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Posts tagged ‘vacation’

1
Aug

Just who benefits most from Food Supplements?

Grow your own vegetables and use lots of compost

Grow your own vegetables and use lots of compost

The latest ‘warning’ that low levels of selenium in British soil* are having a damaging effect on our health as we are not getting enough of the mineral through the food we eat, is yet another spur to buy yet more supplements.

Most people I talk to about this find the whole subject confusing. Many friends say they take a multi vitamin tablet every day just to be on the safe side. And yet we hear from scientists that our diet is quite adequate and multi vitamin tablets are unnecessary and natural sources are far easier for our bodies to digest.

So this latest selenium information is I feel just adding to the confusion and for  manufacturers to benefit from our anxiety.

A nutritionist has pointed out that natural sources of selenium include sardines, sunflower seeds, prawns, eggs, wholemeal flour and lean meat. Brazil nuts are an especially concentrated source of selenium.

So as brazil nuts, sardines and prawns don’t grow in British soil I’ll be eating some of each every week.

PS Brazils are high in fat – 10g = 6.8g fat, 68kCal and even higher if surrounded by chocolate!

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

*With so much fruit and veg imported from abroad I wonder just how valid this ‘warning’ is.

29
Jul

The Struggle To Stay Fit

We received this email update from the authors of The Serotonin Power Diet blog and thought it worth passing on.

We were on the ferry coming back to Boston from Cape Cod. The boat was crowded and three of us, plus a dog, were crowded into a small booth, happy to have found a place to sit. The two people facing me (I had the dog) were complaining about their sore muscles. Both had gone for long bike rides and were feeling the effects of riding up and down the steep hills of Truro (a small town at the end of the Cape).”I used to be in great shape until six months ago,” said one, “but opening a new office prevented me from doing any exercise. ” The other (we were all strangers) nodded in agreement. “I’m in real estate and fortunately, work really picked up over the spring. I haven’t been to a gym since last December.” I understood. Although I occasionally use the exercycle in the gym, biking outside with an 11-pound dog in my basket, against the wind, and over those hills, made my muscles ache as well.The three of us sighed and reflected on how hard it was to stay fit and how after a period of inactivity, our muscles seemed to have the strength of a wet noodle. The dog had no comment.Studies done by exercise physiologists confirm what we weekend athletes knew already; unless a person is in superb cardiovascular and muscular condition, de-conditioning (the term describing loss of fitness) can occur after only weeks of inactivity. Olympics contenders can take a couple of months off after the Games and experience some decrease in their physical prowess. We ordinary mortals, who have day jobs and after-work hour commitments that make it hard to exercise consistently, will go back to being unfit much sooner, sometimes as soon as in a couple of weeks.Lack of time to exercise is not the only obstacle to remaining fit. Aging itself increases our loss of physical prowess, as evidenced in the aches and pains when we restart an exercise program. Few 5-year-olds complain about stiffness, lack of breath, and exhaustion after the first days of camp, even though they have switched from sitting in a classroom to running around and swimming. Not so for we elderly folk over 30. The first game of tennis or hike of the summer inevitably results in sore and stiff muscles. The loss of some endurance, speed and fitness with aging is so well-established that competitive athletic events divide participants into different age groups so an “old man” of 40 does not have to compete with a youth of 20. A friend who is a competitive runner told me he doesn’t expect to win a race until he is 80. “By then, the other runners might be slower than me,” he quipped.

Often it is not the pain that comes after exercise that prevents us maintaining or regaining fitness; it is chronic pain we feel before we start to move. Seemingly every joint and bone and muscle is capable of causing sufficient discomfort and often actual pain presents an almost insurmountable obstacle to physical activity.

Denying that we are no longer as physically fit as we once were also prevents us from exercising. We simply don’t want to find out that we can no longer run as fast, bike as far or ski as fast we did in the past. We are like someone who is gaining weight but refuses to get on the scale. Do I want to bike up that steep hill to see if I can still do it? I am not sure. Better to go a mile out of the way to avoid it.

But just as we don’t need a scale to tell us we are gaining weight (trying to fit into a pair of pants that no longer fit is sufficient evidence), we also don’t need to bike up a hill or run a mile to know that our fitness is decreasing. When running up the stairs is just a distant memory, when your arms are too weak to put your suitcase in the overhead compartment of the plane or when getting up from the chair is a struggle, you know that you are certainly no longer fit.

Start now to do something about it. Focus on one or two physical activities that you can do within your fitness and time limitations. Stair climbing, walking quickly a short distance, carrying or lifting moderately heavy objects like a grocery bag, balancing on one foot, or getting up from a chair without using your hands (and grunting) all count. Track changes in your fitness just as you might track weight loss. Can you climb one flight of stairs with any change in your breathing? Can you stand on one foot for the length of a television ad? Are you able to get up from a low chair or stool easily? Do you need help in putting away heavy groceries on high shelves?

Already in relatively good physical shape? Then push yourself to get stronger. In the book Alice Through the Looking Glass, there is the following line: “Now… It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Sometimes, indeed often, we are satisfied with doing a little less exercise or strength training or balancing regimens than we should. We say, “Oh, I did enough today. I don’t want to push myself.” But unless we to do slightly more today than we did last week, we may not, “stay in the same place,” as it were. Instead, we may start losing small but real amounts of endurance and strength.

Don’t give up. Don’t allow breaks in your routine to become permanent. Don’t be frustrated if progress in running faster or lifting heavier weights is slower than when you were 20 years younger. Give your body short breaks while you are exercising. For example, walk quickly for five minutes and slowly for one minute. Climb one or two flights of stairs and then wait until your breathing returns to normal before doing it again.

Will you achieve the effortless endurance, balance and cardiovascular output of a young teen? No. Neither will your hair be as thick as it was then. But you will be pushing back the inevitable decline with aging.

Turn what presents itself as a struggle it into a positive opportunity that allows for you the time to stop and smell the roses, all in the name of life-affirming self care.

Posted: 28 Jul 2012 12:57 PM PDT
27
Jun

Three Day Arts Event in Hertfordshire – Childwickbury Arts Fair

Christiane Kubrick 2011

Christiane Kubrick 2011

I first met Christiane Kubrick when she took part in the Open Studio event in 2003 and since then I have made a point of going to her annual Arts Fair at Childwickbury, near St Albans.

Christiane has painted since she was a child, creating theatre sets, some even with electric lighting which nearly killed her!

In 2011 she used backdrops she designed for the set of Hansel and Gretel for the production at the National Theatre, in the area devoted to children working on their own painting. The backdrop included a mysterious eye and a witch that appealed to many children and whose paintings had a mysterious bent.

The witch and the Eye

The witch and the Eye

interviewed Christiane about her life of art and theatre in 2008 when she spoke of her work, her husband Stanley and her background.

At 80+ she continues working daily on her painting and you will be able to to watch her working on her latest work at the Fair.

Her daughter Katharina is also a prolific artist with a figurative style of her own who will also be painting at the event as will many artists and craftspeople.

The work of Katharina Kubrick

The work of Katharina Kubrick

I’m looking forward to the next Arts Fair 6-7-8-July 2012 where it will be possible to watch crafts people at work … fascinating for all concerned. And there is a programme of events specially focussed on children’s interests, juggling, felt making, face painting and concerts in the evening. A three day event it is something of a celebration of creativity as well as a great day out.

www.childwickbury.co.uk

26
Jun

Duxford – A Great Family Day Out … And Grandad came too!

The times I have driven past Duxford War Museum and thought it would make a great day out but never got around to it.  Well we finally managed in the Easter holidays and we loved it. We’ll be making more visits soon – it is so well organised, we all learned a lot and could see there is so much more to find out about.

I would advise using the planner and map ahead of your visit to decide which parts appeal the most.  The website very useful and we decided on our route before our visit, planning in the all important potential toilet stops and lunch place.

If you are unable to do any pre-planning don’t worry; the leaflet given out on purchase of your ticket is very useful and includes: a map, planner, a brief description of each main exhibit and other useful information such as; where to find out about tours and the mobility assistance vehicle.  I have to say the disabled facilities and assistance were impressive.  No worries about finding an appropriate toilet, exhibits were well spaced, lifts were easy to find, staff very helpful, a wheelchair loan scheme and the mobility vehicle to hand.  If you wanted to be idealistic then a smoother runway when pushing a wheelchair (where the joins are) and it would have been nice to access the inside of a plane as, from what we experienced, you had to be able to climb stairs to go inside but I feel nit-picky considering how easy and relatively stress free the day trip was.

… and Grandad came too!

… and Grandad came too!

So, after a friendly greeting we followed the Families with Young Children plan.  Airspace was our first visit.  The first room/hanger display was pretty much what we’d expected with a few planes and a basic information board.  However, once inside the main display room we were surround by planes both on the ground and hanging from the ceiling and the children’s eyes lit up.   As the planes and other flying machines eg helicopters and reconnaissance remote controlled planes were all displayed in a similar fashion our youngest child grew restless but it wasn’t long until we arrived at the planes which you could board via free-standing stairs and once again the children’s enthusiasm was ignited.

Approaching the upstairs displays with historical visual programmes and futuristic design ideas I thought at first we were going to be rushing through as it wouldn’t interest the children enough but was pleasantly surprised at the variety of hands-on equipment.  There is a range of tasks; from adjusting the fins on the plane making it tilt and turn to completing reaction time tests.  The range of activities was not just based on subject but also from very simple (having heart rate monitored) to quite complex (simulation games eg choosing a wing shape and the angle at which to take off) which was great because it meant that there was something for everyone in our party.  Eventually we dragged ourselves away as we were in danger of not getting around the whole tour!

We missed out the playground as it was basic (but handy if you need your children to let off some steam) and went for lunch.  The different cafes serve varying foods and we chose simple jacket potatoes.  The staff were courteous and helpful, the food was quite standard for such places (including the price).  A nice touch were the complimentary crème egg with their purchase – it was Easter. There are picnic benches, including a covered area that are not indicated on the map.

In the Battle of Britain hanger there was the offer of a free guided tour which we turned down due to fact that we believed our children wouldn’t maintain enough concentration but others seemed to enjoy it.  The use of real war footage on television monitors, audio recordings next to some displays and recreations of scenes (such as an enemy plan shot down and being guarded) all made this area much more real to the children and our eldest was particularly interested and enthused which led to lots of questions.  An especially touching moment was the recreation of an Anderson Shelter with actor’s voices playing out a typical scene.  What made it very moving was that I explained to my son that his granddad would have been the about the same age as the young boy featured and the same age as my son is now.  Seeing him absorb this fact, looking at his granddad, asking thoughtful questions and generally trying to empathise with the situation was truly something that all history teachers would have loved to have seen.  You couldn’t ask for a better compliment to an exhibition in my opinion. I know that both my father and I were filled with pride to see the attempt to understand.

On route to our next viewing we enjoyed watching a bi-plane take off on short flights around the area with passengers on board and made a mental note to partake in such a thing in the future.  The same can be said for the flight simulator!

The American Air Museum appeared to be displayed in a similar fashion to the  Airspace hanger but in an award winning design which was very impressive with its long sweeping slopes and glass frontage. One of the best parts of the day, for the children at least, was in here.  The set of complimentary activities was called Whizz, Bang, Wallop! There were plenty of staff/volunteers on hand to supervise the children with additional support from parents if need be.  Our children loved each activity.  First they folded paper to make aeroplanes (different styles with instructions were available) and aimed at a target (of which a record was kept for who had been the closest).  Then they made a rocket to launch along a string, flight path (propelled by compressed air) to see if they could reach the end.  Lastly, they had a choice between badge making and Airfix model making.  For each activity they proudly collected a stamp on their Activities Passport and later, when at home, couldn’t wait to show any visitors what they had made with lots of detailed description of how and where.

Last but not least we arrived at the Land Warfare which had lots of vehicles on display with a ‘jungle’ themed path through it which added to the atmosphere.  The children could see how warfare may have been played out and some of the pros and cons of devices.  My husband particularly found the information on The Forgotten War (WW2 Far East) interesting as he was not as familiar with it and even though I was more so there was still plenty to be learnt.

The weather put paid to the tank display but, that said, there is so much to see at Duxford that we will definitely be back there soon so I’m sure we’ll see it in the future … later this year, if my children have anything to do with it!

Karen Fletcher, Guest contributor

Visit iwm.org.uk for details of Duxford events and activities.
Keep in touch – sign up for their regular eNews  at iwm.org.uk

Find them on Facebook and follow on Twitter.
Follow the progress of IWM Duxford’s new exhibition, Historic Duxford, on its blog by going to iwm.org.uk

What’s On at IWM Duxford:

Flying Legends – Saturday 30 June and Sunday 1 July 2012
The Duxford Air Show – Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 September 2012
Autumn Air Show – Sunday 14 October 2012

Tickets for their air shows are now on sale.  Book online at www.iwm.org.uk or call the Box Office on 01223 499353.

22
Jun

A Great Day Out – Up Front and Personal Access to Outstanding Potters

  • Love ceramics?
  • Like outdoor shows?
  • Love talking to gifted potters?
  • Like lots of space for the kids to feel free to run around?
  • Like the chance to pot yourself?
  • Like watching craftspeople working?
  • Like listening to stimulating talks?
  • Then why not go to Art in Clay in the beautiful and spacious grounds of Hatfield House in Herts to be held 6 to 8 July 2012.
Art in Clay 2011

Art in Clay 2011

Art in Clay – the best show we know for viewing a huge collection of ceramics together with their creators from all over the country and abroad.

Here’s a video clip we put together some time ago showing the standard and diversity of the work you can expect to see.

And here are more images from last year.

Yes you’ve guessed! We go every year!

2 for 1 tickets are available on all three days of the show. To qualify just copy this email and take it with you on the day. Feel free to forward it to your friends and family if you think they would be interested in visiting the show. You can pre-book with the St Albans Tourist Information Office 01727 864511, or directly with the show organiser on 0115 987 3966, or info@artinclay.co.uk.

See you there! Val Reynolds Brown Editor

18
Jun

Know your Bike – How to Get the Very Best from it

One of the joys of biking is the feeling of freedom, the wind in your hair and a sense of wellbeing. Certainly riding up the hill you once had to walk your bike up gives a great sense of achievement.

Sixteen and raring to go

Sixteen and raring to go

I started fettling my own bikes as a teenager and soon found the right way and the wrong way to join up a cycle chain by having a chain break 10 miles from home and using someone’s garage to fix it! Similarly the inevitable punctures! The Bike Book should have been available years ago, it would have saved me a lot of time and energy.

Having said that, bikes have evolved a long way from the old simple Sturmey-Archer 3 speed hub gear to today’s 24 or more gears (33 are possible, though not really useable).

For me, servicing your own transport gives an appreciation of the limitations of  the individual components, for example simply banging over large pot holes makes you realise that you will have to sort the front suspension the following weekend, to replace the bent king-pin or worse, wish-bone, reminding you not to be so stupid! Similarly servicing the bike helps to realise that servicing the bike brakes is just as important as servicing cars. Bike brakes may look simple they are not necessarily so, as you find out when they fail, when they shouldn’t!

This book helps bike users to realise the amount of development that has gone into bike parts. Just because things look the same they frequently are not, this book carefully explains the whys and wherefores of fitting bike parts. This is not to say that as soon as things go wrong, you should give up and haul the thing to the local bike shop to get it fixed.  To me a large part of biking is, that it is ME; I chose the bike and very often the parts for my own good reasons, for a purpose, whether it be racing, or riding to school. The pleasure of owing a bike is vastly enhanced, by knowing something about the bits that make it work; especially when a funny noise starts!  What is it? Can I fix it? Does it matter? Can I get home OK?  In short, knowing simple maintenance can go a long way, literally and again save a lot of wasted effort. Pumping the tyres up, is a prime example of this, the number of times I see bikes, with nearly flat tyres is really painful; 5 minutes with a pump saves a lot of time and effort propelling the bike and in all likelihood, repairing the almost inevitable puncture. Just pump the tyres up, then see how much more easily you go and fun it is!

An excellent book for the enthusiastic biker that gives a good introduction to the evolution of the bike and its parts. There are discussions missing, but these are more likely peculiar to the racing fraternity, who very definitely service their bikes with great care; such as the more specialised tyres (for example tubular tyres and bar extensions).

The Bike Book: Complete Cycle Maintenance  £16.99
ISBN: 978085733 118 2  Haynes Publishing, Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset BA22 7JJ

Reviewed by John Reynolds a cyclist for the last 60 odd years and counting!

14
Jun

Really Inspirational Father’s Day Gifts

Why not plant a tree with dad?

Why not plant a tree with dad?

Most people seem to agree that finding the perfect gift for their dad is one of the least easy tasks of the year. Here are some ideas from our thoughtful team to inspire you:

Wine holiday in Oporto Built into the hillside of the spectacular Duoro Valley, The Yeatman hotel in Oporto is inspired by the celebrated wines of the region. Guests can seriously indulge themselves during the weekly wine evenings, tasting soirees and cookery courses. The extensive wine cellars hold 25,000 bottles alone and the in-house Michelin starred chef, Ricardo Costsa, is always on-hand to educate guests about food pairing. Even The Yeatman’s vinotherapy spa will be difficult for Dads to resist, as it offers a Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Bath or body scrub. Prices from €150 per night.

Failing that why not a bottle of Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2005, available from £13.79 at most retail outlets nationwide. Here is a link to information on the website

Or he might have loads of the stuff in the cupboard but may not have some luscious glasses to savour it – we would choose the beautiful Riedel Port Glasses available at John Lewis and Amazon.

Reidel port glasses

Reidel port glasses

How about a short holiday break for someone mad on fishing? Forget Salmon Fishing in the Yemen although a couple of tickets might go down a treat! – how about Fly fishing in the Maldives  All hard-working fathers deserve peace and quiet once in a while, and you would be hard pressed to find a more relaxing and tranquil outdoor pursuit than fly-fishing. On a secluded private island in North Maldives, Island Hideaway resort boasts deepwater channels and expansive shallow flats, ideal for whiling away the hours until that longed-for catch comes along. Prices from £1350 per week during low season, and £2300 during high season. OK, so that might be a bit over the top! How about The Ultimate Guide Book to Fishing? This Google page might give ideas.

Right, nothing so far appeals? What about a luxury wet shave? Harking back to simpler times when every man had a trusty barber to see to his beard and whiskers, in London the Spa at Dolphin Square offers chaps the rare chance to pamper themselves with a range of traditional Moroccan wet shaves. Choose from the age-old Savon Noir shave, which  cleanses by combining crushed olives, olive oil and Eucalyptus (£35), or go all out with a Moroccan Cleansing Ritual, incorporating a Hammam and Shea Butter Massage, followed by the relaxing shave (£104). This would appeal to many men I know so it could be a winner!

Dolphin Square Spa

Dolphin Square Spa

On a more basic level though why not a gift voucher from B&Q? Lots of us like browsing in DIY stores, especially new and improved gadgets!

 Or why not some Ogilvy’s honey – their Balkan Linden Honey is rather special. Gathered from colonies in the Danube region of Serbia. This honey was one of four varieties of Ogilvy’s Honey to win gold stars in the 2011 Great Taste Awards organised by The Guild of Fine Food. It is rather special – you can find more information on the Ogilvy’s website.

If you live in or near London then of course you could take him for a meal – Ping Pong in Soho is excellent, The Sanderson in Berners St  has a wonderful dining area as has the Lanesborough Hotel opposite Hyde Park Corner.  What about some tickets to a game at The Arsenal? A visit to the House of Commons to see Parliament in action and a meal in one of the boats on the river. Or a boat trip on the Thames? Of course you could just go for a walk in Hyde Park and have something to eat in one of the many cafes in the park.

The Arsenal

The Arsenal

Or how about an App for his iPhone or iPad – he doesn’t have one? There’s two more ideas!

Hope you might find one of these inspiring! Good luck – you have just three days left!

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

27
May

Visiting Gardens – A Great Pasttime

Visiting gardens is a most interesting and a very popular pasttime. Wimpole Hall was the latest we visited end of May, 2012 where it was interesting to see the advanced growth of their onions, whereas ours were mere blips on the landscape by comparison!  We also noted the wild bee houses liberally sited throughout the gardens. A variegated horseradish was much admired by visitors and irises were in full bloom despite the lack of rain for the last week or so. Based in Hertfordshire we tend to spread out north and east, so for us a visit to the Langford village gardens in Oxfordshire on Sunday 17 June between 2 and 6 pm is not really on our agenda. However the gardens sound magnificent and if you are anywhere near do consider a visit.

Young villager, Isabella Potter, helping to prepare the garden of the late Sir Hardy Amies

Young villager, Isabella Potter, helping to prepare the garden of the late Sir Hardy Amies

There are 26 gardens to wander round, both large and small including one created by Hardy Amies, famous for dressing the Queen for more than 55 years. The Grange and Ansells Farm gardens are open for the first time and Lower Farm House, a garden at the medieval end of the village has been completely remodelled.

Garden visiting wouldn’t be the same without tea and homemade cakes and there will be two locations to choose from.

£4.50 per person on entry and children go free!

More information on website

Val Reynolds, Editor

20
May

Verbascum, Cottage garden hardy perennials

I can’t keep up with Thompson & Morgan! Verbascums, a favourite background filler for flowerbeds, have always been yellow! Then last year T&M brought out Clementine, a golden/bronze beauty. The plug plants I received grew strongly are now blooming rather well in May a year later.

Verbascum Clementine flowering in May 2012

Verbascum Clementine flowering in May 2012

Then a blue verbascum, Blue Lagoon, came on the market and I had to have some, especially to plant with Clementine as they would make a great contrast.

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

I have always loved delphiniums but like many other gardeners find my slugs love them even more and plants have always been decimated, always when my hopes were riding high for a fabulous display. So I ordered two plug plants £9.99 each or 2 for £17.99 to make up for my disappointing attempts to grow delphiniums. As they only arrived three weeks ago and won’t be anywhere near mature until next spring I will plant them in larger pots for the time being, making sure I use my outstandingly good labeller so they don’t become the pots that I wonder what’s in them!

Blue Lagoon has been developed using specialist micro-propagation techniques. It has the same characteristics as its fellow verbascums: low maintenance and well adapted to growing in poor, stony soils. It should grow to about 30 inches high and spread out for about 12 inches. Flowering from June through to September they like full sun. Although my garden loses it by 2 pm, Clementine is doing very well. Verbascums spread their leaves flat to the ground – a remarkably useful weed control feature.

Pink Pixie 2012 Verbascum

Pink Pixie 2012 Verbascum

Then I heard of yet another new verbascum – Pink Pixie. Spoilt for choice! I’ve decided to get some to grow with the aquilegia Green Apples, again it will be a good contrast and I’m hoping the height difference will add to its impact. I’ll be sure to space the verbascum plants far enough apart so as not to smother the aquilegia.

All the verbascum cost £9.99 each or £17.99 for two plants that come in 7cm pots. See T&M webpages for more details 

Val Reynolds, Editor

26
Mar

A Great Day Out – Warwick Castle!

Caesar's Tower, Warwick Castle

Caesar’s Tower, Warwick Castle

Whatever time or financial limits parents may have at half term, a special trip is always a lasting memory especially when you are very young. Can you remember the first time you visited a zoo, or a circus. I must have been all of six years old when we visited Whipsnade Zoo and still have the memory of the taste of my first ice cream! It was a Walls ice cream wafer sandwich that dripped all down my front and the memory includes the smell of the elephant house and the screaming of some monkeys in their big outdoor cage. In Balance reader Karen, with her husband, six year old Ben and four year old Aeryn visited Warwick Castle last half term and had what was clearly a memorable visit and would love to go again.

Karen writes:

I have visited Warwick Castle several times – around the age of 8, 15, mid 20s and now in my mid 30s with my husband and two young children and I can happily say that I have thoroughly enjoyed every visit and can foresee more visits in future, it is that good.

We decided to base our day around the verbal and visual displays that were well described on the website.

So we started off at the ‘Raising of the Portcullis’.  It was great to see the portcullis being lifted and to imagine that you are walking into the past.

We went straight on to the ‘Attack & Defence Tour’. The lady made a point of getting the children to the front used some children to demonstrate the width of the wall – which helped put it in perspective for them.  As they don’t fire the ballista maybe they could consider having some mini ones set up somewhere so that children, or indeed adults, can have a go to get an understanding and respect for the weapons.

Loading the trebuchetWe then walked around to ‘The Mighty Trebuchet’ which was easily seen and heard as the trebuchet is across the river and the commentator had a set place to stand.  He was also miked up to several speakers that were spread out over a wide viewing area.  It takes quite a while for the trebuchet to be prepared and fired but there is detailed description and historical explanations during each stage.  Facts like using blind people to be the ‘walkers’ as the motion sickness generated from viewing the slates could cause people to fall and break their necks.  Tip bits such as using the trebuchet to send dead animals or beheaded messengers over the walls to spread disease and fight a psychological battle are gruesome enough, images that strangely cause fascination with the use of such devices during sieges ie it’s so much more than just something which throws balls of fire.  Which, to be fair, on its own is an amazing sight and the way our six year old’s eyes lit up when it happened was testament enough that it’s well worth the wait.  I thought it was great that over 18s could volunteer to be part of the team that prepped the trebuchet.  Hands on history is always the best in my opinion.

Eagle with handler Warwick Castle

Eagle with handler Warwick Castle

The ‘Flight of the Eagles’ was held in the main arena so benefitted from speakers and four wooden posts which the man lead each bird to in turn so we easily got a good view of each bird.  Our six year old particularly enjoyed watching the vulture as he was “walking funny”.  The use of questions and answer time to one side after the show was particularly thoughtful as it meant that our shy child was able to ask a question that he wouldn’t have done in front of the whole audience. It also meant that we got a good close up picture of one of the birds.

The ‘Warwick Warriors’ probably held our children’s attention the best as there were three main people involved and there was plenty of appropriate and amusing banter between them.  There were lots of visual demonstrations alongside interesting explanations.  The idea of destroying Hollywood film  myths really did challenge the average concept of what it would have been like to be a knight.  They also included some great references for the children such as comparing how Scooby Doo quickly hides in a suit of armour and yet real knights would have needed someone to dress them.  The actual demonstration of this amplified the point.  Once more humour was used to maintain attention, for example, the fully armoured knight demonstrated that he could run, jump and even do star jumps.

Fire juggler and knight in armour

Fire juggler and knight in armour

Lots of facts were given throughout all these demonstrations and at the time we were not sure just how much our children were taking in but a dinner time conversation a couple of days later reassured us that our visit to the castle was not only a fun day out for our family but also very educational even for a four year old.  Both our children couldn’t say enough about what they had seen and heard when asked to tell their uncle and nan where they had been.  “Did you know that they learnt how to use a sword when they were six and a bow and arrow when they were eight” Benjamin, aged six.

With all of these displays the people leading them were all of an impressive standard.  They all kept the audience’s attention well and had a good mixture of information and humour.  The information was also pitched well starting from small and factual for children to recall, to enough detail for proper historians without boring the more average visitor.  There was also a good mix of visual, audio and kinaesthetic techniques used to involve the audience without overly applying the audience participation which can put some people off.  The use of characters for most of these displays was very well balanced between ‘in role’ and ‘not taking themselves too seriously … often explaining why out of role’.  We loved the delivery, as I’m sure you can tell.

After all these displays we stopped off for a toilet break (of a good standard and easily found) then visited ‘The Mound’, ‘Dream of Battle’, ‘The Tower and Ramparts’, ‘The Kingmaker’ and then ‘The Chapel, Great Hall & State Rooms’ (although the rooms were disappointing – not much information and not really geared up for young visitors).  The Mound and The Ramparts were great for the children to get excited pretending that they were defending the castle.  The Kingmaker was well set out with plenty of mannequins and brief bits of information (both verbal and written) so that it was easy enough for the children to imagine what life might have been like but without being too scary (although our four year old was a little wary especially in the slightly darker areas).

Aeryn in the stocks

Aeryn in the stocks

We ended our visit with the Peacock Gardens, Conservatory (although not much to see in there) and the Rose gardens (which were being renovated and obviously the roses were not out yet but we still appreciated the layout).  Finally, we took photos of our children ‘stuck in the stocks’.

Ben in the stocks

Ben in the stocks

I did weigh up the possibility of taking my father on our next visit. He is disabled and would need the use of wheelchair to experience a day long visit. I do think there would be enough to justify a visit for him. Although I could not find information regarding the price of ticket for a disabled visitor – I hope it is heavily discounted as probably only a third of the whole attraction (if that) is accessible from information gleaned and accessibility assessed on our visit.

We heard later of a spine-chilling new addition to the programme: Witches of Warwick which promises to thrill visitors from March this year – are you up for the challenge?

Karen Fletcher, contributing author

DID YOU KNOW? Just an hour and fifteen minutes by train from London, Warwick Castle is rated by Tripadvisor as one of the most talked about attractions in Europe and is the most visited stately home in the UK. It has a variety of attractions to appeal to families, retirees and mid-30 something culture vultures alike.

Go to the Warwick Castle website for further information and booking online

Photography Karen Fletcher & Warwick Castle

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