loch-lomond-faerie-trail-free-toddler-activity
baby and toddler activities, Parenting

Loch Lomond Faerie Trail

Loch Lomond Faerie Trail is one of the first in my series of free activities for toddlers. For more information on the series, and why I’m doing it, see this post.

As the title suggests, Loch Lomond Faerie Trail is situated on the bonny banks of Loch Lomond – just outside of Luss, Scotland. It’s a wonderful wee place in its own right, with claims to fame (if you’re old enough to remember TV soap Take the High Road), breathtaking views, and plenty of places to eat and drink. In a past life I worked in the village so have all the tourist info to spout, if you want to know any more!

The Faerie Trail is a relatively new attraction to these parts – it opened in mid-2018. I felt Travis was too young to go then, as he was barely walking at this point. Although the guide advises the trail isn’t a pushchair-friendly walk, there weren’t many parts that seemed a challenge for a buggy – as long as you’re comfortable bumping up a few steps at the beginning of the trail. So if you have babies and toddlers, it could be an ideal way to get fresh air and keep a toddler amused. It’s worth noting that when walking the trail with a pram, you might want an all-terrain pushchair or to avoid it in the winter/wetter days as it’s still very much natural woodland you explore for a chunk of the walk.

The basics

Loch Lomond Faerie Trail cost us just £6 to take part in. I’m assuming this is broken down into £3 for adults as we were told Travis didn’t need to pay. However, this also meant that he didn’t get the accompanying activity book for the trail. This was fine with us, because at only 20 months old, he was still a bit young to pay that much attention or take in any of the activities. Both parents were given the booklets (and pencils!) though, which contains the trail map at the back, directions to each stop on the trail, and a series of activities to take part in as you go. These range from interacting with the stop points to fill-the-blanks, drawing and some information and rhymes about faeries! For us, this was definitely worth the entry fee – as adults we might not have made much of it ourselves but it was a good way to ensure you take in each stop on the trail and get little imaginations going. For a child to make the most of the booklet, I’d probably recommend waiting until they are 3+ (so unfortunately will be subject to paying!)

We also each got wristbands for the trail, and at the purchase point (a food van at the moment as their premises had recently been burnt down, though they are working to get this back up and running) there was the opportunity to buy faerie memorabilia, like a faerie door, faerie dust etc. I’m sure there will be more of a gift shop again once the premises is reopened.

We were advised that the trail was about 2 miles long, which again was the perfect length for us to take Travis without a buggy. He is a confident walker but obviously 2 miles is quite a distance to go on little legs! We were actually surprised at how much of the walk he managed to do himself without wanting to be carried – a testament to the attraction itself.  It took us about an hour and a half to complete, though we didn’t stop too long at each point as we didn’t complete all of the activities within the booklet. To make the most of the day, and with bigger toddlers or older children, I’d say give yourself 2 hours to enjoy the trail.

What to expect

The trail takes you over and under a main road, through a glen and back down again, so be prepared in terms of footwear and travel system (buggy etc). There aren’t any particularly steep points, aside from the steps you climb to go up to the overpass to get started on the trail. However there is a section which takes you down into an old quarry, which is probably the steepest any climbs/declines get, but the main thing to note is there is still a lot of loose slate from the quarry here so be careful with your footing.

Expect a lot of magic and wonder, as the organisers of this trail really have thought of it all! From little faerie doors that act as markers along the way, to incorporating the tooth fairy, fairy godmother etc, you’ll have loads to see and plenty of picture opps. Your child can enjoy posing as a faerie, exploring the faerie library and more. I don’t want to ruin the magic of all of the stops but it’s certainly not a boring trail, and even just from a nature point of view, there’s loads of beautiful scenery from babbling brooks to fresh flowers and views of the lush, green glen. This is of course if you visit on a sunnier day, which can’t be guaranteed!

One thing I would suggest is bringing along some pennies, as there are a lot of pennies at the faerie doors and your little one might want to place their own and make a wish.

Unlikely Mum verdict

I would definitely recommend this activity for toddler mums. It’s not too expensive for adults and it fills up most of your morning or afternoon. In the summer, it’s definitely feasible to do the trail with a pushchair too, so can still be a good activity for kids who can’t yet walk or aren’t yet confident walkers, or for parents who have a toddler and baby. With 20 stops along the way, it’s certainly enough to keep little brains (and adult ones!) engaged without getting distracted, and I have to say the organisers have thought of everything. For me, another main draw is that once you have done the trail once, with your map and guide, you are free to return to the trail any time and do it all again at no cost, as everything is within a public walking space. I know Travis will be just as enchanted if we visit again in 6 months, and maybe even more so as he grows and develops, so we will just need to keep those guide books in a safe place!

Main points:

  • Price – £3 adults, £4 for 3+ and infants/toddlers free*
  • Pushchair friendly – yes, but one stairway at the start of the trail
  • Length – 2 miles walk or about 2 hours to complete with a little legs
  • Additions/extras – includes a map and activity book, there’s a gift shop to buy faerie memorabilia at the end

*Although there’s a charge for adults and older kids, you could revisit the walk again at any point without paying (as long as you remember your map and the route!)

Loch-lomond-faerie-trail-toddler-activities

free-toddler-activities-parenting
baby and toddler activities

Free Toddler Activities and Attractions

As a toddler mum, I’m always looking for new ways to keep my little man entertained. There’s only so many episodes of Hey Duggee or visits to the soft play one can take without contemplating spiking your own coffee – even if the wee fella is quite content to watch and do the same thing over and over again.

New activities are good for all – toddlers get to explore and expand their horizons, learning as they go, and us parents get to save our sanity for one more day. However, many activities come with a price tag, which means they aren’t always possible or accessible. So I’ve tried to explore a variety of different activities in a range of locations, both indoor and outdoor, which at least offer free toddler places, if not free for adults too.

It’s important that our kids get a range of experiences and that we have the opportunity to provide them with fresh ideas, games, things to explore and places to go. I’ve started with some of the places closest to home for me, but I am looking to expand locations as I go. On top of this, I’m looking for a variety of different experiences which stimulate different senses or get different parts of the brain working. So it won’t be a list of physical activities (playparks, outdoor adventure etc) and viewing activities (farms, aquariums etc) but also experiences and learning activities that encourage skills like reading, writing, counting etc.

The idea is that I will add a link below to a post about each activity or attraction. The posts will be a mixture between a review, our experience and what you can expect for free, plus any other information such as additional extras etc.

  1. Ardardan Estate – we visit here quite regularly, and they are currently improving the farm to include more animals and a children’s playpark by 2020. Read the post to see what’s currently on offer there.
  2. Loch Lomond Faerie Trail – Brilliant attraction and walk in a scenic area. Read the post to find out how to make the most of the trail.
  3. Briarlands Farm – this Stirlingshire farm contains more than your regular farm animals, with tractor rides, play areas, mazes, archery and even go-karts!
  4. Lamont Farm – a charity farm project based in Erskine. Dense city-farm which focuses on the welfare of animals and rehoming animals

 

Coming soon:

  • Loch Lomond Sealife Centre
  • Bookbug
  • Oor Wullie Big Bucket Trail
  • Riverside Museum
  • Tall Ship

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handmade-gifts-fathers-day
Uncategorized

Homemade Father’s Day Gifts for Kids

So following on from my homemade Mother’s Day gifts post in March, I thought it only fair that the dads/gradands/papas get the same treatment! I’ve based the gifts on both the kind of ability a toddler can join in on, and on the kind of things I think the men in Travis’ life would appreciate.

handmade-fathers-day-cardHandmade Cards
A handmade card adds a great personal touch, and gives you the chance to make a card that really reflects dad, grandad, step-dad etc, rather than having to trawl through card shops or websites to find the perfect message or funny quip (just me who does that?). All you really need is some A4 card, some pens, crayons and your imagination for the rest. If dad’s into golf, why not add a pom-pom football and make the card 3D? You could get messy and get your toddler to add some handprints, footprints or finger painting – hands can be high-fives, little fishes on a rod, a little monster, whereas a foot can be a trophy, a rocket to the moon, walking in daddy’s footsteps… you get the idea!

homemade-fathers-day-gift-couponFather’s Day coupons
This one is a great fail-safe if you’re unsure what to give your dad, and it’s a great addition or fallback gift that kids can get involved in making. All you need is paper/card of various colours, some markers and colouring pens, and a stapler or some glue to hold the pages together.
Get your toddler involved by asking them the type of thing daddy/papa likes and how you can turn that into a coupon. Plus there are heaps of standard coupons to include, such as breakfast in bed, a cup of tea made, charge of the remote control, undisturbed PlayStation time etc that can be used on Father’s Day and beyond. Let your child choose the colour for each coupon, and draw a picture on each. They can even sign their name (i.e. scribble) like a cheque on the coupon.

handmade-fathers-day-keyringPhoto keyring
Does dad drive a lot for work? Maybe papa has a separate set of shed keys? Either way, their little pride and joy’s face on their keys will be sure to brighten their day. All you need for this is a nice photo of your little one(s) with their dad/grandfather etc – be sure to print 2 copies as the keyring will be double-sided – and either a laminator or a little plastic photo keyring. The latter is probably the easiest, and you can buy them in bulk from a craft store like Hobbycraft, and then Bob’s your uncle! Or Jim’s your grandad…. (sorry)

homemade-fathers-day-gift-shaving-creamHomemade shaving cream
Most men need to shave at some point, if even to trim and tidy their beloved beard. A homemade shaving cream adds an extra special touch, with natural ingredients to ensure a soft, moisturised face that’s perfect for giving a kiss goodnight. Although I’ve not made one for myself yet, I did discover this great recipe on The Garlic Diaries which not only sounds lush, but is apparently also a great shaver/moisturiser for your legs too, so double-win!

homemade-fathers-day-hamper-giftBig night in kit
This is another one that can be personalised to dad’s taste. Maybe it’s a Saturday night in with the family, or maybe dad’s got a night to himself? Either way, all you need is a hamper and some of dad’s favourite things. Ask your toddler to help choose some of dad’s favourite things, whether it be a beer, chocolate, movie etc. Maybe there’s a game you always play together? Or there’s a big sports match coming up? For the latter, you can make a “ticket” to watch it on TV on the specific day, with a coupon for a takeaway too. Maybe dad likes a good bath too – no discriminating here! You can also add in the shaving cream above to the night in kit for another double-win.
Tip: If you have more reliable weather than Scotland, why not switch this for a big day out kit? Add in picnic items and garden games the whole family can join in.

 

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5-essential-baby-products-blog
Lists, Parenting

5 essential baby products I couldn’t live without

There are loads of so-called baby essentials out there, and for first time mums, choosing the right products to help you care for your baby can be daunting. I was definitely in those shoes before Travis was born, and with baby shows, events and brands all offering different things from genuine essentials to new products that position themselves as genius new life-hacks, it was a bit overwhelming to know who to trust and what to buy.

With a bit of hindsight in mind, I’ve made a list of the top 5 baby essentials I don’t think I could have lived without. In my opinion these were the best things to fork out on for my situation, but yours might be different. I’ve not been approached or paid in any way to promote or review any of these products so you can make of that what you will!

Oh, and I’d be grateful if you could let me know of any of the amazing products you couldn’t have lived without as a new mama!

Nappy Bin
The single most useful thing that we were lucky enough to be gifted with before having Travis was an Angelcare nappy bin (other brands are available!). I was sceptical about using disposable nappy bags as my conscience already eats me up enough that we use disposable nappies and they are terrible for the environment, but on the same note I didn’t want a smelly bin all the time. As a new parent, putting the bins out (especially if you live in a flat) can get pushed to the back of your mind as you juggle a new found lack of sleep with trying to care for a tiny human’s every need as well as your own. So this nappy bin which sooks in stinky nappies and takes away the smell, means your home smells poo-free, your baby is clean, and nobody has to take a trip to the bin unless it’s full. Plus less plastics on disposable nappies – yay!

Perfect Prep Machine
The Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep machine is money well spent for any formula feeding mother. It sounds stupid but if you’re not used to getting up multiple times a night, and don’t like keeping a sleeping baby awake longer than necessary (because new rules say you can’t keep formula for more than like an hour or something equally as silly) then this is ideal. Just make sure it’s topped up with water, press a button, add formula, press a button and hey presto, your baby’s feed is ready, with their exact amount and at the right temperature in just two minutes. Word to the wise – Tommee Tippee products (especially this one) can be expensive, but there will usually always be a deal on the Perfect Prep Machine if you shop around for baby events etc. At the time of writing this post, you can grab it for a reasonable price at John Lewis of all places.

A good travel system
I can’t stress the importance of a good travel system for your baby. As we live one floor up with outside stone steps, a pram and buggy with air tyres was essential for us to bounce up and down the steps. As I said, I’m not being paid to write about any products, but for me the Venicci 3 in 1 travel system was ideal for our circumstances. It also came with a cup holder which was an added bonus for all those caffeine induced walks in the park! Travis still fits in his buggy at 18 months (despite being the height and weight of an average 3 year old) and I can’t relate how good it is to be able to pop the car seat onto the frame if you’re nipping out to the shops in a journey which must be done in the car. We ran into a few issues with our back wheel (tyre tube and wheel had to be replaced multiple times) but I think that’s an anomoly as anyone else I’ve spoken to with a Venicci pram system also swears by it!

Sleepyhead
I was fortunate enough to be gifted a Sleepyhead Deluxe by my work colleagues as a mat leave gift, but they can be quite pricey. There are similar brands available, and they basically all do the same thing. There are various health warnings that babies shouldn’t be allowed to sleep in them, that you have to watch them etc, but I honestly found this a lifesaver for naps. Travis could quite easily sleep on the couch inside it while I either napped on the other end of the couch or pottered about tidying the living room or whatever. It was also the perfect size to take in the car when visiting family, because as we know naps are inevitable when they are so young, but you don’t want to be carting around a moses basket or travel cot everywhere in case your child naps! Plus, if you’re having one of those utterly unbearable nights where they wake heaps of times and just want a touch from mum or dad, then the Sleepyhead is ideal for placing on top of the covers on your bed, meaning your baby is snug and close to you, without the worry of a quilt covering their face etc.

 

Sling/baby carrier
As a Scot, I was fortunate enough to receive a Baby Box when Travis was born, which came with a bunch of useful items in, including a baby sling. Now I have to say the different ways to tie this and secure your baby absolutely baffled me, but I did love the sentiment. I had already purchased a baby carrier with money gifted to us for Travis when he was born, and I can honestly say I’d probably still be using it today if 1) Travis wasn’t a giant and 2) it didn’t burn down in our house fire. Travis was quite a colicky baby, which meant he was a lot more comfortable if he was elevated. This was fine to a point, but considering he weighted 8lb 15 when he was born, you could imagine the strain on my arms as he got to 3, 4, and 5 months old. The baby carrier was the ideal solution as it meant he could be upright and close to me, without the strain on my arms or back. It also meant I could perfect skills like going for a wee while he was strapped to me, making life that little bit easier for everyone.

 

Those are my 5 top baby essentials that I definitely could not have lived without, but I’d be keen to hear of anyone else’s – after all, every baby and every situation is different!

5-essential-baby-products-for-new-mums

ardardan-estate-free-things-to-do-with-toddlers
baby and toddler activities

Ardardan Estate

A great free place to take kiddos near me is Ardardan Estate. It’s actually not that far from Glasgow either, so if you’re fancying a trip out to the country, it’s a nice place to stop and appreciate nature with plenty to see and do. The best part is, they are only getting started too – there’s a petting zoo and adventure playground in the pipeline for kids, due to open in 2020.

What can you do at Ardardan Estate?

The Estate is a working farm, so there are loads of sheep, cows and horses to go and look at. As its springtime, we had lots of fun looking at the little lambs and baby Highland cow. When we visited previously, there were also pigs, hens and chicks, but we’ve been advised that they are on their holidays for now, as works are ongoing at Ardardan Estate to bring lots of family fun in 2020. I have to say, all the animals were great and come right up to let you pet them at the fence, if you have a bit of patience to wait on them!

Throughout the Estate land, there are a number of walks, through the fields or through the woodland. The latter is great for kids as there are loads of things to do, like spot the ribbons in the trees, run through the woodland maze, climb trees and spot lots of bugs and birds who call the woodland home.

Tucked away behind the plant nursery and garden shop is a cute little duck racing game too! Travis absolutely loved this, as splashing and rubber ducks rate high on his list of fun things to do. The way it works is that there are four old-fashioned water pumps lined out in a row. Each one has a plastic pipe below it, flowing down and around, like a little ducky water slide. Racers pick their rubber duck from the box, place it on the pipe under the pump, and start working those arm muscles to pump their duck down the slide. And you guessed it – fastest one wins the duck race!

For the grown ups

I briefly mentioned that there’s a plant nursery within the grounds, so you can imagine all the great plants and garden decor you can buy here. From hanging baskets to water features, you can make a spectacular garden display with what’s on offer here.

The shop area doesn’t just sell plants and garden items, there’s also a tasty farm shop too. Packed with fresh produce like eggs, in-season fruits and veg, along with prime cuts of meat, the farm shop also sells fantastic jams, preserves and baked goods.

If food and plants aren’t your thing, there’s also a great gift shop section, packed with cute and unique ideas for things like Father’s Day/Mother’s Day, kid’s birthdays and more. Of course it also caters to the tourists, so expect plenty of postcards, maps and very Scottish themed keepsakes.

Cafe

Although there’s no such thing as a free lunch, I’d definitely recommend spending some cash in the cafe if you’re heading to Ardardan for a day out. Those trail walks can work up an appetite, and they’ve got options to cater to all tastes. Travis especially enjoyed a babyccino (though that doesn’t stop him still eyeing up the chocolate on top of my cappuccino) and I can testify that their homemade soups and cakes – especially the massive scones – are to die for.

 

Ardardan Estate also regularly holds family fun events, such as egg hunts at Easter, family fun events and vintage tractor rallies. Check out their Facebook page before visiting to find out if anything special is on before you visit.