Toronto with kids

A friend’s wedding may have been our perfect excuse to head over on holiday to Canada, but it’s also a place I’ve always wanted to visit. It might be a slightly different type of holiday with two kids in tow than it would have been a few years back – not much opportunity for wandering and exploring, or hanging out in vaguely hipster bars – but it was still a fab trip.  

Here’s some of our highlights and tips if you’re heading to Toronto with kids – especially in winter when some attractions are closed and it’s too cold to spend much time outdoors:

CN Tower Restaurant   

 

It’s the big attraction of the Toronto skyline and one that’s easy to get the kids excited about.  You can buy a standard entrance ticket for $32, but our tip is to book a table at the 360 revolving restaurant.  It’s $55 for the fixed price two course lunch menu ($35 for kids), so not that much more than the standard entrance plus buying food out somewhere else, if you think about it.

The food is genuinely delicious and generous in portions, and you get unobstructed views through the glass as the restaurant revolves while you eat.  You also get access to the viewing level after you’ve eaten where you can brave the glass floor and venture outside on the walkway (although this bit is behind mesh so the views aren’t as good as in the restaurant).  Our two were ‘too cold’ within about 30 seconds of stepping outside so the time in the warmth of the restaurant was well worth it to take everything in, and we were able to get some great photos without having to resort to buying the green screen official pics from downstairs.

There’s a small kids play area on the ground floor as well which is worth knowing about if you need the kids to burn off some energy either before or after!

Oh, and if you’re scared of heights like me, stand at the back of the elevators when you’re going up, as the glass doors – and glass panels on the floor – don’t hide anything!

Ripleys Aquarium

 

When we were asking Torontonians where we should take the kids whilst in Toronto, the relatively new aquarium, right next door to the CN tower, was roundly recommended.  I almost didn’t bother though – surely an aquarium is an aquarium, I thought, and we’ve been to a few in the UK to know what to expect.  I’m so glad we did though, Ripleys is by far the best aquarium I’ve been to and well worth a visit.

Whilst the whole thing is really well designed and the children’s play area right in the centre could easily have kept our eldest entertained for hours if we’d let her, the highlight was definitely the underwater tunnel. Unlike some I’ve been to where you can see the other end as soon as you enter, and at busy times inevitably gets blocked by people standing waiting for a lonely shark to wander past, this one twisted and turned back on itself so it felt like it was huge, and the moving walkway running through it meant you could concentrate on fish watching not on tripping over someone else’s children. Add to this a plethora of sharks, a lazy sawfish laid right on top of the tunnel, and countless other fishy delights, and it was a big win.

The visit was topped off with a chance to see a diver feeding the fish in one of the tanks (and happily posing for photos with the kids after the ‘show’), and plenty of chances for the kids to crawl under, through and into tanks of fish (all while staying dry!), which all in all meant we pretty much had to bribe G to leave.  Luckily this was achieved by the promise of the outdoor railway museum right across the street, complete with a real life ‘Tidmouth Sheds’ and train turntable.  

If you need to bribe any adults to leave, one of the sheds now hosts the Steam Whistle Brewery tour. 

Just saying.

Marlies Ice Hockey at the Ricoh Arena   

 

I loved the idea of going to an ice hockey game, but tickets to see the Toronto Maple Leafs were pretty much out of our range, especially as I wasn’t sure how the kids would cope with an evening game, and wasn’t entirely sure how child friendly it would be in general.

Instead we bought $30 tickets to see Toronto’s other team, the Marlies, playing against Chicago Wolves.  My fears of whether it would be appropriate to take kids to were allayed when our taxi followed a school bus full of kids in to the arena, which is just a short taxi ride from downtown.

Despite being a low scoring game (2:1 to Chicago, since you’re asking), it was a much greater spectacle than seeing it on tv would have you think, and great fun. We resisted the urge to buy a giant foam finger (I’m not sure we’d fit it in our luggage home!), and left a little before the end to grab a cab from outside and get the kids to their much welcomed beds.

Ontario Science Centre

 

Despite being a taxi ride out from downtown (ours was about $25 each way), and with an entrance fee of $22 ($13 for kids), the Ontario Science Centre is a stalwart of the guidebooks and promised lots of hands on experiments and fun.

The building itself is rather sprawling and poorly signposted, and compared to the shiny newness of the aquarium some of it has seen better days, but it’s what’s inside that counts, and despite a whole afternoon there right until it closed at 4pm, we barely scratched the surface.

The big success of the day was the planetarium, where we went to a show for fives and under which saw the night sky projected onto the ceiling, taking the kids around the constellations and off on a spaceship to the moon. Both G and C were rapt – the latter particularly striking as she had been in a monumental grump most of the day!

The hands on science arcade was also a winner, and we could easily have spent longer there if we’d had a bit more time and energy.

Top tip if you do go – find out if the Van de Graaf generator is still there – it’s all Torontonians will be asking you for days.  We missed it but it seems to be the one thing locals all remember from school trips.

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Happy Birthday!

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So yesterday C turned one!

*insert comment here about time flying etc*

The day started inauspiciously, with me waking up having lost my voice – an apparent additional effect of the cold I haven’t been able to shake for weeks, and which I must say Daddy didn’t try particularly hard to hide his apparent glee at.

C opted, for once, to sleep in, and as G was adamant that she wanted to help open her presents and cards before she went to school, we had to wake C from her slumber to get to the exciting bits. I’m pretty sure that won’t always be the case if G is anything to go by!

Although C will probably moan about it in years to come, one of the benefits of having her birthday close to Christmas is that we were able to use it to kick start our Christmas break early. And with big sis in school during the day C got some rare undivided attention from Mummy and Daddy together.

We’ve developed a bit of a tradition for G’s birthday where we make an annual trip to Chester Zoo. We wanted to find something similar for C, but choosing something that wasn’t Christmassy was a bit of a challenge.

We eventually settled on a trip to our local Sealife centre, and despite being a little uncertain about how wise it was to visit the Trafford Centre a week before Christmas, it actually worked out perfectly – lots of options for lunch, and a chance to finish off some Christmas shopping whilst C had a nap. We pretty much had Sealife to ourselves too – it seems Mad Friday is actually not a bad day to go to a shopping centre!

C loved the Sealife centre, and was fascinated by the lights, projections and of course the fish. Interestingly despite not having yet seen ‘Finding Nemo’ she was most excited by the clown fish, and the Sharks and rays in the underwater tunnel were a big hit too.

It was also yet another occasion when I was grateful to have our sling – C was at the perfect height to view the fish in their tanks, and I got to fully appreciate and interact with her as she cooed, gurgled and clapped our way round.

From this vantage point she also picked herself out a birthday toy from the shop – a cute turtle soft toy which she was particularly attached to until the moment I paid for it, at which point she threw it on the floor – typical!

After picking G up from school we headed off for another annual tradition – a weekend in a holiday cottage in Shropshire with friends from university days. Continuing the fishy theme we saved C’s ‘fish pond’ birthday cake for then, and she seemed suitably bemused at us singing happy birthday and blowing out the candle for her. It didn’t stop her tucking into said cake with gusto mind, which I was secretly pleased at after slaving for 2 and a half hours making and decorating it the night before!

Clearly thinking that she was the guest of honour at events, she proceeded to make sure she didn’t miss out on any of the evening’s party, to my mild disappointment having selfishly hoped for a couple of hours child free time. But she was on particularly good form so I really can’t begrudge her!

And so moving swiftly on from birthdays, today is our first ‘christmas day’ – a practice run perhaps, except one with rather more people than our family affair next week, and for which I’ve managed to get out of cooking duties, instead sitting here writing this while relishing the smell of gammon cooking downstairs. And with our annual gathering being boosted this year by the addition of a plethora of babas, both C and G have plenty of little playmates to keep them occupied.

Despite the sleepless night last night, it’s a great way to kick off the festive season.

See, having your birthday at Christmas isn’t that bad after all.

Earth Mother

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Growing up in the countryside I never thought I’d ever be a city girl, so I’m still kind of surprised that I’ve spent most of my adult life in cities and, god forbid, am bringing my children up in the suburbs surrounded by houses and cars, rather than by animals and fields.

Sadly I’ve realised that sacrificing the view of cows from my kitchen window is better than sacrificing hours of my time every day commuting.

But living in the suburbs shouldn’t and doesn’t stop us from getting out in the countryside and going a bit earth mother every so often.

Every summer since I met my husband I’ve suggested going strawberry picking. We’ve never actually made it, so it’s become a bit of a running joke between us. And once again this year we missed strawberry picking season, but at a loose end this weekend we decided to make a trip out to Kenyon Hall Farm near Wigan, where they have a year-round supply of pick your own fruit and veg, a playground, farm shop and of course a cafe.

Well, we can’t be leaving all the urban comforts behind now, can we?

Whilst G excitedly ran up and down the rows of peas, sweetcorn and blackberries, C took it all in from her vantage point up on my back – our trusty woven wrap being far more useful in this case than a pram.

We came home happy, with a slight pink tinge from the late sunmer sun, three corn on the cob, a punnet full of garden peas, and a rather sad handful of blackberries – the blackberry bushes having apparently been stripped by visitors earlier in the day.

After teaching G how to shell peas (another ‘earth mother’ moment right there), they made it into that evening’s Sunday roast, with the rest of our haul saved for another day.

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At 8 and a half months old, C is perfecting her pincer grip, and this coupled with inheriting her big sister’s love of food meant she made short work of dinner, peas included.

I had a fleeting realisation when I looked back at the photos that if we go again next summer it’ll be with with not one but two children running up and down the rows.

Time really does fly, doesn’t it?

In her Mummy’s foot (or hoof) prints?

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Confession time. I was one of those girls who was obsessed with horses when I was younger. I mean, really obsessed. To the extent that on one non-uniform day at primary school I actually insisted on wearing my jodhpurs and riding gear.

Oh, the shame.

I spent what felt like years helping out ‘work for rides’ at a local stables, and at the top of every birthday and Christmas list was ‘pony, saddle, bridle’.

Every time, without fail.

Even falling off and concussing myself didn’t put me off. It’s no wonder that eventually my parents relented, and thanks to a school friend who lived on a farm I was finally able to have my own horse. From then on every penny I earned doing paper rounds and all sorts went into an old Hamlet Cigar tin (feels a bit inappropriate these days?!) to pay towards keeping her. Despite adding a broken leg to the injury list I have very fond memories of my farm based horsey youth.

Most stables take children for lessons from the age of 4, but knowing full well quite how expensive horse riding can get I’ve been putting off taking G for lessons. Secretly however I was just waiting for the day I could take her on her first pony ride. I decided that this summer would be the time, and so last weekend we headed over to Reddish Vale Farm for her first pony riding experience, and – hitting two birds with one stone – C’s first time meeting a horse.

I’d never been to Reddish Vale Farm before but had heard good things about it, and liked their approach, where they encourage children to go along for short £2 pony rides on a Sunday afternoon before taking the plunge into ‘proper’ walkouts and eventually lessons.

And the farm made for a great day out too – for £1.50 on top of the entrance fee we got a bucket of carrots which G could take to feed the animals – cows, pigs, donkeys, alpaca, llama, an escapee goat roaming the farmyard and of course C’s first horsey experience, the very lovely – and very large – Shire horse called Kylie.

The pony rides are clearly popular as families started queuing up well before the advertised time. We dutifully took our place in the queue and waited our turn as G got more and more excited and C indulged in her latest ‘hobby’ of staring at people stood close by!

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G took the pony ride in her stride and enjoyed every minute. Coupled with a yummy lunch in the cafe, a play on the bouncy castle and playground, and finishing off with the obligatory ice cream, it’s no wonder that G now claims to enjoy horse riding as much as her mother.

With G’s 5th (5th!!) birthday coming up, I wonder how long it will be before I have to start fending off the requests for ‘pony, saddle, bridle’?

Our Favourite Sunny Day Trip – Hathersage Outdoor Swimming Pool

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Blimey it’s been a while since I last blogged – we’ve been pretty busy since our holiday and I just don’t seem to have found time! So I’m playing catch up here.

It was on our way home from our holiday in Sherwood Pines that we decided to make the most of the sunny weather and stop off at one of our favourite sunny day trips – Hathersage Swimming Pool.

Nestled away in the Peak District, and handily located off the Snake Pass which runs between Sheffield and Manchester, Hathersage pool is a 1930s heated outdoor pool that makes a fabulous spot to visit. We’ve been quite a few times with G when she was growing up, so it was a great place to take C for only her second ever swimming trip.

Before swimming, however, came lunch. And our favourite option in the area is the nearby David Mellor Cutlery Museum. Yep, you read that right, a cutlery museum.

Technically I think it’s the David Mellor Visitor Centre and Design Museum, but ‘cutlery museum’ is a bit more attention grabbing, in a ‘what did you say’ way, don’t you think?

I have to be honest here, I’ve never looked round the museum, I just go for the yummy food in the cafe, and a browse around the too-tempting fancy kitchen shop.
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From the cafe I have learnt, however, that alongside cutlery David Mellor is responsible for the humble yet ubiquitous traffic light, as there’s one in the middle of the cafe where G still delights in pressing the crossing button over and over again. Apparently his achievements included recognising that you need less electricity to run traffic lights at night when it’s dark, as they don’t need to shine as brightly. It’s one of those things that makes total sense when someone says it, but you would probably never have thought of yourself.

So lunch it was, before we headed back to the pool for the afternoon swimming session. On a sunny weekend you have to get there well in advance to join the queue that snakes down through the car park, but being a Friday it wasn’t too bad. We were soon up the stairs and in, ready to nab a coveted table on the grassy section between the changing rooms and the pool.

Despite only having been swimming once before I think C has the makings of a bit of a water baby. She watches her sister’s swimming lessons intently every week,and loves bath time, so I really need to sign up for some baby lessons for her. As it is we remembered enough of the baby swimming lessons that we did with G to play a few games, sing a few songs and brave a quick go at underwater swimming (babies have a dive reflex meaning they hold their breath when submerged).

It wasn’t long before she’d had enough though, and I got to soak up the atmosphere from the side as G splashed and swam with Daddy. Until of course G remembered the promise of post swimming ice cream from the pool cafe!

We were grateful for having made the stop off as we crawled our way back to Manchester through heavy traffic.

But it was a lovely end to a lovely holiday, and a place we’ll hopefully be visiting more often through the summer months.

A Forest Holiday

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We’ve been on holiday again!

Just a short UK one – we decided to go on a mid week break to Forest Holidays at Sherwood Pines, and had a lovely time.

I’ve never been to Center Parcs, but my understanding of it is that Forest Holidays is a bit like Center Parcs, with slightly plusher accommodation, but fewer on site activities (eg they don’t have a swimming pool on site). The clincher for us was that we could have a cabin with a hot tub of our own for some chill out time after the kids were in bed – whoop! If you’re going all out then there are even cabins with ‘tree house’ master bedroom suites, but we stayed in one of their ‘Golden Oak’ 2 bedroomed cabins.

The cabins themselves were spacious and smart, with underfloor heating, terrace with BBQ area as well as the hot tub, and wifi included with the entertainment package we bought in advance. You can arrange extras such as beauty treatments and a chef to come to your cabin, and even order a pizza through your TV! The only downsides were that there wasn’t space in the second bedroom to put up the travel cot we’d brought, and the lack of oven gloves in the kitchen!

It’s unusual for us to go on holidays that aren’t jam packed with day trips and places to go from start to finish, and before we got there I did my usual googling and asking around to see where we should go. But once we arrived we soon decided to take things easy and enjoy the forest rather than jumping in the car every 5 minutes.
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The Forest Holidays site is a short (10 minute) walk from the main Sherwood Pines visitor centre, with a variety of play areas, walks and cycle paths. My last experience of Sherwood Pines was about 3 years ago, running a 10k race after a quite literally sleepless night with a toddler G. This time was somewhat more relaxing!

A couple of times during our stay we left the pram behind and popped C in one of our carriers to go and explore the forest. We followed one of the shorter walks at the visitor centre which was just right for G, with enough to entertain her on the way round including a rainforest discovery theme, a couple of play areas and a den building area. She also loved being just like Dora the Explorer and taking charge of the map and directions!
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One of the unique offerings at Forest Holidays is the on site Forest Ranger, who can take you on tours of the forest to see wildlife, learn how to survive in the wild etc. We booked G onto the ‘young explorers’ walk on the Thursday which she absolutely loved – they saw deer footprints, all kinds of different trees (including one that had been struck by lightning, and another which was a scratching post for the local deer), a fox’s den, and picked up lots of bugs on their way round which they then built a bug hotel out of sticks and leaves to put them in. At the end of the walk they collected pine cones that they painted in The Retreat (the main cafe/shop/office for the site). It ended up taking a good chunk of the afternoon and was excellent value for the £8 cost.
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We did do a couple of trips out – one to the Thaymar Ice Cream Farm Shop (they had dairy/soya free ice cream as well as a baby who shares C’s birthday so it’s now my favourite place in the world!), and one to Sherwood Forest itself. The latter had a neat cafe (but no dairy free treats sadly), and another lovely walk through the forest to see the famous Major Oak tree, again a walk just short enough for G to manage without too much moaning.

We ummed and ahed over whether we should let G have a go in the hot tub at the cabin and after looking up the guidelines decided to let her in a few times for short periods. She loved playing with the resident rubber duck, but the hot tub mostly remained our post bedtime treat, complete with a glass of bubbly and, er, the baby monitor on the side.

We went back to Sherwood Pines at the end of our holiday to do the mini Gruffalo trail which, whilst not on a par with the one at the Forest of Dean, was still good fun and a lovely way to round off the trip.

All in a we had a fabulous time and would highly recommend it!

We paid for our trip with our own pennies and weren’t given any incentives to write about it, we just had a great time and wanted to share!

Day Trips: Bath – For Mums And For Kids

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Last week we were on our first camping holiday in the South West. Well I say camping, but really we were cheating somewhat with a rather comfortable borrowed motorhome (or ‘car house’ as G has christened it).

Anyhow, one of our day trips was to Bath, famed for its, well, baths. Of the Roman kind.

A little bit of cheeky borrowed babysitting time and it turned out to be the perfect day trip for both Mum (and Dad), and the kids.

First up, a family lunch at the rather lovely The Hop Pole pub on Upper Bristol road, about ten to fifteen minutes walk out of the city centre. Google had reliably informed me it did rather epic chips (and it proved correct!). It also did a rather nice line in chunky sandwiches, and were more than happy to oblige with my dairy free awkwardness.

The main attraction however, had to be its proximity to the rather amazing Royal Victoria Park playground directly opposite.

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a playground quite so huge – this picture only shows about half of it!
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With equipment to suit all ages, it was no surprise that it kept G entertained for, quite literally, hours. Admittedly the sand pit with hand operated ‘diggers’ took up a good chunk of that time, and also led to several days worth of finding sand in pretty much everything we owned.

Whilst G and C were happily entertained, Mum and Dad got to indulge in a trip to our own kind of playground – the Thermae Bath Spa.

We’re not really ‘spa’ people to be honest, but when in Bath, you have to go to the baths don’t you? And this place, opened in 2006, was a must visit.

Spread over 5 floors, including a rooftop open air pool, and fed by the natural thermal waters, it was well worth the hefty £27 entry fee for a two hour session (plus extra for robe/towel/slipper hire) for some seriously indulgent child free time.

Some might say it’s just a posh swimming pool, but the focus on the various baths and steam rooms rather than treatments (although these are available too) was totally up my street, and I was relieved that there was no whale music or candles in sight. The wristbands which you use to electronically secure your locker doubles as a charge card for drinks or snacks at the cafe, although we were too busy enjoying the pools to try that out.

We tried out the basement Minerva pool, with a jacuzzi area and river current; the four large circular steam rooms with different ‘flavours’ to each, a central huge waterfall shower and hot and cold showers to the sides; and of course the stunning open air rooftop pool with views over the city of Bath.

I’d started the day thinking we couldn’t possibly spend two hours in a swimming pool, and ended it wishing we could stay longer, but I was also itching to see what fun the girls had had, so off we went.

As it was they hadn’t missed us one bit. In fact G had to be bribed to leave the playground even though it was starting to get pretty chilly, and has already requested a return visit.

All in all it was a great day out and highly recommended if you’re in the area.

A Mother’s Day Trip To The Park

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Warning: self indulgent photo post coming up!

So today was, of course, Mother’s Day in the UK. After a couple of sleepless nights with C I was rewarded with the best gift possible – a lie in! Although given Mother’s Day coincided with the clocks changing it looked much more luxurious than it really was.

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After brunch of French toast with heaps of bacon and lashings of maple syrup (the post baby diet is very definitely on hold), we set off to enjoy the sunshine at nearby Clifton Country Park. G was lured away from her new favourite TV show (Team Umizoomi, if you’re interested) by the promise of ducks to feed, a big playground and an ice cream van for afterwards, the latter very much mostly for G’s benefit given I’m still eating dairy free due to C’s suspected cows milk intolerance.

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I decided that this was also the opportunity to get some photos with my girls, given I’d realised that beyond a few taken in the hospital when I was most definitely not at my most photogenic (!), we only had two pictures with the three of us in – one our blurry New Year’s Eve Jones family selfie, and another in the pub – both involving alcohol, which surely isn’t the right impression to give! The first of these is still the only picture with all four of us in, but given it was Mother’s Day Mr J was in charge of the camera today. C was happy enough to oblige with our impromptu photo shoot, although she didn’t seem overly excited by her first go on a slide (I kept hold of her, before anyone gets worried!).

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The challenge for Mr J was firstly catching G as she ran around the playground, determined to have a go on everything there, and then getting all three of us looking vaguely in the same direction, but I reckon he did alright.

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I hope everyone had lovely Mother’s Days out in the sun and was spoilt rotten in one way or another, but also big Jones family hugs to those who are missing their mothers or their children today.

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Days Out: Ordsall Hall, Salford

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At a loose end last week I decided on a whim to take C on a trip to Ordsall Hall in Salford. It was a sunny day and time for lunch, and ‘the internet’ told me it had a nice cafe, so off we went.

This grade 1 listed tudor manor house sits somewhat unexpectedly surrounded by terraced houses and building sites, a short drive from both central Manchester and Salford Quays. It’s not huge, but has had a great amount of investment lately making it a stunning spot to visit when you don’t want to travel far from the city. Given how close it is to the city, I was slightly embarrassed that I’d never thought to go there before!
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As promised, the cafe was small but neat, with inexpensive sandwiches, a nice range of drinks and some yummy looking cakes, which sadly I couldn’t indulge in thanks to C’s milk protein intolerance (darn it!).

The hall is allegedly haunted, but there was no sign of any paranormal activity. Which is just as well as I’m not a fan of ghostly tales! I was more interested in the fact that unlike many stately homes, Ordsall hall really felt like the kind of place you could imagine someone living in – really well preserved and laid out, and of course handy for the commute into town!

The house has a rich history, being associated (as with so many places around here!) with the birth of Manchester’s textiles industry – Sir John Radclyffe was apparently rewarded by the king for his services in battle in France by being allowed to being back skilled Flemish weavers to his estate at Ordsall, who then taught their skills to local weavers and set up a silk industry in the area, prior to the growth of the cotton industry in Manchester.

The house also has associations with Guy Fawkes, with the gunpowder plot allegedly being planned in the star chamber of the hall. So there’s plenty to engage kids with – in fact school groups are regular visitors to the hall, and there was a group there as we visited

C was supposed to be having a nap whilst we were there, but obviously she found everything too interesting to nod off… The house has been fitted with a lift in each of the two main sections which meant that even with her in her pram we could explore the upstairs. The only downside of this was that a staff member had to escort us to use the lift, so we didn’t get to explore quite as freely as we might have without feeling a little awkward being followed around. Next time I’ll pop her in a sling and carry her up the stairs!
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Outside, the gorgeous formal garden and lawns look like a fab spot for a picnic and a run around for the kids. Although it was a beautifully sunny day when we visited, after having.say down to feed C on a bench I realised it was rather chilly despite this. Still, I had a lovely picture postcard view of the house to enjoy whilst shivering slightly (C, I should add, was snug as a big tucked up in her blanket!). I can imagine on a warmer day it would make a lovely picnic spot, as long as you sit facing the house and not the slightly incongruous urban surroundings!
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One half of the upstairs houses a changing range of exhibitions, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the website to see what’s on. And more pertinently for us, the hall will be hosting Easter activities for kids during half term.

It’s free to get in, but you do pay a few quid for parking. Ordsall Hall is open Monday to Thursday 10am – 4pm, and Sundays 1-4pm.