Thursday, 27 August 2015

FINISH THE PICTURE BOOKS


I don't remember having such a rainy summer holidays as this year? We've been doing lots of crafty activities during the downpours and one of our favourites is making 'finish the picture' books. I've used some plain grey Moleskine's and stuck in pics from magazines. Then the idea is you finish the picture however you like! Just the fox above. It's great fun and makes a great present idea too.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

ALFIE'S CHOCOLATE FONDANTS



Alfie made us some chocolate fondants last week, they were gooey, rich and delicious! Here's his recipe that was so easy.

INGREDIENTS

100g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of plain flour
150g dark chocolate 70% cocoa
3 free-range egg yolks
3 whole free range eggs

METHOD 

  1. Grease 4/5 small moulds or glass pudding dishes 
  2. Place a bowl over a pan of water and heat to a simmer
  3. Add the sugar, chocolate and butter into the bowl and stir until melted
  4. Remove from the heat
  5. Add the eggs and egg yolks and beat 
  6. Fold in the flour 
  7. Pour the mixture into the greased moulds and pop in the fridge for at least 30 minutes
  8. Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. 
  9. After they have chilled, remove from fridge and bake on a baking tray for 10 minutes
  10. Allow to rest and turn out 
  11. Serve with double cream or ice-cream

Monday, 24 August 2015

WET WEATHER FREE RUNNING FUN





I hate indoor soft play centres, I would put them all in Room 101 if I could, I'm sorry but I do. I think it's the noise that I can't stand, as they are always in big bunkers of buildings and the background noise just amplifies in the space. Anyway enough of my moaning as I've found one that has changed my opinion. 

Freedog Urban Activity Centre is based on a trading estate in Swindon and is bang on the current free-running/parkour trend that my boys love and secretly I think is pretty amazing too (even if I wince every time they climb a wall!) It is basically a huge unit covered with trampolines and foam pits, with slam dunk and dodge ball courts too. 

We were greeted by warm friendly staff who issued us with our pre-booked socks (you all wear the same non-slip socks) and showed us the lockers. We sat through a ten minute safety film about how to bounce without breaking your legs, arms or neck, no double bouncing or head first dives into the foam pits (we signed a waiver form too *gulp!*) The boys were then ready to free-run and practice their parkour somersaults in a safe environment. 

The Freedog design is trendy with shipping containers and huge festoon lights used to divide the huge industrial unit, creating a snack shack, briefing area and check in/office areas. The coffee was perfect while I watched their capers and snacks included healthier options, my boys both enjoyed a tuna and salad wrap for £1, with slushy drink and ice cream of course! 

It costs £10 for an hour of open bounce and in this wet weather was fully booked really quickly and socks cost £2 but you get to keep them for next time. So it's not the cheapest entertainment but is great for a range of ages, unfortunately Stanley is too young as you need to be 5 years old to participate. 

I quite fancy a go myself but after watching the boys I'm not sure I could keep up for a whole hour but it would be great fun and good exercise. 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

WILD SWIMMING - AN INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL START


Wild swimming is enjoying a renaissance thanks to writers such as Daniel Start whose mission through Wild Things Publishing is to create inspiring books and apps that get people out experiencing and enjoying nature, and our wonderful, often local, world... and to inspire us to make our lives a little more wild. 

I first met Daniel when he was writing the book Wild Swimming Coast (now called Hidden Beaches) and he chose a few of my photographs to feature in it. I caught up with him for a short Q & A session where he shares some great tips and advice if you want to go wild swimming. 

Q. When did you start wild swimming and why?
A. I grew up on the River Wye in Herefordshire and had a Huckleberry Finn childhood of river swings and raft making. I learnt to swim in the river there! I also spent several years living on a hill farm in Snowdonia where there were wonderful lakes and waterfalls for swimming.



Q. What are the benefits of wild swimming?
A. George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Britten, Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale were all advocates of regular cold baths to strengthen the mental constitution and physical state. Cold immersion soothes muscle aches, relieves depression and boosts the immune system. All wild-dippers know the natural endorphin high that raises mood, elates the senses and creates an addictive urge to dive back in. However the world seemed before a swim, it looks fantastic afterwards. The long-term impacts are also well researched: NASA studies have shown that, over a 12-week period, repeated cold swimming leads to substantial bodily changes known as ‘cold adaptation’. These bring down blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce fat disposition, inhibit blood clotting and increase fertility and libido in both men and women. Far from quelling passion, a cold shower will boost vitality and desire.

Q. Where can you go wild swimming?
A. Britain is bubbling with glorious little river and lake swmiming holes. You can explore our wild swimmimg map or wild swimming app or just ask around: some older folks may remember when a local river or lake was used for swimming in hot summers of the past. Younger people too often know a good place to jump in, go for a plunge or find that ubiquitous blue rope swing tied to a tree. Fishermen and kayakers are also good sources, as our keen walkers.

Look for clues on a map: why not follow a river along its length? Many have footpaths that follow the bankside. Buy an Ordnance Survey map of your area (Purple Landrager 1:50,000 or Orange Explore 1:25,000). They will identify all the water features in your area. Weirs are marked and swimming is often popular in the pools above or below. Bridges sometimes cross sections where the river naturally narrows and deepens, so examine these. Bends are always good, as the river shallows to a beach on the inside, but deepens to a pool on the outside. Legal access is important so also examine footbridges, riverside footpaths, road fords and other places where a right of way comes into contact with the water.  In highland areas look for any mountain lake and examine waterfalls, where marked. 



Q. What inspired you to write the first Wild Swimming book?
A. It was the really hot summer of 2006 and I was working in London, dreaming of my childhood swimming. I had read Waterlog and wanted to travel the country photographing the best traditional swimming holes. I thought it would make a lovely book.

Q. Where are your favourite wild swims and why?
A. I love Dartmoor, the Norfolk Broads and River Thames. 

Best for skinny dipping
Sharrah Pool, R Dart, Dartmoor
Sharrah is the largest and best pool on this wild and wonderful river stretch in the forested Dart Valley nature reserve. It’s also the birth place of Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies, so not better place to return to your natural state. You might also explore Bellpool Island just downstream, and upstream are the Mel Pools, a range of smaller pools, including a few good chutes if you have an inner tube. Descend to river from Holne and bear L along a good path for 40 mins to find this long narrow pool. 40 mins, 50.5301, -3.8396

Best for a long swim
The River Waveney was the favourite river of Roger Deakin, forefather of the wild swimming movement.  I love the 2 miles loop around Outney Common, starting and returning from Bungay. This town is one of Suffolk’s most independent little places, with quirky cafes, food stores and craft shops, so it’s the perfect place to stock on picnic supplies. It even has its own river meadows at the bottom of Bridge Street, perfect for a picnic and quick dip if you don’t fancy the walk. There’s also a riverside campsite with canoe hire (www.outneymeadow.co.uk, 01986 892338). 52.4572, 1.4413 

Best for leaving the car at home
Port Meadow, River Thames, Oxford
This 2 mile stretch of river has beaches and grassy meadow on both banks with cows and cattle roaming around. The dreaming Oxford spires behind were the inspiration for Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. Yet the city and Oxford mainline station are only 15 mins walk away. From the station turn right onto the main road and after 300m drop down to Thames footpath on right and follow it for ¾  mile upstream. The first footbridge leads to west bank with open meadow, the next leads to the east bank with path and access to The Perch inn (OX2 0NG, 01865 728891). 51.7698, -1.2881



Q. What advice/tips would you give to a complete wild swimming beginner?
A. Water temperatures can vary. Shallow lakes can get up to a balmy 25C in summer but mountain rivers may struggle to reach 20C. Much of the year outdoor waters are around 12C – 17C so the key is to arrive at the swimming hole so hot and sweaty you can’t wait to strip off and plunge in. Plan a good hearty walk to get there, and put on lots of warm clothes before you arrive. Once you’re in the water it takes a few minutes before the cold feeling goes away, so persevere. In general, the more you swim in cold water the less you feel the cold and the greater the health benefits of what is called ‘cold adaptation’. Don’t stay in too long without a wetsuit, though, and definitely get out and warm up after 20 minutes or if you start to shiver. Put on warm clothes immediately after a swim and combine this with something active: walk up a hill or do some star jumps. You’ll have more confidence, and be better able to explore, if you have footwear (e.g. old trainers, jelly beans etc) and goggles. A normal surfing wetsuit, a sleeveless wetsuit top or a specialist triathlon wetsuit will all help you stay warm longer. 

Q. What interesting or unusual wildlife have you experienced at river level?
A. We see kingfishers and herons regularly on the river Avon, and I once swam with a turtle - it must have been an escaped terrapin

Q. Wild Things Publishing have now published an amazing 13 books, what next?
A. We have new Wild Guides and Wild Swimming books planned for Scotland, Dartmoor, Scandinavia and Spain. These will all be out some time through 2016!

Find out more by visiting www.wildswimming.co.uk
Photographs (c) Daniel Start/Wild Swimming

Sunday, 16 August 2015

CRAZY GOLF



We visited The Goods Shed in Stroud on Saturday to try our hands at crazy golf

Local architects Miller Howard had the most brilliant idea to get lots of local artists together (which can't of been hard as everyone that lives in Stroud is an artist of some kind or other) and designed an 18 hole indoor crazy golf course. The result is half crazy golf, half art installation and a 'hole' load of fun for all the family!

The 18 individual designed holes range from a ramp into a piano to a set of nostrils, it was so much fun and there was a bar and cafe with freshly brewed coffee and cake too. It was so imaginative and has inspired us as a family to make our own mini crazy golf course in the garden with some drainpipe and papier mache.

If you are in the area I would really recommend a visit, follow the signs to Stroud Railway Station, The Goods Shed is next to the station and the railway line and there is car parking right outside. It costs £3/adult and £2/child and is open everyday 10am - 4pm until the 6th September.

TEN THINGS


After a long and full time week at work it's the weekend and we're looking forward to some much needed rest to recharge our batteries and doing the following,

  1. Some lie in's or 'lions' as the little one calls them
  2. A trip to the Farmers' Market to buy flowers, fruit and veg. 
  3. I have become slightly obsessed with Tin Tabernacles & might try and pursuede the boys to incorporate some corrugated iron on their treehouse.  
  4. It's blackberry picking time which makes me ridiculously happy as I love blackberries!
  5. Am going to book a paddle boarding lesson - it's all the rage don't you know? 
  6. We're going to do some moss graffiti 
  7. Find wild carrot flowers growing - my favourite wild flower 
  8. Love this idea to pin prick a photograph
  9. Listening to The Beatles Across the Universe over & over again
  10. Enjoy some outdoor swimming 





Wednesday, 12 August 2015

CAMP WILDERNESS


I have just picked up the boys from Camp Wilderness an all-inclusive residential summer camp in Oxfordshire for children aged 7 - 14 years old. Summer camps are something of an American institution with over 11 million children going on a camp each year according to the American Camp Association in 2010. But they haven't really caught on in the UK, until now. 

"It really is a different type of adventure where the children truly get to grips with bushcraft, and have lots of fun while doing it. We pride ourselves in providing a back-to-nature experience that children will remember for the rest of their lives. Not only do they make new friends and learn new skills, with Camp Wilderness they are able to spend time in the most beautiful woodlands, getting away from technology!" explained Jade Forbes-Wattley of Camp Wilderness.  

The action-packed camp is held in beautiful safari-style tented camps combing traditional bush craft with fun activities that include archery, bush tucker BBQ's and wild swimming. With children spending less time than ever outdoors, these camps offer a wonderful alternative to TV, games consoles and online distractions.


I had butterflies about the boys going away, especially as the nine year old has never been away from home without us before, but the butterflies soon disappeared as we arrived at camp to the best welcome ever. We were waved in from the road and as we opened the car doors we were greeted and bags were carried for us, it was so lovely and so friendly I knew the boys were going to have the best time and my nerves were instantly calmed.

Research has shown that children going away to camp encourages self-esteem as they learn to look after themselves and solve problems, it helps them to make friends often with a more diverse groups of friends than they may have at home. It brings them closer to nature and give children experiences they wouldn't have in their everyday lives such as wild swimming or even seeing a frog up close!

Camp also gives children an opportunity to take on new and different roles, quiet children find a new confidence and leadership skills, and hyperactive children can find calm in new surroundings. It also gives them fresh air and exercise and wonderful memories.    


Camp Wilderness takes place in four picturesque locations in the UK and solves a problem of child care that we face each and every school holiday as despite having a flexible working contract and supportive employers, there are only so many hours that the grandparents can entertain my very active brood!

As I write this the boys are asleep on the sofa worn out from their adventures and I am waiting for them to wake and share their adventures. Find out more about Camp Wilderness and book your childrens' summer holiday adventure.

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