Thursday, 29 August 2013

Sculpture Trail at RHS Wisley

We popped over to our favourite gardens today, RHS Wisley, not realising the Sculpture Trail was on.

Fun to see the creative lawn-mowing that had taken place as we entered.  Sadly I needed to be about 7' tall for you to get the full effect but you get the jist I'm sure.

Lots of very good sculptures to look at this year and still, I'm pleased to say, quite a few we had no clue what they were.

We like a bit of intrigue in our lives *grin*

The girls led the way and off we went.


Gorgeous tree - but around £16,000

This one of the tiger was excellent but I needed to get the girls round to the front quickly before they started asking too many questions as it was clearly a male *cough*

He's behind you!

Pouncing Tiger, Hidden Children

Poppy Pods

Fawn Head

Circus, Afro, Circus, polkadots though

The girls liked this one but wanted to climb on it which I don't think was the sculpture's idea really.

Lovely owl

Slightly scary owl

I told the girls it was a Monk

I couldn't quite work this one out. Something about half animal, half person (mermaid) and death.

The girls enjoyed sitting on the big stones watching the fish and ducks.

Shell made of fish

We liked this one called Seasons and the girls enjoyed looking at all the depictions of the changing seasons. S declared the swallows were in fact "flying fish as they have tails".

S said this was a see-saw. I'm not sure she was right

This was S's absolute favourite sculpture. She said it was the best thing she had seen and she loves cats.

I thought this dog was fantastic. The girls asked if it was real as we approached.  It looks just like my sister's collies before they dash off to do their agility trials.

Hare today, gone tomorrow
The grounds outside the main restaurant area were cordoned off with tents going up ready for the Wisley Flower Show which commences soon (yes, we'll be there).

Another enjoyable day but a quiet note to Wisley staff at the restaurant - open the ice cream parlour before/by Noon as children love your ice cream and so do us adults *smile*

Monday, 5 August 2013

Glamping and a visit to Warwick Castle

We wanted to give our girls their first experience of camping but at a level I would find acceptable.  I did the whole camping thing when I was a mere teen and have no intention of 'roughing it' again.  I remember the fun when the sun was shining but the misery of everything just damp and smelly when it wasn't.  So, what would meet hubby's desire to get under canvas with the girls and my desire for as close to a 5* hotel as we could get the same way - Glamping (that's 'glamourous camping' to you) - sorted!

I should tell you one or two things that I will/won't do when anyone mentions a tent:
  1. I don't do sleeping bags. I get hot. I like to dangle.  I sleep with my top half cocooned and my bottom half hanging out (there's an image you can't get rid of now isn't there) so to be stuffed into a polyester bag and be zipped up so I resemble a rather large caterpillar desperately trying to turn into a beautiful butterfly (and failing) is not me.
  2. I'm not keen on communal toilet/shower blocks surrounded by grown men and women in onesies.  Some things should be banned from being out in public. I mean, really...  I'm also not that wild about walking around in my dressing gown either but I do realise there are some things I just can't have in a tent, like a flushing toilet.
  3. I don't generally like clothes or shoes from Millets.
  4. I won't stand in the rain getting drenched fiddling around with unmarked, bent poles trying to put a tent up in a mudslide.  It's just silly and pointless.  I'd rather have a caravan.
We decided to do our Glamping at Warwick Castle as my youngest two also enjoy being princesses and watching 'Mike the Knight' - tenuous connection I know - so they were very excited about visiting a real life castle. 

Historic Warwick Castle
I phoned to book and the reservations staff were brilliant.  Very helpful and an information email arrived in my inbox almost immediately.  Excellent.  We were excited.  This was only a couple of weeks away and the weather has been fabulous - into the late 20's/early 30's C every day!  Wow, what an adventure we were about to have.

The day before we left, the Glampsite called us to see if there was anything else we needed. Just one extra blow-up bed for N and we were sorted. No problem, they'd do that for us.  What service!

The day of our departure arrived. We packed up the suitcase, duvets and wellies (well, just in case) and headed for, what our phones reliably informed us, was a sunny but slightly cloudy Warwick.

As we left the outskirts of London and got further West on the M40, the skies clouded over, went grey and then finally deposited rain on us.  "There's blue sky in the distance" we kept telling ourselves but sadly it was moving away as fast as we were trying to approach.

We arrived at Warwick Castle in rain and parked up in the designated part of the car park.  The little 'emblem' you're asked to display in your windscreen helped the car park attendant spot us and direct us into the correct car park, rather than into the one that seemed miles away like everyone else was doing.

Glamping in a Bell Tent
Parking up at around midday, we knew we couldn't get into our tent until 4pm but went off to register and pick up our tickets for the castle itself.  Turns out it was the wristbands we were to wear for 2 days that were our pass in and out.  Easy, nothing to lose then.  The girls got some activity packs they wore around their necks for the Horrible Histories event that was going on.  They were excited about collecting the stamps.

Heading off to the castle, we used the fast-track entrance by the conservatory to get in, the girls immediately spotting a peacock and being surprised at the noise it made when it called.  It was at this point we realised we'd left the picnic blanket (almost essential as it has a waterproof bottom to it which is handy on soaking wet grass) in the car.  Hubby strolled back and got it while we waited.  It rained some more.

Bald Eagle
We checked the event times and headed down to what we thought was the Bird of Prey Lawn but sadly were mistaken. Oh well, picnic blanket laid under a tree and we started eating with a little protection.  It rained harder. We moved the picnic blanket a bit further under cover and waited for the jousting to start. I would have loved to get close and see the action but I was already starting to feel a bit cold and damp in my shorts and FitFlops so the preferred place to stay was under the tree and that's where we watched the action - along with many like-minded folks.  I would love to have a go at jousting.  The knights looked fantastic. York cheated but we cheered them on anyway (well, the mother-in-law is from those parts so we had to).

Is it my turn now?
Once that was over, we went over to look around the castle itself and book in for the Princess Tower. Once we had our tickets for 4pm, we got an ice cream.  Naturally, trying to hide under a nearby tree (yep, still raining hard), S turned around and the ice cream hit the floor with a thud. Hubby got another for her.  Typcial child - she ate a bit of it and didn't want anymore after all that.  We were soggy now and getting very cold so headed into Warwick itself to find a pub to sit in and dry out a bit.  

That done, the rain had eased a little and we went off and looked for some Geocaches. I was 3 away from my 500th so wanted to do those down here.  A Mega was taking place so I chatted to a couple of different cachers as we found some (people wandering around looking at phones and walking backwards and forwards or holding Garmins in front of them is a bit of a give-away.  Nice to meet King Prawn and Canal Cruisers though).  As we headed into the Castle again, I spotted #500. Not the most exciting of places but who cares, it was a cache.

J and I booked tickets for all of us for the Merlin Tower tomorrow at midday.  The ladies in the ticket booth said it would be fine for a 2 year old.  J really wants to see this 'show' as she loves the BBC series.

Battle with wooden swords
 We went to see the Stormin Normans at the top of the steps overlooking some of the grounds where the girls dressed up and did some sword fighting which they really enjoyed. I had to keep them apart though as I'm sure that N particularly, would have been well suited to being in battle!

Later we headed to the Measly Middle Ages as part of the Horrible Histories Foul Fayre that was going on.  The girls enjoyed the rat throwing here.

Bowling with rats
With hubby happy to do the princess show himself with the girls, J and I headed back to the Glampsite and unloaded the car and settled everything into our #20 tent.  They'd forgotton N's bed but they did that immediately.  Great service again.  Hubby arrived back about 20 minutes later (the princess show wasn't very long).  We settled into the tent and relaxed a little out of our soaking jackets and wet summer sandals.  The facilities were good with plenty of toilets, showers and a pamper tent filled with hairdryers and mirrors, as well as the all important plugs to charge your phones with (if any of us had brought a charger).

The only way to stop a teen using her phone
At 6pm we decided to have the BBQ that was provided (at a cost of £10 per adult and £5 per child) on the site.  N wasn't charged which was good.  This was where things went a bit wrong.  For starters, there just weren't enough tables inside as people didn't want to sit out in the rain. After about 15 minutes waiting (getting a bit irritated with one guy sitting at an empty table waiting for the rest of his friends to join him when we could have been in, eaten and out in the time it took for them to do so), we sat down.  It took another little wait and a prompt to get the table cleared away and wiped over, which wasn't done very well.  Hubby and I went up to get the food for us and the youngest two while J looked after them.  As we got to the front of the queue, the chips had run out.  Scanning the rest of the food - which wasn't quite what was described and looked so tasty in the brochure - we decided we needed chips for sure.  Another wait ensued while they finished cooking and the smallest amount were then tipped into the waiting hot area.  Unfortunately, it seems they could only cook one lot at a time and by the time us and the two people after us had theirs served up, there were none left again.  The chicken certainly wasn't BBQ'd thighs but more Birds Eye chicken in breadcrumbs - very nice though - and the roasted root veg was either missing or perhaps that was what the pan of courgettes and aubergines were supposed to be.  I have to say, very disappointing for the £10 each we paid. You could fill your plate as much as you could (not the biggest plates either) but you couldn't go back again so we didn't feel we got our money's worth and the pub may have been a better option (which we considered).  J went to get hers while we sat down.  The food was ok but about the only BBQ'd thing was the burger, which we didn't have.  I think they need to work on their food service and quality some more.  

The horses must have been strong
Dessert time and they had run out of the jelly that the girls had so wanted (we didn't do what some people were doing and pick up their meal and dessert all at the same time or run up and snatch the two or three jellies that were put out at a time - a lesson learned).  The cheesecake was very nice but both mine and hubby's was still icy inside.  Again, lack of preparation or realisation that it would be so popular.  J had the chocolate cake which she shared with N and really enjoyed.

That done it was back to the tent for some more nibbles there that we had with us in our cool bag.

We then headed off for the evenings entertainment.  

There was a Jester School, Knight School and Archery, all provided on a complimentary basis to the glampers. We did Archery which was great fun and Jester School which was brilliant. The jester himself was fantastic with the children and adults alike and I was busy trying to learn to juggle while the girls were spinning plates, walking on flower-pot stilts and having lots of fun.

N was the smallest person the archer had seen so far.  She did really well though and got a bullseye.  J was a natural and he commented on her skill. I think we'll need to find lessons for her!

We went back to the tent about 8.30pm and settled down. We knew it wouldn't be easy to get the girls to sleep but what didn't help were the one or two sets of families who thought letting their children run riot around the campsite was a good idea.  By 11pm hubby was still sitting outside the tent enjoying the evening when he told one lot of young children to clear off and be quiet.  The unruly little gits kids were running up to people's tents and shining torches into them.  There's always one as we say.

Naturally we took ages to get to sleep. The people one side of us had some boys who were just chatting and using their games consoles up loud for a while and the other side was someone who kept playing one or two cords of their guitar but never any more.  I felt like shouting "For christ's sake, give us a bloody song or shut up".  I realise now why we lived in a detached house...*grumpy old woman I am*

I must have drifted off to sleep eventually and woke around 1am to hear the rain pouring down. Now that's a sound that I love in a tent. Let's hope it's gone by the morning.

Around 3am hubby rolled over to cuddle me and was met with a "Don't touch me!".  You guessed it, I needed to go to the toilets but no way was I getting dressed and putting a coat on at this time in the morning in the pouring rain, so it would have to wait.  He survived until 5.30am then gave up and went.  I struggled on until about 7.30.  I was tempted to use N's potty at one point...

Breakfast arrived. I had already decided that I wanted just some croissants in the tent so went over and did what the other people did last night - barged into the queue while they were waiting for their full English and asking what kind of sausage it was, and picked up the final 3 croissants on the stand.  A few glares but I'm sure they were the same people who stole my children's jelly the night before so *thumb on nose* to them.  Yummy strawberry jam mini-jars in hand and back to the tent. S then announced she didn't want a croissant. Typcial.  Hubby headed off and brought back toast.  She didn't want that either.  She just wanted bread.  Off he went again.  Kids!

Brekkie done and we packed up and were ready to leave by 8.45am.  The castle didn't open until 10am but the grounds opened at 9.30am so we planned to have a little walk around Warwick again before going in.  This idea was stopped in its tracks by N having a her trousers...the only dry ones I had!  I therefore had to get her out of them and take them up to the pamper tent to blow them dry with a hairdryer. By the time I had done that, sorted her out, checked out, loaded the last bits into the car, we just walked up and were let in the castle grounds.  

He's behind you!
The girls liked the Terrible Tudors area and had their photo taken.  However, the Vile Victorians was too much for them. This involved a work-house school with the two actors taking their parts very seriously.  The girls sat down and the lesson began.  We were grinning but suddenly noticed S was crying at the little desk. She was very upset by what was going on and quite scared.  We had never thought for a second she wouldn't realise it was just role-play and fun showing them some of history but it was too scary for her. We lead her away and she was visibly distressed.  Perhaps a note for people with younger children here.

Scary Vile Victorian School Teachers
The castle was now open so we went to the ticket booth to see if we could change our 12 noon tickets for Merlin's Tower to an earlier showing as we didn't want to hang around too long today as the weather was starting to get drizzly again.  The lady at the booth said the tickets were non-transferable. I let her know that we weren't told this at the time of purchasing and surely they could not be sold out for earlier shows already, especially as this was an additional paying option.  She relented and we got a 10.30am showing so went to the castle to look around inside first.  

Arriving at Merlin's Tower we were warned that the dragons roar may be a little loud for N but just so we knew and were ready for it.  However, we didn't get that far. S was scared silly when some bookshelves collapsed in the anti-chamber (all part of the show) and had to go out the emergency exit with hubby and N. I guess it's up to each parent to decide if their child would be ok with it but not knowing quite what to expect before entering, perhaps in hindsight it shouldn't be offered to younger children.   J and I carried on.  The show lasted less than 15 minutes and really wasn't worth the money we paid. A total disappointment, especially as J loves the BBC series so much.  It really appeared to be no more than an opportunity to get you to have a photograph taken and then sell it to you for £7 on exit.  Shame.

That done, we decided to call it a day and buying some swords for the girls, we headed off to the car and home.

I think the glamping experience would have been much better in the sunshine (isn't everything though?) but that's not the fault of Warwick Castle.  However, in a British Summer, not to have a back-up plan for rain was very remiss of them and also knowing how many people they were BBQ'ing for as you had to pay in advance, and running out of food within 30 minutes of opening so people had to wait, was poor.

Warwick Castle itself is fabulous and wonderful to look around. The history and artifacts you can see are brilliant and I would recommend it for a day out.  It will certainly keep you busy and all the staff we spoke to whether at events or in the booths, were superb.

I was, however, surprised to later find out the Merlin Tower was suitable for age 3 and over (and yet we said we had a 2 year old and no-one warned us until we arrived with our tickets at the entrance) was not terribly good.

Would we go glamping again?  Well, I think hubby would and the girls say they might like to, but as for me? Well, I'll go wait for them all in a local hotel next time.