Blaise Castle Estate

One of the best things about living in Bristol is that there are so many lovely places to visit entirely free. Blaise Castle is one such place and is one of our favourite spots to spend time at weekends. Sophie loves it there and often requests to go to ‘Blaise park’! It’s just a 10-minute drive from our home in north-west Bristol, is open every day, and is totally free to visit.

We love Blaise because it has loads of open space (650 acres to be more specific), lovely woodland walks (there are several different suggested circuits and a lot of them are pushchair-friendly, though we also like to take Matthew in the sling and do the more adventurous routes!), areas to run and play games, gorgeous trees, paths for scooting (though it can get really busy at weekends which makes scooting more perilous), a stream to paddle and wade in, two huge play areas for younger and older children, a castle (open on certain days of the year), a mansion house which is home to a museum, and, of utmost importance, a cafe which serves decent coffee.

In terms of facilities Blaise also scores highly, with free parking, toilets with baby changing area, and picnic areas. There are also activities and events on throughout the year. We once saw some kind of very high-energy group (I mean, about 500 people) exercise going on, and another time there was a cross-country run.

The only downsides we’ve noted are that it does get exceptionally busy at weekends on dry days, so it can be difficult getting a parking spot (although recently we’ve noticed that an overflow carpark on one of the fields has been operating), and the lunch food in the cafe is mainly or wholly of the junk variety. They do also serve ice-creams, though, and there is often an ice-cream van outside the play area too which I am sure makes an absolute fortune on summer weekends!

We think Blaise is absolutely brilliant.

Other wonderful, free places we have visited in and around Bristol include Leigh Woods, Ashton Court, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, M Shed, Lawrence Weston Community Farm, and Kingsweston House. There are loads more ideas online (such as these on Visit Bristol).

The views expressed in this review post are entirely my own. I have not been sponsored or paid to write this review.

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Life in Pictures: Stourhead

Life in Pictures is a photographic journal of things we’ve been doing lately.

Each year, we buy membership of the National Trust. It’s a passport to many beautiful and historic places, wonderful open spaces to explore, and, of course, NT tea rooms!

We recently visited Stourhead in Wiltshire with some dear friends. It was a wonderful day out. The house was beautifully decorated for Christmas, with trees in different styles in every room. As it was a Saturday, there was a tasting table of ginger wine, Christmas cake, and spiced biscuits to try. The children were kept busy searching for the mice hidden in each room. The grounds are quite spectacular and we managed a fair walk in the very cold and windy weather, though we didn’t make it all the way round the lake. Stourhead has a NT cafe but there is also a pub inside the grounds where we had both morning snack (mince pies and clotted cream and heavenly hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows!) and lunch.

We loved Stourhead and hope to visit again in warmer weather.

Bristol Zoo

Bristol Zoo. Somewhere I had never been prior to moving to Bristol, even though I grew up less than an hour from here. My brother and sister both went on school trips there, but I never did. Now, we live less than 10 minutes’ drive from the Zoo and we go all. the. time.

Bristol Zoo is a large space in the heart of Bristol city, run by Bristol Zoological Society, a conservation and education charity. It’s the fifth-oldest zoo in the world.

I’ll lay my cards on the table straight away. We love Bristol Zoo. We have membership, so it’s a great value trip out and even if we only stay for half an hour, it doesn’t matter. There are loads of things to do and see: animals (obviously), an activity centre ( bead making, face painting and so on), a great children’s play area, a splash area, lovely herbaceous and floral borders to admire, a high-ropes course… You can feed lorikeets, walk through the butterfly and moth enclosure, and watch animal feeding times. We’ve been around ten times and there are still parts that we have yet to explore. It’s great for little people, especially in term-time when weekdays are really quiet and there are no bigger children around to knock your preschooler over!

Sophie always wants to go to the penguin enclosure, which is fine because Matthew loves them too and they’re really funny when they waddle down to the water to have a swim. My favourite animals are the lemurs. On our first visit, both the ring-tailed and crowned lemurs had both had offspring, which were only a few weeks old: it’s been brilliant taking Sophie and Matthew back again and again to show them how the baby lemurs have grown and that they are almost as big as their mummies now.

Penguin enclosure
Penguin enclosure

There are big animals too, including lions, gorillas and other monkeys, and pygmy hippos. There are things that make your skin crawl, like spiders, beetles, and snakes. And there are meerkats. Who doesn’t love a meerkat?

The Zoo’s facilities are pretty good, with toilets located throughout and generally found in presentable condition. There is a baby feeding room too. There are loads of vending machines (we have yet to succumb to getting Sophie a Ben and Jerry’s!), and a big cafe with indoor and outdoor (covered) seating which serves a good range of hot and cold food, cakes and drinks. You can also bring your own food as there are plenty of benches and lots of grass to sit on.

Food can be expensive so we bring our own snacks
Food can be expensive so we bring our own snacks

The special events calendar is really busy and vibrant – think Christmas evenings, conservation lectures, and spider-phobia courses {shiver}. We went to a fireworks evening in early November which was really lovely. The fireworks were low-noise and set to fun music, so perfect for children (and animals!). Sophie wasn’t too keen but was very brave and lasted all the way to the end. Matthew was entranced. Nick and I both enjoyed it although we wished we had worn wellies!

As with all visitor attractions, there is a gift shop, and some kind of trail which you can follow with your kids, though mine are too little for that so we haven’t tried it.

A day trip to the Zoo for a family of four (two adults and two children aged 2-14) would cost about £52 (November 2015) which means it’s quite expensive if, like us, your visit is shortened by naps, tantrums, or other child-related circumstances. However, as I’ve mentioned, membership is good value: for the same family group would cost about £164, meaning if you visit more than three times in a year you’ve got a good deal. There are also discounts for members on the special events and on bringing guests with you. I’ve also heard a rumour that there are discounts on entry to Wild Place, the sister project on the outskirts of Bristol, for members.

So, to summarise:

What I love:

Good facilities, special events, lovely place to walk around, good on wet or dry days, lots of places to stop and rest or eat, loads for little people to see and do, especially the play area and splash park.

What I don’t love:

Quite expensive, but better value if you buy membership. Food is expensive too. I don’t really like the gimmicky parts such as the merry-go-round and the car/bus/boat rides in the cafe area. They’re just not necessary and I feel bad for saying no to my children when they want me to pay for them to have a go.

My top tip:

If you only have preschool children, go on a weekday in term-time when it’s beautifully quiet and your children can have the run of the place.

To find out more about Bristol Zoo, Wild Place, and the Bristol Zoological Society, visit the website.

Have you visited Bristol Zoo? What was your favourite thing about it? Where else would you recommend for a family day out in Bristol?

The views expressed in this review post are entirely my own. I have not been sponsored or paid to write this review.