Lapland here in the UK!

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I think we are now at the stage of my daughter no longer believing in Father Christmas or really close, she hasn’t said anything directly but I have a sneaking suspicion she may no longer believe.  She’s a rather bright kid, but also very honest so I think she may be a bit torn and has worked out that if she doesn’t believe that means one less present.

Earlier in the year, as I know time was against us I had a look around the net for trips to Lapland as I felt it would be our last time to experience the magic with her.  Unfortunately, it was simply too expensive for us so I shelved the idea.

So when, we were offered the opportunity to visit Lapland UK, apparently the next best thing but here in the UK, I jumped at the chance.  However, the first thing I did was have a look to make sure it wasn’t one of the Crap-lands, Blunder-lands or Rip-Off Lands that were in the news last year; with brawling Elves, Fag Smoking Santa and poorly treated Reindeer and Huskies.

The Real McCoy

I can assure you this is the real one.  All in all it was very well organised.  We travelled down to Whitmoor Forest, near Bracknell Forest from St Albans, Herts and it took less than an hour and only made one wrong turn, it could have been better sign posted from the M3.  There was ample parking and we arrived in plenty of time.

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After grabbing a much needed coffee, we signed in and got ready for our tour.  The Elves were great and kept in character throughout.  The overall decoration and ‘sets’ were beautiful and did transport you to a magical place.   The snowy tree lined paths really did make you feel like you were in a Winter Wonderland.

What to Expect

The whole experience takes approx 3.5 hours, to be honest I thought it was going to be less.  The tour starts in the Enchanted Forest where you meet a rather old Elf and Ekko and learn that Elves come from Pine Cones.

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You are then ushered into the Elves Toy Workshop where the children help out Father Christmas as he wasn’t anticipating so many good girls and boys and is short gifts this year.  Children set to stuffing bears and putting together wooden horses.  Then it’s off to Mother Christmas’ kitchen to make a Gingerbread houses and listen to a story.  You can probably guess which story it was….. ‘you can’t catch me, no one can’……

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At this point you get an opportunity to break away from the group and had about 90 minutes to ourselves before making our way to the big guy in a red suit, we grabbed some food in the restaurant and for this type of venue, it was decent and reasonably priced.  Did a spot of ice-skating, some of us were more wobbly than others, visited the Sweet Shop, stroked the huskies, visited the iron-mongers and posted a letter to Father Christmas.

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An Private Audience with Father Christmas

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The visit with Father Christmas at the end was very special, the fact he knew the children’s names, their interests and a recent event, may have persuaded these two 8 year olds to believe for one more year.  I may have taken a sneaky photo before being told off for doing so.

Things we liked:

  • Personalised invites from Santa prior to the event
  • Location and organisation
  • Beautiful scenery
  • Cheeky Elves
  • Insider knowledge from Santa
  • Good quality toy from Father Christmas albeit another soft toy.
  • Thank you cards from Father Christmas

Things that could be improved:

  •  I appreciate they have to get a huge number of people through each day and have to coordinate timings to keep the flow going, but did feel a bit like cattle at times and there was a fair amount of time spent waiting.
  • The skit by the older Elf and Ekko in the beginning could be improved as it seemed to go on for a bit and felt like it was purely to fill time.
  • As my mate said ‘Mother Christmas was a bit cr*p’.  This will secure her a place on the naughty list.
  • Allowing families to take their own photos with Santa, instead of being pressured to buy one of the commercially taken ones on the way out.
  • Like many other people who have commented on trip advisor, it’s expensive.  For the four of us to have gone it would have cost us approx £280 (£70 each) and in the run up to Christmas this is out of reach for most families.  Yes, it is cheap in comparison to the real Lapland, but does shut out a lot of families.
  • Introduction of a reduced family ticket.
  • For that price, a mince pie and glass of mulled wine for parents on arrival would be a nice touch.

However, overall we had a lovely day but probably wouldn’t pay that kind of money ourselves.

Thanks to Lapland UK for the once in a lifetime opportunity.





Zuccotto Panettone and Ricotta Cake

Festive Food Swap

Baking is not my strong point and for anyone who knows me baking with kids stresses me out; flour everywhere, egg shells in the batter and sugar on the floor.


So, when we were asked to take part in Tesco’s Festive Food Swap, which encourages people to try different tastes from around the world, I was secretly pleased the Italian recipe I received, from Giulia Mulè,  was more of an assembly job rather than a full on baking experience, no need to even preheat the oven.

The Festive Food Swap  was also a great opportunity to introduce my daughter about different Christmas Traditions from around the World.  She was intrigued by ‘Befana’, a friendly witch who delivers sweets and toys on the 5th of January instead of Father Christmas.

We were asked to make a Zuccotto Panettone and Ricotto Cake, which is a traditional dessert from Florence, Italy.  It seems that, it’s a good way to use up all of the left over Panettone after the Festive Season.  I have to admit, it felt rather strange cutting up a perfectly good cake to make another one.


We had a lot of fun putting it together and narrowly avoided using the wrong size bowl, no idea why I was thinking in inches, a 16 inch layered Panettone Cake would have been massive.


I’ve had a look on Google and ours seems to look like it should so we were happy.  However, I have to be honest, I’ve never been a lover of dried fruit and don’t tend to eat a lot of chocolate or puddings in general,  so it wasn’t to my liking, but you could definitely taste all the different flavours and can see the a ‘peel’.


I think my daughter was put off by the Marsala wine (Fortified Italian Wine) even though it took Google, a Tesco Employee and myself to find it, she obviously doesn’t take after her mother who would never turn her nose up at wine.

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas!


Thanks to Giulia and Tesco for the opportunity.

Ski Lessons for Kids in the UK

Things to do during the school holidays near St Albans

During October Half-Term we had the opportunity to go to The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, we’ve been skiing there before and we had a sledging party for my daughter’s 6th Birthday a couple of years ago.  As a Canadian I was impressed with the quality of snow, pretty close to the real stuff.

As we live in St Albans, the Snow Centre is normally less than 20 minutes  away by car.  Unfortunately, on this occasion, the main road in was closed due to an ‘incident’.  Luckily,  we were able to find our way around the incident and weren’t too late.  We were actually on time but left us with less time to get kitted up – skis, boots, poles and helmets were included in the lesson.  You can also hire clothing if you don’t have any of your own.

Ski Lessons in Hemel

This made it a bit stressful as I hate being late.  However, the staff were excellent helping us get organised and calmed me down, it took 3 trips to the ‘clothing department’ to get the correct size snow trousers and two to the ‘equipment section’ to get the right size boots, which was not a fault of the Snow Centre and my daughter did wait till she had her boots on to tell us the trousers were too big.  Grrr!

Being half-term it was rather busy but it was all very well organised and flowed, after check-in you were guided to an area to meet your instructor and get ready.  It did look chaotic but it really wasn’t.

Fun for all ages

We had an adults lift pass and a private lesson for our daughter.  My 67-year old mother was visiting from Canada at the time, so we had to decide which one of us got the lift pass.  Coincidently she taught me to ski as a child, my first skis were 110cm and we did toy with the idea of sending her.  However, in the end, as she was only going to be with us for a week and we hadn’t seen her in 15 months, we didn’t think we should risk an injury, so we sent my hubby in the end.

Ski Practice in the UK

It’s like riding a bike…….

The ski hill is split into two sections, those who are proficient can whizz up and down on the left and the group and individual lessons happen on the right.  So hubby went off to the left, while our daughter went off to the right for her lesson and we went upstairs to watch from the viewing platform.  It’s been awhile since my husband has been skiing and he said it didn’t dawn on him till he got to the top of the drag lift that he may not remember how.  Secretly, I was hoping for him to bail so I could get some good photos, sadly he didn’t.

Skiing Lessons for Kids near London

My daughter’s instructor was lovely and patient.  She had our daughter going up the learner slope in minutes, she used great analogies like pizza slices to introduce her to turning and the snow plough.  She did spend a lot of time on her bum but had a brilliant time and as soon as she came off the slope, she asked if we could come again.

How to teach kids to ski

Après Ski

We finished of our visit with a bit of Après Ski in the Lodge Bar, where you are transported to Austria with a great selection of authentic Austrian dishes or a few of your favourites.  The prices were reasonable, great view of the slopes and fantastic atmosphere.

Apres Ski at Hemel Snow Centre

Food at the Lodge, Hemel Snow Centre

I think if anyone is considering a ski holiday or looking for something to do during school holidays, I would definitely recommend a trip to the Hemel Snow Centre.  You can book lift passes and lessons online or follow them on Facebook for deals and news.

Now your chance to win!

Hemel Snow Centre Family Lift Pass

The lovely folks at the Hemel Snow Centre are offering my readers a chance to win A family lift pass, 2 adults and 2 children, any time in the next 12 months.

To enter simply use the Rafflecopter form below.  The full Terms and Conditions are at the bottom of the form, but in short it’s open to UK residents 18 years and older.  The winners would have to be at recreational standard, or the value can be put towards a lesson.  Competition closes on the 1st Dec 2015.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This competition is listed on Loquax, Prize Finder and Competition Hunter.


Short Family Breaks in North Norfolk

‘You either get Norfolk, with its wild roughness and uncultivated oddities, or you don’t. It’s not all soft and lovely. It doesn’t ask to be loved.’  Stephen Fry

Where to stay?

We were invited, along with our dog, to Forest Park Holidays in North Norfolk, near Cromer. It’s only 2.5 hours from London, if you get a clear run. We had the option of camping or staying in one of their holiday homes.  We’re intrepid campers but as it was the end of September and temperatures were likely to drop in the evening and in the mornings we plumped for a caravan.  The holiday homes are very well kitted out; double glazing, flat screen TVs, sleeping for 6, an en-suite, plenty of outdoor seating and sea-views from some parts of the park.

The site itself is rather vast you can walk for about 15 mins without leaving the site.  However, unlike other caravan parks, where you have 100s of static caravans lined up in a field, the site has gentle rolling hills and is surrounded by forest which results in much smaller more naturally attractive clusters of holiday homes.  There’s also an onsite bar/restaurant, games room for the kids, outdoor play equipment  and an indoor heated pool.  The camping facilities also looked impressive.

Things to see and do

We were absolutely blessed with the weather, we had booked into Pensthorpe Natural Park  and Hootz House, which is an indoor play centre that brings the outdoors inside, on Saturday morning, but as the sun was out and we were expecting temperatures in the region of 18 degrees, it would have been criminal not to go to the beach.  The Beach, in Overstrand, was only a 15 minute walk from the Holiday Park.  As the tide was out we decided to walk to the pier in Cromer which was only about a 30 minutes by foot.



Food and Drink

It was the best decision, after grabbing a quick ice-cream we meandered down the pier, luckily we’d thought ahead and had brought a crabbing net with us, but if you find yourself short, you can buy everything for a spot of Crabbing at the RNLI gift shop, including Mackerel,  at the end of the pier.  And to my great delight there was a bar on the pier and if you put your lager in a plastic glass you could go anywhere on the pier with it!  Beer, Sea and Sunshine! Result!




Catch and release!



As we were in Cromer it would have been rude not to have crab sandwiches, before grabbing a quick taxi back to Northrepps, which was less than a fiver and they were more than happy to accommodate our dog.

On Saturday Night we treated ourselves to a meal at the Sister Hotel to the Caravan Site,  Northrepps Cottage Country Hotel, it was less than a 10 minute walk through the woods, but make sure you take a torch, as the return journey after a few Gin and Tonics and possibly some red wine could prove difficult.



Edible Flowers! ‘Mummy they taste a bit off!’


On Sunday, we decided to make a small detour on the way home, to revisit Salthouse where we stayed at Christmas.  The staff at the Holiday Park were incredibly friendly and helpful, when we mentioned we’d be heading west along the coast, they suggested we stop at the newly opened Rocky Bottom Cafe, originally built in the 1800s as a brick kiln, which is situated between Cromer and Sheringham.



If you find yourself in the area, it’s a must, fresh local seafood with a stunning view.  It is owned and operated by husband and wife, Richard and Alison.  Richard has been a local fisherman for 35 years using a traditional double-ended crab boat, he goes out every other day and upon his return he boils the crabs and lobsters and Alison dresses them all.  You don’t get much fresher than that.

That was my third trip to North Norfolk and I have definitely fallen in love with it and will be returning as soon as we can for another family holiday.





Family Camping Checklist:  What should we take?

Just sitting here thinking of a couple of friends who have gone camping for the first time with their kids, the weather couldn’t be worse for them this week.  We’ve text a few times, the gazebo has collapsed in the wind, a tarpaulin has taken flight and they’re currently hiding in the Children’s Play Barn.  Bless them, but their spirits don’t seem to be ‘dampened’.  Hopefully it brightens up for them this afternoon.

Camping in the Uk when it's raining

This year we were incredibly lucky, we went camping for a total of 14 days in a row, taking in 4 camp-sites (Hurley Riverside, Wo Wo, Stubcroft Farm and Eweleaze Farm) and only had two days of rain which is a miracle in the UK.  We normally go to Canada every summer and this is the first time in 7 years we didn’t, the flight prices just got too much, hence the extended camping trip.  Personally, I love camping, I can sit by a fire drinking beer and my daughter gets a chance to be a ‘kid’ running feral with all the other children on the site.

We love Camping!


We are fairly well kitted out for camping and have most things.  Anyone who is in to camping knows it’s all about the gear.  In some ways, mostly financial, it’s a good thing we are limited on space in our car.  I’ve been quite skilled at ‘Car Boot Tetris’ which is similar to ‘Fridge Tetris’ which I play at Christmas.

However, if you’re thinking on embarking on a Family Camping Trip there are a few essential items you should put on your check-list, that will make it more enjoyable.

 10 Things You Need to Take Camping

Corkscrew Bottle Opener – it’s now acceptable to buy wine with a screw top but if you get caught out, it’s not impossible to get one with a cork open without a corkscrew, if you have a tree and a tea towel, but it does make it a lot easier.  You can also get a beer bottle open with a cigarette lighter or if you’re my Auntie she can do it with her teeth, but again, it’s easier with a small bottle opener and costs less at the dentist.

Camping Essential Corkscrew


Can Opener – I really wish I could find my Swiss Army Knife then getting into a tin would be a doddle.  However, if you think a bit ahead and try to buy tins with a ring pull you won’t face this conundrum.  I also try to buy pre-sliced buns etc.

Bungee Cords – I swear the people that manufacture tents and sleeping bags have seriously warped senses of humour.  Stuff sacks!  You are kidding me.  Apparently, we have an over-sized tent bag, if over-sized bag means it just fits without the zipper bursting open then they would be correct.  We carry a couple of spare bungee cords which allows us to cinch the tent a bit tighter so we can get it back in the bag with minimal arguments.  Plus, they are great for make shift clothes lines etc.

Bungee Cords for Camping


Insulated Coffee Mugs – Beer o’clock is a moveable feast when camping but until then it’s coffee for me.  Boiling a kettle on a camp stove can take ages, especially if you watch it, the Insulated Coffee Cups, first reduce the chance of spilling and lets you enjoy the coffee before it’s turns into an Iced Cappuccino.  These ones have a narrower base so they fit in the cups holder in the car.  And when you are all coffeed out you can sneak a beer into it, no one will be the wiser, and it stays cooler longer.

Insulated Coffee Mugs

Rock Pegs – when you first buy a new tent, check out the pegs if they are the thin ones with the hook at the top, throw them straight in the bin, they are completely useless and after a couple of whacks with a mallet (see below) they bend and are rendered completely useless.  This is one of my biggest pet peeves.  Rock pegs can penetrate the hardest and rockiest terrains.  However, they can be a bit tricky to get out but you don’t have to worry about your tent or gazebo taking flight.

Tent Pegs for Hard Ground

Mallet  – we are now the proud owner of three mallets;  a wooden one, rubber one and a plastic one.  When I first opened the plastic one, I really thought it would shatter after trying to hammer in the first rock peg, but I was pleasantly surprised at how strong this Tent Peg Mallet was.  The best bit about it is the other end can be used to pull out the stubborn rock pegs with a bit of persuasion and on occasion levering.

Tent Peg Mallet

Bin Liners – take a whole roll if you can, they are great for dirty laundry, make shift rain ponchos, covering wet chairs, wrapping up wet boots and of course for rubbish/recycling.

Dry Shampoo – Face it!  Showers don’t tend to be brilliant at campsites and on occasion you may have to queue for one.  So, if you miss a day or three, a blast of dry shampoo can fool you into thinking you are slightly less filthy.

Walkie Talkies –  prior to this camping trip we bought a set of Walkie Talkies for our daughter, thinking we could keep one with us and track her down if need be.  However, I found another use for them…. scaring the h*ll out of other kids on the camp-site, you can scan for their frequency, then the fun begins.  No, I did not say things like ‘I’m watching you’.  Hours of fun!

Solar Powered Fairy Lights – there are no real reasons to cover your tent and gazebo in Twinkly Lights but they’re soooooo pretty and if you have a few too many beers, you can always find your way back from the loos in the dark.  Not bad for highlighting evil tripping Guy Wires (or is is Guide Wires?) in the dark.

Camping Fairy Lights

I’m sure there is a few things I have left off the list.  What are your must have camping essentials?