26 Apr

Annie – Out on DVD 27th April!

As you’re probably aware, Annie was remade last year. Updated. I wanted to hate the film and the idea they’d changed a musical I’d grown up loving; the fact it was different; but actually, on seeing the trailers I had already been won over.

annie school

We went to watch Annie before Christmas at the cinema, and came out smiling – H was ridiculously happy – her favourite songs in a film on the big screen, and a story she could relate to. She prefers the remake to the 1982 film – we’re going to see the stage version this November.

So what have they changed about Annie?

She is now a foster kid – not an orphan in an orphanage. Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) takes in foster kids to get money from NY State – though she’s still not the most motherly of mothers. Annie knows she was left outside a restaurant by her parents, and a certain food they ordered, so she waits outside the same restaurant every Friday in the hope they might go back. She shares an apartment with other foster kids, and ‘Maybe’ and ‘The Hard Knock Life’ both live on.


While she’s making her way home, she’s saved from a road incident by Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) who pulls her out of the way in time from a van, saving his reputation (as someone happened to YouTube the incident, what with him wanting to be the Mayor of NY, and people recording everything on their phones all the time) – so Grace, his assistant makes a deal with Miss Hannigan to have Annie stay with him to help improve his public image. ‘I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here’ gains an update – and it fits well with a story which has a New York background to show off.

ANNIE - 2014 FILM STILL - Grace (Rose Byrne) and Annie (QuvenzhanŽ Wallis) sing "I Think I'm Gonna Like it Here" on Stacks' terrace - Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher © 2014 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

So what happens next? Well, it follows the same Annie path, they grow fond of each other, he wants to adopt her, and she wants to find her real parents.


Fans of Annie will almost certainly spot the references to the original musical which pop up throughout the film – see the picture below for one within the first five minutes! Songs from the musical are referenced throughout the film, ‘NYC’ and ‘Something Was Missing’ feature in an instrumental break, the full ‘Something Was Missing’ song comes as an extra on the Blu Ray (not the DVD though) – it was never used in the final film.

annie recognising its past

Annie has moved with the times – when everyone becomes aware that Annie’s parents aren’t her real one and they need to track her down, it’s Instagram which helps them find her (I’m not sure how well that will date in thirty years, mind!) Plus mentions by pop stars like Katy Perry on Twitter – it’s a very ‘now’ film which recognises its past.

So Annie, remade. The verdict? It has a PG certificate due to some mild bad language – which went completely over H’s head. It’s fun, it’s bright, it’s a showcase for New York where lonely people find each other with a spectacular backdrop.

annie and stacks

I’d say a big green traffic light thumbs up, though it may be worth covering stranger danger with your child beforehand if they’re sensitive to it – but let them know there’s a happy ending (and let’s face it, she isn’t hanging off a bridge waiting to be saved which was always a little bit weird).

Annie is out on DVD tomorrow (did you see what I did there? Although that would be April 27th to the rest of us) – available from Amazon and all good retailers.

Annie DVD

There’s a Twitter Party going on RIGHT NOW, Sunday 26th April between 2-4pm – make sure you’re following the hashtag #anniemovieparty – come join in the fun!

We were sent a copy of the DVD and some Annie goodies (including a lovely Sandy plush toy) – everything above is our own opinion. All images were found via the internet, used without permission but to illustrate this blog post. This post contains an affiliate link. 


25 Apr

Project 365 Week 17

Sunday 19th April. Well I had plans for today! H was tired as she didn’t get to bed until 10pm, and Shaun was tired as he was hungover. So it was an extremely lazy day. I went into the loft for the first time ever! There is SO much of my stuff up there – it really needs to go. Interestingly, we found more of H’s baby toys and I’ve sold quite a few locally now which is good. After a while we realised she was being really quiet – to the point we didn’t know what she was up to. Seems she’d found a new book to read, and was on the section ‘how are babies made’. She was a bit embarrassed about being caught reading it, which makes me think she’s read something and it has blown her mind. She’s not ready to talk about what she has read yet. At least she knows Mummy and Daddy both don’t know what they’re doing either?

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Monday 20th April. Back to work, back to Rainbows and back to chaos. I like the chaos – we’re working for three badges this time at Rainbows too – crikey. One of the girls who left last term came back with some biscuits for all the leaders, so I got some absolutely delicious ‘blisscuits’ – yum!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Tuesday 21st April – I made soup and blogged about it. This is about all I can remember about today – that and scheduling loads of blog posts which have appeared in the last few days – I found a lot in draft from last November when my back went again, so I’ve been updating and publishing. Whoops!

souper booster

Wednesday 22nd April – I picked H up for the first time in ages and took this picture of our reflection in the window – not the greatest photo but not the worst either.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Thursday 23rd April – The latest Guy Fox book was delivered to us, and H is really enjoying reading about the Magna Carta. I really love the Guy Fox books – if you sign up to receive their newsletters you are sent free copies of their books, so we’ve one on how our Legal System works and one on the Economy already – they’re a charity and they’re awesome. You can find them here.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Friday 24th April. The calm after the storm. H had her first playdate without me after school, with four of her friends. I am enjoying the peace of sitting catching up on blog posts and life, and counting down the minutes until I go to pick her up. She bumped her head on Thursday but was fine at school on Friday – thank goodness. We got some Annie goodies which H thinks are the best thing ever – her Sandy dog is her new most loved thing.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Saturday 25th April – so we were meant to go to Great Fosters on Thursday for Afternoon Tea, which didn’t happen as we got the call from school saying H had a bump on the head. This resulted in a trip to A&E for the first time for H, where she was given the all clear. We rescheduled for Saturday, but would have to up the numbers to three as H would be joining us. We spent two hours eating and easily another hour and a half wandering around the grounds – if I have the time it’ll be a Country Kids post.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

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23 Apr

Box Garden Challenge

School gave us some Home Learning for the Easter Holidays – to make a Box Garden. So  we decided to use a few bits from our craft tub to make it look like a garden. So far, the most fun thing has been the cork bees!

Cork bees are ridiculously easy. All you need are some corks (handy if you drink wine), some paint (black and yellow), a pipecleaner and some play doh to stand it up – and a couple of googly eyes.

cork bees

First of all we painted the corks yellow and left it to dry overnight. We used Tiger Stores paint which covered the print on the corks really well. In the morning it was still a bit tacky, so I used a corn on the cob holder while we painted the black stripes onto the cork. After that they were left to dry overnight again. Get some googly eyes and stick two to the front of the bee. Then all you need to do is create the wings.

This is where the pipecleaner comes in – this is where I had to help H the most too. Wrap it around your fingers twice – these loops are the wings. Criss-cross them on themselves so they look kind of wing-like, and then just wrap the two ends of the pipecleaner around the cork, making sure there’s enough to create a stand. Then all you need to do after that is put it in some playdoh to stand up. It’ll now wobble around a bit like bees do, and looks jolly cute!

box garden

For the base of the Box Garden we got tissue paper and crunched it up, then found flower stickers, feathers, covered toilet rolls in sticky backed plastic and basically went crazy with decorating. We also added a caterpillar by threading beads onto a pipecleaner, putting a head on him and bending him to look sort of like a caterpillar crawling. It worked pretty well anyway, even if I say so myself!

In the middle is what makes it a garden – Tiger Stores had little basket type things for sale, and I picked one up a while ago. Inside the little basket is enough space for a shallow dish, which we put cotton wool in, and sprinkled some cress seeds on top of! Fully sprouted it looks like a very cute little crafty box garden – and while I’m sure we won’t be winning any prizes for our creativity, I LOVE THE CORK BEES!

Box Garden

So that’s our Box Garden done!

23 Apr

Souper Booster from the New Covent Garden Soup Co

souper booster

We love our soups in this house – and while they always seem to fall into the very convenient vegetable stock to pad out the taste a bit, I do like to try and jazz it up. When a friend pointed out that the New Covent Garden Soup Co had an offer for their new Souper Booster I had to give it a go.

souper booster

Souper Booster tubes are available in four flavours. Given H’s current dislike of anything spicy (generally when it’s pointed out to her), I opted for the ‘Wild Garlic and Herbs’ tubes – the Facebook deal was to get a free tube. However, I could see that the New Covent Garden Soup Co give you free postage when you buy two tubes – so I added another – may as well spend £2 and get two tubes, rather than £2 and get one! The deal worked, and my tubes arrived the following week. (the deal has now expired)

First observations – you need to put the best part of half of the Souper Booster tube into the soup. This isn’t a ‘delicate squeeze and it’s done’ – it’s a proper blob it on top to really make the flavour.

There is a soup recipe on the tube, but I used our Morphy Richards Soup Maker – this may make a difference with the overall volume of water used vs flavour – I would say definitely use less water in the soup maker (fill it to the minimum rather than higher).

souper booster

For my soup it was my Typical Tuesday recipe – anything left in the cupboard that needs using, as our food delivery is tomorrow – so today it was half a butternut squash, five carrots, a red pepper, some basil leaves and finally the Souper Booster on the top. I set the soup to be smooth and left the machine to work its magic.

The Souper Booster verdict? It’s a nice subtle garlic taste to it – not too overbearing, and almost sweet smelling too. It has a definite italian herbs aroma to it as well – it has definitely made the soup smell and taste more interesting.

The kitchen smells pretty good too! We served it with sliced up ciabatta rolls, and it was a nice filling tea.

souper booster

You can buy The Covent Garden Soup Co’s Souper Boosters direct from their website – I think I’ll be heading back to try the moroccan spice tube – yum!

22 Apr

Legoland Windsor

We visited Legoland Windsor last Easter (2014) when it was fairly busy. Since then we’ve had Merlin passes bought for us as our family Christmas present so we decided it was time to revisit.


Legoland Windsor is an extremely popular theme park, as you’d expect. It has been open this season for just over a month now but we have reason to go back another time.

We wanted to try and get to some of the areas we hadn’t been able to get to last time as well as revisit some places we liked. We were meant to go over Easter but H was ill, so we ended up going a week later – and this actually was a much better plan. It was pouring with rain as we left home, the kind of rain that would put anyone off going anywhere, especially an outdoor theme park. The rain was due to stop between 10-11am, and turn into a pleasantly warm day – so it was worth risking.

We made it to Windsor in just over an hour, there were no queues into the park and we got parked up and inside really quickly. Once inside I activated our free Wifi in an attempt to follow the Lego Movie trail (we only found Emmett and Benny, though Shaun thought he spotted Wyldstyle) heading straight to the Imagination Zone which we had enjoyed last time. We decided to aim towards Lego City, which was pretty rammed. In fact, most things seemed to have long queues in this area so we decided to try another time. Instead we headed to Atlantis, mainly as the queues had been so prohibitively long last time we wanted to see if it was do-able. It was – we were on the ride within five minutes!

Legoland atlantis

H loved Atlantis too – we all did, being in a submarine-like vessel going “underwater” amongst sharks and various fish, as well as Lego models. The ride was quite short, but it was good being so close to everything – it got a big thumbs up from us!

After Atlantis we decided to head towards Squid Surfers – with a quick detour to Dino Safari which H and I went on, again queueing for no longer than ten minutes. Squid Surfers was my favourite ride last time, mainly as you get to press buttons on the outside and squirt the riders – or more often than not, yourself! Once we got to Squid Surfers Shaun and H decided to go on there, and this was probably the longest queue of all the things we decided to go on, at around 20 minutes. Shaun and H got on the ride while I stood squirting them. Whoops. They were drenched. I didn’t realise I was THAT bad..  Afterwards we stopped for a burger and chips before heading down the street that is now Heartlake City (from Lego Friends) – which makes sense as most of the range seems to have shops and places to eat… no plastic croissants or bagels though.


Last year there was an area you could drive diggers (which H enjoyed) which is now being made into Heartlake City. H LOVES Lego Friends – so we know we’ll be going back at some point when it opens (currently May – it’s all boarded up at the moment). This also meant the little train that goes around Legoland Windsor isn’t working as the station is being done up as well.

H was still pretty wet, especially on her feet so we needed to buy her some new socks (using our Merlin Passholder 10% discount) – the stores at the entrance had a decent enough selection. None of the shops in Heartlake City had them – which is kind of weird as it’s next to a lot of the water rides.

After that we wandered towards Land of the Vikings and Knights Kingdom, where there were more rides to go on, and a play area which gave us a sit down while H climbed all over it.


It was around now it struck me – Legoland Windsor was so quiet that nobody was really using Q-Bot’s – their paying queue jumper thing which winds me up every time I see someone using it. It was really pleasant. Everyone got on the rides quickly, and everyone who works at Legoland is cheery and asks how your day is going, sounding like they geniunely care (rather than because they’re being told to say it).

There was a small table to build a Lego Robot for £3.50 which H did on her own and enjoyed, we found a coin squashing machine to add another coin to her collection, we got lost in the maze, and finally persuaded H to go into the Lego Star Wars area, as well as the Viking’s River Splash (again, a five minute wait at the most, and a handful of Q-Bot users by then who were probably cursing wasting their money on them).

It was a really enjoyable day – and we got a lot of rides we hadn’t done before out of the way. There are still a few we haven’t done, but I was pleased we were able to do quite a lot. We’ll be back at the end of May once Heartlake City is properly open unless we get an exclusive Merlin deal (I doubt it) – H is super excited to go, and I’m hoping it’ll be open then!

21 Apr

Decluttering – an Update

It all started off so well, with good intentions. We were going to get rid of EVERYTHING and I was inspired – except I wasn’t. It was depressing, I was getting rid of the things I was keeping just in case H had a younger sibling, a dream which is never going to happen.

Once I’d got over having to get rid of things, I started to remember what we actually have. We have a lot.. too much, in fact. Things that need to go. Fortunately we have some good local selling sites, and I know a few new mums and childminders around here, so I set up a photo album on my profile at Facebook. This got rid of a few bits quickly, which in turn got me inspired to get rid of things we’ve bought that have lived in the loft. I listed loads of things on a local Facebook selling group, and they’ve gone quickly.

So it’s farewell to H’s bike which was too small from over a year ago, farewell Trunki, farewell Moover Pram, toodle-pip Bumbo, be off with you slide and sandpit, and so many other things. The old baby clothes were overwhelming to the point I couldn’t face looking through them but had to make sure the Joy Division babygro I’d had specially made would survive. Shaun took several bags of clothes to the local Cash for Clothes place and came back with our first money.

After that, things have been selling. People want our things! Still nobody wants the Ozbozz scooter which H rode on outside for one WHOLE minute preventing me from taking it back to the shop and getting a larger one (it was too small for her). It has lived inside the box since we bought it over two years ago now. This must change! I feel like this week is the week someone will buy it.

I’m being really sensible about it too – H wants a trampoline, and so any money made is for the trampoline fund – I just need to work out how big we can go. Our current fund we’ve made so far is just under £150 which is pretty incredible – especially when you consider the amount of things I’ve given away for nothing.

So yes, the decluttering is coming along very well indeed. At last.

21 Apr

Aveeno – Ellie and Eddie are Back!

Happy Skin Holidays is the latest book in Aveeno’s Ellie and Eddie stories, written by author Penelope Harper. Dry skin doesn’t go away when the weather gets warmer – and sometimes your child might need a bit of persuading to apply the cream too…

Happy Skin Holidays

Happy Skin Holidays is the second book in the Aveeno range featuring Ellie and Eddie. The first book has been a big hit, and quite often I find H reading it  – and she is getting much better at making sure she has cream on her dry skin areas – we’ve been using Aveeno a lot this winter.

So now Spring is here – but both H and I have a problem; we’re both suffering from itchy skin. For me it’s across my tummy area and my arms, and for H it’s her arms and lower back – it has been a pain – and it’s kind of awkward scratching my tum when I’m at work. See, Aveeno isn’t just for dry skin when it’s cold – it’s for warm weather too. Being someone who had bad eczema on my legs for a couple of years I know I don’t moisturise as often as I should – even if I’m drinking a lot more water than I did back then!


But the good thing about this is H and I moisturise together so she sees it as a normal thing that we do, rather than an inconvenience. She still hates cream being put on her, but will do it if I am, so our morning routine now includes putting cream on ourselves – and Aveeno makes a massive difference. She knows it’s important as it is really well worded in Happy Skin Holidays – and Ellie and Eddie are both good at putting the cream on.

So our morning routine is something like this – I wake up, Shaun goes for a shower, H comes in for a cuddle with me and we both scratch and tell each other not to. I have my shower, and H gets an extra nap for 5 minutes. After that she goes to get ready and we both put on our Aveeno together.

The cream is really soothing and stops the itching – there’s nothing worse than seeing your child scratching themselves in the night as their skin is so dry and itchy. I like the Ellie and Eddie books as it encourages H to get on with it, and how normal it is to use it – she doesn’t feel like she’s the only child in the world with dry skin (as it’s not exactly what they’d chat about at school, is it!). The bath oil is really good too at bathtime and has become one of our essentials!

You can download both books over here – and I’d recommend if your child is anything like H, needing a bit of gentle persuasion!

Aveeno oil

We were sent the Eddie and Ellie book plus some Aveeno samples – all opinions are our own. 

19 Apr

Project 365 – Week 16

Sunday 12th April. We bought a new table and chairs for outside, and spent a bit of time finishing off H’s box garden for her home learning – the cress is growing really well. It looks bright and summery, and a week in still nice and bright – Shaun gave it a sneaky water at school yesterday!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Monday 13th April. Back to school, and H was super excited to be back with her friends again. My Souper Boosters arrived from the Covent Garden Soup Co – they had a Facebook offer which I went for. Interesting!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Tuesday 14th April. School, work and so on. Back to swimming. No pilates for me for another week or two, and Shaun was still working from home while they mend Central London. We sat outside in the sun after school eating Fruit Pasti-lollies and reading school books.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Wednesday 15th April. A beautiful sunny day. Washed H’s two smaller school dresses, the ones we got from Matalan to review last year and they were dry by the evening. Good days are measured by washloads and how many are done in a day in my life – thus making this a very good day indeed. The dresses are lasting well and I’m happy with the quality of them.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Thursday 16th April. I popped into The Entertainer on my lunch break and bought H her first two wheel scooter (a bargain in the sale for £11). She said to me with the most worried face how much she wasn’t sure she’d enjoy it. Got on the scooter, and immediately scooted everywhere without a problem. She’s been trying it out in the back yard now and is loving it.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Friday 17th April. I do believe I forgot to take a photo. My friend took one of H and her oldest friend, but to protect his privacy I won’t put it here. It doesn’t need documenting on here. They played so nicely and both children played so well together – considering they don’t see each other as much it’s like they never spend time apart – and it was good for me to catch up with my friend too.

Saturday 18th April. NCT summer meet up for all my oldest parenting friends. We don’t see each other very often – indeed, the last time we were together was New Year. It was a lovely sunny day so the kids got outside to play while we all caught up with each other. By the end of the evening all the kids were inside a playhouse under a duvet with glowsticks. I had to obscure the child’s face with some careful picmonkey editing, but I did like this one.


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14 Apr


It is almost my favourite time of the year for wandering in woods and forests – time for bluebells! The National Trust have a list of all the best places – and my personal favourite is Hatchlands Park near Guildford – their bluebell wood is amazing! Read on for some more suggestions.

Hatchlands bluebells - NT John Miller

Bluebells have something magical about them. With their sudden, mystical takeover of ancient woodlands the flowers have long been linked to the fairy-world.

Get the family together and discover the delights of these delicate flowers that transform Britain’s wonderful woodlands. The blooming date for bluebells varies depending on the weather, but you can usually expect to see them in April and May.

Here’s a selection of the top National Trust places and events where you can enjoy bluebells in all their glory:

Buckland Abbey, Garden and Estate, Devon

The woodland armada, 2 May – 6 June, 10.30am – 5.30pm

When you visit Buckland, you follow over 700 years of footsteps; from the Cistercians who built the Abbey and farmed the estate, to seafarers Grenville and Drake who changed the shape of the house and the fate of the country. This spring, discover over 100 ships decorated by visitors as they set sail across the bluebell sea in The Great North Wood.

Price: Free event (normal admission fee applies)

Spring walks, 7, 10, 14 May, 1pm – 2.30pm

Discover the emerging bluebell displays, ransoms and many other wild flowers in the Great North Wood. Join the estate ranger for a two mile walk around the estate to see some wonderful spring delights.

Price: Free event (normal admission fee applies)

Basildon Park, Berkshire

Basildon Park, a Georgian mansion surrounded by parkland, was lovingly rescued by Lord and Lady Iliffe in the mid-1950s. Expansive countryside surrounds Basildon Park with great views towards the Thames and the Chilterns. Enjoy a walk in the 400 acres of parkland and woodland, take in the breath-taking views and at this time of year enjoy the changing colours of the landscape.

Beautiful bluebells, 1 April – 31 May, 10am – 4pm

Keep an eye on the Bluebell Watch on the Basildon Park website where you’ll be able to find out when they’re at their blooming best.

Price: Free event (normal admission fee applies)

Hinton Ampner, Hampshire

Visitors can explore acres of recently opened ancient woodland surrounding this quintessentially English landscape. Stroll slowly through glorious beech avenues and soak up the bluebell phenomenon that appears here. Hinton welcomes picnickers in its woods, and there are woodland ‘sofas’ carved out of fallen tree trunks where you can sit and admire the blue view.

Spring woodland walk, 2 & 13 May, 1pm – 3pm

This spring, enjoy a guided woodland walk taking in the bluebells and the beautiful woodland at Hinton Ampner. Take a stroll in the carpets of Bluebells lining the woods, followed by scrumptious afternoon tea in the tea room.

Price: £10 (booking essential)

For more information, please call 01962 77130


Blickling Estate, Norfolk

Visit Blickling in April through to May and discover one of the best places to see bluebells in the country. Follow the winding paths through the Great Wood and pass through swathes of the dainty blue flowers.Late April to early May is usually the best time at Blickling to see bluebells as they carpet the woodland floor.

Runnymede, Berkshire

Seen by many as the birthplace of modern democracy, this picturesque open landscape beside the Thames was witness to King John’s historic sealing of the Magna Carta 800 years ago on 15 June 1215. This historic landscape of picturesque meadows and rolling hills is perfect for a relaxing walk. Take in stunning views, soak up some history and see if you can spot the Bluebells in the woodlands.

Downhill Demesne and Hezlett House, County Londonderry

Visit this stunning landscape and beautiful gardens where you’ll find magnificent clifftop walks, affording rugged headland views across the awe-inspiring North Coast. The striking eighteenth-century mansion at Downhill now lies in ruin, but the offering of beautiful gardens and stunning coastal walks makes this is a fantastic place for all the family to visit – especially during bluebell season.

Behind the scenes: bluebell walks, 2 – 3 May, 12pm – 4pm

Come along for an afternoon stroll around the Bishop’s Gate gardens and glen to see the bluebells in full bloom. Join the estate ranger who will highlight the latest developments around the wider demesne and show off the hidden gems in the gardens.

Price: Free event (normal admission fee applies, booking essential)

Hardcastle Crags Bluebell cascade Credit Drew Marsh

Nymans, West Sussex

Rumoured to bloom on St George’s Day (23 April), there are carpets of delicately scented bluebells throughout the ancient woodland surrounding Nymans. Described as a garden lovers’ home for all seasons, you can enjoy an extensive yet intimate garden set around a romantic house and ruins this spring. Inspired by the setting and the soil, the Messel family created one of the country’s great gardens in the late nineteenth-century. The garden and nearby woods are perfect for walking, picnicking and spotting bluebells.

Art Workshop with John Thompson: bluebell woods, 28 – 30 May, 10.30am – 3.30pm

Local artist and tutor John Thompson returns with more of his popular painting workshops. John takes inspiration from the seasonal changes on the landscape and gardens of Nymans and this month’s theme is bluebell woods. Visit for a full day of relaxed and empowering art making in the Potting shed. Learn easy techniques working with acrylic paints on board (be prepared to get messy), making various marks and building textures. All painting materials provided.

Price: £60 (including materials and refreshments, booking essential)

Lanhydrock, Cornwall

Lanhydrock is the perfect country house and estate, with the feel of a family home. The estate is well worth exploring, with ancient woodlands and tranquil riverside paths. You can take the bikes out on the off-road cycle trails, with special routes for families and novice riders. This fascinating country estate has gorgeous gardens, including a brilliant collection of spring-flowering magnolias and woodland areas blooming with waves of daffodils and bluebells.

Bluebell tour, 2 May, 10am – 1pm

Join the Head Ranger for a stroll through the stunning bluebell woods, followed by lunch in the restaurant at 12pm.

Price: £15 (includes lunch, booking essential)

Osterley Park and House, Middlesex

A short hop from central London by tube but a world apart lies Osterely. Surrounded by gardens, park and farmland, Osterley is one of the last surviving country estates in London. Take a seat in the deckchairs on the temple lawn and watch the world go by, take the woodland walk and uncover the forgotten boathouse or wander back through the ancient meadow, bursting with wildflowers and butterflies.

Bluebell walk, 30 April, 6 May, 2pm – 3.30pm

The bluebells at Osterley Park are true wildflowers, on display in the ancient woodland. They have a delicate scent, intense blue colour and flowers that droop down like a bell along one side of the stem. Join a guided tour of the gardens with the ranger as you take in the carpet of colour; learn about the spring flower and its wider role in the management of the estate.

Price: Adult £6, Child £3 (normal admission fee applies, booking essential)

Godolphin, Cornwall

Discover Godolphin, rich in archaeology and wildlife and travel back in time as you wander around the sixteenth-century garden, one of the most important historic gardens in Europe. Get lost in the tranquil and mysterious woodland, where the years of mining have left an unnatural, undulating landscape. Go for a stroll along the river and don’t forget to stop for a refreshing cup of tea and slice of home-made cake in the tea-room.

Save our native bluebell, 10 May, 11am – 12.30pm

Join an informative walk and talk with Godolphin’s gardener on the current threats to our native bluebell from the Spanish varieties, and walk through the sea of blue in Godolphin’s far orchard.

Price: Free event (normal admission fee applies)

Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent

Wander through Sissinghurst Castle Garden for inspiring ideas or simply soak up spring and enjoy the rich, warm colours of the Cottage Garden. Also known as the Spring Garden, the Lime Walk is one area where former owner Harold Nicolson controlled the design and planting. Long beds of tulips, fritillaries and hyacinths are marked out by an avenue of pleached limes, scattered by generous terracotta pots, every inch bursting with colour during spring.

Bluebell and wildflower walks, 26 April & 1 – 2 May, 1pm – 2.30pm

Come and see the woodland at Sissinghurst at this beautiful time of year on a guided walk with the ranger team. Afterwards finish the walk off with a cream tea in the restaurant.

Price: £12.50 (normal admission fee applies, booking essential)

Dinefwr Park and Castle, Carmarthenshire

Dinefwr Park and Castle is an iconic place in the history of Wales and is the perfect place to take a relaxing stroll through some of Carmarthenshire’s most beautiful areas of countryside. It’s the only designated parkland National Nature Reserve in the whole of Wales, where you can discover ancient trees, rare lichen and fungi and some of the best examples of British wildlife you’re likely to see.

Bluebell display in Castle Woods, 1 – 31 May, 10am – 6pm

Don’t miss the spectacular Bluebell display at Dinefwr – a real treat for the senses. It’s difficult to predict exactly when the Bluebells will in full bloom but we know for sure it will be in May and the best place to see the biggest display is in Castle Woods.

Price: Free event (normal admission fee applies)

Sheffield Park and Garden, East Sussex

Sheffield Park and Garden is a horticultural work of art formed through centuries of landscape design, with influences of ‘Capability’ Brown and Humphry Repton. Four lakes form the heart of the garden, with paths circulating through the glades and wooded areas surrounding them. Running across the bottom of the estate is the River Ouse and flood meadow. During the spring and summer months the meadow is covered in wild flowers, butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies.

Bluebell walk, 29 April, 11am – 1pm, 6 May, 2pm – 4pm

Join a guided walk through the estate to see carpets of bluebells in the garden and woodland.

Price: Adult £5, Child £2.50 (normal admission fee applies, booking essential)

Strangford Lough, County Down

Strangford Lough is a unique and wonderful place of immense international importance for nature conservation. It is the largest sea lough in the British Isles, covering an area from Angus Rock at its mouth on the Irish Sea, to the vast sand-flats. It’s one of only three designated Marine Nature Reserves in the United Kingdom. Nugent’s Wood, at Portaferry, is one of the last refuges for the native red squirrel and is the perfect place for discovering bluebells.

Bluebell walk in Nugent’s Wood, Portaferry, 2 May, 10am – 12pm

Learn more about local history, wildlife and work that Rangers do on the estate and around the interesting woodland in Strangford Lough.

Price: Free event

Dunham Massey, Cheshire

At Dunham Massey stroll down camellia walk to see over 10,000 plants in the cyclamen grove, the bluebell meadow and yellow meadow. Take a walk and enjoy a beautiful display of the protected English Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta on the estate. You can find the largest collection of flowers under the Oaks and Witch hazels next to the Bog Garden.

Hardcastle Crags, West Yorkshire

Bluebells are the undisputed spring highlight at Hardcastle Crags where they carpet the woodland. At their peak, usually in May they form an almost unearthly blue haze through the woodlands and fill air with their sweet perfume. This wooded landscape is often known as ‘Little Switzerland’ because of the valley sides, pathways and river and in spring the woodland is awash with bluebells.

Hatchlands Park, Surrey
Situated on the edge of the beautiful Surrey Hills and surrounded by charming villages, this peaceful location is just 45 minutes from central London. Hatchlands Park is one of the largest country estates in the county, including ancient woodland and open parkland, with views of the historic house and Surrey countryside. Wix’s Wood is home to carpets of bluebells which will appear in late April and early May. For latest updates on when the bluebells are out visit

Bluebells in garden at Rufford Old Hall NTPL

Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire

Rufford Old Hall is set within 14 acres of glorious gardens and woodland, laid out in the style found during the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods. Enjoy a walk among the small woodland awash with a variety of native trees as well as a carpet of bluebells and crocuses in springtime. The best time to see them is in late April and early May in Beech Walk and the North Woods – see if you can spot the honey and bumblebees visiting the bluebells as well.


13 Apr

Celebrate With Cake!

I don’t celebrate birthdays very well. However, there is one part of birthdays that I do manage to do well – and that usually involves cake. If there is cake on offer I’ll eat it – though I shouldn’t go too crazy with my diabetes history. It isn’t my birthday just yet, but last week a day passed by in its own little way, marked with some delightful cakes from Mr Kipling – Mum Friendly turned four.

better with cake

So we had a little celebration. Thanks to BritMums we were sent three different kinds of Mr Kipling’s cakes – French Fancies, Cherry Bakewells and Viennese Whirls – so I loaded up the cake stand and we helped ourselves after our main meal.

better with cake

Yum! French Fancies always bring back memories for me, I remember eating them when I was little, just like H does now. “Mummy, can I have another cake?” she asked, as she eyed up the lemon variety… oh, and let’s not mention her licking the top of every single Cherry Bakewell. I have no idea why – she said there were crumbs.

better with cake

So we chose a couple of the cakes each, so as not to go overboard in one evening (there are plenty of days after school we can eat the rest) and settled down to eat them.

better with cake

The following day we sat outside in the sun, giant glasses of water with a cake to accompany it. This isn’t just one birthday party, it’s several celebrations until the cakes run out! Oh yes.

better with cake

Easter was a bit of a washout for us in the end – I got ill, Shaun got it and finally H got it – so the cakes were perfect for the Mum Friendly birthday party – as we could all eat again – and we made the most of it.

better with cake

What’s even better is I popped them in the fridge, so even a week later I’m helping myself to a sneaky cake – they keep well!

So yes, Happy Birthday Mum Friendly, four years old. We had a little party with deliciously marvellous cakes!

better with cake

This post is an entry for #betterwithcake Linky Challenge, sponsored by Mr Kipling. Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/mrkiplingcakes.