It helps. 

You don’t have to have hot air balloons bright and dancing on the day you turn seven, but it helps.

The smell of food stalls lining the paths, the glow of lights in every direction, music pulsing deep and loud as the balloons light up in beautiful rhythm.

You don’t have to spend the afternoon stretched on a picnic blanket, or eating lukewarm chips, or running in circles laughing on the day you turn seven. You don’t have to stay up late to watch balloons dance.

But it helps.

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Cool stuff, check.

I’ve been mindful of wanting to both do more cool stuff, as well as appreciating the things I experience that are cool.

The night glow at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta:

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Everything about the fiesta is fun, but this was our first night glow. It was also our first time attending with a camp friend – and her daughter accidentally knocking my daughter’s tooth out!

Tape exhibition, Cardiff:

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This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s an interactive art exhibit – a treehouse/tunnel/otherworldly place suspended between trees….and made of nothing but sticky tape. The time inside this thing felt like a little bit of magic.

Arnos Vale Cemetery:

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Despite living so close to this place, we’d never been before last week. It’s a Victorian cemetery and woodland. I’ve been to old cemeteries thst have been reclaimed by nature, but this took it to the next level.

Graves are interspersed into old woodlands, with dark paths twisting around. I swear we saw a Leopard Cat, but I accept it may have actually been a Bengal.

Barleymow’s Maize Maze, Chard:

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I LOVE MAZES. And this one went on long enough to freak out both my father in law and son. All us women were laughing rather cruelly and helplessly at their worry we’d never escape.

The kids then climbed and conquered a mountain made of hay bales, before whizzing down the attached steep slide.

Gromit hunting!

A couple of summers ago, Bristol gave us an amazing gift: Gromits all over the city, and beyond. If you don’t know who Wallace and Gromit are, please google them now; you’re missing out. Aardman Animations is based here in Bristol, and they agreed to using Gromit’s image in statue form – 80 of the large ones, and many half sized. Gromits were painted by artists, musicians, writers, charity groups, and beyond.

We spent much of that summer clutching maps in our hand, hiking around to find different Gromits.

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Gromit hunting led us to explore places we’d never been before – and to appreciate ones we had.

We marched around the city centre in swimming costumes after finding many Gromits and playing in the fountains. And then we found a suitably themed one in the aquarium!

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We were thrilled to find a ‘mystery’ Gromit in a well established, quirky market (that sells nut free vegan chocolate cake! Hurrah!)

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We got to board a boat we’ve admired many times from shore.

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While we had a fun and colourful summer looking for these amazing statues, they served an even more astonishing purpose: every person involved in the project did so with the knowledge that at the end of the summer, the statues would be auctioned to raise money for our local Children’s Hospital.

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Each Gromit sold for unbelievable sums of money – some over fifty thousand British pounds. These eighty sales, plus sales of half sized Gromits and assorted memorabilia, raised millions for the hospital. We have personal links to the hospital, and know firsthand how wonderful it is. The outpatients waiting room is one giant play area! Downstairs features an art gallery of things made by patients. They have dedicated play workers who bring joy and light into little lives.

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We spent that summer dancing in the front hall of a music venue to the jazz music built into one Gromit. We were lucky enough to have my parents visiting and get to see some Gromits with us – including a very early morning viewing of the one in the airport, before we flew to Italy. We met people we wouldn’t have met otherwise.

We watched YouTube videos on the project, including movies on individual statues being painted. We visited Aardman Animations to peek at all the mini replicated Gromits. We waited five hours in a queue to visit all eighty Gromits in a grand museum exhibition at the end of the summer. We printed many copies of Gromit outlines and coloured our own designs. We even painted our own:

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All in all, it was one of the best summer experiences of my life.

We get to do it all again this year, with another Aardman character: Shaun the Sheep. We got our map of locations last night, and I can’t wait for another summer of sunset visits to huge old parks, people walking all over the city with huge smiles on their faces, and the thrill of seeing giant colourful sheep everywhere we go! Best of all, the money raised this summer goes to Children’s Hospitals around the country.

If you live near Bristol, I cannot recommend coming to hunt down a few of these statues enough. We’ve not yet got around to making a huge picture collage to commemorate our summer of Gromit hunting, but I know the memories will stick around, anyway.

Best of (the areas surrounding) Bristol! Jet Age museum, Gloucester.

We’ve been talking a lot about World War 2 recently, mainly sparked by M’s interest in fighter jets. I asked on our local Facebook home ed group about places to go see jets, and Jet Age Museum was recommended by a few people. It is only open weekends and bank holidays, though it apparently will open for booked visits of home ed groups during the week! Admission and parking are both free.

It’s worth mentioning that this place is right next to an airport – the sort of airport with loads of small planes and helicopters constantly taking off and landing. We accidentally found the airport first and hung out there for a few minutes, which was one of the happiest mistakes we’ve made in awhile!

Parking at Jet Age also borders airport fields, albeit from a bit further away. There’s a nice vantage point and picnic tables!

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This is another smallish museum…though it’s worth noting it’s only a ten minute drive from Gloucester City Museum!

It features old jet planes….mostly indoors, but a few outdoors. A couple of the cockpits are open for children to sit in – and it’s here I must say that half of the charm of this place are the volunteers running it. They are on hand to discuss each jet in detail…and in our case, to tease the kids about backwards helmets, provide a hunt for letters, give out fantastic posters, etc. Just so friendly and knowledgeable, which might really appeal to someone with an older child very into old fighter jets.

The highlight (which sadly I missed, as I can’t climb ladders!) was Suzy and the kids going up for a tour of a Vulcan – a 28 foot climb from ground to cockpit. They sat in the various seats of the five in the plane, learned what job corresponded to each seat, and spent a good ten or fifteen minutes exploring the cockpit in detail. As such, there was a bit of a wait for this – and a minimum height restriction. Both kids and Suzy adored it.

All in all, I’d recommend this place. But if you have an hour drive to get there, do google other local things as I don’t think you could spend more than a couple of hours here. (Unless you went to the little on site cafe, which we didn’t on this occasion.) I’d also recommend a donation….this place is a local labour of love, and I like supporting that.

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Best of (the areas surrounding) Bristol – Gloucester Museums times three!

We’ve been away from blogging for awhile – namely because we are saving money to buy a proper desktop, and until that thing enters our lives, typing with two fingers on an iPad mini leaves a bit to be desired!

In the last couple of weeks, though, we’ve been to some new to us localish places….all of which were so good, I wanted to share in case other local families might want to visit.

First up, Gloucester! There is a LOT there.

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We first visited Gloucester City Museum, which was a small yet fabulous museum. It also has the best ever gift shop – good stuff for very reasonable prices…and a gorgeous cafe in situ. The museum is largely focused on the Romans. There’s access to see part of the real Roman wall surrounding the area (you can see more in the pedestrianised high street), a Roman kitchen, Roman coins, etc.

There’s a photography exhibition on the second floor with some excellent pictures from around the world, a smallish dinosaur area with skeletons (and ore, if your kid likes Minecraft!) and play dinosaurs. There’s a toddler play area with a few soft toys, as well as the star attraction – this tiny wall thing with windows. Kids shine torches in to see what sorts of animals prowl on the night, and it makes scary ass noises. This was a major hit with our little group, comprised of 2-7 year olds.

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It also had an exhibition of ‘caveman art’ made by local children. I only mention this as S recently made a spectacular piece of similar art in her pottery class very recently, and she was concerned the museum would want it.

Now, this museum is fab but the day only entrance price isn’t great. We ended up paying £14 for a two adult, five children year membership to this museum and Gloucester folk museum, which was more than fair!

The folk museum is crammed with trails your kids can do – worksheets covering various areas of the museum. S did the ground floor one, which involved drawing a cow, and writing the answers to some questions based on exhibits. M chose to complete a spot the difference on old fashioned motorbikes one once he realised a cool, free button for his backpack was the reward. This museum was great. Again, small, but fun. Bits on the war, loads and loads of brass plate rubbings to do, local Gloucester stuff largely revolving around a taxidermy cow (I jest not!), etc. Lots of little exhibits of particular interest – swords, old dress, a retro kitchen, etc.

The real draw here was the back garden, which had an unobtrusive little shed filled with ye olde fashioned children’s toys. We were in the garden for over an hour playing with steel hoops, skittles, hobby horses, etc. There was also an Anderson bomb shelter, weirdly enchanting owl statues, and little nooks filled with benches for the worn out adults to rest on. Ha.

The other museum, situated between the two mentioned above and down the most painfully picturesque alley was the Beatrix Potter shop and museum – shop downstairs, museum upstairs. The staff were super friendly; the museum, really consisting only of one small room, but full of stuff Beatrix Potter fans would like to see – old books, figurines, memorabilia, etc.

Next time we want to visit the Cathedral, and perhaps some crystal shops….there were a few dotted around, and to be honest, I’d love to have a little adult only time in some of the more esoteric shops. The whole city was much nicer than I anticipated – and even when mentally beating my sat nav up as it tried to force me to drive across bridges cars were not allowed on, we ended up at the docks as our turnaround spot and got a fantastic look at all kinds of large boats.

Gloucester is definitely a place we will return to!

One day (phew!)

Sometimes I forget how awesome it is to have mini adventures, just the three of us.

Today we went to a nautical/pagan storytelling, had a picnic by the water, and rode the boat taxi across the water and back again.

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They bought baby hedgehog toys with their pocket money, and used them in a circus they performed around giant land bound anchors. (Anchors taller than me. And I’m tall.)

We wandered onto the platform of an abandoned railroad line. Some of us hopped along the track itself, feet jumping over bright wildflowers and sun warmed track.

We went up to Aardman Animations (the Wallace and Gromit people!) to have a nosy in their windows. They always have cool miniature figures and things in the windows, and huge statues and bits of movie set in the main reception. Today we spotted all the mini Gromits (and you probably don’t know what this means. I must write a post on this!) and it was awesome.

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We’ve looked in those windows a lot, but never noticed there was a boatyard right across from them. So of course we ran over to watch men working on two huge wooden ships.

Eventually we got in the car to head home, but decided to stop in a fab place (that probably also needs its own post!) we drive by every day. We had our second picnic of the day deep in the trees, then found a ‘stage’ along the river. I was the audience for various shows and songs, and then the nursemaid when stinging nettles struck (dock leaves grow right next to them and those ‘helper medicine leaves’ are well known and worshipped by both children!).

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Now we are home. It’s not even three pm. I wonder what the next few hours will bring….