Many of you who follow me on Instagram will know about the dragon hunting adventures we have with BattleKid when we visit the many fabulous castles around us in Wales, but I realised while we were away recently that I never explained where it came from. Well, let me tell you the story.
Last year a dragon appeared outside Caerphilly Castle on Saint David’s Day and stayed outside for a brief time before moving inside the castle. We had missed seeing it that first time outside the castle, but when Lolo was visiting last May, BattleDad and he took BattleKid to Caerphilly one morning. After their breakfast they decided to visit the castle. They stumbled upon the dragon inside and on this particular visit BattleKid was quite unsure of him and his smoking nostrils.
When my sister surprised us with a visit over the May Bank Holiday weekend, we visited Caerphilly Castle again as she had never been. This time, with some coaxing from BattleDad and Lolo, BattleKid got a bit more comfortable with the dragon, going much closer but he still wouldn’t actually touch him. From that day he became fascinated with dragons and was always asking to go see the dragon. I have written about our bank holiday weekend visit to see the Caerphilly Castle dragon on the blog before.
Then last July, while I was home in Dublin without the boys, they headed to Tretower Castle in Crickhowell after breakfast in Abergavenny. BattleDad decided to make things a bit more interesting by telling BattleKid they had to find the dragon hidden within the castle and that they were dragon hunters. They searched the castle high and low and had a great day together. They searched the castle rooms, the fields around the castle and also the round tower, which sits away from the main castle. They eventually found the dragon off the court yard and from that day forth our dragon hunting adventures continued.
It has been a great addition to our days out, and has allowed BattleDad and me to enjoy visiting the many castles around us in Wales with a toddler in tow. BattleKid finds it great fun to check the nooks and crannies in each of the castles we visit for the elusive dragon and we’ve been lucky to find a dragon in each castle.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Since their first visit to Tretower Castle, BattleDad and I always bring a small dragon teddy bear of BattleKid’s with us to plant somewhere for him to find. It ensures we enjoy ourselves as a family while we adults can also enjoy a bit of historical culture.
And even better, I’ve since seen other parents and parent bloggers incorporating dragon hunting into their castle adventures which is brilliant. It goes to show that with a little imagination from BattleDad last year, a new family adventure for all to enjoy was born.
Have you been dragon hunting yet?
Stay tuned for posts about our dragon hunting at the various castles we have visited around Wales.
Last August Bank Holiday weekend we visited Chester with the sole purpose of using our Bristol Zoo annual passes for our visit to Chester Zoo. We had caught some of the TV show about the zoo, The Secret Life of the Zoo, and it made us more determined to visit. So, with the long weekend, we drove up and stayed only 15 minutes from the zoo.
We arrived at 9.40am to start our visit to Chester Zoo and quickly found parking, which is free. We headed straight to a staff member who checked our Bristol Zoo annual passes and letter, and she directed us straight to the turnstiles where we didn’t have to queue. It was so easy.
We decided to start from the elephant’s enclosure and waited beside their enclosure until zoo barriers opened at 10am. The elephants weren’t out by then so we started to walk anti-clockwise. We first visited the Butterflies, whose house is like the one in Bristol Zoo but with more vegetation in it. From there we walked through the Spirit of the Jaguar but they weren’t out.
Next on our hit list was the Realm of the Red Ape where we saw gibbons and a huge python. I stayed well back but BattleKid was fascinated.
We carried on around to see the flamingos, penguins and cheeky little otters on our way to the aquarium. I think BattleKid rather enjoyed this as he tried spotting both Dory and Nemo in each tank. He was delighted when he finally spotted them.
From the aquarium we passed the aviary where I was absolutely shocked at the size of the vultures. I had never seen one in real life and really had no idea how big they grew. They are shockingly huge birds!
By now it was 11.30 so we decided it was time for a pit stop. We visited June’s Food Court. We had tea and coffee, and cakes, and got BattleKid a kid’s lunch box which was well stocked. We got two bottles of water to take with us and the total cost of this was £16, which I didn’t think was too bad.
Fueled up we headed to see the lions but their enclosure was being cleaned so they were in their houses. Daddy lion didn’t seem too happy. We then headed over the wooden bridge and managed to spot the cheetahs hiding in the bushes. We also saw deer and for split second I actually thought they were in the same enclosure! We also saw the bongos, tapirs and capybaras. I didn’t know their name and was surprised when BattleDad told me. You learn something new every day!
On the way into the new Islands section, opened in summer of 2015, we saw the Babirusa, an animal I had never seen before and who reminded me of warthogs. We also spotted crocodile and tortoise, saw more gibbon and the orangutans, saw Rhinoceros hornbill birds, which are beautiful and also Warty pigs. The main attraction of the Islands is the Sumatran Tigers and they are just stunning animals. We spotted them through the bushed at the side of their enclosure before seeing them through the viewing glass at the front. Beautiful creatures, so majestic.
I have to say we were very impressed with the Islands of Chester Zoo which include animals from Sumatra, Sulawesi and Bali. They are quite new to the Zoo and are simply beautiful. There is even background noises and music playing which reminded me of the background music you hear at Disneyland Paris. The lazy boat river ride in the Islands looks great too although we didn’t get a chance to do it.
From the islands we headed towards the painted dogs, which were recommended by a work colleague, passing zebra, antelope and rock hyrax along the way. And the painted dogs were worth seeing. Just as we arrived at their enclosure they came towards the viewing windows and lay down right there. BattleKid was fascinated by them.
From there we went to see black rhino and meerkats. BattleKid got very cranky at this stage but refused a nap in his pram just like when we visited Folly Farm. We went in to see the monkeys before heading back towards June’s Food Court to collect a handprint picture we had gotten done earlier in the day.
It is a monkey made using BattleKid’s hands and is framed and cost £18. It’s a lovely memento of our day. As it was past lunchtime we decided to stop for fish and chips and BattleKid ate well. The rain started as we sat eating and the playground nearby quickly cleared. An adults fish and chips cost us £7.25 including any side and a kid’s meal cost £5.50. BattleKid had chicken nuggets, chips and ad rink and they were really nice chicken nuggets too.
As we had pretty much seen all we wanted to we decided to end our visit to Chester Zoo with a trip into the gift shop at the entrance. BattleKid got a toy jeep while I got one or two other gifts. Typically, as soon as we left Chester Zoo BattleKid had a danger nap in the car!
Overall our visit to Chester Zoo was a great day out and well worth it. We definitely needed the full day there to see everything we wanted to.
Facts about Chester Zoo:
Chester Zoo is one of the UK’s largest zoos at 125 acres.
It houses over 20,000 animals which includes 500 different species.
It played host to 1.7 million visitors in 2015.
It has been featured in the documentary The Secret Life of the Zoo.
It receives no government funding at all.
They are heavily involved in conservation and also in conjunction with other zoos across 30 countries worldwide.
It is consistently rated one of the top ten zoos in the world.
Things we discovered during our visit to Chester Zoo for you to consider if visiting the zoo:
It opens daily from 10am to typically 5pm. Entry is allowed up to 30 minutes before closing.
You are allowed entry to the gift shop and entrance restaurants at 9.30am but the zoo barriers don’t open until 10am.
Chester Zoo is huge and buggies, scooters and wheelchairs are available to hire. Bring a buggy for younger children, you’ll need it!
We didn’t see all of the zoo in the one day we went, so two days could easily be needed.
There is a mono rail and lazy boat river ride (additional costs for these) but we didn’t get to use either.
There are 4 main restaurants at the entrance, on the islands, June’s Food Court and the Oakfield Pub. Food is ok for what it is. It could work out expensive for large families so bringing a picnic would be advisable if you want to save yourself some money. There were enough seats at the eating areas both inside and outside for the ones we visited or saw. There are also smaller coffee shops around too.
There is a cash machine at the entrance.
There is a big gift shop at the entrance and on the islands.
Toilets are dotted all over the zoo.
Information signs are really good and animal signs are informative. There are also plenty of staff around should you need help or information.
There are a few play areas around the zoo but we didn’t go into any. They all looked well equipped.
There is free parking at the zoo, and we would advise getting there before the gates open at 10am to enjoy as much of the day as possible.
Baby changing facilities, bottle warming stations and feeding friendly locations
Various animal talks throughout the day but we didn’t attend any.
If booked online there is a saving of 10% so weekday term0time tickets cost £20.00 per adult and £16.36 per child, for example.
Families which include 3 adults and at least 1 child can save 16% on their tickets when bought online.
Children tickets are for those aged between 3 and 17, children aged 2 and under are free.
We visited on a bank holiday weekend, yet we never felt like it was overcrowded, even when we were leaving at 3.30. There is plenty of space in Chester Zoo, which in my mind make it stand out from other zoos we have visited. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Chester Zoo last year and definitely plan to return in the future when BattleKid is older.
I can highly recommend Chester Zoo as a family day out. There is something for everyone and the number of animals and species to see is incredible. If you do go, make sure you visit the Islands of Chester Zoo. These were definitely our favourite part of our visit.
Thanks for reading. We also filmed a little vlog of our visit to Chester Zoo which is below if you’d like to watch it.
*Prices are correct at the time of writing this post.
**We visited Chester Zoo via our Bristol Zoo annual passes. We were not asked to write this post.
In September of last year I came across a family photographer in South Wales via Kerry of All About a Mini Norris blog who had family photo shoot done with her. The photographer in question is Donna of Sweet Whimsy Photography. Soon after Rebecca of Mouse Dog Baby blog posted about her family photo shoot with Donna and she was also hosting a competition to win a family photo shoot with Donna. Having seen her photos of both Kerry and Rebecca’s families I entered thinking nothing of it. To my surprise I won and I immediately thought of doing an autumnal family photo shoot with Sweet Whimsy Photography.
Donna contacted me to say I was the lucky winner and we talked through what I had in mind and dates which may suit us all. I explained to Donna that I would love an autumnal family photo shoot as autumn is one of my favourite times of year. We take an annual trip to Westonbirt Arboretum in autumn each year and I generally do a mini shoot with BattleKid but with Aris, BattleDog #2, in tow it’s too difficult to try set up a family photo so we never have one of all of us in the picture.
I’ve always wanted an autumnal family photo shoot and when Donna said it was more than possible given the time of year, I was over the moon. We settled on Saturday the 5th November and I left it to Donna to choose the location as I imagined she would know where was best to visit get the best autumn leaves into our photos.
We met in Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd at 2.30 and Donna directed us to our first location beside the Taff River. BattleKid loves nothing more than throwing stones in rivers and lakes with BattleDad so this was a perfect spot to start. We spent a few minutes there just throwing stones before moving onto a more wooded area for some fun with leaves.
From there we chased BattleKid across the football fields before finishing at another wooded area at the opposite end of the park from where we had started and the blanket of leaves there were just what I had envisaged. Donna had come up trumps for us and it was here that our overall favourite picture was captured. Donna printed it on a canvas for us as part of the picture package we chose and it takes pride of place on our kitchen, the heart of our family home.
Our experience with Donna was amazing. She is a very approachable and gentle lady and she put both us the parents and 2 year old BattleKid at ease. For some shots Donna directed us and for others she let us do our own thing which was a great mixture. She also came armed with some blankets to wrap up in and one of our other favourite shots is the three of us tucked up in one with us tickling BattleKid.
We had lots of fun during our autumnal family photo shoot and Donna captured the most amazing pictures of us as a family. We got ones of all of us together, ones of each parent with BattleKid and some amazing ones of him on his own. And the light towards the end of the shoot was just perfect. She really did us proud.
Our allotted time flew by and by the time we departed it certainly didn’t feel like we had just spent nearly two hours in her company. In between shots we chatted with Donna and she is such a friendly and lovely person.
After a few weeks Donna sent us the finished results and we were blown away with them, so much so we paid for all our pictures as we couldn’t pick our favourites. Donna managed to capture a fantastic set of family photos for us that we will proudly display in our home and cherish for years to come. We were so impressed by Donna and the photos she captured of us that we are about to have a Spring time family photo shoot with her, and this time Aris is coming with us. I cannot wait to see the pictures she manages to get this time around.
If you are looking for a family photographer for an outdoor shoot in South Wales I cannot recommend Donna enough. You won’t be disappointed. Our autumnal family photo shoot with her was amazing and the results were out of this world.
It’s taken me leaving Ireland (13 years ago) and about to emigrate again to finally visit Powerscourt Waterfall in County Wicklow. The weather wasn’t brilliant but I had BattleKid’s waterproof all-in-one so I didn’t mind. And it was worth it. Funny how you take things for granted when they are on your doorstep!
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BattleKid did his usual and came into bed with me at 4.20am. It was becoming a habit. Why do kids do that? I didn’t mind too much as I had two single beds pushed together so there was plenty of room but broken sleep man! We woke after 8am, got dressed and had some toast and tea before heading to the Blue Lagoon which had been turned into the Frosty Lagoon for a swim.
There were icebergs in the water and ice decorations in the Blue Lagoon, all tying in with the Winter and Christmas theme for the time of year that was in it. BattleKid and L really enjoyed the iceberg floats and both had a whale of a time jumping into the waves when they were set off. Their Waterbabies classes have stood them in good stead and neither are afraid of the water and have a lot of confidence around it. I can see them being really good swimmers in a few years’ time.
At 10.35am S, who had decided not to join us in the pool, let us know that BattleDad, who had landed at Heathrow airport that morning from Singapore, wasn’t too far away. We got the boys out under protest and I decided to shower BattleKid and I at the pool rather than wait to do it back in the lodge so that we could have that time with BattleDad once he arrived. Once we were done we joined the others outside and got the buggy and, as BattleDad was only 5 mintues away, W kindly drove us up to the car park so we could be a welcoming party, haha.
It was great timing as it meant we could pick him and up bring him straight down to the lodge without him having to walk down or wait for someone to come back up for him. BattleKid was delighted to see his Daddy, as was I.
We all had brunch together and BattleDad showered us all with gifts, giving the boys a set of cars each, macaroons for S and Tiffany earrings from Raffles Hotel no less for me! I was very surprised as I hadn’t been expecting anything at all. Afterwards he joked he should have kept them hidden for Christmas. He missed a trick there. BattleDad headed for a snooze after giving us our gifts as he had only managed 4 hours sleep on the plane.
I kept BattleKid downstairs with more Gruffalos Child and Room on the Broom on my phone to keep him quiet and occupied. L joined BattleKid on the couch and they sat together watching the phone. It was very cute. S, W and I had tea and coffee and chatted until BattleDad surfaced.
Once everyone was up and about and showered we went to the village marquee to the children’s Christmas Party which was a paid-for event. It cost £5 per child and the Elves did a show in which everyone played musical parent-and-child statues. BattleKid didn’t want to play at all and we had to leave the dancefloor early on as he wouldn’t sit on my lap. Party pooper.
Those who left got sweets for their bags and there were minced pies and mulled cider for the adults to enjoy in between the games. Musical parent-and-child was followed by more games but I have to admit we left before the end as we felt the party was better suited to children aged 4 and above. Our nearly 2 and 3 year old toddlers didn’t quite get into the swing of things. We did feel that it might have been better to have a kids party for 0-4 years old and one for older children but I can see how that might cause some trouble for parents with children of various ages.
We headed to the Tavern to see if we could have food before our visit to Santa but they weren’t serving food until 5pm and our booking for Santa was for 5.15pm. We decided just to have some drinks and get food from the Chippy afterwards. After round 1 of drinks BattleDad and W took the boys to the playground and S and I enjoyed some more drinks which relaxing and chatting. It was nice to get some quiet time with her without the boys running around shouting “mama” at us.
At 5pm we headed over to Santa’s Grotto. The lights on it were amazing, especially in the dark and as we walked down to the house we walked through a tunnel decorated with fairy lights.
We checked in and were lead into a living room that was decorated so beautifully for Christmas with a big tree, presents and lots of rugs and furs laid out in front of what clearly was Santa’s chair. An Elf brought us, invited us to get comfortable and get ready for Santa to read us a Christmas story. However, he was asleep in his bed so we had to wake him up.
Santa came out, said hello and read us a story before we were split into two groups. One group was meeting Santa, telling him our wish list for Christmas and receiving a present from him before getting some photos taken with him. The other group went into the kitchen to help Mrs Claus decorate some chocolate Christmas trees, which we got to keep. We met Santa and BattleKid certainly didn’t hold back, telling him about wanting a motorbike and telling him what noise bikes do. L, on the other hand, wasn’t fussed with Santa. We had our picture taken and then went into the kitchen to help Mrs Claus. Before we left the kitchen we checked out photos and none were very good. However, much to our surprise the Elves and Santa agreed to let us have a few more taken to try and get a good one, which we did in the end.
Overall the Santa experience was great, BattleKid enjoyed it and we got some lovely pictures as memories. That said I must admit this Santa wasn’t the best Santa we’ve ever met, coming across as a bit grumpy if I’m honest. But it wouldn’t stop me doing it all again in the future. We spent approximately 40 minutes in Santa’s Grotto and it was worth the £15 per child and £5 per adult. Each child got a teddy present and their chocolate tree to keep. The photograph with Santa is extra at around £8.
We headed back to the lodge with two tired boys and while S and I got them settled, BattleDad and W went to the Chippy to get us some dinner. We enjoyed our fish and chips before getting the boys to bed so we could sit and catch up properly over some tea and coffee. It wasn’t a late one as we were all tired from a jam-packed day. Santa done!
Home day tomorrow,
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