Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Pensthorpe Natural Park & Wildlife Reserve

Our part of Norfolk has some spectacular wildlife and we are fortunate enough to have several reserves close to the cottages where we are able to appreciate this nature in it's own habitat.

Pensthorpe is a fantastic example of this and is approx 20 mins drive away from the holiday cottages.

It was made famous by BBC Springwatch which used Pensthorpe as it's base for 3 years between 2008-2010 and is a beautiful calming place.

It is made up of a series of walkways taking you through some outstanding woodland, beautiful gardens and nature trails and is home to some spectacular wildlife.

I took the husband and kids along for our first visit this half term week and was hugely impressed, it has something to offer all ages and we all had a smashing time :)

Having parked the car up in the large car park, complete with excellent disabled parking facilities we went and paid up to enter the reserve.

For those with either a physical or mental disability, a carer is allowed free entry.  First impressions were amazing - we walked through the indoor viewing area where you could happily while away the time sat watching the wildlife from under cover, perfect if the weather wasn't as good as it was for us!

We walked out into the reserve (the wrong way we discovered later on!) and were immediately greeted by some friendly web footed friends! You are allowed to feed the birds but the Reserve ask that you feed them special food bought from there to ensure that the wildlife is getting a healthy diet.  Due to this, the ducks and geese are very friendly and mill about among you as you wander around. In fact, there is a scheduled Feed Time where all the birds are fed which is at 4pm, would be well worth seeing! There were some very cute ducklings and gosling's pottering around under the watchful eye of their mothers and there were so many different species I had never seen before.  I used to think a duck was a duck!  How wrong could I be!!

We carried on, strolling along the path.  which was very wheelchair accessible.  There are designated paths for wheelchair users which cover a large proportion of the reserve and are clearly marked on the map.

As you wander round, it is clearly signposted if that area is accessible or not.  There are many different routes around that you can take, taking in different aspects of the Reserve.  There is a bird hide you can hide out in to get closer to the wildlife or you can simply wander along the pathways. We chose to walk through the woodland walkway which was charming.

It was full of wild flowers and the odd bench dotted about so you could sit and take it all in.  There are red squirrels here but none were forthcoming on our visit!

Dogs are not allowed on the whole due to the abundance of wildlife roaming freely around the Reserve but they do make an exception for Guide/Assistance Dogs on a lead to ensure that the Park can be enjoyed by all.

We then deviated off the pathways and wandered through the Wild flower Meadow which was stunning.  I had arrived at the Reserve a slightly stressed out mother of 2 young children on Half Term and I could feel the weight lift off my shoulders while I was walking around, it really is the most tranquil environment to be in, the children were chilled out and having fun exploring and I could have stayed there forever!

An overprotective father chasing us off!
Well that is until our tummy's started talking to us!  It was lunch time!  There was a fantastic picnic area which you can use but we decided to check out the Courtyard Cafe where we sat out in the courtyard and enjoyed a yummy lunch - the food was delicious, if a little pricey!  The menu was varied and it was clearly pointed out what was gluten free & dairy free.

Close to the Cafe are the toilets, including 3 disabled loo's.  There is an optional raised toilet seat and all have moveable hand rails and an alarm system.

After lunch we were dragged by the kiddies to the recently created Wildrootz, a fantastic play area with an abundance of things for kids of all sizes to play and do!  From a meandering stream which toddlers were happily splashing about in, a sandy play area to a high tower with big slide, zip wires and swings.  There were also some fun musical equipment there for the kids (and maybe the Mummy's too!) to experiment with!!

By this time, my lot were done in and ready for home but there is so much more that we could have seen and done!  There is a Wensum Discovery Tour where for an added fee, you can sit in a purpose built trailer and be guided around the Reserve, taking in all it has to offer, learning about the history of Pensthorpe and their Conservation Projects.

There are also so many more nooks and crannys that we didn't manage to find - I know we will be back to explore further.

Pensthorpe also do various themed events - they have a Mediaeval Spectacular coming up 23rd - 25th August, check out their website for more details.

To sum up, I was incredibly impressed with Pensthorpe and would highly recommend a visit, whether with children or without, there is something for everybody. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

King William IV, Sedgeford

Norfolk has some fabulous places to eat, drink & be merry and many are not too far from the holiday cottages here.

Over the Easter break we had a lovely time at The King William IV in Sedgeford which is very close to us, approx 5 miles away.

We arrived early evening, approx 6.30pm to have a meal to finish off my daughter's 6th birthday celebrations.  It was lovely to see lots of people milling around, enjoying themselves.  Considering it was busy you would never have realised as there are so many fab dining areas dotted about that you felt like you had the place to yourself!

We parked up our car in the off road car park and entered the pub via a fantastic sloped walkway, ensuring access for everyone.

There was level access throughout the bar and a large proportion of the restaurant area too.

The bar area was humming with activity, there were several families relaxing and the occasional man and his dog who had popped in for a pint! It had a charming atmosphere and was very welcoming.

Got this off the internet as didn't want to intrude by taking photos :)

There were traditional pub tables as well as a comfy seating area which we plonked ourselves down in quite happily :)

The dining areas were beautiful and spacious too, everywhere had a homely feel to it.

There were fantastic views over the garden towards the Norfolk Countryside and the garden itself was smashing.

It had a lovely covered eating area at the bottom - the hubby and I are hoping to return when the summer is here and enjoy a meal al fresco.

We were shown to our table which was in a quiet room off the bar.  It had floor to ceiling book shelves and felt very cosy.  The children soon had a snoop at the shelves and were thrilled to discover on the lower levels, some children's books which kept them entertained while we were waiting for our food. That and showing Grandpa how iPhone's works ;)

The menu was very varied, there was so much choice and all of it delicious!  Always hoping that we would all chose something different so we could nick a bit of everyone else's I was disappointed to discover that we all went for the same thing!  The King William 6oz rump steak burger filled with the delicious Binham Blue Cheese :)  I wasn't disappointed for long mind you as it was fantastic and I wouldn't have wanted to share!!

There was a lovely kids menu too which kept them happy and the desserts were to die for!  We had the classic, Spotted Dick and the children had gorgeous icecream - we all left feeling stuffed & happy!!

We noticed in the bar area a sign telling us that they have a 'Curry Tuesday' where you can get a curry and a drink for £10 per person.  Think we'll be back!!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Boat Trip on The Broads :)

My daughter turned 6 last week, (I know I know, I don't look old enough ;) ) so we decided to have a family trip out to the Broads.

We had heard of a fabulous charity called The Nancy Oldfield Trust who have opened up The Broads to those with a disability and/or in a wheelchair so we thought we would go check it out and let you know how we got on!  They are based just outside of Wroxham which is approx an hour from our holiday cottages.

The charity was set up in 1984 so it is in it's 30th year.  It was set up to offer 'disabled and disadvantaged people a wide range of water-based activities on the Norfolk Broads.' There is so much on offer, you can come for a morning, afternoon or even spend the whole day with them - and all they ask for in return is a £9 donation per person per half day with carers going free.  There is a minimum donation of £18 per boat per half day to cover their costs.  This is all possible thanks to their amazing volunteers, some of who we met on the day.

We had the pleasure of going for a trip on one of their 3 motor cruiser boats.  We were booked in for 1.30pm so we decided to bring along a picnic to have on the boat ride.  We were greeted by Caryl who I had spoken with on the phone when arranging the trip and she was very friendly and welcoming.  She directed us down to the jetty where we found our boat - The Nancy Bee.  The route down to the jetty had fantastic access and there were others boarding one of the Trust's other 2 motor cruisers for their own explorations!

We were greeted by Mike & Jenny who were the lovely volunteers who had the pleasure of our company! They welcomed us on board and were fantastic with the children.  I wondered how a wheelchair user would be able to access the boat but this was soon demonstrated to me!  The platform that we got on started moving!! It was a lift!

It deposited us safely into the heart of the boat which had a covering which could be removed if the weather was a little kinder!  Mike said that the cover had been off that morning but it had clouded over for our visit.

We were all given life jackets prior to setting off which the kids thought were fantastic!  Then we were off!!

The inside of the boat was lovely and spacious, our guides said that it can happily accommodate up to 9 passengers.  It had a galley, some seating and a table perfect for a picnic!!  There were excellent toilet facilities on board too in case you got caught short! ;)

The trip was fab, it was really relaxing and the kids loved looking at all the nature we passed - we were lucky enough to see a Marsh Harrier hunting for it's lunch as well as a Mummy Duck with her brood of ducklings following along in her wake.  There was also this beautiful swan:

Mike informed us that there is a fabulous Birding Walkway along the shore complete with Accessible Car park to allow everyone to enjoy the wildlife.

We chugged past the floating jetty where there were canoes & sailing boats moored up.

We were told that there are disabled toilets there and facilities to hoist wheelchair users into the canoes meaning that people of all abilities can have a go.  They have a variety of canoes to suit different needs and abilities.  There is also a fantastic sailing boat which goes out daily between Easter & the end of October, skippered by trained & experienced volunteers.  There are also opportunities to fish and bird watch with the Trust.

We carried along on the Barton Broads, cruising past How Hill who are a small independent charity who offer a unique opportunity for people of all ages to experience and learn about the special environment of the Norfolk Broads. They have some beautiful gardens that are open to the public as well as a tea room - think I may have to go explore there another day!

I was told that the shoreline looks stunning when the rhododendrons come out :)

The children both had a go at driving the boat which they thought was brilliant, I on the other hand held on extra tight!!  They both got given a certificate to take home to show everyone that they had got to drive!

We finished our tour and bid farewell to our hosts, all who had been fantastic!  Emelia, when asked what the best bit had been about her birthday categorically stated that it was her Boat Trip!!  Thank you!

I think what these guys do is fab, it really is a fantastic trip out and I highly recommend it!  I took away loads of leaflets and have added them to our leaflet stash in each of the cottages for our guests to have a look at :)

Friday, 11 April 2014

We're going to the zoo zoo zoo......

In an attempt to keep our two children entertained during the School Easter Holidays as they are so boorrrreeed, we grouped up with other family members and took all the cousins to the zoo for the day.  It was such a fantastic day for all the family so I wanted to share it with you :)

Banham Zoo is approx an hour from our holiday cottages, southwest of Norwich.  It is a beautiful drive over there, through the Norfolk Countryside.

On arrival we were handed a map of the zoo complete with a stamp challenge for the kids to find and stamp the page in order to get a prize at the end!  That was it, they were hooked!!

(TIP: you can if you are organised, prior to your visit trade in Tesco Vouchers for entrance tickets)

Having never been to this zoo before I was unsure of what to expect but it was spacious and the enclosures were big & airy for the animals.  Everywhere was really well kept and it was set in a beautiful park.

The accessibility was fantastic with the majority of the park having level pathways. There were plenty of toilet facilities dotted around the park, each with a disabled loo.

With over 2000 animals in 50 acres of park there is plenty to see and do, you can happily spend the whole day there.

We were excited to start our adventure and see some animals!  The staff are fantastic and give regular talks about the animals and there are set feed times that you can watch.  We were just in time for the feeding of the penguins!  There were excellent windows in the enclosure walls meaning that both the young and wheelchair users can get an excellent close up view of these cute little creatures :)  There are windows showing underwater so you can see them swimming too.

We moved on to the seal pool where they had a large space to not only swim but hang out too.  There is a pair of seals living there and they were having a lovely time swimming around gracefully.  Again, the large windows gave everyone a fab view.

We continued round seeing all different kinds of monkeys, some noisy ones, some little ones even some very chilled out ones ;)

I was very impressed to discover, when we were checking out the Meerkats, that the leader of the pack was a woman! But of course!!  And to make things even better she had all her men running around after her while she sat on her bum! Brilliant :) A lesson to be learnt there ;)

To save our little people's legs we decided to hop onto the land train which regularly does a circuit of the park which would be fantastic for those who can't walk too far, it enables them to see everything.

By this time, we had happily spent a couple of hours looking round and the children were starting to make noises that they were hungry so we found a couple of picnic tables and sat down to our lunch.  There is a food hall and regular 'Snack Shacks' at the Park but the majority of people we saw about had brought a picnic. We kept ours in the car and went back to fetch it at lunch to save us having to carry it about.  I can say that the Snack Shacks do a mean coffee mind you :)

After lunch we headed to the other side of the zoo, passing through the Farm Barn where there were pigs, llamas and goats out towards the bigger animals.  We saw camels, zebras, kangaroos, tigers, snow leopards as well as an impressive looking Cheetah.

There was an impressive raised walkway alongside the Giraffes meaning that you could be at a level with them.

The walkway was accessed at one end either via steps or a fab lift which would be perfect for wheelchair users and the walkway slowly meandered down until it reached the ground at the other end.

The other side of this walkway we saw the SkyTrek & Junior SkyTrek for the more adventurous visitor to the Zoo, you can be harnessed up and walk along tightropes for an extra cost - definitely not my cup of tea! My feet stayed firmly on terra firma! :)

It was soon time for the Birds of Prey Display which the men of the party particularly were looking forward too.  We all went along and I was so pleased we did as I think this was definitely the highlight of my day!  The birds were fantastic!  They brought out a Peregrine Falcon who showed off some impressive flying, even attempting to take out a pigeon! Next came a very impressive Eagle Owl who flew centimetres away from our heads soundlessly & very gracefully considering it's size & power!

We were then treated to a display by a pair of Black Kites who did some air acrobatics swooping to catch their food mid air - amazing!  The finishing display came from a family of vultures who were surprisingly endearing considering their reputation.  A fantastic demonstration all in all.  There is a disabled seating area by the entrance to the display area so is accessible for all.

As our children are all under 8 and were getting tired we decided to head back to the car and call it a day although there was still so much more that we could have seen.  We had to have a stop to play in the brilliant playground which they managed to find a teensy bit more energy for!  It demonstrates how much there is to do at Banham that they hadn't nagged us to try out the playground earlier!

We stopped off to get there well earned medal (the prize for the stamp collecting!) and said our goodbyes and left.  Both kids were fast asleep within 10 minutes of leaving!  Job jobbed!

I can highly recommend this as a fab day out for all the family, there is something for everyone.  They do regular events including photographic workshops & Experience Days where you can be a Keeper for a day or spend time with the Birds of Prey.