Country Kids Of All Ages At Coombe Mill

We've been having the time of our lives this week in Coombe Mill. It is one of the most magical place I've ever been to. One of my happy places; all of us have it as our happy place. The photos and the words of those who write about it can never do the farm or grounds justice. Coombe Mill is more than just a farm holiday, it's about re-engaging with each other and enjoying time as a family, re-engaging with nature and the wonders of the world that we live in, and re-engaging with our lost selves during the chaos of everyday life.

Until you've experienced it, it's hard to understand Coombe Mill's magic.

That's why I was really eager to have the motley crew from Mummy Mishaps down for a day during our stay, and the fabulous Fiona was only too happy to agree and welcome them with open arms.

And we've had the best day of our holiday so far because we have stayed on site and done nothing but play. That goes for the 'grown-ups' as well as the children, even Fiona said herself that she had done nothing all day but "rediscover my own farm through the eyes of others!"

We started with the 9am feed run where the deer behaved themselves wonderfully and showed up out from the forest, and then progressed onto one of the adventure play parks having refreshed on cake and drinks at Fiona's house.

Country Kids of all ages at Coombe Mill 1

Once the zipwire was exhausted from the boys' efforts, we enjoyed a picnic on the green in front of our lodge next to the River Camel, before taking our scraps up to Dotty and Piglet. The poor things were fast asleep in their sty until I clanged the bucket at them and the promise of orange peel, bread rolls and egg shells was too great for them to stay dozing.

Following our own mini feed run, it was time to indulge in a spot of wood craft where we made our own stick rafts to sail down the river, and forest faces to adorn the trees of Coombe Mill before heading into the river to sail our rafts in a competition between Jenny and Mr. TBaM.

Country Kids of all ages at Coombe Mill 2

Once we'd retrieved the rafts from the river, it was time to explore the more shallow parts of the river and Coombe Mill's very own little island (in the stream). Both The Boy and Burton had a go on the rope swing hung from the tree, while we all enjoyed throwing pebbles and seeing how far they could go in the rapids!

A quick snack and shower saw all the boys dressed in clean and dry clothes with one more treat of a train ride before the Mummy Mishaps bunch had to head home. It was a marvellous day, thanks to our wonderful friends and the idyllic setting.

Country Kids of all ages at Coombe Mill 3

Jenny won by the way!

Raft Races On The River Camel! (Country Kids)

Making a stick raft

Sometimes an idea for an activity pops into my head and I don't realise how much fun it is going to be until it evolves organically.

And this one definitely evolved organically!

Several months ago I read on Coombe Mill about the Easter raft race that some of the guests had organised. Knowing that we had a break coming up in August, I filed the idea somewhere in the depths of my mind, and it was jolted out when I bought a book about sticks a few weeks back. All of a sudden, the one activity that we had to do when we arrived was build a small wooden raft.

I packed lolly sticks and natural string just in case, ever prepared for all eventualities!

At 5pm, we tootled over to have a ride on the train and I was joined by Fiona to watch her little boy drive my little one around the lawn. We chatted about our day and I explained that at some point I wanted to make a raft to sail on the river. A few minutes later and distracted by a climbing child who wanted to go in the castle, I found myself joined by the lady herself who wanted to have a go at making a raft. Bang went the theory of using string, as Fiona suggested we use grass reeds to join the sticks. This is the raft that I made.

However, we were also joined by Mr. TBaM who was determined to make one as well. His first raft was smothered in mud and he was instructed by The Boy to leave it in the sun to dry. As it had rained for two days, that was never going to happen, so he ditched that raft and they joined forces, deserting me!

Making a stick raft

Then once we'd made our rafts, we went back to the lodge to change; swimshorts and beach shoes for the boys as they were going to wade in to release the rafts. The river had been rather swollen so The Boy stood on the side holding my hand while Mr. TBaM valiantly ventured into the murky, freezing depths to release the rapid-riders!

Making a stick raft

Much hilarity ensued as we competed for the best raft. Despite mine being the most beautiful and well put together, his actually sailed the best down the river. We climbed back up the banks, running alongside it to see how well they were both doing, where we were rejoined by Fiona and Clio who wanted to see our rafts in action, and another couple of guests who were curious as to what was going on. Needless to say, my beautiful raft became caught in the overhanging growth, while Mr. TBaM's sailed merrily under the bridge, once he'd set it straight again.

And because my darling husband loves me, he waded back up the river to find my raft and saved it from overhanging branches not once, but twice, sending it on its way to join its companion over the rapids of the River Camel!

Learning for Life

Creating Wild Art: Forest Faces

Creating Wild Art: Forest Faces

'Wild Art' is quite simply creating art or craft from the materials found in a natural environment. Making forest faces is one of the simplest and most enjoyable activities that can be done in a woodland setting. In fact, we've done this activity twice in the past week because we enjoyed it so much.

For older children, this project could be preceeded by examining the history of the 'green man' and the different variations available.

I've cheated with this slightly as I'd bought air-dry natural clay to use, however if the soil or mud is wet and clay-based then that would be the ideal base. The issue is in my area that we have a lot of limestone in the earth, so air-dry natural clay (from Hobbycraft for a few pounds) was a far more reliable option!

You'll need:

  • clay-heavy mud or air-dry natural clay (make it as unobtrusive to the environment as possible),
  • leaves,
  • moss,
  • small sticks,
  • stones,
  • acorns,
  • an easily accessible tree or rocks.
  1. I'd pre-sliced the clay into the right amount for each person, and had put it into a sandwich bag in order to make it easier to handle and stop it from beginning to dry out. Once in the right place, we removed the clay from the airtight bag and pressed it down onto the tree trunk, smoothing the edges down onto the bark.
  2. Next we gathered a selection of leaves and moss for the hair or crown of the forest face, and pressed this into the top of the head. The eyes and nose were acorns, the mouth a bent stick.
  3. This is not a project that can be removed and taken home, the faces stay on the tree so take plenty of photos for the little ones to enjoy and remember. Hopefully the faces will stay for a long time for other people to enjoy, but there is the chance they may dry out and fall off, or wash off in the rain.

Creating Wild Art: Forest Faces

#18 on the 50Things To Do Before You're 11&¾ list: Create some wild art.

country kids



Diving In! (Country Kids)

As parents one of our jobs is to prevent our children from being afraid of the things we were; to prevent irrational fears.

I always enjoy going to the swimming pool, and I do like swimming, but I have a real fear of water in my face and I can't contemplate swimming underwater or even with the correct head position for front crawl. The minute water splashes up in my face, the fear kicks in that I'm not going to be able to breathe. And just as with every irrational fear, there is something that started it off. For me it was swimming with my dad when I was around eight years old, he left me on the side of the fairly shallowish water while he went and tried out the diving board and plunge pool (he's not the most responsible of people), but unfortunately the pool's wave machine was turned on during that five minutes and I lost my footing and went under. I remember every second vividly and I was petrified that I wouldn't be able to get up again. Obviously I did, but it was one of the scariest moments of my life and accounts for my claustrophobia and fear of putting my face in the water.

I don't want to pass this onto The Boy, and I try really hard to bite my tongue and assess the situation first before rushing forward to him. However sometimes I am aware that a little slips out, and there might be an occasional "let me wipe your face".

So going to a birthday party of a friend whose water confidence is first rate filled me both with terror and hope for The Boy's own confidence.

Diving In 1

You can see the difference between the two boys: one has been swimming once since last September due to chronic glue ear in both ears (and even then that was probably only his tenth trip, at a generous guess), and the other boy has been swimming since he was a tiny baby. One has a few drops of water in his face and is rubbing the water out of his eyes, one has water pouring down his face. I'm not criticising my boy, it's just a stark contrast in the ability levels of both boys of the same age.

The Boy happily stayed in the pool for around thirty minutes before getting out to play on the bouncy castle, or with swing ball (playing a leftie is the easiest way of playing this!), and soon wanted to get changed back into his clothes.

Then after dinner, and once all the other party guests had left, both boys returned to play in the garden. Burton quickly stripped down to his pants and went into the pool, The Boy took a further ten minutes before he followed suit.

And this is what happened…

Diving In 2

And then, after another hour or so, we end up with this:

Diving In 3

And then the final shred of evidence that he is becoming the swimmer I'd like him to be?

Diving In 4

We'll be going swimming this week!

coombe mill

Learning for Life

Blue Skies Fun

In recent weeks we've started using a reward chart with The Boy, not for behaviour but to help promote independence and getting ready for school. So far the targets we've used have focused on getting dressed, eating meals within thirty minutes and tidying up, which are key things he'll need to do in the classroom and to make his lunchtime easier. If he gets all of the stickers on his chart then he achieves his reward which is something he chooses at the beginning of the week. By and large we've managed to get away with going to somewhere that we would normally go to anyway, bless him he's not cottoned onto this yet!

Last weekend he chose to go to Puxton's Park near Weston-Super-Mare, an all-weather adventure place he and I have been to a few times with Mummy Mishaps but never as a family. It was somewhere I wanted to go to over the Summer holidays anyway, so again was an easy choice. I was quite looking forward to the trip and showing it off to Mr. TBaM, I should have known that would be a sign of it being a bit rubbish really! It was their birthday weekend which meant cheap entry = bonus as it only cost us £12 to get in; it was their birthday weekend which  meant cheap entry = downer because everyone else in the locality was there! Let's just say that I'm not a fan of men going topless or women wearing bikinis in anywhere other than the beach, a pool or their garden, and as a result the plethora of excess skin on display really spoilt the trip for me. Various play equipment was broken (cargo nets and ladders on the fort, and the bouncing pillow), the few animals out were fed up and hot with no shade, and combined with the fact that Puxton's seems to have virtually no shade in any form ensured I felt pretty dejected about our family fun time! Of course, The Boy had some fun with the zip wire and the sand play, but I suspect even he was a bit disappointed with the trip.

We left early and headed to our old faithful; Barry Island.

Country Kids Blue Skies Fun 1

Sunday promised to be an even hotter day than Saturday, and I'd initially planned for a quiet day at home. However, still dejected from the previous day, I decided that we'd head to Southerndown, one of my favourite beaches, via strawberry picking at a PYO fruit farm. On the National Trust list of 50 Things To Do Before You're 11 &¾ is 'eat an apple straight from a tree' and while picking strawberries is not exactly the same thing, I figure it's more about actually eating fruit straight from the plant and realising it doesn't come in plastic packaging from a shelf in the supermarket. Therefore I'm ticking that one off!

Following our adventures in the strawberry field (where The Boy really needs to learn that he shouldn't switch sides during fruit picking as daddy is rubbish!) we headed down to Southerndown, along with half of south Wales. I suspect the other half were at Barry Island! Southerndown is a stunning beach with rockpools and a huge swathe of sand that can (and did) accommodate thousands at low tide, but is completely covered at high tide. Luckily we arrived just on the right side of low tide and spent a really pleasurable few hours in a magnificent location where all that can be heard is families and friends having fun.

Country Kids Blue Skies Fun 2

coombe mill

Have A Wild Time This Summer With The National Trust (Summer Activities)

The Summer holidays are one of the best times of the year for getting the children up off the sofa, jumping into the great outdoors and having heaps of fun discovering new places.

To keep the children entertained throughout, the National Trust is encouraging children to complete its '50 things to do before you're 11 & ¾' wild-time challenge and see if they can try and tick off more than 25 things on the list during the six weeks of summer (Monday 22 July – Sunday 1 September).

[Read more…]

#47 Cook On A (Camp) Fire

The sun blazed down, faces were painted at the Summer Fayre, a cooling breeze blew across our skins as we scooted across the barrage, and wispy clouds floated across the azure sky.

That was our Saturday afternoon, and the reason that we decided to attempt a barbecue last night. Off we trotted and stocked up on firelighters, strawberries (for the Pimm's), finger rolls, potato salad and peppers (for the kebabs). How was I to know that this would be the signal for the clouds to gather and threaten our idyllic day?

Nonetheless, we huddled on the patio and enjoyed our bizarre mismatch of cuisine, before having a go at toasting marshmallows on the smouldering (camp)fire.

cook on a camp fire

The Boy's face at the excess charcoal says it all, still tasted great though!

coombe mill Learning for Life

'Cooking on a Camp Fire' is #47 on the National Trust's list of 50 Things To Do Before You're 11&¾



Are You A 'Wild Thing'?

In the past few months you might have noticed a slightly different tilt on my blog; there's a lot more outdoor play activities with a whole section dedicated to promoting a 'Natural Childhood'.

We had been trying to spend time outside anyway, usually so that we had content for our 'Country Kids' posts, but ever since we were invited to attend a National Trust bloggers' event in March, it's become embedded in our daily behaviour to get outside as much as possible. We've gone from having the television on in the background during play, to watching around thirty minutes worth a day, and that is mainly due to the actions of one man; David Bond.

Marketing manager for Nature, David attended the NT Bloggers' Day and introduced us to Project Wild Thing which is a feature-length documentary that examines the dwindling connection between children and nature. He showed us a clip from it, asked us to discuss why parents are reluctant to allow their children to play outdoors, and then shared some chilling facts with us (obtained from a UNICEF study).

  • Children in the UK are the most depressed in the western world.
  • The roaming distance that children play from their home has shrunk by 90% in 30 years with time spent playing outside down 50% in just one generation.
  • The UK is the third worst country in the developed world for getting children outdoors and playing (after USA and Australia).
  • Our children's generation has a lower life-expectancy than us.

And that last point, coupled with two videos that David showed us is the main reason why our play has changed. Why we now spend a good few hours outside each day. Why we are all happier feeling the effects Mother Nature has on us after only minutes outside. I didn't go through that birth to bring a child into the world who is unhappy, disconnected from his environment and who won't have the full life that he should.

The Project Wild Thing 'promise' involves pledging to spend equivalent 'outdoor time' as 'screen time'. It seems impossible? It's not. It's daunting at first, but it's not impossible. Furthermore Sunday is a screen free day in our house (for The Boy); no television, iPad, Kurio, nothing electrical.

And this is why…

PROJECT WILD THING – official trailer from Green Lions on Vimeo.

Pecorama: Train Heaven (Country Kids)

Beer Heights Light Railway

Our holiday to our beloved Lyme Bay in Dorset during half-term saw us return to many of our favourite places; West Bay, Bridport, Abbotsbury Swannery, Lyme Regis and a recent addition; Pecorama.

Pecorama is a beautiful place set high on the hillside above Beer, on the western side of Lyme Bay in Devon. Commanding wonderful views over the coastline that quite frankly could compete with the views from the Terrace of Infinity in Ravello, the cultivated gardens and play areas are also home to one of the best miniature steam railways we've been on.

We first went there two years ago when The Boy was just two years old and he loved it then, but various parts were of minimal interest then due to his age. This time around however he couldn't get enough of the different garden rooms (including the shell grotto in the moon room), the many play areas and of course the very detailed railway known as the Beer Heights Light Railway.

The key thing is that the railway is not just a track laid down around the gardens; there is a long and winding tunnel, there are stations with platforms and picket fences, bridges, sidings, signal and control boxes with amusing names, and all the employees really take on the roles well. It's a truly magical experience.

Pecorama isn't just about the railway for children though, there is a huge play area (with picnic benches nearby) which facilitates children from toddling to around eight years of age, then there is a pirate ship play area, and an older children play zone with monkey bars, climbing walls and a zip wire. The Boy refuses to ignore age guidelines though, especially if there is a zip wire involved!

Beer Heights Light Railway

And to finish off, no trip to Pecorama would be complete without examining and playing with the interactive exhibition of model railways!

country kids

Cefn Onn Country Park (Country Kids)

Cefn Onn

I've been desperate for a few years to find a local bluebell wood, and this year The Boy loves nothing better than tramping through a forest, so in search of the elusive sapphire flowers before they disappeared, we headed to Cefn Onn for the first time. This was recommended to me by Laura from Side Street Style and I am very grateful that I followed her advice!

Tucked away in a fold of Caerphilly Mountain, Cefn Onn Country Park is on the northern fringes of Cardiff. The park was laid out between 1911 and 1925 by Ernest Albert Prosser (general manager of the Rhymney Valley Railway, which runs alongside the park with an abandoned train 'halt') as a woodland garden where his son could recuperate from tuberculosis.

Luckily we used the SatNav to get us there because we could have easily missed it. When we arrived, we were almost put off by the limited parking and 'seen-better-days' toilets, but I'm so glad we persevered as once we had walked under the 'bridge' with the thundering traffic of the M4 we discovered a wonderland that I'd never have guessed was there. Cefn Onn (meaning 'ridge of ash trees') holds one of the finest collections of rhododendron and azalea bushes in Europe, and they were in full bloom when we arrived. The huge collection of both native and exotic trees create a high canopy which helps to muffle the sounds of the 21st century, the sunlight streams through this creating a dappled effect on the colourful bushes and carpet of bluebells.

Cefn Onn

We veered off the tarmac path running throughout most of the park so we could do our usual tree climbing and 'exploring'. The Boy asked if there was a playground and I pointed out the balance beam that was the fallen tree trunk, the climbing frame which turned out to be an oak, the stepping stones across the stream and the treasure hunt that was hunting for pinecones.

Cefn Onn

There is a small stream (Nant Fawr) which runs throughout the parkland, with stepping stones and a Japanese bridge, as well as fallen logs and more structured bridges. The stream stems from a large pond (which is probably fed into from a brook higher up the mountain) which is three-quarters of the way up the park, and is a beautiful spot for a picnic, or for hot golden retrievers to jump into, much to the amusement of The Boy.

We must have spent two and a half hours wandering around the park and had a brilliant time. Definitely one to return to in the Autumn when the leaves are turning golden colours and creating a crunchy carpet underfoot.

country kids

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