When I was seven months pregnant I went on a walking holiday in the Lake District (including a very poor decision to try and climb the Catbells). I walked about 10 kilometres a day and had to sit in the bath for two hours at the end of everyday just to get my feet to shrink enough to get my slippers on. I went to an all day festival in Hyde Park at eight months and punk rock gig four days before my due date. So as you can imagine I wasn’t up for endless days in the flat watching Cash in the Attic once my bundle of puke and poop arrived.
I realised early on that if I was going to make this parenting thing work, I needed to still be able to do things I enjoy. Of course it’s not always that easy. Most gig ticketing agencies don’t offer a BYOB (bring your own baby) option, the sodding sleepyhead doesn’t fit in a Toyota Yaris when it’s already full of the 20 other bags you’ve had to pack…and when you’ve got to explain to your friends that, yes you can come out for their birthday, but could you meet a bit earlier than nine? Can we meet at say…five? Oh, and can we bring our kid?
What makes life even more fun is that we live in Bristol. Alex’s parents live in Swansea, and mine live in Nottingham. So getting a free babysitter for more than a hour involves calender management, motorway travel and toll bridges.
This blog is mine and my family’s attempts to get out and about. Come along as we attempt everything from a simple trip to ASDA, a social life beyond “Rhyme Time”, wandering under the trees…and being those people on the plane.
Great For: Casual dinner, all day breakfast (until 5pm). A great Sunday lunch.
The Good: Prices are reasonable, daily offers and toys provided. Dogs are also welcome.
The Bad: Can’t book.
Food and Drink: Prices are reasonable with most main meals coming in between £8 – £10. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all catered for. Breakfast is served until 5pm and lunch is available from 12pm until closing so there is always plenty of choice on offer depending on how hungry you are. The Sunday lunches are excellent and they serve both a veggie and vegan option. Portions are a generally spot on and the food has always been really tasty. The social have daily offers so you can always get a bargain if you go on the right day. There is also a kids menu that you can find on thier Facebook page.
Ambiance and Facilities: The Social is a wine bar / cafe/ pub hybrid with a relaxed atmosphere, even when busy. The walls are decorated in murals and art from local artists.
Highchairs are provided, as is a box of toys that caters mainly for babies and toddlers. Changing facilities are basic but clean. They’re located in the disabled toilet so there is plenty of space. There’s no strap on the changing table so keep a close eye on any rollers.
Top Tip: Snag table 13 if you can. It’s right next to the cabinet that contains the toy box, and close to the toilets. You can use the top of the cabinet to place all your baby crap like bottles, food, blankets etc.
Staff and Service: The waiting staff are predominantly bar staff, so don’t go expecting high etiquette standards. They will pass you your food if you’re on the far side of the table rather than serve from the left, and you have to pick up your own cutlery and condiments from the bar. You order at the bar and food is then brought to your table. Service has always been efficient and friendly when I’ve eaten here whether it be brunch or dinner. The staff will bring water for your pooch and stop for a quick cuddle and a chat. They’re also very friendly towards babies and children.
Great For: Meet ups with friends, a decent cup of coffee or a quick baby friendly lunch spot around Bristol harbourside.
The Good: Baby facilities, coffee and lots of space.
The Bad: Mediocre food reviews from our group.
Food and Drink: The cafe has both a breakfast and lunch menu. Breakfast is continental in style, so no full english on offer. A range of porridge, waffles and muffins ranging from a few quid to around £8. The lunch menu consists of wraps, salads and sandwiches, all of which are served quite quickly. The soup of the day is a bargain at £3.95 and was extremely tasty. The salads received mediocre reviews from my NCT group, with the overall opinion that they looked better than they tasted. Don’t be fooled by the £8 “pizza flats”. From this description I was expecting a smallish flatbread and what I got was a twelve inch pizza! If I’d known I probably would’ve asked a friend if they wanted to share. It was a perfectly pleasant pizza, and I had no complaints, but it was nothing out of this world.
The coffee is good, not to strong or too weak. A large is a regular mug size so unless you’re feeling particularly parisian or you’re already rattling from your morning cuppa I wouldn’t bother with the small ones. Prices are typical coffee and tea prices that you pay everywhere. There are a range of cold drinks available as well.
Ambiance and Facilities: The cafe is huge, so unless you’re polling up at lunch time on a Saturday you’re likely to get a spot. The cafe was very clean and there wasn’t an issue with rubbish left on empty tables from previous diners. It’s modern and colourful and an enjoyable place to sit and chat for a few hours.
Baby changing is located within the toilets at the far end of the cafe, which are unisex, so men can also change the baby, Hurrah! The toilets were clean and stocked with toilet paper and paper towels. Beware the school groups though…if a class of 25 line up to use the loos you’re in for long wait to get that nappy changed as there are only two toilets. They’re quite small cubicles so you can’t wheel in the stroller with you either…leave it at the table and carry them.
The cafe has a microwave and bottle warming station available for customers to use which were both clean when I used them. The cafe have a good supply of IKEA highchairs.
Staff and Service: You order at the counter and are given a number to take to your table so the waiting staff can find you. Coffee is left on the side of the bar for you to collect yourself when it is ready.
The staff are friendly and welcoming and were happy to substitute pizza options to accommodate my pescatarian diet. Service was quick and efficient, although I haven’t been at a weekend when you may experience a longer wait.
Ivor loves a push in his travel system, but even after all the months of research, our fantastic Kinderkraft Moov needed a bit of pimping. Here are ten items that will make trips out with the pram easier.
1. Stroller organiser
I didn’t get one of these until three months in. I had a smallish baby bag that came with my stroller so I used to just use that. I can’t tell you how much easier a stroller organiser made things. When all you need is a muslin it’s really annoying having to open a bag and route through it. Everything ends up jumbled around and the thing you want always, always, always ends up at the bottom. The stroller organiser is perfect for a short trip out, where all you need is one nappy change and a feed. On longer trips I pop the things I’m most likely to need quickly, like muslins and baby wipes (I use Cheeky Wipes reusables). It’s also a handy place to pop a drink, your house keys and purse whilst you’re out for easy access whilst shopping (just don’t leave the buggy unattended!). Ours is a simple one from Ana Wiz that cost less than £15.
2. Buggy clips
I use mine to hold my bag for life so I’ve always got it, and I often use them to hold the dog’s lead when I’m taking him a walk. But they are absolutely necessary if you’re planning to do solo shopping trips with baby. Even if you’re buggy has a great storage basket like mine does, they can only hold so much. I like the kind pictured above. I tried the ones that are basically a camping clip, but they were always falling down the sides of the buggy, and they were really clunky. The ones with velcro straps hold in place much better. I’d also recommend getting clips that fully close, as opposed to ones that have a hook. They just keep thinks more secure.
3. The Rockit
This great little device retails at around £40 and has been a godsend with Ivor, a baby who loves the buggy as long as it’s moving, and will scream a hail mary the second it stops. The Rockit takes four AA batteries and at one click of a button vibrates, which in turn rocks your buggy! You can also increase the intensity of the rocking to suit your baby. It’s most useful when Ivor has fallen asleep. If I get home I pop The Rockit on and get on with boring grown up stuff. I’ve also had an entire coffee and cake date with friends whilst The Rockit fooled Ivor into thinking we were still tredding the streets. It’s less successful if Ivor is awake, but it still works long enough to stop him from losing his shit at a red light. I highly recommend The Rockit if you have a stationary stroller hating baby, or if you just want to extend that nap once you’re back home.
4. A sensory toy
As he got older, Ivor soon got bored with a simple toy. I recommend getting something large with lots of different sensory materials like the Eric Carle Hungry Caterpillar toy. Lamaze do a great range of stroller toys too.
5. A phone holder
Yes, in a perfect world we would not look at our phones while pushing our precious bundles around. But back in the real world, I’m trying to find the baby sensory scout hut I’ve never bloody heard of and it’s really annoying having to stop to get my phone out every five minutes to check Google Maps. I can text someone to tell them I’m running late without having to wrestle my phone out of my pocket and have a conversation with my husband about whether we need milk or bread bringing home via speakerphone without having to stop and block the pavement. Order one that’s meant for a bike, they’re cheaper than the ones made for strollers, despite being exactly the bloody same.
6. A smash proof phone case
This item should be on any baby list. Insurance excess for a top end phone will be at least £70 a pop and don’t kid yourself, you are not getting through this experience without a breakage or two. A good quality, baby and toddler proof phone case doesn’t come cheap, but if it prevents your darling vandal breaking your phone just once, it will have more than paid for itself. I use the Otterbox Defender series. Prices range from around £50 down to £25 depending on your phone make and model. And baby aside, as a mother out and about, you will drop your phone. It will fall out of your hands, darling vandal will knock it off the table in Costa, and if you’re a complete moron like me, you’ll drop it down a whole flight of stairs on your way into Tiny Talk. Whilst the Otterbox isn’t 100% waterproof (You’ll need to spend considerably more for one that is), after its drop down the stairwell it didn’t have a scratch on it.
7. A bluetooth speaker
A lot like The Rockit, you can live without it, but you really shouldn’t. Sometimes, babies are just gits. And they will scream and scream just because. And when you’re ten minutes from home, and you really don’t want to have to stop and pay £2.90 for a Chai Latte just so you can change or feed them, a speaker comes in handy. When Ivor starts whinging, I pop on his favourite songs (I highly recommend the Super Simple series) and it will usually calm him down long enough for me to get him home. A couple of lullabies will get him to settle down for a nap when he’s fighting sleep. I got my baby-safe speaker as a gift from someone who bought it abroad, but any bluetooth speaker that can be clipped to the pram can work, as long you don’t let baby gnaw on it if it isn’t baby-safe. Make sure you buy a waterproof one in case of showers!
8. Thermal travel bag
If you’re bottle feeding they’re great for keeping water hot or cold so you can make up the perfect bottle when you’re out. We use the Tommee Tippee ones, but check your bottles will fit whichever ones you chose to buy. They’re great if you’re just popping out for an hour or two as you can strap them to the stroller and leave the hefty travel bag at home.
9. Safety strap
This came free with my buggy clips and I honestly had no idea what the hell it was… But I’ve actually grown to quite like it. It straps onto the handle of your stroller and you just pop your wrist through the loop, meaning if you need to suddenly go hands free for a second your baby isn’t going anywhere.
10. Linking rings
They cost just a few quid and are brilliant. We use them all the time at home to attach toys to things like his bouncer to play with. We also use them on the go to attach things like teethers or toys that he’s taken a particular shine to.
I know plenty of Mums in real life and online that have discovered reusable baby wipes. You can make your own out ofTerry towelling and some tupperware, or like me, you can buy a “ready to go” kit, probably the best well known being Cheeky Wipes. Theyre environmentally friendly. If saving the whales isn’t enough of a reason on its own, we’ve found that they really reduced Ivor’s nappy rash as it’s just water and the smallest amount of essential oils to wipe your babies bottom.
The concept is simple. Clean wipes go in the blue “Fresh” box with a little water and essential oils. Used wipes go in the green “Mucky” box in cold water with some tea tree oil. The mesh bag can then be used to transport the dirty wipes into the washing machine without ever having to touch the poop again. (Although to be honest I don’t think this is a concern for most parents six months in. You’re always touching poop and a mesh bag isn’t going to change that 😂😂😂) The wipes can be popped into your normal washing load, so unlike reusable nappies, don’t have a washing/drying carbon footprint. They’re also not adversely effecting your electricity bill.
Tip: I pop a small amount of my usual washing powder in the Mucky box. It helps lift out the poop before it stains meaning you can wash the wipes on a more economical washing cycle
But what about when you’re out? A lot of people I’ve spoken to that use reusables at home switch to disposable baby wipes whenever they go out, the most common reason being “It seems like a faff”. I’ve been using my Cheeky Wipes on-the-go kit ever since I’ve had it and it’s really not that faffy. The Fresh and Mucky bags take up the same amount of room, if not less in your bag as a pack of baby wipes.
Once you’re done with a wipe, you just pop it in the Mucky bag instead of the bin! And yeah, I said “wipe” singular. We have only ever had to use more than one Cheeky Wipe a handful of times. Only the deadliest of poonamis require a second baby wipe. Rather than being a faff, they actually make clean up jobs when you’re out easier.
They also make it easier to go to places that are less baby friendly. We’ve changed Ivors bum on a park bench with minimal fuss as we didn’t have to worry about where the hell we were going to deposit the seven shit stained baby wipes we’d just used. No one’s saying you can’t take a mini pack of baby wipes as a backup. We often do, especially if we’re going out all day, or when Ivor hasn’t shat for a day and a half and we’re expecting the worst, but we rarely have to use them.
When you get home, any unused wipes can go back in the Fresh box, and your mucky wipes can either be tipped into your Mucky box, or…you guessed it…the Mucky bag comes with its own detachable mesh bag for those parents that are somehow still not so used to being in close contact with faeces.
Once you start using them you’ll soon get to know how many wipes you need to take out for each outing. My rule of thumb is ask yourself how many you’ll need and then double it. You’ll never be without that way.
But what about once Ivor started weaning. Wouldn’t I need to carry baby wipes then anyway? Nope! Cheeky wipes also offer a range of different wipes, one being thier super soft bamboo and minky wipes. They’re perfect for cleaning fingers and faces. We just dampen one before we leave and pop it into a bag with his Doddlebag, bib and spoon. One wipe is usually enough to clean his hands and face, even when he gets gets creative with his food. Once home, they go in a cheeky wipes box (we bought a spare from thier website, but you could use any old Tupperware container) with a little bit of washing powder, and get popped into the next load of washing.
So there you have it. My guide to using reusable wetwipes on the go. It’s like everything else with a baby. The first time you do it you’ll panic, worry you’re not ready and put it off until tomorrow. But once you do it a couple of times you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about and never look back.
City breaks are quite easy with a small baby. No really. You’re always near shops where you can buy supplies and there will be changing facilities and feeding spots in abundance in a busy tourist spot. As long as you choose centrally based accomodation, so you can nip back once a day for a break if you need it, you can still get quite a lot done. Babies love taking in the world around them so get them strapped in thier stroller or to your chest and go exploring a city before the years of endless pool days and kids clubs start. We took Ivor on his first city break to Edinburgh when he was just four months old. Here’s why I think you should choose it too.
1. If you’re based in the UK, you will probably be on the plane for little more than an hour and a half, including time on the tarmac. The idea of flying with a baby for the first time is daunting as hell so this is a great way to experience it without having to commit to several hours. The liklihood is if you feed your baby as soon as you board, they will sleep through the rest of the flight. We didn’t have to do a nappy change on either leg of the journey either. Most airlines allow the two free baby items in the hold on domestic flights too so you can take two large items like your car seat, stroller or travel cot.
Tip: If you’re going on a short break, why not leave the carry cot at home and just use the car seat attachment for your travel system? Most airlines will class this as just one item and then you can still take the travel cot for free as well. Take a sling so your baby gets a break from sitting in the car seat all day.
2. You don’t need a passport. With everything else you have to deal with in the first few months, many of us don’t get around to applying for a baby passport straight away. As long as you are travelling within the UK, your baby can travel without a passport, although you should check with your airline incase they require any other proof of identity like a birth certificate.
3. Almost everything is on one street. The Royal Mile runs through Edinburgh’s city centre and is the hub for tourism in the city. With Edinburgh Castle at one end, and the Palace of Holyrood House at the other, you can spend a couple of days meandering up and down The Royal Mile taking in the attractions like Camera Obscura, St Giles Cathedral, The Scotch Whiskey Experience, Museum of Childhood, Museum of Edinburgh and Our Dynamic Earth. There are also plenty of cafes and restaurants to keep you fed and watered. I recommend the cafe under St Giles Cathedral which was a nice escape from the hustle and bustle and had good changing facilities.
4. You can still have a relaxed day at the beach by taking a short trip out to Portabello or Crammond Beaches. We went in November so didn’t venture out this time, but it’s definitely on the list for our next visit. Leith and it’s canals, or Carlton Hill offer other alternatives for a quieter day.
5. You can have coffee where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter and visit the grave that inspired Voldemort. Even if you’re not that into Harry Potter, you’re going to have to get to grips with the boy wizard in the next few years so why not start now? The Elephant Cafe is purported to be the place where JK famously sat and wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. You can also visit the grave of a man named Thomas Riddell in Greyfriars Kirkyard, thought by many to be the inspiration for Tom Riddle, who went on to become the notorious Lord Voldemort. This is going to impress the hell out of your kids later.
6. Public transport in Edinburgh is easy. The tram to the city centre leaves literally from right outside the airport and drops you in central Edinburgh near all of the major hotels. You can even buy your tickets in advance using the Lothian Transport ticket app to save any stress. There’s also a good bus service, although unless you’re going further afield to Leith, The Royal Britannia Yacht or the beach, you probably won’t need to rely on them much as Edinburgh is a very compact city. Edinburgh also has Uber, so you can get back to your hotel in the touch of a few buttons if you really need to.
This weekend we went Gruffalo hunting at Westonbirt Arboretum with my sister-in-law, Sarah and her toddler, Aaron. Aaron is Gruffalo mad and loves being outside so it seemed like the perfect way to spend a very cold but sunny Saturday. It was £7 for an adult ticket into Westonbirt and children under five are free. Children over five were charged £2. It does look like these prices might be due to change according to Google, who suggest it will be £8 per adult from Spring 2018.
I’ll start by saying that the information provided about the trail is a bit confusing for parents. There are very few signposts to help you find the sculptures. I can only remember one signpost for Gruffalo Wood near to the main entrance. After that you were on your own. If you didn’t pick up the right map at the entrance, you were also pretty screwed. There are no mentions whatsoever of the elusive Gruffalo on the main map of the Arboretum. So unless you specifically ask staff for The Gruffalo map, you are completely in the dark, apart from that one measley signpost.
Armed with the correct map, off we trotted to the Old Arboretum. The old arboretum was very quiet, probably as dogs are not allowed in this bit of the park (Rigoletto was not happy about being left at home.). The paths are wide, very well kept and we’re very stroller friendly. Ivor was happily looking at the tree tops for the majority of our walk around. Aaron was out of his buggy the second we found The Gruffalo. He went running up to him and gave him a huge hug and babbled to him in his delightful toddler speak.
The sculpture itself is gorgeous. I didn’t know much about the sculptures before we went, and was expecting a shiny, scuffed, cheap plastic model. In fact it was a huge wooden carving, which even made all of the adults smile. They were created by artist David Lucas, and they are stunning. The sculpture has obviously been well looked after by Westonbirt and it was in immaculate condition. We stopped and had lots of family photos before we moved on to try and find the rest of the Gruffalo characters.
This is where the day went a little bit sour. I’ve now found out that the rest of the Gruffalo sculptures are down a little path that runs directly behind the Gruffalo. As you can see from the picture above there is no obvious sign of them, and NO SIGNPOSTING WHATSOEVER. It also wasn’t clear on the map that they were there either. Only the two gruffalos were marked. I get the feeling the map we were handed is an old one from before they had these characters and Westonbirt was just using them up. Staff at the entrance gate also didn’t offer any guidance on where they were and just handed us the map. We can’t be the first ones to not find the other characters…and we have three university diplomas between the three of us 🙈🙈🙈…so it’s a shame there wasn’t more explanation given by staff. I’ve also done a bit of digging on ye olde TripAdvisor, and there are a number of one to two star reviews from irritated families looking for Gruffalos…Basically, there should have been a bloody sign. One sodding signpost Westonbirt, just left of the Gruffalo, with an arrow saying “other characters this way!” It would cost you about ten bloody quid. After walking round the Old Arboretum for ages, we gave up, convinced we’d read the website wrong and that the characters weren’t at Westonbirt yet. It was time for a coffee.
It does state on one page that I’ve found on the Forestry Commissions website, that the characters are on a path behind the Gruffalo. However, I hadn’t come across this page before we went, and neither had Sarah…and to be honest I didn’t think it would be necessary to do extensive research on a toddler’s walking trail before setting off. And alas, none of us had reception whilstwe were there to check the website.
The gift shops and restaurants are on the edge of the old arboretum, and on the way to see The Gruffalos Child sculpture. The kids seemed fine but the adults were starting to freeze to death, so we stopped for quick cappuccino and victoria sponge. The coffee and cake were both perfectly pleasant, but nothing out of the ordinary. There were a few scoffs of “how much?” From my husband when he was asked for just over £9 for two coffees and a piece of cake. He’s tight at the best of times so I tend not to pay much attention when he does this, but he may have had a point… Yes, it’s about what you’d pay in Costa, so not that extortionate, but the coffees weren’t as big as what you get in your average coffee chain either. If you want to have a day out on a budget take a flask and a picnic, as you would probably spend a tiny fortune if you bought a full lunch for a family of four. We sat outside despite the cold as it was easier having two strollers with us. It had been kept very tidy and clean and was a nice place to stop for a rest. Whilst Alex and Sarah got the drinks, I asked a member of staff if they knew where the Gruffalo statues were. Not a clue 🙄🙄🙄. I’m not sure they even knew what a Gruffalo was.
The Gruffalos child is situated in Silk Wood, a fifteen to twenty minute walk away (at toddler pace) from the Gruffalo. I’m not sure why they’ve chosen to put this statue separate from the others… Maybe it’s so families that have brought thier dog can still see something? The walk was quite easy and this sculpture at least, was easy to find, and on the map. The only thing is…that extra twenty minute walk with an under-two was enough for Aaron to become tired and ratty and he had a few mini tantrums along the way.
I’m not going in my buggy, I’m not tired, I’m not wearing socks, I want to help those teenagers saw some wood.
After a few pictures with the sculpture we set off back to the car park. It’s another good fifteen minute walk back, including a walk across the Tree Top Bridge. The Tree Top Bridge is lovely, with great views across the Arboretum and I definitely recommend it. Unfortunately we had two tiny terrors who were screaming their heads off in a double-mega-meltdown, because they’d both had enough. It’s a nice idea that The Gruffalo Child sculpture can be seen by everyone, including dog walkers, but it’s just too far away from the other sculptures when you have a young toddler. It makes the day that thirty minutes longer than they can cope with. As the audience for The Gruffalo is very young children, I do feel like Westonbirt have misjudged this decision and they should just put it with the others in the Old Arboretum.
We used the baby changing facilities at the main entrance before leaving. They were spacious and clean and a joy to use. The baby changing unit was in excellent condition and the nappy bin had been recently emptied. There was also a self service machine selling wipes, nappy sacks and sudocrem if you found yourself caught short on supplies. The hand dryers (which Ivor is petrified of) were even located at the other end of the bathroom too! Hurrah! I have no complaints about these facilities at all. They made changing a big smelly poo quite easy!
All in all, Westonbirt is a lovely day out, and based on the two Gruffalo sculptures we saw, I imagine the rest of them were probably wonderful. The arboretum itself is immaculately kept and there are plenty of family friendly facilities dotted around to make your day comfortable.
Just update your Gruffalo map and put up some friggin’ signs Westonbirt!