Monday, 2 November 2015

A Hallowe'en Trail at Caerphilly Castle with Cadw

Three small boys scattered themselves around the driveway, each wielding a light sabre in various shades of menacing. They shook the buckets filled with sweets; any 'Trick or Treater' who dared wander past was set upon by the trio as they thrust sweets into buckets and hands trying to share and give and give and share - all while holding their light sabres.

Children revive occasions. Hallowe'en, a non-event to me for so many years now, has had it's spark re-ignited. Streets filled with lit pumpkins, well-behaved children - and no tricks.

* * * 

A photo posted by Siân Summers (@downatthemill) on

 We headed to Caerphilly Castle, E and his amigos, to follow the Hallowe'en Trail and do some crafting in the Great Hall. We bounced from tower to tower, the safety features being stress tested as we trailed after the puddle-jumping mob. Up stairs, down hills, over bridges. They catapulted themselves around the open spaces, while the adults of the group searched for the skeleton clues.


Hands were held, criss-crossing in a complicated web as we tried to navigate the tower steps. Up, up, up. Along, around, through. Down, down, down. We helped the strong man hold up the falling tower, before contemplating tickling him and seeing if it would topple. 


Lunch was eaten in the court yard. One Babybel for you, and you, and you - as he distributes them amongst his friends. Hot dogs, sandwiches, lots of raisins. The dried apricots are given the side eye, uncertainty, before being gobbled with the rest. 

The Great Hall beckons, paints are gathered and works of art begin to form - before being smudged by chubby paws desperate to get a little messy. Glitter, yes this definitely needs glitter. ALL the glitter.

We finish up back at the front. A game of giant snakes and ladders turns into a game of follow the leader - if he is going up that ladder, then so must I! - before sidling towards the exit almost five hours since we first arrived.

Three slightly more docile boys left the castle grounds, scuffing their welly-shod feet as we ambled back to the cheap (but far!) car park. The geese kept a watchful eye on our progress, before lowering their heads and resuming their business.

Goodnight Caerphilly. Thanks for having us.

(Entry into Caerphilly Castle is £5.50 for an adult. Under fives are free. Long stay car parking is well sign posted and costs £2 for a full day.)

* * *

Do you want to spend the day exploring one of Wales' castles with your family and friends?

Enter below to win a family pass to gain free entry into one Cadw site of your choice (two adults plus two children).


To enter simply use the Rafflecopter widget below to submit your entry. The pass is valid for general entry (i.e. not for events) and more information can be found at www.gov.uk/cadw.

The giveaway is open until 12.00am on Monday November 9th, 2015 whereby a winner will be drawn at random.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Frozen in the Fairy Castle (with CADW and Chapter Arts)

We love castles. Combine that with an pop-up cinema containing our favourite film and we were always on to a winner.

My CADW membership means that, as well as getting free entry into Wales' castles, I get emails. As I scan through my inbox with squinting early-in-the-morning eyes, I swish past all of the junk email which seems to pile ever higher, before spotting the word Frozen. Castle. Castle. Frozen. Frozen in the castle. Eep.

We call it the fairy castle. We drive past and say that next time we will visit. And the next time. And on we go with the procrastination. Until this time.


£10 for me and £8 for E. We stood in the queue amongst knee high children with flowing Anna and Elsa dresses. The sun was going down and the castle towers started to glow.

Small. Intimate. White chairs filled the courtyard, snowflakes were projected onto the tower and the castle began to gleam as the sun set. Dry ice whirled around our feet as we were whisked away to a land of snow and ice and Disney magic.

We slid into our seats, pulled the crochet blanket up over our knees and cuddled our snacks close. We sang and we laughed and we ate raisins as the (pseudo) snow floated down the tower. 

Our sing-a-long whooshed by in the blink of an eye. We packed our belongings back up, waved and clapped to the organisers before finally drifting back down to the car.

It was late. The stars were out. The castle sunk back into the shadows of the hill.

#keepthemagicalive

Chapter Arts (in conjunction with CADW) have another showing of Frozen, this time in Caerphilly Castle on 21 November at 5pm. Get your tickets now!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Halloween Happenings

We have a favourite park. It's good to have a favourite park. Challenging, self-contained, not too busy.

When we want to escape, we run to Newport Wetlands. And have been going there since E was small.


Grass and gravel, open space, breeze and bird-song. He is big enough now, big enough to climb up and up to the top. I dart around the bottom, still expecting a toddler wobble. But he is a little boy. 

He shimmies up the ladder and gazes out from the top, before launching himself down the slide. The climbing frame forms a lighthouse, and the other a boat. He is captain of the seas for those hours spent playing.

 

Wellington boots are a must for the sodden grass at this time of year and mean that puddles do not have to be idly passed by. Splish, splosh, we run from one item to the next. And back again.

A photo posted by Siân Summers (@downatthemill) on

Things to do in South East Wales this Halloween

One week until Halloween and we are starting to put together our list of activities. The Wetlands has a Trail of Terror taking place on two separate occasions, both in the morning and afternoon of Saturday 31 October. 

"The terrifying trail will include a walk around the reserve with some hands on activities and [will] finish off with some arts and crafts."

Afterwards we can return to homes filled with central heating and apple bobbing, or play some of the fun games below. Because what else are weekends for?



For some more inspiration this half term, pop over to Cardiff Mummy Says and read through her 50 things to do in and around Cardiff.

What are you up to this Hallowe'en?





Monday, 19 October 2015

I'm four now. I have a t-shirt and a pixie brought me my bike and I went to space.

And then he turned four

Life is pretty magical at four. 

He closed his eyes tight, held out the glitter and wished for a brand new green bike. I had hauled his old bike into the living room; that night it would turn green courtesy of the Birthday Pixie, (so long as he had been good). Once his snores were audible I swapped the bikes. 

"She turned it green!" he exclaimed the following morning. 

He pulled on his birthday t-shirt adorned with the vital number 4, gobbled up birthday bagels before embarking on the days adventures - a trip to Bristol, on the train no less.

Things to do in Bristol

A photo posted by Siân Summers (@downatthemill) on

We visited the @Bristol Science Centre. It was a Friday: no queues, no crowds. We built houses with giant lego bricks in their Build It section, filmed stop animation films while E sat dimming and brightening the lights in the Wallace and Gromit exhibit and made parachutes drop from the sky. Repeatedly.

We also went to space. My four year old believes he went to space on his birthday. Does childhood get any better?

Sarah was our Space Ranger tutor - we all sat down within the silver globe. Padded seats and a view of the stars. We turned wheels, selected planets, made pictures in the stars. We viewed our galaxy from far, far away with the help of a group "zooooooooom" to get us there.

Specifically for under sixes, this was twenty five minutes well spent. Largely to do with how wonderful our Space Ranger tutor was with the children. 

Our gift aid ticket price also got us four pounds of gift tokens to be used within the shop or cafe that day. While this sent little chills down my spine at the potential cost of the gift shop, it was actually reasonable. And we left with glow in the dark stars for his bedroom ceiling for the perfect price of £3.99.

(The entry price felt a little on the steep side at £13.90 for me and £8.95 for E, but that is because my outing of choice is a (free) hike up a mountain side splashing out for ice cream at the top. As a birthday treat it worked perfectly and there was plenty in there to last a full day of in and out and back in again.)

Learning to ride a bicycle

Day trip done, time to get on with the main business of the day. Giving cycling with pedals a go.

I bought him an Islabike. The green Cnoc 14 made me smile. It was light and shiny and all kinds of beautiful. But had I spent too much? I saw so many videos of children progressing from balance bike to Islabike with such ease, in hours, sometimes minutes. 

But seriously. He did it.
A video posted by Siân Summers (@downatthemill) on

Ten minutes on his new bike - and he can ride! One year on his TinyBike (which I beyond recommend and is currently reduced to £49.95) and he is now a fully fledged cyclist who flies through the parks with me jogging, running, sprinting after him! (I need to dust off my bike).

He has discovered speed, and distance, and even more speed. His sense of direction sometimes goes awry, and he's used a few fences in replacement of brakes but he is most definitely a little cyclist now.

"Let's sit and catch our breath and look at the river for a bit shall we?"

"No. More cycling and more running!" (Oh... good.)

I've even caught him halfway out the front door at 7.30am, dragging his bike behind him. He is (at least for now) a little cycling addict. And as autumn gets into its full swing and the outdoors turns that little bit chillier, I'm grateful for every additional draw on the outdoors! 

And so that is it for another year

Or at least until Christmas. Or any other occasion that feels like it needs a splash of magic. I have good feelings about four. I had good feelings about the other three years too - but they really do just keep getting better and better.

He is cuddly and loving with a splash of super hero violence and lots of rough and tumble bruises. Happy fourth birthday E. How lucky I am to have you.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Family Ties

Autumn is coming. A gust is followed by leaves dropping. We watched them as we climbed on the rocks.

We shielded the low sun from our eyes and squinted to see Nana. Nana was running. Walk, run, walk, run. Fitter, stronger, faster.

She grins, colour in her cheeks. It is getting easier. It always gets easier. Particularly when you have your own three-year-old cheerleader standing on the corner clapping with chubby paws.

"NANA! Hooray, Nana"

(And when you have a Park Run nearby. Hoorah for amazing, supportive volunteers.)

She jogs past and we return to our park time play. We shall meet her at the end.

* * *

Today was Granddad's birthday.

We wrapped our gifts to him in brown paper and snowflakes doilies and placed them on his desk ready for morning. A lemon drizzle cake, looking slightly the worse for wear after a tousle with the tin, sat on the counter top waiting for candles.

The day was full of chatting, gardening and resting in good company. Strings and piano music filled the room as the Last Night at the Proms rounded off the day.

Happy Birthday to You. From Us.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

ToucanBox - and the demise of the cheap, plastic magazine toy.


Magazines, the bearers of plastic smothered in cellophane which will be undoubtedly strewn and later found under my feet crushed into a thousand pieces.

"But I LOVE Ben10!!!!"

No. No, you don't. You have never in your life seen Ben10. You are in fact infatuated with the plastic rocket launcher affixed to the front. But NO MORE. Magazines, you and I are going on a break.

* * *

The ToucanBox became our compromise. 

A hint of green lies beyond the front door in the porch; I call up the stairs.

"Postman!"

Large inquisitive eyes and a mop of blonde hair peer around the banister. 

A photo posted by Siân Summers (@downatthemill) on

* * *

I had struggled with the concept. Is it not frivolous expenditure if employing a bit more time and effort would result in me purchasing the right materials at the right times with the right ideas anyway? I can do this. Surely. Can't I?

And the longer the internal struggle went on, the longer Mister E and I didn't do these crafts - because the right materials at the right time coupled with the right ideas just wasn't that easy to co-ordinate. There was always something missing. So we played with our trains instead.

And then we subscribed.

* * * 

It's more than just a box of craft materials for us now. (Cliche!) It affects our library trips, our imaginative play, our conversation - because we let it.

Our first box turned us into pirates; we made and followed treasure maps, got covered in glue and feathers as our parrot came to life and have wielded cardboard cutlasses at every given opportunity since. 


Our pinterest board is full of wonderful resources from around the internet that helped our pirate play run and run... and run.

Follow Siân's board Preschool :: Pirates on Pinterest.


Suffice to say our subscription rumbles on as Mister E lolls around the house sporting his indian head-dress and dragging his dream catcher along behind him. TheBoyandMe - we are super grateful for your Instagram feed which pointed us in the ToucanBox direction (and aided the abolition of plastic magazine toys in this house!)