Review 2019: Stonehenge

Stonehenge, one of the wonders of the ancient world, a place of religious significance for some, a place of magic and mystery but, if you grew up locally, chances are you see it as that place you get stuck in traffic when going on holiday to Cornwall or Devon. Having been stuck there a few times themselves my children asked “Can we actually go in there one day?” so in Summer 2018 we did.

We pre-booked our tickets on their website, plus parking. The site is managed by English Heritage and the surrounding land is owned by National Trust England so those with these memberships can get in for free, (Free entry is not available to those with National Trust Scotland membership). Prices are quite high for those without membership (Details here) so it may be worth looking at getting it if you wish to visit. Walk in prices are higher so pre-booking is advised.

A short walk from the car park brought us to an impressive, modern visitor centre. From here we got a ticket to the bus that brings you to the Henge, you can walk but it was a really hot day. Whilst on the bus I felt a bit guilty, surrounded by people who had travelled thousands of miles to see the stones and I‘d never been bothered to pop in on the many occasions I had driven past. As we got off the bus the stones were very impressive but after a few initial wows my 7 year old and 4 year old were over them pretty quickly and almost had to be forced to walk the whole way around. We made our way back to the visitor centre and they quickly went from bored children, underwhelmed by one of the world’s most iconic sights, to children completely in love with the display of how those who built the Henges (there are lots of them, many within walking distance) used to live. Brought to life by the volunteers who give talks, the displays include replicas of the housing the builders lived in. The museum also makes use of different kinds of technology to really get them engaged with the history. Also, being surrounded by fields and several walks, there is plenty of room for children to work off excess energy.

We ate at the restaurant which was busy but manageable, even in August, and we found tables easily. The food was good but the price was what you would expect for a global tourist attraction, this goes for the gift shop too although there were some very cool items. All other facilities were really good. Pushchairs would be fine although at busier times you would struggle to take a pushchair on the bus so bring a sling or be prepared to walk.

We went on a sunny day but it would be doable on a day with some rain. I would recommend this as a day out for children, be prepared to spend more time in the visitor area than at the stones, but at just under £50 for a family ticket it is pricey so I would consider putting £50 towards one of the memberships that lets you in for free.

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Review 2015: Pots2Paint Basingstoke


I first met Stef, who runs Pots2Paint, when Miss NHM was about 6 weeks old. It was coming up to Father’s Day and I wanted to get Mr NHM something special as it was his first Father’s Day. I chose a mug and Stef very delicately took handprints and footprints from a tiny Miss NHM. Mr NHM was overwhelmed when he got his mug and it remains in pride of place on display.
Since that first time of visiting Pots2Paint I think we’ve been back every year since!  We’ve decorated a special 60th birthday tea pot for Gran, Christmas decorations for our close friends with Miss NHM’s handprints, more gifts for treasured friends and this time we visited to make gifts for Miss NHM’s nursery ladies. We’ve even been to a birthday party for one of Miss NHM’s peers at Pots2Paint and it was absolutely brilliant!!

Stef and her team are always incredibly welcoming and have the BEST creative ideas that are always inspirational.

Pots 2 Paint 2

I emailed Stef to ask to book in about a week before we wanted a slot. Stef came back to me very quickly and confirmed the time.

We turned up on the day and as we were the first ones in we could choose whichever table we wanted to sit at. You pay a studio fee for each person who is painting, to cover the costs of the paint, which is reasonable given the overhead costs of running the studio.

The colour scheme and paints you can choose.

Miss NHM was very sure about the colours she wanted to use so Stef showed her how to paint them and helped her with her colours.


I chose which products we were going to paint. There are literally 100’s, a lot more choice than there used to be. I have my eye on the gnome already :-D.

Pots 2 Paint 1

Miss NHM’s creation. She was very determined about which colours she was using!

Miss NHM then decorated all of the gifts for her nursery ladies. Once she had finished Stef asked her to wash her hands and we handed over our goods. Stef then advised that the finished products would be available five days later.

Completed orders ready to be picked up!

I’m so pleased with the final pieces and hope that Miss NHM’s nursery ladies are too!


Book early if you want to make gifts for Christmas. The studio gets very busy in the run up to Christmas so it’s best to book in sooner rather than later.
If it’s not easy to get to the studio, I have seen via Dear Mummy, that Pots2Paint also offer a Hamper Service which you can book in advance.


Although Pots2Paint is small unit of two rooms, it’s part of the Viables Craft centre community, so you can still use the toilets and baby changing facilities. There is a code to get into them though, so you may need to ask Stef for the code.

 012Baby Facilities

Are available, but as I’ve mentioned above, you may need the code to get in.

Pots2Paint also welcome Mum’s who are breastfeeding.


Is free. It can get a bit tight in the car park but if the field is open then this means that parking is very easy.


You pay a studio fee to cover the cost of your paints and then pay for whichever items you choose to decorate.

Rating out of 5

I LOVE Pots2Paint so I’m giving them 5 out of 5.

I’ve always had brilliant service from the team and they have always been very helpful and have the best ideas when it comes to creating gifts for people.
You can also find out more about Pots 2 Paint via their facebook page.

Review 2015: The Parlour Tearoom

The Parlour Tearoom 

I LOVE the Parlour Tearoom. We’ve been visiting since Miss NHM was a couple of months old.

I’ve watched Carole and the team grow the tearoom into a hugely successful local business and it’s been great to see how they have developed over the past five years.

Last year they even won “Hampshire Life Tearoom of the year 2014”!

Plus, the food is YUMMY!!!!!!


The Parlour Tearoom is based in Viables Craft Centre.

They are a Traditional English Tearoom serving Homemade cakes and Lunches. They also offer a breakfast service too.


It’s a really lovely place, very airy and the food is excellent and all home made.


It’s open from 10am to 5pm from Tuesday to Saturday.


I chose the Viables Tea which you can see below
The Viables tea
 The cake was as yummy as it looks!
I completely forgot to ask for no marshmallows and Carole said she would take them out for me, but I felt that would ruin the picture so I had to drink them :-D.
Hot Chocolate with marshmallows
Children’s meal
Cute water bottle

Picnic in the Paddock

The Parlour Tea room offer a “picnic in the paddock” service. As you can see in the picture below, you can choose a rug, pick what you want for your lunch and your sandwiches are made to order. There are also footballs and outdoor games like coits that you can borrow. If you know you are coming you could bring a picnic chair or your own toys. You can then take everything with you to sit in the lovely field which is right next to Viables.

It’s recommended that you call the tea rooms in advance to let them know that you would like to use the “picnic in the paddock” service so that they have the capacity to make your sandwiches when you get there.




It’s so popular these days that you need to book a table in advance on 01256 325795.


The chairs are a little bit wobbly for a pre-schooler. Miss NHM fell off her chair twice, despite me asking her to stop fidgeting on it. There is a lovely big leather sofa though if you want to relax.

They also sell local produce like home made jams.



Disabled access and toilet facilities although you may need to ask for a code to use the toilets so ask before you have to leave with a toddler or two in tow!

There is a corner with toys and books in for you to borrow whilst you are using the tea room.


Baby Facilities

The majority of Viables is a breastfeeding friendly area.

There are baby changing facilities in the toilets.


Ample free parking, especially if the field is open for you to park in.
Specials Board


Are very reasonable, especially as everything is home made.

You can even buy cakes to take away!!!


Rating out of 5

I’m giving the Parlour Tea Room 5 out of 5 because we always have a fab time when visiting.

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Review 2015: Ideal Imaging, Lifestyle Bespoke Family Photography by Alistair Jones

Alistair runs Ideal Imaging and I met him a few years ago, via NorthHantsMum. I’ve been desperate to have a photography shoot with Alistair for a couple of years now but the timing has never worked.

Alistair has always been very supportive of NorthHantsMum and when I saw that he was running a special offer earlier in the year, I leapt at the chance.

I’ve been following the Ideal Imaging facebook page since I met Alistair. I’ve seen many of the pictures that Alistair has taken and thought they all look fabulous. I love that the pictures are taken at several different locations including Tylney Hall, a beautiful hotel near Basingstoke.

Pre Session briefing with Alistair

About a week before our shoot, Alistair came to our house to talk us through what to expect and to advise on how we should prepare for the shoot.

We discussed what to expect, what we should wear and the pre session also gave us a chance to introduce Miss NHM to Alistair, so that she knew who he was when we saw him a week later.

It also gave Alistair an opportunity to meet us and to understand the personalities involved and to stress that he wanted to make it into an “adventure” for Miss NHM.

We talked through what to avoid (big logos and high heels!) and what to bring with us on the day (wet wipes was a key thing to remember!) and Mr NHM and I learnt about the colour wheel and how important this can be to ensure that the colours we were wearing didn’t clash with the colours of Spring at Tylney Hall.

Mr NHM also asked questions about the weather. Alistair explained that if it’s bad then we’ll simply re-schedule but said that 95% of the time it’s fine. We learnt that you don’t really want bright sunshine on the day of your shoot as this can cause shadows, squinting and the sun can wash out colours. It’s actually much better for the photographs if the weather is overcast as the colour come out better. Not really difficult with our English weather! :-D.

At the end of our initial pre-shoot session Alistair gave us a few print out’s that reiterated what we had talked about, just to ensure that we got the best out of our experience. This was great because it meant I didn’t have to remember everything, I had a handy sheet reminding me of it all! Lol.

I really loved the Pre session briefing with Alistair. It gave Mr NHM and I a chance to ask lots of questions and helped put my mind at ease as to what to expect on the day.

Photo Shoot at Tylney Hall

On the day of our shoot the weather wasn’t great. However, we weren’t worried as Alistair had already mentioned that this wouldn’t be an issue when we saw him at our Pre-Session.

If you have ever been to the hotel before, you will know that it is a very grand location and the drive up the main road to the entrance is beautiful. We met Alistair in the car park to the side of Tylney Hall.

I took a couple of outfits with us because I’m like that (no comment!). When I asked Alistair which outfit he thought would be best, he chose the same one I wanted Miss NHM to wear so I should really have just gone with my gut instinct. So we did a quick change for Miss NHM in the car.

Alistair then pulled out his teddy bear assistant and Miss NHM chose a name for the teddy bear and we were off to start the shoot.

I’ve only ever been in the hotel for Afternoon Tea and a work do, so never spent time in the gardens at Tylney Hall. They are Stunning!! It’s the perfect backdrop for some gorgeous photos. There are lots of different areas that you can walk around so you get a lot of variety in the pictures taken.

I have to admit that Miss NHM was a bit of a rat bag during her photo shoot. She really wouldn’t do anything we wanted her to and Mr NHM and I found it very challenging. Mr NHM and I even reverted to reverse psychology which seemed to work really well. If we asked Miss to do the opposite of what we wanted her to actually do, she would then do it!

Alistair took it all in his stride. He did a great job of letting Miss NHM do her own thing whilst he captured the best of her character and natural personality. When I look at the pictures now, I’m amazed that they came out so brilliantly. It just shows how good Alistair is, at what he does.

We walked all over the grounds and the photos tell the story of our experience. The shoot lasted about an hour which was just the right amount of time for Miss NHM. We finished in the daffodil area and despite Miss NHM getting tired at this point, you can see that the pictures are still fantastic.

Reviewing the pictures

Alistair came to our house about 10 days after the shoot and we looked at all of the pictures on his laptop. It must be wonderful for Alistair to do this because literally every picture we saw we were saying things like “Wow” or “Isn’t that fab”.

I was very nervous about reviewing the pictures. I was still worried about the fact that Miss NHM had been a rat bag on the day. However, I should have trusted in Alistair’s professionalism because I’m not lying when I say that every picture was brilliant. We had over 50 pictures taken during our shoot and every single one is just perfect.

As the pictures were taken outside and not in a studio they aren’t staged, so the expressions on Miss NHM’s face are really natural. I love this! I will always be able to look at these pictures and remember her at four years old, having the time of her life running around outside! Lol.

Alistair brought a number of samples along with him, to show the pictures at their best. One thing I really like all is that all items purchased are built to stand the test of time and become family heirlooms. For example, the Wall Art is all UV protected and stain resistant.

There is no obligation to buy but when you see the pictures it’s very difficult not too want all of what’s available!

Final Thoughts

When you book a lifestyle session with Alistair you get the complete service. I really liked the idea of having the pre-session briefing and then the follow up review. I was very impressed at how Alistair goes out of his way to make you feel comfortable and relaxed. It was clearly very important to him that we got the most out of the whole experience and had some fantastic pictures to take away from the experience.

The pictures themselves are just perfect. We couldn’t have asked for any better.

You can find out more about Alistair’s Lifestyle Bespoke Family Photography at:


Facebook Page

AND Alistair has kindly agreed to give all NHM readers 20% off his Family Lifestyle sessions! Simply quote NHM when you book (expires 31st December 2015)

Thank you very much to Alistair for a fabulous experience and for the wonderful memories that we have of our shoot!

Disclaimer: This post is a review of Ideal Imaging. Our photography shoot was supplied free of charge for the purposes of the review. I was not expected to write a positive review and any opinions expressed are my own. 

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Review 2015: Sir Harald Hillier Gardens

Sir Harald Hillier Gardens, Romsey nr Southampton

Review 2015: Sir Harald Hillier Gardens

The first time I went to Sir Harald Hillier Gardens was when Miss NHM was 4 months old.

It was so fab but I didn’t get to really experience it because Miss NHM was too young.

However, we went back in October 2014 to meet up with friends and had a fantastic day. Miss NHM was three and a half when we visited so she loved all the different areas that we visited.

Unfortunately the weather was appalling that day, it rained for most of the time we were there, but that meant it was really quiet and we still had a brilliant time.

You are probably aware that I’ve been championing the “Save the Culture All Passport“. This was one of the places that you could visit under the scheme. I really hope they don’t lose out on families visiting because they can no longer afford to visit.


The Gardens are HUGE! There are so many different areas to explore. I’m just going to post the pictures up and you can see all of the different areas to visit.

You can’t really tell from the rubbish picture, but this is a maze made out of bamboo. It even had a seat in the middle. We had much fun playing in the maze!

This is a stream that Miss NHM wanted to go paddling in. It was a cold October day. She wasn’t impressed when we said no! lol.

As you walk to the end of the garden there is a long ramp and you walk past a waterfall. Lovely part of the gardens

This is the restaurant at the other end of the gardens from the entrance. Unfortunately the restaurant is closed in winter but it’s open in summer.

As you can see, there are lots of picnic benches outside the restaurant.

My favourite tree in the gardens :-D. 074




You can just see the tree art in the picture below. Miss NHM was fascinated with this!


This is the children’s area. There are different sensory areas. The picture below shows the ponds which had different types of pond life in.


Miss NHM enjoyed standing on top of these. I wasn’t sure that was what she was supposed to be doing!!!



This is the education centre, where the indoor activities take place. It’s next to the entrance. 092


This is a picture of the restaurant. As you can see there is also outside seating for summer days.


The views were spectacular.



There are lots of sculptures dotted around the gardens. We loved this one, near the entrance.





The treehouse is by far my favourite place in the Gardens.






Take welly’s on a rainy day as it can get very muddy. We recommend an umbrella too.

Harald Hillier Gardens has lots and lots of activities for children so we recommend checking the website out before you go, to see what activities are on.

Dogs are not allowed in the gardens.


I’m just going to let the pictures do the talking 😀






The food was excellent and really good value for money.

I was very impressed with the children’s meal which had some nice healthy options available and a free seed tray. Wow, I sound old! lol.


There are toilets at the main entrance, the main restaurant and at the other end of the gardens.

There are covered places near the main restaurant to park pushchairs and wheelchairs.

Baby Facilities

There were baby changing facilities in each of the separate toilets.


Is free and there is lots of it.


  • Under 17s Free (must be accompanied by an adult)
  • Adult £9.30*
  • Concession £8.40* (Seniors, job seekers, full-time students and people with disabilities)
  • Groups (10+) £7.50 per person
  • Guided Tours £60 standard

*Become a Gift Aid Visitor. Admission includes a voluntary donation to enable us to conserve, develop and exhibit our world renowned Gardens and plant collection. Standard entry prices Adults £8.45, Concessions £7.60

You can also become a member of the gardens, which looks very reasonably priced if you plan to visit lots:


  • April–October 10am–6pm (last entry 5pm)
  • November–March 10am–5pm (last entry 4pm)
  • Open all year (except Christmas and Boxing Day)

Rating out of 5

We’ve given them 5 out of 5 as we love the gardens and if we lived closer we would be visiting all the time.

Review 2015: The Cafe Project, Brighton Hill

I’ve been meaning to go to the Dome Cafe ever since it opened.

So when a friend invited Miss NHM and I to lunch there, I jumped at the chance!

I used to be a volunteer youth leader for Gateway Award Project (GAP) in the early 2000’s and haven’t been back to the Dome in at least 10 years.

It’s changed a lot and I was REALLY impressed at how they’ve smartened the place up! lol.

Review: The Cafe Project, The Dome, Brighton Hill

The Cafe Project Website

The Cafe Project Facebook Page


Was excellent.

We had tuna and sweetcorn jacket potatoes and Miss NHM had a huge plate of pasta and sauce. It was yummy and the salad had clearly been prepared upon order.

We were thinking about having cakes as they looked sooooo scrummy, but in the end we were full up!


The Cafe is open from 9am to 3pm, Tuesday to Friday and food is served until 2pm.

They have easy access and lots of space for buggies and wheelchairs.


Are what you would expect. It’s very light and airy and warm considering the high ceiling.

There is a book case with books you can borrow to read and a small selection of toys for children.

Oh and please take note of the menu holders. My Father in law made them, and BOY did he go on and on about them! haha.

Baby Facilities

There was a baby changing table in one of the toilets and it was in good working condition.

They’re also part of the breastfeeding welcome scheme.


Is Free.

The Dome is just behind Asda in Brighton Hill. There is limited parking, about 8 spaces, but you could always park in Asda car park and walk over.

However, best to check if there is a time limit on parking in the Asda car park though. (The team at the Cafe Project have confirmed that, to their knowledge, there is no time limit for parking in the Asda car park.)


Are incredibly reasonable. Very good value.

Rating out of 5

I’m giving them 5 out of 5 because it’s such a brilliant concept and clearly is a hub of the local community, given how busy it was!

I was so impressed at the quality of the food for the price we paid.

Totally recommend this cafe for catching up with your friends and it’s a great way to support the local community!

Review 2014: Airkix in Basingstoke

Warning: These are the only photo’s that you will ever see of me on NHM :-D. 

I committed to myself at the beginning of the year, that this would be MY year. (and it REALLY has been. 2014 has been an amazing year for me!!)

As part of this I made a decision early on this year, that I would do a Sky Dive for charity in 2015. (A few people have been very critical of this as I’m a parent, but life’s too short not to take the odd risk now and then, whether you are a parent or not!!)

Next year is a “big” birthday for me (21 again!!!) and I would love it if my family and friends donated money for me to Sky Dive to raise funds for Sebastian’s Action Trust, instead of buying me a birthday present.

I wanted to try Airkix first, to see if I could *hack* a Sky Dive.

So, Mr NHM bought me an awesome birthday present, which I cashed in on Sunday.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and was a little terrified.

But…it was SOOOOOO AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was so amazing that I have booked my Sky Dive, two days after Airkix! lol.



Once you have brought your Airkix ticket you need to book your slot online. During school holidays and weekends it can get very busy, so I booked at least a month in advance and then promptly forgot about it. DON’T DO THIS! Make sure you read the paperwork that gets sent to you at least a few days in advance.

When you arrive, you will need to complete a “Statement of Risk” disclaimer on the computer terminals. You are supposed to complete this at home, in advance, but I completely missed this bit. (Sorry Airkix!!!) It takes a bit longer than you would think because the keyboard has clearly been used many times before.

If you’ve had shoulder problems, you also need to confirm that you are ok to jump.

Once everyone arrives (I was dying of embarrassment that we were late), you then get taken upstairs to a room with a video and asked to watch the 5 minute video which explains everything you need to know and remember.

I was very pleased to see that I wasn’t the oldest person in the room. However, it was a little misleading as a few parents were sitting with their children and the parents didn’t actually jump. Sneaky!!!

The video covers quite a bit and I’m sure if you are younger and not so stressed about being late, you would take in a lot more. I tried to concentrate on the hand movements that you need to watch for, as you can’t hear or talk in the wind tunnel.

Luckily, I didn’t really have any time to become nervous. Once the video has finished, you then suit up.

You are given a lovely jump suit and helmet, goggles and then you can also have ear plugs. I wore these as I’m partially deaf anyway, so really couldn’t hear anything! lol.

Then, it’s time to go. You are taken into the ar-locked area of the wind tunnel and you sit on the bench. The other side of the wind tunnel are the spectators. I think this was the worst bit! Knowing that people were watching you!?!?!?!

I was 5th in the queue. It was fab watching everyone else, but this was the point where I started to get nervous.

When it was my turn, I could literally feel all of the spectator’s eyes on me. I was by far the oldest “girl” and I think they were expecting me to freak out of flake out. (I didn’t, I loved it and am REALLY proud of that fact! lol.)

Then, before you know it, it’s your turn….


I didn’t realise how much you needed to concentrate. I think I just expected it to “happen”. It did happen but you need to make sure you were paying attention to the hand signals. It actually takes a lot of control.

I had two jumps of two minutes each. About 1.40 seconds into the first jump I had to get out. My back was KILLING ME! It’s not used to being arched in such a direction, so the instructor did two, one minute sessions next for me, rather than two minutes in one hit. This was much better.

I managed to do a 360 degree turn in both directions, went sideways and up and down. It was amazing how little movement was needed to move around.

In my last “jump” I was taken up and down the wind tunnel by the instructor. This was AMAZING and, despite grinning like an idiot and trying not too dribble everywhere, it was a real highlight. This is the bit that secured the Sky Dive booking for me :-D.

After everyone has done their jump and the photo’s have been taken, you then take off your gear and are given your certificates. I’m very proud of my certificate and it’s displayed next to the award I won for NHM earlier in the year.


The instructor said I was a natural, which I’m sure is what helped my enjoyment, plus not having the time to get nervous in advance.

When you have finished you check out downstairs and have the option to buy repeat jumps at a reduced price.

Guess who knows what she’s getting for Christmas :-D.


Check your paperwork BEFORE the day of your jump. DO NOT do what I did and check it the morning of your jump, only to realise that you have to be there AT LEAST an hour before your scheduled time. We left the house in 7 minutes. This was the fastest time we have EVER left the house! lol.

(Thankfully, I was only 20 minutes late and the staff were lovely about it. We were THAT family though! I think if we had been 25 mins late, I would have lost my slot.)

Breath. I didn’t realise until after my first jump that I had been holding my breath. Nearly two minutes of holding ones breath is a long time. Make sure you breath!!!!

You will dribble. Not just at the “easy on the eye” Instructors ;-).

You will also ache the following day. Three days on and my stomach muscles haven’t quite forgiven me. So worth it though!!!!!

Leave your jewellery at home. It’s not recommended to wear it in the wind tunnel.

Non-participating children cannot be left alone, so make sure you bring someone along with you to watch them.

If you have long hair, tie your hair back as you don’t want it whipping around you in the wind tunnel.




Are excellent as it’s a very new facility. To be fair though, we didn’t do much exploring. Did I mention we were late? <blush>.

Baby Facilities

Not really sure, I was too excited to check these out.


Is free in Basingstoke Leisure Park


Are actually very reasonable for what you get.

There are also a few special offers that you can book on the day, for your next Airkix flight, which I may or may not have booked on the day because I loved it so much :-D.

Rating out of 5

10 out of 5. If only to prove to yourself that you aren’t JUST a Mum. 😉


Review 2014: Dinton Pastures Country Park, Berkshire

Thank you very much to this week’s Secret Reviewer, Jo, for her fab review of Dinton Pastures!

Dinton Pastures 

Davis Street, Hurst, RG10 0TH

Dinton Pastures Country Park covers just over 335 acres and has 7 lakes, 2 rivers, 3 public bird hides and meadows.

It offers scenic walks, wildlife watching, fishing, golf, orienteering, water sports and a large play area for children.

I have to be honest and say I have been visiting Dinton year in and year out since I was the same age as my children so it holds a special place in my heart as I have so many memories here!



Dinton is a lovely place to go walking and given the large number of lakes and footpaths you can make these as long or as short as you like really.

The wildlife trails are colour coded and signposted so you can follow these or wander to your hearts content if you prefer.

There is a short route marked for wheelchair and buggy access however in my experience if you have a robust pram/pushchair you should be able to follow any paths.

I have certainly had no trouble pushing my Phil & Teds Sport for miles around some lesser trodden tracks in the park although I wouldn’t attempt a longer walk with my Maclaren stroller.


The lakes are beautiful to walk round and I love them equally in the brilliant sunshine of spring & summer, the autumnal colours and the winter crispness.

There are plenty of benches at various points around the lakes to sit down & rest or take in the scenery and there are lots of places where the Ducks, Swans & Geese gather where you can feed them.

One word of warning, if you feed them at the main deck by the far end of the play park then it can become a bit like a scene from the birds.

The Swans & Geese are in large numbers here and are not frightened to surround you which can be very intimidating even as an adult let alone for small children!

I prefer to take our bread to a quieter point round the lake to feed the ducks there.

Play Area

In May this year the new play area was finally opened at Dinton (after delays due to the flooding earlier in the year) and boy was it well worth the wait!

The play space that has been created is nothing short of amazing! It features giant nest towers, swinging hanging logs, zip wires, funnel net trap, willow maze, a storytelling area & woodland obstacle course.

There are swings & slides and lots of sandpit areas.

At the far end closer to the lake is a woodland picnic area & den building structures plus a ‘hobbit’ tunnel and small trampoline suitable for toddlers.

There are other features such as a giants chair and dinosaur eggs to enthral your youngsters and really help their imagines run wild.

The only criticism I can make of this area is that it is so large that it can be very difficult to keep track of your little ones if you have more than one and for toddlers not all the equipment is suitable so you do need to be careful to keep tabs on them.

All in all though this is probably the best play area we have yet visited and there is no concrete in sight. I think it will keep my children entertained for many years to come.

Water Sports

The Dinton Activity Centre part way round Black Swan Lake offers a multitude of water sports including Sailing, Kayaking, Paddleboarding & Windsurfing.

For younger children they also offer pond dipping.

Advance booking is generally required for these activities.

Lots more information can be found on their website via WBC:

If you are solely visiting for the DAC there is a separate car park which is generally a lot less busy.

Other Activities

Orienteering is available and you can pick up a pack from the café for 50p.

There is a Pay & Play 9 hole golf course (par 70 standard scratch) and clubs, trolleys & buggies are all available to hire again from the café.

For any keen bird watchers there are 3 bird hides available at various points around the park – bring your own binoculars!


Refreshments are available at The Dragonfly café next to the main car park. The café is lovely and has a vast amount of outdoor seating and an outside covered area plus plenty of space indoors too for when the weather isn’t so good.

They are very accommodating towards children & babies.

Prices are very reasonable and I can highly recommend the homemade cakes they serve.

Picnic Areas

There are plenty of picnic benches both inside and outside of the play area and there is also an abundance of green spaces which are perfect for a picnic blanket if the weather is good.

Toilets & Baby Changing Facilities

There are toilet facilities at the café, the rangers office in the main car park and at the Activity centre.

The facilities at the café are the nicest as you would probably expect.

You can access them without having to go through the café. Baby changing facilities are available in the disabled toilets and these are clean and adequate.


There is a decent sized car park at the main entrance which also has an overflow section if it does get busy.

Alternative parking is available at the Water sports centre or at the aviation museum.

If you use the aviation museum car park you are at the very far end of the country park about as far as you can be from the main entrance and play area and I would allow a good 30-40 minute walk to get there, though on the plus side parking is free in this car park.

Charges for the main car park & the activity centre car park are as follows:

Up to 1 hour – £1.20

1-4 hours – £2.00

Over 4 hours – £2.50


Dinton is a great place to visit with children of all ages (or even without children). Weather dependent you could spend anything from an hour to a whole day here quite happily.


5 out of 5

The new play area is worth this alone.

Review 2014: Marwell Wildlife

I am terribly remiss for not posting this up sooner. Unfortunately life got in the way, but better late than never!

This post is in conjunction with the recent review that I did on Giraffe at Festival Place. Thank you very much to Festival Place who organised this opportunity for my family!

Marwell Wildlife

I love Marwell. I’ve been visiting the zoo/park for over 30 years (Eek!).

I vividly remember the zoo, as it was, when the Tropical World was actually a Lion sanctuary. I must have been about 9 years old because my sister was 4 years old. The reason why I remember this so vividly was because there were signs all over the place warning you that the Lions could spray you (with wee!).

My sister had a brand new clothkits coat (the fashion in those days!), and she got too close to the Lions and got sprayed on. I may have laughed. A lot. It’s funny what you remember!

Anyyyyway, I’ve seen a lot of changes at Marwell over the years. I remember we used to go there on school trips, and when there used to be fairground rides next to the entrance, near the building that used to house the cafe.

I went to Marwell for a family outing just before I went to Canada on the Bunac program in 1993. I wasn’t planning to be back for my 21st birthday, so we celebrated at Marwell, in advance.

Marwell has also been important in recent years. It’s the place we took my Mum and Mr NHM’s parents, when they first met. We had a picnic at the far end of the Zoo and that’s when Mr NHM asked my Mum for her permission to marry me!

So, I was delighted when we were given the opportunity to visit Marwell and do a review. It’s been on my list of places to review for a while, so this gave me the motivation to get it done!

Unfortunately, the day we visited, the weather was appalling, but we still had a great time, despite getting drenched.

Several of the photo’s in this review were taken on the last time we visited Marwell, when the weather was much better.

We visited on the first day of the “Rise of the Dinosaurs” and it was great fun spotting the Dinosaurs throughout the park.

If your little one’s like Dinosaurs I TOTALLY recommend bringing them to Marwell to walk the adventure trail.

It runs from now until 2nd September, so all through the school holidays.


There are LOTS of things to do at Marwell.

The park is huge and takes most of the day to walk around. There are lots and lots of animals to see.

We always start at the Penguin Cove. Miss NHM loves the penguins and it’s awesome how close you can get to them.

If you go behind Penguin Cove, there is a little cool play park. I might have a photo of Mr NHM with his head in this shark…

We then wander past the big cats. I’m quite proud of this photo of a cheetah that I took, but it’s not a patch on the ones I took when I was in Africa! lol.

We then walked up past the Rise of the Dinosaurs show stage and spent a lot of time looking at the Giraffe’s.

We then went to the African Valley house

Then we wandered up to see the Leopard

This time we didn’t eat at Cafe Graze but we’ve eaten here several times before and the food has always been good and reasonably priced.

We stopped for lunch at the Indoor Picnic area. This is my one criticism, the park was full of school children who all had packed lunches, so we couldn’t even get in the Indoor Picnic room as it’s quite small.

Given that it was chucking it down and we had Miss NHM with us, I wasn’t very impressed that we had to eat our lunch in the rain. We weren’t the only families who had to do this too.


So we ended up eating our picnic lunch trying to see the Tiger here:

After lunch we spent some time in the play park which is brilliant!

We then stopped to look at T-rex, but Miss NHM was a bit scared of him cause he kept roaring!

At the top of the park we stopped to see the Wallaby’s and Kookaburra’s



We also had a look at the playground near the Fur, Feathers and Scales area:

Then we stopped off at the Siamang Gibbons

We missed the lemurs this time, because the rain was dreadful, but I recommend checking them out as they are very cute and entertaining to watch.

We then went into the Tropical World because it was covered and warm. We had to tag team this though as pushchairs aren’t allowed in Tropical World.


Miss NHM loved looking at the bugs and we spent ages looking at the ants in their very long tunnel:

We finished our day at Marwell watching the Snow Leopards who are beautiful and I was quite proud that I managed to get a good shot of them, despite the rain:

We completely missed the road train and the rail train this time, but I’ve done the road train before and it was fab!

Unfortunately, because of the weather, we missed quite a lot of what is available at Marwell. However, we still had a brilliant time and Marwell will always have a special place in my heart!


Marwell is massive, so take your pushchair. As mentioned above, you can get the road train and the rail train but there will still be lots of walking involved.

It can get VERY busy at the weekend and during the holidays, so plan to start your day early to avoid the crowds, although the do disperse the further into the zoo you go.

Try going in the opposite direction to everyone else, going anti-clockwise around the park.

Buy your tickets online in advance and avoid the queues.

Upon entering the Park pick up one of our “lost child” stickers, add your mobile number and place it on your child’s back, where they cannot reach it with their hand.

Little ones can take scooters but the use of scooters is now limited to children under 42 inches tall.

For a much more comprehensive list of tips, check out Marwell’s top tips HERE.


There are several areas to eat throughout Marwell. Click HERE for more details.

Is a bit expensive but it’s always been good quality when I’ve eaten there. The picture below shows the cost of the Hot Dogs at Bushtucker.


Are always excellent.

Baby Facilities

There are baby facilities throughout the park.

At Cafe graze there is a microwave to heat up baby food.


Is free and there is lots of it! However, it isn’t on tarmac.


Considering that you can easily spend two days at Marwell with all that is going on, I feel that the price is very reasonable.

If you can afford annual membership, this is a total bargain as you would cover the cost in three visits.

Rating out of 5

I’ve given Marwell 4.9 out of 5. I love Marwell and really wanted to give it 5 out of 5.

However, as we had to eat our lunch in the pouring rain with a pre-schooler, this wasn’t much fun. Hence the 0.1  being taken off.

I think this is very generous considering we had to eat our lunch standing up! lol.

If you do visit Marwell  after reading this review, don’t forget to tell them (like any reviews you read on NHM) that you are visiting because you read the review.

Disclaimer: This post is a review of Marwell Wildlife in conjunction with Festival Place. Our entry was supplied free of charge for the purposes of the review. I was not expected to write a positive review and any opinions expressed are my own.

Review 2014: Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway

Today’s review by me (Louise) is: Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway

Exbury Gardens are in the New Forest, near Beaulieu and just 20 minutes from junction 2 of the M27, near Southampton.

It’s about a 50 minute drive from Basingstoke.

The Gardens postcode is SO45 1AZ

Play: Gardens

We went to Exbury Gardens a couple of weeks ago, when the weather was a bit drizzly and pants. We had a fabulous time though!


The Gardens are HUGE! There are over 200 acres. We only saw a fraction of the gardens in the 4 hours that we were here. I would have loved to have stayed longer, but Miss NHM was getting to meltdown point as she was tired.


We had a picnic whilst we were there and were very lucky because it didn’t rain and we had the picnic area to ourselves.


We spent some time wandering through the gardens.




We wandered over to the Five Arrows Gallery to see the display that was currently showing. Miss NHM really liked looking at the pretend birds and I loved the pretend Humming birds. She wanted to touch everything though, so be warned that your little ones might want to run riot in here too! lol.

096The seating outside the Five Arrows Gallery looked lovely but it wasn’t appropriate weather to sit out.

093 We also spent some time in the new Play Area that has just opened which is fabulous!




As you can see, we mostly had it to ourselves for over an hour!

Play: Steam Train

The Steam Train journey was AWESOME! One of the best I’ve ever been on.



It last’s for just over 30 minutes and goes through a viaduct, bridge, tunnel and there are LOTS of things to see on the way.





The train stops at a small station halfway through your journey and the Guard gave us a short talk about the gardens, which I found fascinating (turning into my Mother. No comment!!!).

Miss NHM even got to wave the guard flag on the return journey! I was far more excited about this than she was! lol.

The Guard advised that the best time to Exbury Gardens is in May, when the Rhodedendrons are out. I’d also love to go back in the autumn as I bet the colours are stunning.

We had a brilliant day out and the gardens and steam train were much better than I expected!


Book your tickets in advance online as they are cheaper.

Take a picnic with you.

Check the train times before you leave reception so you know which times the train is running.

Watch out for the geriatrics. They are everywhere! lol. Hence it’s a great place to take Grandparents who love gardens ;-).

The M27 can be busy on weekends, so take this into consideration for your travel time.


We had hot chocolate and cake in the Cafe onsite, Mr Eddy’s Tea Room just before we left.


It was good but expensive so I’m glad we took a picnic with us for lunch.


The toilets are in excellent condition. They even have Dyson hand dryers and everything is electric, including the soap!


There are also Dog water bowls next to the toilets.

Baby Facilities

Even the gents in the middle of nowhere has baby changing facilities!!!! Mr NHM confirmed that they were also in excellent condition.

The Seats inside the engine shed could be good for breastfeeding if it’s raining and you are looking for a bit of privacy. Could be a bit cold though.



Gravel Parking but there is LOADS of it.


There is no doubt that it’s expensive getting access to the gardens and the steam train, however the family ticket was very reasonable and would have been worth it if we had another child.

Gardens & Train: It was £15 for an adult and £6 for a child aged 3-15 years. For a family ticket (2 adults and 3 children) it is £38.75.

Gardens Only: £11 for an adult and£3 for children aged 3-15 years. For a family ticket (2 adults and 3 children) it’s £24.75.

Children under 3 were free for both Gardens & Train or Garden only.

However, if you buy your tickets online in advance, you do get a discount.

Rating out of 5: 4.9

The rating is just under 5 because it’s expensive. Otherwise, we had an absolutely brilliant day out and I was very impressed with the facilities.

The best time to come is May but keep an eye on when flowers are blooming at home as this will give you an indication of precisely the best time to visit Exbury.