The Gruffalo on tour – A review

As one of the best loved children’s books, Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo has enchanted children – including ours – for many years.

So when I heard it was coming to Cardiff’s New Theatre, I made sure booked tickets for a family afternoon out.

We took our seats in front of the deep dark wood and waited for the show to begin. Performed by a small cast, we were soon introduced to the book’s well-known characters – mouse, fox, owl and snake.

The well-known words of the story were woven into narrative and jolly songs. A particular highlight for me was the Madness-style song by Fox, which featured Madness-style choreography too.

The rapport between the cast was a pleasure to watch and the audience participation was pitched just right. Children were encouraged to speak the words from the book and to fill in the gaps. They helped the mouse by roaring and sitting with pin-drop quietness at the right times.

The snake had many of us – including the narrator – in stitches with his flamboyant performance. The owl worked well as a military-style character ordering poor mouse around before she outfoxed him.

Both of our children were asking for the Gruffalo and what a delight when he took to the stage in a costume of soft layers studded with purple prickles all over his back. He even had the poisonous wart at the end of his nose.

At 55 minutes without an interval, it was a fun telling of the Gruffalo tale at a good length of time for young children. The cast and songs brought fun to the stage in an imaginative telling of Donaldson’s classic tale.

The Gruffalo is on tour across UK theatres until January 2018. Find out more here.

Blogger note: We purchased our tickets and the venue was unaware I would be writing a review.

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22 things you’ll know if you’ve been on a family summer holiday in the UK

1. Packing the car is like a particularly perilous game of Jenga. One false move and that boot will never shut.

2. The front seat passenger will be contorted in all directions due to the extra luggage at their feet.

3. You realise “Are we nearly there yet?” could be a useful interrogation tactic. Especially when it starts five minutes from home.

4. The comfortable time threshold for a car journey is 90 minutes by which time you’re willing to spend £7 on a sandwich each at the services just for a change of scene.

5. The 50mph signs on the M5 seem like a cruel joke because you’ve covered 0.9 miles in 20 minutes.

6. When you arrive where you’re staying, you realise you’ve forked out a small fortune to stay somewhere that is a fraction of the size of your home.

7. When you’re settled in to your accommodation, Wi-Fi is slow to the point of uselessness or non-existent. No streaming here!

8. The children’s holiday money will be spent on day one, often within the first hour, on an overpriced and ill-judged purchase.

9. But they will still ask for more during every other day of your holiday. Especially when you’re in the vicinity of a shop. Which is pretty much all the time.

10. Gift shops will become scene of nightmarish negotiations when you refuse to fork out £7.99 for a frisbee that your child insists they need.

11. You will never have packed enough pants for the children. Even the contingency ones will be used up with unexpected incidents such as rushing down a soggy slide or running into seawater in clothes.

12. There will be public tantrums on monumental scales attracting a mixture of disgust/sympathetic gazes.

13. Shattered from lack of sleep, the children will insist they can’t walk so you finish the holidays with superb biceps.

14. You’ll find yourself incredulous at the cost of any tourist attraction. £60 to look at a garden? Are you kidding me?

15. The British weather means you must bring coats/sun cream/hats/wellies/flip flops for every trip out so a 6lb bag accompanies you at all times. And you’ll still have forgotten something.

16. You’ll only realise you’ve forgotten that important thing when you’re miles from the car.

17. Despite your meticulous route planning and sat nav system, you will get lost usually as a child announces that they really need a wee.

18. Your child will start singing their rudest song during a quiet, educational day out making you want to crawl under the nearest table. Bum bum song at the museum anyone?

19. Someone will drop their ice cream the second after you’ve paid for it.

20. Any dream of a nice meal out will be shattered by the reality of overtired children and frazzled parents. Cereal it is then!

21. The onsite entertainment will remind you of Phoenix Nights, but the kids will love it and worship the oversized animal mascot sent out to interact with them.

22. The lack of structure means the children won’t sleep so your days consist of parenting between the hours of 5am until 9pm, when you collapse in an exhausted heap, too tired for wine.

10 family-friendly places to go in Cornwall

For our summer holiday this year, we decided to return to Cornwall, somewhere we haven’t visited for almost a decade.

It’s a special place for us. It’s where we had our first holiday as a couple 13 years ago. And it’s where we holidayed with treasured friends after university.

So, almost a decade since our last holiday in Padstow, we returned to Cornwall with the children and a mission to fill our days with fun and places that made us stop and smile.

We stayed in Hengar Manor Country Park near Bodmin, which proved a great location to see the great things Cornwall has to offer.

Its location meant we were able to visit 10 places during our Monday to Friday stay. Here’s what we did and saw.

Disclaimer: Although these days out were fantastic fun, I can confirm that either we or one of the children had a tantrum at each lovely location due to tiredness/lack of food/sheer grumpiness.

1. Sandymouth Beach, near Bude

Our first outing of our holiday was to Sandymouth Beach near Bude. A National Trust beach, it is surrounded by stunning cliffs and has a myriad of rock pools to explore.

Our children loved the small waterfalls dotted around the beach and using the pebbles to decorate their sandcastle creations.

It has ample parking, a lovely cafe overlooking the beach and well-tended loos.

Car parking is free for National Trust members, and £5.50 for non-members.

2. Bude

After our visit to Sandymouth, we decided to head into Bude itself for a stroll and a look around the lovely local shops.

And we also stopped for delicious fish and chips near the sea.

3. Porthcothan Bay Beach

Based near Padstow, Porthcothan Bay Beach is a stunning beach encircled by dramatic cliffs. It’s been featured as Nampara in Poldark, which is testament to how beautiful it is.

The children loved exploring the swirling streams on the sand and paddling in the clear sea.

There are chargeable car parks nearby and loos (you’ll need 20p to go though as the local town council runs the toilets after funding cuts by the local authority).

4. Padstow

After drying (and sand-dusting) ourselves off, our next stop was nearby Padstow where we whiled away a few hours exploring its shops, beach and harbour. We stopped for a Cornish cream tea and popped into Rick Stein’s bakery to lust after the delicate patisserie goods and doorstop bread loaves.

5. Lanhydrock

Rebuilt in 1881 after an extensive fire, Lanhydrock country house in Bodmin is presented with artefacts from the time meaning stepping over the threshold is like a walk into history.

The children loved exploring its 50 rooms and a spotting quiz kept our five-year-old enthralled as he tried to spot the items on the quiz sheet. Highlights included the vast kitchens, the nursery and seeing family photos and portraits of the Agar-Robartes.

Staff and volunteers dressed up in period clothes adding to the historic feel and we were lucky enough to hear a harpist perform during our visit.

Outside, the gardens and grounds are beautiful. Roses, topiary and wild flowers and a higher garden where the children loved hiding. Our daughter declared: “Flowers are my favourite,” as we left.

Parking and entry to Lanhydrock is free for National Trust members, but chargeable for non-members.

6. The Eden Project

In our previous visits to Cornwall, we had never made it to the Eden Project so it was on our wish list for this break.

With its aims of education and promoting environmental sustainability, it was somewhere we wanted to take the children to.

We started the day at the journey into space section. The astronaut training-style bouncy castle was a hit followed by the exhibition that walks you through the nine planets of the solar system. Our five-year-old loved hearing facts about each planet and the interactive rooms.

The highlight for us was visiting the rainforest and Mediterranean biomes. Filled with plants, fruit and vegetable plants and flowers from across the world, they featured walkways and bridges that take you high up in the biomes giving you a great view of the environments.

Sculptures and hands on activities caught the children’s imagination meaning they didn’t want to leave.

As a family-friendly venue, the project has plenty of places to eat, free water stations and all the facilities you need.

It isn’t a cheap day out, but it’s a unique charitable project on a huge scale, which is a must visit if you’re in these parts. You can save 10 per cent by booking online in advance.

You can also donate your entire entry fee to convert it into free access for a year, which is a good option if you’re a regular visitor to Cornwall. And children aged under 5 go free. Our entry fee was roughly £60.

7. Fistral Beach, Newquay

Newquay has been on my ‘to visit’ list for many years so we were lucky that the sun shone for our visit to Fistral Beach.

A massively popular beach with surfers and families alike, it has everything you’d expect including shops, bars and cafes for visitors.

With lifeguards on patrol, and notorious rip tides, bathers and surfers are told to stay within the yellow and red flag areas to stay safe.

With such dramatic views and a huge expanse of sand, we loved it here.

There’s free parking along the esplanade, but there are plenty of car parks in the area too.

8. Perranporth

The lovely village of Perranporth has an enormous beach and a huge expanse of sea.

With rock pools and dramatic cliffs, the children loved exploring it and sandcastle-building there. We had ice creams on the beach and the children buried themselves in the sand.

Perranporth itself is kitted out for visitors with pretty shops and cafes serving delicious food. There’s ample parking and facilities including showers to wash off the sea and sand.

9. Trelissick

This National Trust property offers a 18th century house, gardens, wooded walks and incredible views of land and sea.

You can follow the woodland walks down to catch the ferry to Falmouth, wander through the hydrangea garden (some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen) or take in the views of the Fal Estuary.

Visitors can also explore many rooms of Trelissick House. Sit in the dining room and take the views of the sea. Take in the artworks and sketches sitting delicately on pretty period wallpaper. And read about the fortunes and fall of the original owners.

I particularly liked the exhibition about this, including period clothing dotted with golden coins, a visual way to tell the story.

We ate at the cafe, which offered delicious food and healthy options, which is perfect when you need to take a break from the cream teas!

A great few hours out!

Parking and entry to the house and gardens are free for National Trust members, but chargeable to non-members.

10. Summerleaze Beach, Bude

For our final day in Cornwall, we headed back to Bude for a visit to Summerleaze Beach. It’s near to where we first holidayed as a couple and is another huge beach filled with rock pools.

It’s also home to Bude Sea Pool, an open air swimming pool which provides perfect views of the beach and beyond.

A popular spot, it’s advisable to get there early as the nearby car parks fill up fast.

Where are your favourite days out in Cornwall? I’d love to hear your ideas!

My squad – two months as a Pencoed Panther

Running has never been my forte.

At school, miserable cross country runs were enough to put me off long distance running for life. I hated running around the drizzly field near Port Talbot steelworks, always one of the slowest runners. Sprinting was fun, thrilling; long distance running was not for me.

It was only as I neared the end of university that I started trying to run again. I did a few charity 5K runs and worked my way up to taking on two 10K runs for charity.

In 2010, I earned myself the dubious title of one of the slowest finishers in the Cardiff 10K.

I remember vividly being heckled by a male running club member who taunted me and a runner I’d befriended for being so slow. “You should be ashamed ladies,” he sneered, medal around his neck, taking no heed that we were running for good causes. Our only goal was getting over the finish line but that wasn’t good enough for him.

And that was one of the last times in recent years that I’d attempted running outside. Two children in less than three years and working full time meant I focused on gym classes when I could, my running days behind me.

In January, I decided to do the new year, new me, challenge and signed up for the Swansea Bay 10K, which I last did in 2009. It would be a motivator to improve my fitness and to get running again.

After being pretty unwell with postnatal depression after having my daughter, I decided to run it for the charity Mind, who do so much to break down the stigma around mental illnesses.

My plan to train alone faltered after a nasty chest infection in April/May. So after making a slow recovery, in mid June I went along to my first Pencoed Panthers training session feeling nervous as anything.

I wasn’t the only newbie that night and our lovely run leaders started us off with gentle walk runs using lampposts as our markers. I could barely run for two lampposts without stopping but their encouragement made all the difference.

At our second session, we covered 5K in walk running. And I really struggled. But when we got back to our meeting point, I felt jubilant.

And with each session since, I’ve felt my stamina and fitness improve. Some days are more difficult than others and some days are slower, but nothing beats that feeling of making yourself go a little bit further, a little bit faster.

And the encouragement of the fellow members makes all the difference. They are there to tell you to keep going, that you can do it, that you don’t need to stop.

On Wednesday, two months after joining the Panthers, I ran for four miles without stopping. Yes, I was slow. Yes, it was hard. But I did it. Those efforts sessions in the rain, those runs I thought I would never do all helped me to run the furthest I’ve run since the Cardiff 10K seven years ago.

So with five weeks to go, I feel the Swansea Bay 10K is doable. And it’s all thanks to my squad, the brilliant Pencoed Panthers, who have helped me cover more ground that I thought possible in two months.

I won’t be anywhere near the fastest runner in the Swansea Bay 10K. That’s not what it’s about. For me, it’s about getting over that finish line and raising money for the charity that made me feel less alone at the toughest time.

This post was inspired by the Sport Wales #OurSquad campaign to get more women active in Wales.

Find out more about the Pencoed Panthers here.

If you have a pound or two to spare for my Mind challenge, you can sponsor me here.

A sunny Sunday at Dyffryn Gardens

Our favourite family days out involve exploring somewhere new so a few weeks ago we signed up to be National Trust members.

Today we put that membership to good use with our first visit to the magical Dyffryn Gardens. Nestled in St Nicholas in the Vale of Glamorgan, its 55 acres feature a myriad of gorgeous garden rooms with plants and landscaping themes from across the globe. Although just 15 minutes from Cardiff, it feels worlds away from the bustling city.

When you arrive at Dyffryn Gardens, the first thing to greet you is the park. The children raced straight in, enjoying the wooden, nature-themed playground.

After encouraging them to leave the park, we went through the Reception area to start exploring the gardens.

Our son led the way and we soon found ourselves outside the impressive Dyffryn House, a manor house built in the late 19th century which is partially restored.

We followed the path around the house to discover the croquet lawn peppered with striped deckchairs. From there, the children meandered through a network of gardens, finding vibrant flowers, apple-bursting trees and arches threaded with roses. It was stunning.

The children loved exploring the gardens, discovering arches leading to a new walled garden and the various sculptures and statues.

My favourite? The Italian walled garden and the rose garden. Our daughter loved spotting the different colour roses as we strolled around it.

As you’d expect of a National Trust property, the facilities were excellent. It had a cafe, picnic benches and sitting spots as well as traditional garden toys to keep the children entertained.

Tired little legs meant we didn’t get to go inside Dyffryn House but we will definitely be back to visit – and see the house – soon.

Overall, a beautiful family day out that is such a treat for garden lovers of the world.

Family prom at the Welsh Proms 

How do you give young children their first taste of live classical music? That’s the question Cardiff’s St David’s Hall was answering in its family-friendly prom performance as part of the Welsh Proms.

Running for around an hour, the family prom took the audience through a journey of family-friendly classical works from Swan Lake to West Side Story to Disney.

The show was presented delightfully by Connie Fisher, who introduced each score and the accompanying dancers. Each work featured talented performances from young local dancers, bringing each piece to life with lively and well-executed choreography. 

Our almost three-year-old was mesmerised by the young ballerinas performing Swan Lake with such poise and grace. She didn’t move from the spot. 

Both our son and daughter relished the opening Pirates of the Caribbean performance, which saw the stage invaded by rafts of young ballerina pirates. A performance of such personality.

I particularly enjoyed the engaging way Connie introduced the orchestra. I’d taken the children to give them their first experience of an orchestra so it was fantastic to hear her explain the different sections, each of whom then played a snippet of music including Uptown Funk and Gangnam Style.

Unfortunately our youngest voted with her feet just before the Beauty and the Beast segment meaning she (and my husband) missed it. I was so sad she didn’t get to see it as it was beautiful. From the delicate Disney-inspired costumes to the thoughtful choreography, it was a definite highlight.

Overall, the family prom was an accessible way to introduce our young children to the experience of seeing (and hearing) a live orchestra. 

With inspired music selections and choreography from local young dancers, it was a great family performance. Bravo!


Blogger note: We paid for our tickets to the family prom and the venue wasn’t aware we were writing a review.

Did you attend the family prom today? I’d love to hear what you thought.

15 things you’ll learn as a parent on a day out at a theme park

1. Someone always needs a wee at the worst time. Either when you’re 50 miles from a service station or mid-way through a mind-bogglingly long queue for a ride with no loo nearby.

2. When you do locate a loo, the queue will be as long as the one for the rollercoaster.

3. You will fantastise about ankle-ramming the people who absentmindedly stop in front of your buggy. Look where you’re going people.

4. You will have arms of a weightlifter by the end of the day from carrying your toddler who has to walk absolutely everywhere and then needs to be carried absolutely everywhere as their little legs can’t cope.

5. You start to question your principled decision to refuse forking out for queue jump tickets after enduring 45 minutes waiting for a two-minute ride with an energetic and impatient toddler. There will be tantrums, tears and short-lived bribery snacks. 

6. And those smug queuebuster pass holders will always turn up when you get to the front of the queue meaning you have another final wait to go. And you will hate them for it.

7. The drinks and snacks you’ve lovingly prepared in advance will be refused in favour of a soft drink and packet of crisps that cost £3.99. Each.

8. You will fork out a small fortune at the gift shop while knowing you could get the same thing much cheaper on Amazon. Much cheaper.

9. Your child will find it impossible to chose what they want in said shop. And they’ll always insist on something that costs the same as the theme park ticket. You’ll then face a miserable battle of wills trying to convince them that the small teddy is just as good as the £65 play set they’ve set their little heart on.

10. Someone will always end up getting their clothes (or shoes) soaked. 

11. You spend an age getting into the car park and have to park a long walk from the theme park entrance. That walk feels even longer when walking back there and trying to locate your car with overtired children. What row were we in again?

12. You need to be prepared for all weather eventualities so you’ll be carting around enough gear for a week abroad. Coats ✅ sun hats ✅ wellies ✅ sun cream ✅ 

13. Finding your way out is as difficult as finding your way there. How is it so complicated? 

14. You’ll feel like you’ve walked a marathon by the end of the day but your Fitbit only says 8,000 steps.

15. You’ll forget all of the above when you and the children remember the day and look back at magical photos. All completely worth it. Now, where’s the wine? 😉