What Makes The Perfect Picnic?

For me, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here, a picnic takes some beating.

Whether it’s planned to precision with traditional lemonade and homemade mini quiches (no, that’s never me!) or a last minute grab of the picnic blanket, there’s nothing better than eating outdoors and enjoying the sunshine.

With National Picnic Week just around the corner, 13th – 21st June, I thought I would share what makes our perfect family picnic. I’m also running a fab giveaway in conjunction with the lovely folk over at Seabrook Crisps, to celebrate National Picnic Week, so scroll to the bottom of this post to enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway.

A couple of years ago, I felt I became a picnic pro when Luke brought me a proper picnic hamper. Wow, I love it. A white, buckle up hamper with real plates and cutlery. It even comes with salt and pepper pots, wine glasses and a corkscrew.

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For me, the perfect picnic is made up of a few ingredients.

Firstly, the contents of the picnic basket:

It’s personal of course, and a grown up picnic would inevitably have different contents from the lunchables or dippers that would be found in our family hamper!

We usually have ham or egg mayo sandwiches, crisps, mini sausages, cucumber/carrot sticks, potato salad, something sweet and lots of fruit. Strawberries are the favourite punnet of choice. And lots of drinks.

Location is paramount for that perfect picnic. The beach or the New Forest is usually our location of choice and it’s lovely to see that two of our local hot spots have made it onto The Top 14 Picnic Spots in the UK:

1. Avon Valley Country Park – Bristol

2. Barafundle Beach – Pembrokeshire 

3.  Bodmin Moor – Cornwall

4. Brownsea Island – Dorset

5. Corfe Castle – Dorset 

6. Devil’s Dyke – East Sussex 

7.  Formby Beach – Merseyside 

8. Gibside – Newcastle-Upon-Tyne 

9. Glenkiln Sculpture Park – Dumfries and Galloway

10. Padley Gorge – Derbyshire

11. Rievaulx Abbey – North Yorkshire 

12. Somerset House – London 

13.  St Herbert’s Island – Derwentwater, Cumbria North Pennines 

14. Top Withens – Haworth, Yorkshire 

and thirdly, if you have children, the perfect picnic is not perfect, unless you have some outdoor games.

A good old football is usually the first thing to be thrown into our car boot:

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Tennis…

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Cricket…

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Rounders…

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and we’ve even been known to bring some hard boiled eggs for an Egg and Spoon race…

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So that’s how we do a picnic and we think it’s the perfect picnic.

To celebrate National Picnic Week, the lovely people at Seabrook Crisps are giving one of my lucky readers a chance to win a month’s supply of crisps and a framed personalised packet of crisps!

If you would like to enter the giveaway, just click on the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, follow the instructions and enter as many options as you would like.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 The winner will be notified within 24 hours of the competition closing on 5th June. The prizes will be sent directly from the supplier to the lucky recipient.

Good luck and dig out that picnic hamper and blanket!

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Easter Sun Fun ~ Pt.2

The second week of our Easter holidays has nearly come to an end and it’s been bloomin lovely.

It feels like we have had a real break as we haven’t been thinking about going back to work and we haven’t been doing school work. Bliss.

We’ve just enjoyed being a family, for 2 whole weeks.

This second week saw us enjoying even more of this beautiful Spring weather.

We Luke did a bit of gardening. He took up some of the patio slabs which used to be in an ‘L’ shape and laid down new turf. He put down new edging on the patio. Now we have a bit more grass on this side of the garden but I’m pretty sure it will be football ridden soon! We’ve moved our conservatory furniture into the garden too, so it’s nice to have an adult space amongst the outdoor toys.

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We went to the beach, as always. My lovely friend, Lyn was competing in the Bournemouth Bay 5k run and it was lovely to go along and show my support, from the sideline. Will it be me next year? Hmm… Maybe!

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The boys went to Rock Reef and did some indoor climbing. It’s always nice to find an activity that they all enjoy with their 7 year age gap and this is definitely one of them. Ethan was so chuffed that he did the wall in his quickest time yet.

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Whilst the boys were climbing, Lola and I enjoyed some girlie time on the sand. I think she’s going to be a beach baby like her Mummy.

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One of the days, Luke and I even managed a few hours alone, to enjoy a beer garden. Heaven.

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We also found a wonderful park and outdoor cycle track that is completely free. Needless to say, Harley was in his element. And such gorgeous surroundings too. Can you spot him?

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I can’t believe the week’s not over yet. We’ve had so much fun. Tomorrow it’s Marwell Zoo and on Monday we are off to Legoland.

Phew, I’m exhausted but my heart is full.

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Easter break.

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Easter Sun Fun

Happy Holidays, everyone.

For some, I hope you have had a lovely two weeks, for others, enjoy one more week of the Easter hols. For us, it’s a weird one. My 2 step sons are staying with us for a week, however Ethan is back to school on Monday but Connor still has another week off. Despite the schools only being a 10 minute drive from each other, the different school holiday dates have made it a bit tricky for us, this year. Nevertheless we have tried to cram in as much as possible, to make the time off, one to cherish.

And hasn’t this week’s weather been stunning. T-shirts, sunglasses, suncream, washing on the line, and oh how pleased my feet were to see some flipflops. It’s been truly glorious.

Here is the first week of our holiday, with just some of my favourite pictures:

We were really fortunate to be given a chalet at Pontins for a few nights. You can imagine, Harley was in his absolute element; staying away from home, staying up late at the Disco! There were so many activities for him to do. He tried skateboarding down full size ramps and up jumps, for the first time and loved it:

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He beat me at the Crazy Golf; we all went swimming (such a lovely, warm pool, perfect for Lola) and went on the Go Karts but I think Daddy secretly had the most fun!

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It was so lovely to spend some time together, just doing things for the kids. And the best bit, it didn’t cost us a penny but Harley will remember it forever. And you know what, so will I.

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We have also enjoyed the stunning weather, down the beach. We are spoilt for choice with our beautiful beaches here but as always, it confirms why we live here.

I love this photo of them together:

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and this one, mid fall!

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We also spent a lovely day at Moors Valley Country Park. It’s such a brilliant place for the whole family. The boys love doing the Adventure Trail walk, which is perfect as it encourages them to have a long walk through the forest, whilst stopping off at various play zones and wooden climbing frames. Ethan is 11 and Harley is 4, there’s not many places that we can go where all of the boys have so much fun, but this is one of them.

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We had a picnic on the wooden toadstools and yes, I too question what I was thinking letting Harley go out in white shorts!

But I do secretly love seeing grubby hands and muddy knees … it’s a sign of innocent childhood fun, in my mind.

Here’s to another week of fun, next week. Let’s hope the sun continues to shine.

I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

My Sunday Photo

We have just bought an Annual Pass for one of our favourite family days out, Farmer Palmers. It’s such a perfect place to go to spend a whole day or just a couple of hours, they also have a great soft play area if it’s raining! Harley loves the Go Karts and riding the tractors.

I am not an animal person but I am trying to get Harley to enjoy being around animals. We like to go into the barn so that he can hold a guinea pig and he fed the goats by holding out a bottle of milk.

When we visited during the week, we saw the most adorable sight.

8 baby piglets having a feed.

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Our Half Term week in pictures

If you’re anything like me, you will feel that the school holidays always fly by and you are already counting down to the next one.

Only a week ago, I had a very different feeling in my tummy: one of excitement for the week ahead; one of happiness to spend everyday, all day, together.

Regretfully, I sit here now with a different feeling in my tummy. Back to work, back to pre-school, back to the early morning rush, back to waving goodbye.

We had such a lovely week. Here’s our week in pictures:

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Top left: We caught the little Noddy train at Hengistbury Head down to the beach. Lola slept the whole journey but Harley loved being on the train and especially the ice cream at the end.

Top right: A lovely friend had a pancake party on Tuesday and I was reliably informed that “Anna’s pancakes are much better than yours mummy!” We went up onto her rooftop terrace to admire the gorgeous view of the sea (hence my Sunday Photo) and managed to get a lovely photo of us four.

Middle left: We had Luke’s boys for half the week and managed to get a photo of all of them. Quite a task!

Middle right: We love going swimming and we went to the Wet and Wild session at a local pool. So much fun.

Bottom left: We visited Farmer Palmers and bought an Annual Pass so we can go as much as we want now. It’s perfect for a day out or just for a couple of hours. They have a new indoor area and Lola adored going up and down the slides in the hay barn.

Bottom middle: We spent a rainy afternoon at The Treehouse. It’s like an indoor soft play but it’s wooden with artificial grass. The kids love it there.

Bottom right: A game of Twister but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle version.

I hope you all had a lovely week too. Not wanting to wish time away, it’s only 6 weeks until the Easter hols!

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Alphabet Photo #B

B is for … Brave.

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Last weekend we headed down to the pier. For a chilly winter walk along the beach? I hear you ask. Nope. To play the penny machines? Nope. We actually went rock climbing!

At the end of pier, there is now a fantastic indoor climbing zone called Rock Reef. As Harley is only 4, he was able to do the ‘Clip n Climb’ which is a series of climbing walls and ladders. I’ll be really honest and say that I didn’t think he would get a couple of rocks above the ground… but I was so wrong.

He did amazing. He was so brave.

As he got the hang of it, he managed to get all the way to the top and press the light. The wall in the photo above, stops 3/4 of the way up and then turns into a transparent wall. As the climbing zone is on the end of the pier, you are then climbing high, over looking the sea. Pretty spectacular. Totally wasted on a 4 year old, yet I thoroughly enjoyed the view; watching him and the sea.

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The Snowman – Thank you Mumsnet and Save the Children

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It’s been so lovely to see all of the fab photos of you and your little ones in their Christmas jumpers, all in support of Save the Children’s ‘Make the a World better with a Sweater’ day. Yesterday, the annual event saw many people, businesses, workplaces and schools, donate to the fantastic charity by wearing their Christmas jumpers for the day. You can read my blog post about it here, and see me and mine in our festive sweaters.

I was delighted to be contacted by Mumsnet and Save the Children to say that I had won 4 tickets to see the gala performance of ‘The Snowman’ in London! Readers of my latest post The Christmas Tag, will know that one of my all time favourite Christmas movies is ‘The Snowman’ and I watched it with Harley last week; it was magical to watch him be in awe throughout the film, just as I was when I was little.

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So I was absolutely over the moon, to hear that we had the opportunity to see it, live on stage. Regretfully, the performance started a little too early for us to drive up from the South Coast after work. But I was so pleased to be able to pass on the tickets to a friend and her boys. She sent me some photos of the evening which I’m delighted to be able to share with you.

When they arrived, the boys decorated gingerbread men with Save the Children before the show started, which they thoroughly enjoyed.

Look at that fab Xmas Jumper

Look at that fab Xmas Jumper

They were even treated to a visit from the Snowman himself.

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The boys absolutely loved the show and didn’t want it to end. They had a fab view from the stalls:

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and their favourite part was the iconic scene when the snowman started flying!

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On the opinion of a lovely friend, if you’re looking for a firm, festive, family favourite (what about that for some alliteration!) we can thoroughly recommend the spectacle and magic of The Snowman; expertly brought to life through spectacular lighting, super choreography and performed by a live band. The Times are quoted as saying, “Sheer theatrical magic. Go see the Snowman and melt,” I love that.

The Snowman is currently showing at The Peacock theatre, Holborn, London, until 4th January 2015. You can book tickets if you click here.

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So on behalf of my friend and her gorgeous boys, I have to send a big, big thank you to Mumsnet and Save the Children for your generosity. What a lovely Christmas treat.

Disclaimer: I was gifted complimentary tickets for the show and was not asked to promote the show or theatre, Save the Children or Mumsnet.

Did you join in with the Christmas Jumper day? Have you seen ‘The Snowman’ live?

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Our visit to Paultons Park Christmas Wonderland

For me, the most special time of year is nearly upon us so my family and I were so excited to visit the Christmas Wonderland at Paultons Park. Our favourite family theme park, coupled with Father Christmas… it exceeded all of our expectations.

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Our tickets were for 11am and we were told to be at the entrance quarter of an hour before. Santa’s elves greeted us and had a little chat with Harley and Lola before we went in. There is space to leave the buggy at the beginning, if you wanted to but we chose to keep Lola in hers before she started getting fidgety. As you enter the Wonderland, there is immediately a gorgeous bedroom scene, all set up for Christmas Eve. There is even a sleeping child in the bed, where the covers respond to the child’s breathing; it was very realistic. You then walk through a tunnel of glittery stars overhead and into the most magical set up of Christmas scenes.

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At every point along the path, there is something beautiful to look at and enjoy, whilst eagerly waiting to meet Santa. All of the animals and creatures are part of some spectacular scenes; most of which have moving parts and even sing along to the Christmas songs. The penguins, polar bears, snowmen and baby seals to name but a few, all create a snowy spectacle as you follow the signs towards the North Pole.

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As you edge ever closer, you see Rudolph and the animated reindeers in their stables. Then you enter Santa’s Toy Workshop. A whole host of busy elves are making and wrapping the toys and collecting the children’s letters for Santa. Harley loved watching the teddy bears move along the conveyor belt and stood in awe, gazing at the large pile of wrapped presents at the end.

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As we had a buggy with us, we saw Santa in the larger room (there are 2 rooms for children to meet Santa, which I thought was a brilliant idea as it helped the queue to move quicker.) The elf on the door was really good with the children as we waited our turn to enter the room. She chatted to them about what they wanted for Christmas and asked about whether they were excited to meet Santa.

I didn’t know how Lola would react to seeing Father Christmas. At only 9 months, I thought there might be some tears. But I was so wrong, she loved him and he was brilliant with her. After a quick chat, Santa gave Harley and Lola a present, each labelled with their age bracket and girl or boy, which you state when purchasing your tickets.

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We unwrapped the presents at home and were unbelievably impressed with the high quality gifts both children received. Harley was given a Monster truck set and Lola, a snuggly comforter and toy. Both gifts were perfect for their age and very well received.

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After the Christmas Wonderland we went into the 4d cinema to watch the Christmas film, Sleigh Ride. This was such fun. The chairs move in time with Santa’s sleigh and there is even a hair raising moment when it feels like there are spider legs around your feet as you see the animated spider appear on screen.

Harley kept yelping in joy and saying he was getting wet! I wondered what on earth he was talking about until the 3rd time of him saying it, I realised that it always coincided with a water scene in the film and sure enough a quick spray of water really did take you into the film. (I think my lucky seat must have missed the water spray!) The film ends with a snow scene and foam is sprayed out from the side of the cinema. It made me laugh so much as I thought it was just the 3d effect in the film until the lights went up and I saw foam snow everywhere.

As if all of this excitement wasn’t enough for one day, the entry ticket into the Christmas Wonderland also gives you entry into the whole of Paultons Park and the fantastic Peppa Pig World. Some of the rides are closed for Winter maintenance but it was super to see the spectacular Christmas tree and magical illuminations throughout the park, which all year round, is a firm family favourite of ours. Peppa and George are dressed up in their winter gear which is a lovely touch and we enjoyed the park for the rest of the day.

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Theme Park rides; Peppa Pig; meeting Father Christmas; a beautiful, magical Wonderland and Christmas trees a plenty…. I’m not sure if you can get anything better than that for a family day out at Christmas time.

Click here to book tickets for Paultons Park Christmas Wonderland.

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Disclaimer: My family and I were lucky enough to receive complimentary tickets from Paultons Park for their Christmas Wonderland event, however all words and opinions are very much my own.

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Family Fever
Me add three

Can you really have a child friendly, luxury Spa hotel? Yes you can!

Long before my beautiful children came along, I used to frequent many a top class hotel where luxury and quality were at the forefront of its name. As much as I love my children dearly, it is with regret that that part of my life has somewhat diminished.

I only have to cringe at the thought of taking them into a posh restaurant, let alone a hotel!

It’s such a shame that many top hotels out there, do not cater for families, in fact, I have felt somewhat uncomfortable being in these places with my children. I get that people don’t want screaming children running around whilst they are eating their 7 course menu of griddled red mullet, red wine jus, seared foie gras with turnip and prune (see, I can be posh!) but families can have well behaved children and like to enjoy a bit of luxury too, amidst the sandwich picnics on the floor, chicken nuggets and fish fingers to which we have become accustomed.

So imagine my delight when my family and I arrived at the Cottons Hotel and Spa, in Knutsford, Cheshire.

The sheer fact that I want to share this fantastic hotel with you all, speaks volumes.

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I’ll be honest though … we arrived in the evening and as we drove into the carpark, the fountain and stunning sparkly trees which front the hotel where lit up to create an idyllic entrance. Although this fairytale welcome, met all of my ideal, that inner anxiety that we were arriving with an 11 year old, a 4 year old and heaven forbid a 9 month old baby, started to rear it’s ugly head. I remember my words “…behave you lot… you have to be on your best behaviour… don’t touch anything.. etc etc”

From the minute we met the night porter and checked in, I was blown away by this gorgeous hotel. Our bags were carried to our room for us, on the 3rd floor and the sight of a 4 poster bed was more than a welcome surprise.

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The room was extremely spacious, even for all of us. There was a lounge area with a double sofa bed and I was delighted to see that the hotel had put up a travel cot for Lola. The 2 Tvs made the boys very excited. Teas, coffees, Horlicks and delicious biscuits were provided. There was also a fridge with complimentary chilled water and milk. I thought it was lovely that the boys were each provided with a bottle of juice and a packet of raisins, on arrival. And this photo, well, it speaks for itself ….

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… what a brilliant idea: a dish for your ghds!

We were staying 2 nights at the Cottons Hotel, so made the most of the huge breakfast they had on offer, each morning. Guests can enjoy a cooked breakfast buffet, croissants, cereal, toast, yogurt and fresh fruit. All of us were full to the brim.

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The staff were so attentive. It was during the morning of our first breakfast that I realised how unbelievably family friendly this hotel is. We were given a comfy high chair for Lola, child cutlery and the staff were so good at clearing up the odd bits of toast that she kept flinging onto the floor!

We also made the most of the gorgeous spa that the hotel has to offer, visiting both days.

Again, this photo speaks for itself. How adorable that the children are provided with their own ‘VI little P’ white fluffy robes. What a brilliant touch:

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The spa houses a great size pool with a shallow baby pool attached. It was perfect for us as we could all be together.

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The spa also had a relaxing Turkish Steam Room giving off a deliciously inhalant Eucalyptus scent (one of my most favourite smells) with ambient red spotlights on the ceiling and also a Sauna. There is a large jacuzzi pool which Ethan loved as he was old enough to use it.

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Outdoors, there is another jacuzzi overlooking the tennis courts. How about this to wake up to in the morning or relax in at the end of the day?

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Saturday evening we popped into Knutsford. What a gorgeous, quaint, little town. I wish we had visited in the day so that we could have made the most of all of the wonderful little shops. I have to say that I found my ultimate dream kitchen in the kitchen shop there!

This beautiful hotel had already done more than enough to sell itself to me but it totally outdid itself when room service knocked on the door. We were a little confused at first as we hadn’t ordered anything but to the children’s sheer delight, the hotel had sent them up a cookie and a glass of milk before bed, with their names written in chocolate.

My goodness, how many hotels do that? Not many, I’m pretty sure.

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From the minute we arrived, to the minute we checked out, we felt truly spoilt and well looked after. From the hotel itself, to its staff, to the food, to the spa, even the complimentary toiletries in the bathroom, all exceeded our expectations.

For a short break in idyllic countryside, yet only a short distance from the M6 and M56, I can’t recommend this Shire hotel enough. The Cotton’s Hotel and Spa, is a haven of class and relaxation. It took me back to those days when I could enjoy a top notch hotel, only this time, my children were able to be with me and I’m not sure there’s anything better than that.

Disclaimer: I received a 2 nights stay at the hotel with breakfast thanks to Baby “N” Mums Best, a super website that offers advice and support for all things mums and babies. However all words and opinions are my own; I was not expected to write a review of the hotel but felt compelled to do so, as I was so impressed. Baby “N” Mums Best are currently running a competition to win a 2 nights stay at the Cottons Hotel and Spa if you click here. So be quick and good luck! I’m certain you’ll love it as much as I did.

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Christmas Wonderland at Paultons Park

Friends and family know that I’m a sucker for Christmas. Who isn’t? The sheer thought and perhaps realisation that December is really not that far away, fills me so much warmth and excitement. I won’t dwell on the fact that, yes, another year seems to have flown by! I’ve already started a bit of my Christmas shopping but I do like to visit the shops when full Christmas atmosphere is upon us. Getting wrapped up in a warm coat and browsing the local Christmas outdoor market whilst stopping for a warm glass of mulled wine, is my idea of shopping heaven. I love driving home from work and seeing the huge Christmas tree on the roundabout, beautifully lit up. I love decorating our home; letting the kids decorate the tree then secretly moving a few baubles that I can’t just bring myself to leave!  Seeing the cosy lights, the holly, the wreath on the door and then of course, the Christmas movies.

Christmas to me is all about the children. There is nothing more magical than leaving out a plate of mince pie and wine for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph on Christmas Eve. Their little faces, Christmas morning when they first set eyes on their stocking filled with goodies, I would freeze that moment in time, if I could.

This Christmas is going to be made even more magical because we are going to be taking Harley and Lola to the Christmas Wonderland at Paultons Park. Excited doesn’t seem to do justice to how we all feel at the thought of meeting Santa in his Winter Wonderland.

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The park and Peppa Pig World are transformed at Christmas and take you on a magical festive journey with animated characters, singing reindeer, giant Christmas trees and illuminations.

The Christmas Wonderland will run from Saturday 15th November until Tuesday 23rd December 2014. Tickets must be pre-booked in advance and include entry to the Wonderland; the rides at Paultons Park and Peppa Pig World; the 4d film at the Show Street Cinema and of course, all good boys and girls, get to receive a present from Santa. The Wildwood’s restaurant will be open with a delicious festive menu if you need a pit stop to refuel.

You can pre-book your tickets by clicking here.

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We are beyond excited to visit the Christmas Wonderland this year. You can find out more about this spectacular event if you head over to the Paultons Park website by clicking here.

Take a little peak at the trailer for the 4d film below, it will be sure to get you feeling all warm and Christmassy:

What gets you all excited about Christmas? Have you ever been to the Christmas Wonderland at Paultons Park? I’m so excited, we are counting down the days!

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