.



All the children were given a School of Wizardry booklet which they were to complete as we journeyed from Bury to Rawtenstall.


Each of the school teachers also passed through the carriages and taught their specialty before rewarding the children with a sticker once they has successfully accomplished their lesson.  Running through all of this was also the theme that the Sorting Hat had been stolen by a Marauder and the children needed to help get it back!


I won’t go into too much more detail about what was involved as I think it was nice to have some surprises but I thought the teachers (who were from Attic Door Productions) did a fantastic job of being engaging with the kids, even after the lessons were finihsed and we were heading back to Bury they stayed in character and continued to walk up and down the carriages chatting with the children.


I have to take my hat off to the lady playing the flying instructor as she sat and patiently listened to about fifty of Eli’s ‘best’ jokes on the way back as well and never lost her composure!


After a brief stop at Rawtenstall where we were allowed to disembark from the train and watch as the steam engine changed directions, we hopped back on and made our way back to Bury where we hopped back off the train for one final photo with all the staff and the train’s ghost.


Overall I thought the event had been well thought out and was executed extremely well.  Meg and Eli had such a good time and I loved that we weren’t left waiting until a teacher arrived to take a lesson but that the booklets kept them engaged throughout the journey.  The School of Wizardry will be returning to the East Lancashire Railway in the summer and I would highly recommend it.

The only downside and point to note is about the parking.  There isn’t much parking nearby if you aren’t familiar with the area (as I wasn’t) and the ELR car park fills up quickly.  Whilst we were visiting there was also some work being done so there were fewer spaces than usual.  I left my car out of the way but outside of official parking bays and received a parking ticket from the Council.  I wasn’t the only one to get a ticket either so it is definitely worth arriving early or having a back up plan for where to head if the car park happens to be full.

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Now I know I may have casually mentioned this once or twice but this year we are celebrating two very special occasions: the first is my 30th birthday in May and the second is our 10th wedding anniversary in August.

In thinking about how I wanted to celebrate my birthday, I knew there were a couple of things I would like to do.  I’m not great with the pressures of a bucket list (so out went the ’30 before I’m 30′ idea) but I did have some things in mind for ways to celebrate and one of those was a combined birthday-anniversary trip, just me and James.

For my 18th birthday I went to Rome and I absolutely adored it, but I haven’t been back to Italy since so it was the first place which came to mind.  Let’s not also forget that Prosecco is also my drink of choice so heading to wine country seemed like the ideal option.

We ummed and ahhed and wondered about leaving the kids for any great length of time; it’s the first time the two of us will have been out of the country together, leaving the kids with their grandparents so it’s a little bit stressful but I have to say that since we got our accommodation sorted I am really looking forward to it.

We will have three full days to explore, plus half a day when we land which we might use to see some of the main sights of Pisa before we head to our apartment and there is so much that I want to see and do.  We have yet to put our final plans in place but some of the things we are considering include:-

Visiting Volterra
We are actually staying somewhere near to Volterra and although I’d like to pretend that my love of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series (it’s my secret shame shhhh) has nothing to do with it, I’m actually pretty excited to go and visit.  There is plenty of history to be found in this walled town including Roman ruins which is something both of us will enjoy exploring.

Drinking Wine in Chianti
This may actually be the main reason we are visiting; the idea of sipping authentic Italian wine as I watch the sun set over the Tuscan hills with a good book in my hand is just about a dream come true and we will be right on the border of the Chianti region, giving me every excuse to consume as much wine as I can possibly get my hands on (reasonably and sensibly of course…)  There are countless wine tours to be enjoyed too and I’ve spotted a couple which are also combined with food tours; good food and good wine, what is not to love about that combination?!

A Day Trip to Florence
I doubt that it would be possible to capture everything that makes Florence amazing in just one day trip but it would be fantastic to try.  This historical city has been recommended to us by so many people that it would be a real shame to miss out on a visit here.  Attractions such as the Uffizi Gallery, San Lorenzo’s Market, the Duomo and so much more…I really hope we can make it there, even if it’s just for the day.

Taking A Dip in the Thermal Baths
Did you know there were thermal baths in the Tuscan region of Italy?  Me neither until I started delving deeper into things we could enjoy whilst on our trip.  Two such natural springs are located in Saturnia and also feature waterfalls: Cascate del Mulino and Cascate del Gorello.  Both these springs are open to the public and are free to enter which certainly makes them even more appealing!

Relaxing by the Pool
We are going to Italy in June so are fully prepared for the weather to be a little changeable but it would be nice if we could spend one of our days just chilling out by the pool.  As any parent will tell you, time spent with no interruptions is a precious commodity and to be able to spend quality time together, relaxing, well…the hard part for me will be not packing 20 books in my suitcase and then squirrelling myself away for 5 days!

If you’ve been to Tuscany then please let us know what you would recommend we see and do!

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With Storm Doris in full swing and nothing but rain clouds on the horizon, we decided to head into the city to take advantage of one of the fantastic free museums which are on offer in Liverpool.  We have visited most of the museums and galleries in Liverpool but somehow the Museum of Liverpool always seemed to escape our notice, so that is where we headed.

We couldn’t escape a walk along the Docks before we headed in and although it was incredibly windy, the kids loved watching as the waters of the Mersey splashed up against the walls; with some force I might add!


The Museum of Liverpool is the newest addition to the National Museums Liverpool group and opened in 2011.  It sits right on the waterfront and offers an insight into the diverse history of the city with plenty of interactive galleries to keep children entertained alongside galleries which follow the development of Liverpool and how the current city was shaped by the port, the people and the geography.

There are three floors to the museum and although it isn’t huge, it certainly took us a good few hours to wander round all the different exhibitions and if we’d not had the kids with us and had actually had time to properly look at each and every thing there, it could have easily taken us a lot longer.


The first thing we did on arrival (after exploring the Lambananas which are outside of course) was grab tickets from the Welcome Desk for the next Little Liverpool session.  This is a hands-on gallery which is solely for children under the age of six, although Meg still got something  out of it, and it allows younger children to engage with their imaginations whilst also learning something about the city of Liverpool.  The session lasts about 30 minutes and as there is limited space, entry is by free ticket from the desk as you enter the museum.

As you wander around the museum you can also look out for the character Winnie the Spider who is placed near interactive elements designed for a younger audience.


It would take far too long to break down each section of the museum but the parts which we particularly enjoyed included the Little Liverpool session, the Liverpool Overhead Railway and Wondrous Place which was all about the writers, performers, musicians, artists, comedians and sports people who have emerged from Liverpool.


Meg and Eli are both big Beatles fans so they were fascinated by this section of the gallery and spent a long time seeing what they could learn.

We paid a visit to the Waterside Cafe which was well priced; we arrived just as they were about to stop serving food so we didn’t get to eat the freshest of foods but it was fairly priced and had a nice view out over the Lambananas so we weren’t complaining.


From the top floor of the museum you also get a pretty stunning view across the Mersey and the Docks as well as towards the Three Graces (The Royal Liver Building, The Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building)  which are directly across the way.

Overall we really enjoyed our visit and got to discover some new and interesting things about the city.  I, for one, hadn’t realised how long the docks actually were when Liverpool was at the height of the export and import industry, the docks which are still standing today are significantly shorter.


I would definitely combine it with a trip to Albert Dock or one of the other waterside museums if you had time.  You can see my post here for details of our trip the last time we visited.

Or take a look at our Day in the Life vlog if you want some more insight into what we got up to.


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Over the past few years we have made several long car journeys with Meg and Eli; having family who live all over the country means that we are fairly used to hopping in the car and driving for 2-3 hours at a time.

However, we have also attempted a number of fairly insane mammoth journeys with them when we have driven down to the South of France.  We have (stupidly some might say) done this twice, and despite the fact that both times we have said never again it’s something we are currently looking into for this year as well!

Our first excursion down to France was a 36 hour round trip and our second wasn’t far off that although we did break this up with an overnight stay in a hotel (an adventure in itself when James got lost trying to park the car and I had to go looking for him…).  

Both times we thought we were setting off fairly well prepared. 

We had bags full of colouring books/stickers/magazines/new toys and we had a couple of tablets loaded with games and movies for when things got desperate. We had snacks, drinks, car seat tables and generally felt good about how things were going to pan out.  Oh how we laugh…

…because there are something things you just can’t prepare for, right?


We weren’t leaving them at the side of the road.  Honestly…


Here are some of the lessons we learned:-

‘Are we there yet?’ conversations
Young children have absolutely no concept of time. If you say ‘yes, in 3 hours’ that means zero to them and they will probably count to 3 and then throw a tantrum because you haven’t arrived yet.

Neither should you answer with ‘No’ as James has repeatedly discovered to his detriment. This will entice your children to continously ask ‘why not’ for the next 2 hours until you are glaring daggers at your husband for being so ridiculous and the tension in the car has risen to boiling point.

Distraction techniques work better than direct answers in this situation: ‘Oh look, there’s a cow/cloud/red car’ etc etc

Back Up Supplies
You will discover that your children have the uncanny knack of throwing their things into the ‘place of no return’ during the journey. Even once you’ve arrived and the car is empty, good luck finding where those 4 dummies/brand new tsums-tsums/colouring pencils disappeared to.

Have a back up supply and then a back up supply for your back up supply. Trust me, listening to your toddler screaming for their dummy at the top of their voice for a prolonged period of time is enough to give anyone a twitch in their eye.

Don’t attempt to unfasten yourself and root around in the back of the car whilst your other half is driving either. Not only is it incredibly dangerous but you will probably receive a poke in the eye from your youngest child for your efforts, not find the item in question and bang your elbow on the cool box nestled between your loving offspring. The plus side is that they will find your squeals of discomfort hilarious and will be distracted from thinking about the lost item for approximately 5 minutes.

Toilet Habits
Service stations in France are either FAB or TERRIBLE.  Many of them have adventure playgrounds which can be brilliant for burning off energy and stretching legs when you stop for that all important toilet break.  However, the bad ones (and I think we all know which ones I mean…) can also introduce your child to some pretty awful toilet habits.  Such as the moment when you are driving down a remote country lane and your child announces they need the toilet.  No problem, just pull over to the side of the road and get them out.

Of course whilst you are busy checking that you aren’t breaking any obscure French laws about pulling over, your child may decide to take matters into their own hands, and, left to their own devices will squat down and wee into their pants, shorts and shoes before announcing they have been to the toilet the ‘French Way’.  Best to make sure you only visit those service stations with ‘real’ bathroom facilities instead.


Kids Can Hear In Their Sleep
You might think it’s safe at 4am in the morning when the kids are certain to be fast asleep to talk about important stuff but trust me, they are either pretending or they have super skills and can hear even in dreamland. Don’t have serious conversations about other people/intimate moments/life changing decisions as your children will pipe up about them the next day at the most inappropriate moment they can think of. The owner of your home for the next 2 weeks probably doesn’t want to know what you really think about your best friends.

Movie Moments
Let’s be honest, at some point during your lengthy car journey, you are going to bring out the screens.  Absolutely no judgement here.  You might even download a few favourite films to keep your children well and truly occupied.  Great thinking!  Just make sure you have invested in a really good pair of headphones for your children otherwise you will be listening to them play the same movie on repeat for the remainder of the journey…


Experience tells us that it’s a sign you’ve been in the car for too long when your husband can quote the lines of the film word for word and you laugh hysterically at the one liners you’ve already heard 10 times. Take a break.


Plan To Stop!
We have tried so many variations of the long drive and how best to factor in a break.  In all our naivety on our first trip to France we thought that if we took it in turns we could drive through the night without stopping.  Let me tell you that when you finally drop off in the passenger seat and then stir in the early hours to discover that your husband is, in fact, driving directly towards a line of confused French cars, it’s a bit of a wake up call.  A 3 point turn on a French dual carriageway is enough to wake anybody up.

Equally, we have tried simply pulling over into a service station and attempting to catch 40 winks.  This is great if you have children who will get on board and go to sleep.  Not so much if you have a child like Eli.  The one time we tried this, I kept waking to the heart-stopping fear that he had somehow opened the car door, climbed out and disappeared into the night. In fact, he was just in the boot of the car rooting around for food or at one point on the dashboard kissing the windscreen.


And our final lesson in this category is that it IS best to plan an overnight stop but you should make absolutely sure you have booked the hotel for the right night to avoid having to drive around an unfamiliar French town at 10pm, after hours already spent in the car, desperately trying to find 3G signal so you can find somewhere to sleep for the night.

The Journey Home

It is likely that everyone will be super tired and fed up on the journey home. After all, there’s not much to look forward to at the end of it.  This can be the most draining as you have to try and keep everyone occupied and happy.  If you are planning to stop late at night then be aware that French shops will probably not be open at 9pm when you’ve arrived at your hotel for the night.  Luckily, a lot of the motels in France also offer vending machine dinners (yes, you have indeed read that correctly…)

You should do your best to not be offended when your children intimate that the grey looking slop in front of them is the best meal they’ve ever had.  It’ll have been a long day.


Make Those Memories
My final lesson is that in everything, you just have to keep smiling.  Unfortunately for us, all of the above has happened at some point and although at the time I wanted to back into a corner and weep, now I can look back and laugh.  And maybe cry a little too…

Whether it’s listening to the same soundtrack 8 times in a row, or turning up the radio to drown out the sounds of your children squabbling for just a short period, or taking the wrong turn or not being able to find your accommodation…try to face it with a smile and think of all the wonderful memories you are making in the process.  It will be worth it in the end!


This is my entry for the GoEuro #travellessons competition.

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Welcome to the second part of my mini-series about travelling with kids.  For my first post, dedicated to Malaga you can click here.

I spend a lot of my working life writing about amazing things you can see and do in London so I feel fairly confident in being able to say what a fantastic city London is for those who want a city break.  Having recently tackled it with the kids as well, I can also now offer some advice on how to make the most of a trip when you have small people in tow.

The first thing to say is that London is an amazing place to go if you have children.  For some reason, people are put off by the idea of London; perhaps it is the size or the idea of navigating public transport…but there is literally so much to see and do that you will have a fantastic time.  If you plan properly of course!

It was hard to come up with just a handful of things I would recommend doing whilst you are in the city but, after some thought, here are my top 5:-

An Open-top Bus Tour
If you want to get a lot of major landmarks ticked off then an open-top bus tour is a fantastic way to do this.  Not only can you rest little legs, but adults can enjoy the on-board commentary and learn some new things about the city and many give you the choice to hop-on and off at your leisure.  The only downside we found to this was that traffic can be quite bad in the city and you can feel as though you are spending much of your time sitting in traffic jams.  For first time visitors or those who feel less confident about using the tube however, it can be a great option.


Head to Greenwich
I wrote a whole post last year on a day spent in Greenwich and I would still consider it one of the best things we did whilst in London.  We caught a MBNA Thames Clipper across the Thames which was fantastic and is a budget way of crossing the Thames without paying for a cruise.  You don’t get on-board commentary but you do get to see some of the city’s famous buildings without having to pay a steep price.  You could also follow the Greenwich Foot Tunnel which goes directly underneath the River Thames and would be a pretty cool experience.  Attractions in Greenwich include the National Maritime Museum (which has some fantastic interactive galleries for kids), the Cutty Sark, Greenwich Market, the Old Royal Naval College and the Royal Observatory.


Buckingham Palace
Almost every child the country over will have heard of Buckingham Palace and it is well worth factoring in some time to go and see this royal landmark.  It does get busy, especially around the time of the Changing of the Guard (which happens daily at 11.30am) so if you can arrive before then or late afternoon then it shouldn’t be so crowded.  It’s worth bearing in mind that people don’t hang about for long however so you might need to wait to grab your photo in front of the railings but there should be plenty of opportunity for you to do so.

Parks and Gardens
I don’t know about the rest of you, but one thing we always have to keep in mind when we are travelling is allowing Eli the opportunity to burn off energy before we try and return to our hotel or accommodation at the end of the day.  Walking around doesn’t count; it has to be full blast, high-energy, no restrictions running around so we always look up the local parks before we visit a city.  Luckily London has some brilliant options from Hyde Park and Kensington Garden (with that famous giant wooden pirate ship) to Crystal Palace Park with its gigantic Victorian dinosaurs and Regent’s Park which is home to Primrose Hill and offers some stunning views over the city.


Free Attractions
It is absolutely no secret that London has some world-class attractions, many of which offer free entry to the general public and it is definitely worth taking advantage of these, whether you are visiting on a tight budget or not.  From well known museums and art galleries such as the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery to lesser known options such as the Horniman Museum and the Grant Museum of Zoology; whatever your little one’s interests there will almost certainly be somewhere to take them which doesn’t cost anything to enter and which offers a couple of hours entertainment at the very least.

What are your top tips for travelling with children?  Have you ever visited London?

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