Royalty, Rothschilds and Ealing comedies: Gunnersbury Park

Since starting the Take 12 Trips challenge last year, I’ve managed to keep to my goal of at least one trip per month, packing in Copenhagen and the Caribbean along with Portugal and Granada.

But part of the point of the challenge is a reminder that you needn’t necessarily travel far to explore. We’ve also headed down the road (in UK terms) to the London Wetland Centre in Barnes.

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And last weekend, we discovered another patch of previously unexplored London even closer to home – Gunnersbury Park.

I’m lucky enough to live in a very green suburb of West London, with two parks and the open space of our local common within a 20-minute walk.

So perhaps that explains why, in the decade I’ve lived in the area, I haven’t managed the half hour stroll to Gunnersbury Park. But even our first visit has made me certain I want to go back… not least because there’s just so much of it to explore, with 75 hectares of a Grade 2 listed landscape.

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A couple of lottery grants mean there’s some big plans underway as well, to restore both the park and the buildings, currently in the top 12 ‘at risk’ properties in England, according to English Heritage.

There’s plenty to be done to return it to its original splendour, but even the peeling paint and underused structures are impressive to wander around on a sunny day.

gunnersbury-park-mansion-restorationA quick bit of research showed its history is far more fascinating than I’d realised too. Its name alone is intriguing, apparently deriving from Gunylda, the niece of King Canute, who lived in the area until begin banished from the country in 1044.

The first notable mansion was built during Cromwell’s time, by the son-in-law of Inigo Jones, and the land later passed to George II’s daughter Amelia in 1760 before finding itself in the hands of the Rothschilds the following century.

Some political wranglings later, it became public land co-owned by Ealing and Hounslow councils, featuring in Ealing Studios’ classic The Lavender Hill Mob and hosting the London Mela since 2003.

gunnersbury-park-temple-historicStill home to the free local history museum for the two boroughs (closed last weekend in some unfortunately timing on my part) in Gunnersbury Park House, the grounds also include an Orangery, Princess Amelia’s Bath House, Gothic Ruins plus the peaceful formal Italian Garden.

More prosaically, there’s also a playground, pitch & putt golf, a small cafe with a huge queue for ice creams and a lake overlooked by an 18th century temple, where ducks ignore the endless succession of visitors throwing them bread.

Even wandering around for an hour meant we’d barely scratched the surface before a tired and hungry toddler meant it was time to head home.

But it’s the perfect reminder that you can discover some unexpected gems by looking just a tiny bit further afield.

 

The perfect summer sunglasses for kids

A couple of weeks ago, when the sun finally started shining again, I began my quest for my new perfect pair of sunglasses.

But after spending a gorgeously sunny afternoon exploring a new park with Minnie, I’ve realised I need to add sunglasses for kids to my shopping list.

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We’ve had a pair of Baby Banz passed on from a friend of mine – cleverly designed for babies and toddlers with a Velcro strap around the head, shatter-resistant frame and some impressive category 3 lenses (offering about the best protection out there).

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Needless to say Minnie, who resists any kind of hat and only vaguely tolerates hoods, wasn’t a fan of something over her face. The last time we tried them, in the Caribbean, she put up with them for about a millisecond before pulling them off.

A combination of hat, buggy hood and muslin kept most of the glare off her then – now she yells if the hood goes up even an inch and is usually running around anyway.

But today the ‘bright light’ of the spring sun finally convinced her to leave them on. Except as they’re designed for ages 0-2, she’ll have grown out of them fairly soon.

So if I can persuade her to keep normal style sunglasses on, there’s some very cute ones out there.

John Lewis Ditsy Floral Wayfarers, £6, are girly without being too pink – for ages two to 12.

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Or they also have some pastel polkadot sunglasses, £6, which make me think of eating ice-cream on a beach.

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Accessorize Kids has some Tropical Wayfarers, also £6, which are one size – so without seeing them in real life, I’m not sure how well they’d work on a toddler.

For something simpler, Marks & Spencer’s Opaque frame sunglasses in Coral, £4, are bright but not too fussy – plus have 100% UV protection. Available in one size.

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And at House of Fraser, the Pumpkin Patch Spliced Aviator sunglasses, £7.50, might say they’re for boys but I love the colours.

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If you do want something girlier, the Daisy Frame sunglasses, also £7.50 from the same range, are a fun sunny yellow.

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Debenhams has a similar pair in navy from BlueZoo for £4.50 – labelled as for 36 months and above due to choking hazard, so best for older kids.

Inevitably Mini Boden has a couple of very cute designs – a white pair with green polkadot arms for £12.

boden-girls-kids-sunglasses

And most unusual of all, a pair of tortoiseshell shades, also £12, which look like a shrunken version of an adult style – perfect if you’ve got someone dying to copy Mummy… or have had as many primary colours as you can take!

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Images: Joni Bouma/Flickr. All product images courtesy of the retailer, Baby Banz image courtesy of John Lewis.

 

Reviewed: new Kiddylicious and Organix snack ranges

Left to her own devices, Minnie has been known to throw away half a biscuit because she’s full, request banana over crepes and get wildly excited about the thought of sweetcorn.

She’s also hoovered up hot cross bun as if someone was about to snatch it from her plate and discovered that this weird cold stuff called ice cream is actually pretty nice.

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While I believe firmly in everything in moderation, from cucumber to chocolate, I do want to keep her diet as healthy as possible while I’m still even vaguely in control.

Which means I’m always alert for new toddler snack ranges for when we’re out and about, to mix up the favourites of breadstick or rice cakes. I’m also hoping that more of them might taste of, well, something – having tried at least one which appeared to be crunch and air.

First up, Kiddylicious, which has launched two gluten-free ranges for seven months and up, to join their existing older ranges.

kiddylicious-fruity-puffsThe Fruity Puffs come in strawberry, blueberry and banana flavours, and look vaguely like a fruit flavoured Wotsit might (only without the neon orange glow or any artificial additives).

Both blueberry and banana got the thumbs up from Minnie, who’s usually happy to try anything involving fruit.

Twice infused with fruit flavours, that does translate to purple dust on the blueberry version – which, in the hands of a toddler, translates to purple smears all over everything so I might be sticking to the banana option in future.

For even smaller hands, they’re a good shape to start self-feeding as well – easy to grip and munch/gum through.

kiddylicious-tomato-flying-saucers-reviewSecond, there’s a savoury range of Flying Saucers in tomato or cheese. And I got my wish for something that actually tasted of what it said on the packet – the cheese ones are properly cheesy.

Slightly too much so for Minnie I think, who stopped after a handful. We’ve hit fussier territory recently so I can’t help suspecting she’d have wolfed them down if they’d been around six months ago.

Both are available in Asda and Ocado, priced 55p, with more stores to follow.

And Organix has a new addition to its range too, the Goodies organic Sweetcorn Salsa Snappy Crocs – not such a snappy name admittedly, but perfect toddler snacking.

Sweetcorn_Salsa_Snappy_CroThe crocodile shape is probably half the fun, the sweetcorn ticks the sweetness box for babies and the vegetables box for parents (along with no artificial colours, flavours or added salt), plus the taste is slightly more adventurous than most things out there.

Minnie is already a huge fan of the Spicy Tomato Stars (along with another mum friend of mine, who shall remain nameless) as well as sweetcorn, so these look set to be another permanent addition to the cupboard.

Fortunately they come as a multipack, with four 15g bags for £1.99. Currently available in Asda and in major retailers from June.

 

Disclosure: I was sent samples by both Kiddylicious and Organix to review. Minnie’s opinions are very firmly her own.

Images: Seth Anderson/Flickr and courtesy of Kiddylicious and Organix

Child-free travel: what I really miss

Some things are as reliable as clockwork. Bank holiday furniture sales. Over-excitement at the first rays of spring sunshine (yes, me too). A plane journey for a high-profile baby provoking tales of woe, gloom and despair.

Yes, this time it’s been Prince George enabling everyone to trot out their stories of how travel with children is a fate worse than a fate worse than death.

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I, meanwhile, was fresh from my first trip without either baby or bump for over two years. So was I revelling in my freedom from holidaying with a toddler? Well, yes, a bit.

But the thing I enjoyed most came as a bit of a surprise.

It wasn’t the chance to travel with a lightweight suitcase – without the need to cram in nappies/wipes/toys/sticker books etc, I suddenly remembered all those essentials I used to take.

It wasn’t the chance to relax and enjoy the airport and the flight. I’m not saying our delayed journey would have been improved by a bored toddler but queuing for security and squeezing into economy isn’t top of my list of fun things to do with or without Minnie.

It wasn’t even the chance to stay out and get up late. Firstly, I’m too old and knackered these days, secondly I rather enjoyed the fact we had our chocolate and churros and were exploring before half of Granada had got up.

And while I wouldn’t recommend taking a buggy along the cobbled streets and steps of the Albaicin… well, you plan your trips so you don’t pick a city that’s tricky to navigate with a toddler. Or you improvise.

But I do miss spontaneity. With a young child in tow, there’s always a ticking clock. When do they need feeding (and will you be somewhere suitable)? What about nap time? Even adopting a slightly more flexible routine than normal means making a few plans to ensure you don’t have a ravenous/exhausted baby melting down.

And part of the fun of Granada, in particular, was wandering. Following a street to see where it went. Walking until we found a tapas bar we liked the look of, rather than dashing into the first place which looked vaguely buggy-friendly.

Stopping at an unexpected cafe and watching the world go by then leaving when we realised the sun was starting to set.

Roaming. Exploring. Stumbling across unexpected treasures.

Could I have had a great holiday with Minnie? Of course. Could I have had the same holiday? No…

Sometimes, a little taste of freedom is all you need.

Enjoyed this blog? Got a minute to spare? Excellent – because nominations are open for the Brilliance in Blogging Awards 2014 if you fancied nominating me in the Travel category. Just click here before April 12… Or this post has more details Thank you!

 

Image: Adam Fagen/Flickr

Roma Granada: Sacromonte

The views from Sacromonte, the hill overlooking Granada, are as stunning as you’d expect – its vantage point looks down onto the Alhambra, the river valley, the twisting streets of the Albaicin and the tiled roofs stretching down to the city centre.

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But gorgeous though they are, it pays to turn your back on the vistas. The area is the heart of the city’s Roma community, its hills are dotted with cave homes and the origins of flamenco lie here, where whitewashed buildings stage flamenco shows to this day.

Wandering up from the Albaicin on a Sunday morning, we managed to time our visit to coincide with an organised race or fun run so half the streets were shut (although Alhambrabus routes 31 and 35 can normally take you there if you don’t fancy the hills).

From the silence behind the shutters, I got the feeling this sleepy atmosphere wasn’t a one-off though.

Our quest was to find the Sacromonte Cave Museum, a recreation of the way the cave homes would have been 100 years ago, showing the living spaces, crafts and culture of the inhabitants.

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Other sections have been used to show the plants grown, many medicinal and herbal, along with mini exhibitions on cave-dwelling culture, the Roma and flamenco inside as well.

Managing to avoid the endless other spots randomly marked ‘museo’, after some intensive Google mapping we discovered the usual entrance was closed but a series of diversion signs took us a different route – it started to seem like a mild initiative test, following them round corner, up slope and with no evident sign of a museum.

Then suddenly, there we were. And it was worth the climb.

It’s a quirky little museum, but with plenty of information tucked into the caves – the living spaces, inevitably, more fascinating to me than the huge loom and large pieces of ironwork.

There’s something about a bed tucked away in a mini cave within a cave which makes me wonder if I could ever live somewhere like this – having stayed in a cave hotel in Matera, southern Italy, I suspect the novelty would wear off after a few nights.

bedroom-cave-museum-sacromonte-granada

But it was the small exhibitions which were best, looking at the part these caves have played throughout history. The art of flamenco grew up around here, and it’s still one of the best places in Granada to see dancers perform.

flamenco-cave-museum-sacromonte-granada

And the Reconquista led to a string of legends associated with the area. After the end of the Moorish empire, with the court’s aristocracy fleeing Spain, stories tell that they buried their treasure in the hills of Sacromonte.

Their slaves or servants, released by the conquest, headed into the hills themselves to search for this hidden gold. According to some versions of history, the treasure found its way into Ferdinand and Isabella’s hands, financing the voyage of Christopher Columbus and the discover of the New World.

In others, it’s still buried in the hills…

Need to know
The museum costs 5 Euros to enter. Opening times are 10am to 8pm from March 15 to October 14, 10am to 6pm from October 15 to March 14.

Enjoyed this blog? Got a minute to spare? Excellent – because nominations are open for the Brilliance in Blogging Awards 2014 if you fancied nominating me in the Travel category. Just click here before April 12… Or this post has more details Thank you!

 

Images copyright MummyTravels/Cathy Winston