A magical (and affordable) day out at Priory Farm

There are only a few days left of the summer holidays, and I’ve noticed that all the days out and extra childcare that summer entails are taking their toll on my wallet. When I had a chance to take my older son out last week, I was keen to find somewhere with free or very cheap admission.

We ended up at Priory Farm near Redhill, Surrey. If the weather is nice and your budget is tight, you can’t really beat this place for a day out in the Southeast.

We went on a weekday and arrived about 10am. At this time we had no trouble finding an excellent parking space, but there were absolutely loads available.

Just next to the car park is this huge pirate ship where the kids can play.

Pirate ship playground at Priory FarmThere is a coffee kiosk in the area and picnic benches so that parents can watch their kids play from a civilised distance whilst imbibing caffeine and/or cake. It also sells ice cream, in case you need to bribe your kids to leave the pirate ship.

My 4 year old had no trouble safely climbing around the ship on his own. A toddler would need closer supervision.

Right next to this play area is the entrance to the main attraction – the Discovery Walk. The Discovery Walk showcases the natural beauty of this property, set as it is with views over the Downs. But it offers more than just trees and flowers. Throughout the trail there are many things to climb, tunnels to explore and secrets to discover.

Before you start

The admission price is a very reasonable £2.50pp, which includes a treasure hunt for the kids. The standard treasure hunt features nature facts, but there are also themed hunts throughout the year. The one we did was all about the Olympics. Each stop on the hunt had a trivia question to answer (with some pretty obvious clues to help younger ones figure it out), along with a hint about how to find the next question. The price included a prize at the end, which was a small bag of sweets and a plastic gold medal like the ones you get at sport days. In my opinion, this place is very good value for money.

For an extra £1, you can get a bag of fish food, which I highly recommend, for reasons I’ll explain later.

I should also mention that the trail is relatively buggy-friendly (although I wouldn’t attempt it as the lone adult – better to have at least one friend to join you if you’re pushing a buggy as well as chasing after a child).

Highlights of the Discovery Walk

The first stop on the trail is this pretty little garden.

Wendy's garden at Priory Farm

After you leave the little garden, you turn the corner, and the next thing you see is a beautiful field of wildflowers. You walk past that to discover a teepee with a drum inside. Plan to spend a rather long time listening to your children banging the drum.

When you’ve managed to tear the kids away from the drum, you will encounter one of the absolute highlights of the park: a maze made of sunflowers instead of hedges. I’m a complete sucker for mazes of any type, but this one takes the biscuit. In this maze, on this day, I took probably one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken.

Sunflower
I totally put this on Instagram.

The maze has fun little hints to help you through, and spinners to help you choose your direction. My son loved this and felt a sense of achievement when we found our way out. It isn’t so big that you will be lost for an onerous amount of time.

After you leave the sunflower maze, there is a gentle hill to climb. This is the first time you’ll encounter one of these little balance beams.

Balance beam at Priory Farm

There are lots of little things like this to climb throughout the trail. They are great because it means you never have a long walk without encountering something that keeps the kids interested.

At the top of the hill, you will enter a little wood, in which the trees are labelled with their names (very educational), and there are many secrets to discover. They’ve built lots of little houses made of sticks, which may or may not be inhabited by faeries. I won’t ruin it by telling you all the details, but here is an example of one of the least elaborate ones. Faery house at Priory FarmThe trail through the woods leads you to an abandoned quarry, which contains some more surprises, and then you are invited to climb out of the quarry using a wooden climbing wall. There is a trail round if you can’t or don’t want to climb. I went ahead and climbed straight up, no doubt looking super mature and dignified as I did.

At the top of the hill, there are further things to climb, ways to make loud noises, secret tunnels to navigate, circles of standing stones, and more. Word to the wise: the tunnels might be very muddy on the bottom, even if the weather has been dry. My son could walk at full height through them but I had to maintain an awkward crouch in order to avoid getting filthy. Ouch, my aching middle-aged back! In retrospect, my son probably could have managed in there on his own, but just be prepared for possible crouching or extremely muddy knees if you need to retrieve your children from the tunnel.

Another real highlight for me was the Labyrinth. This bit is not buggy-friendly, or suitable for anyone who can’t balance or climb things. But it is totally worth it. Legend says that a dragon resides within.

The Labyrinth releases you into a beautiful fruit orchard. Look at the size of those plums!PlumsYou then make your way down a gentle slope to the fish pond. Here is where your fish food purchase comes into its own. The pond is well-stocked with fish and they are the greediest creatures you’ve ever seen. There are also lots of greedy ducks. The fish climb on top of each other, and the ducks climb on top of the fish as they all compete for a bit of your fish food. This is truly a spectacle to thrill kids and adults alike. I took some pictures but they just don’t do it justice – you need to see for yourself.

There are a few more surprises on the short walk after the fish pond, before you come to the exit of the Discovery Walk. It took us just over an hour, despite one of us having little legs. My son was having so much fun that he didn’t once complain about his little legs being tired (a complaint that happens for much shorter distances when he’s bored).

If you have more time…

There are loads of other things to do on this property that we didn’t have time for on this day. You can race rubber ducks down a little waterway. You can visit the garden centre and eat lunch at the cafe there, which has a large playground attached to it. And you could pop across the road to check out the Farm Shop.

The verdict

The fun we had at this attraction easily rivals that we’ve had at farm parks which charge four times more for entry. It is a unique place which has clearly had a huge amount of effort and love put into it. The result is a truly magical day out, with new things to discover around every corner.

Cuddle Fairy

On poetry, friendship, memory and loss

A review of Landslide, a collection of poems by Andrew Jarvis

When I announced on my personal Facebook page that I was starting a blog, my most immediately supportive friend was Andrew Jarvis. He was one of a close-knit group of friends I had in high school, from whom I’ve been parted geographically but never in terms of my affection for them. When we were kids, Andy (a nickname he used then but no longer) and I bonded through a love of music, dancing, silliness and not giving a damn what anybody thought of us. To me, Andy was honest and free and ready to barrel headlong into life.

Recently, I saw him again for the first time in 15 years. I have to admit I barely recognised the boy who’d been such a big part of my life. I saw this calm, careful, articulate man named Andrew. He was all grown up and a published poet.

Andrew Jarvis with The Mum Reviews
A picture of me and Andrew when we saw each other recently, for the first time in 15 years.

When he asked me to review his new book on my new blog, I was very flattered. But I have to say I feel a bit overwhelmed with the responsibility. Despite having a PhD in English, I don’t see myself as much of a poetry critic. So I’m approaching this review as a normal person who might want to read a bit of poetry. Thus forward, in my review I will call the poet Jarvis, as if we never drove together to the bowling alley singing Michael Jackson songs at the top of our lungs.

Poetry is perhaps not as popular in modern times as it once was. Friends recommend books and movies to each other, but rarely say, ‘hey, I read this great poem the other day’. Which is a shame actually, because a good poem carefully constructed can say as much in one page as an entire novel. Don’t think you have the time and energy to read much? You have time to spend 2 minutes reading a poem. Jarvis’s latest book, Landslide, is a good place to start. It is full of these perfect micro-stories that whisk you away to another world, draw you in and then spit you out with a changed perspective.Landslide by Andrew Jarvis book cover

I feel like, knowing the author, I should have an insight into his poems and what they’re all about. But I don’t. In any case it doesn’t matter – my English degree whispers to me that the author is dead. So these are the themes that I see in this collection:

  • The brutality of nature and the brutality of man upon the natural world.
  • The inevitable decay of all earthly things, including those things that we love the most.
  • The way in which we love to erase the old with the new, but that memories are not so easily consigned to oblivion.

It sounds a little depressing, but actually it is uplifting . There is beauty in the recognition that these things come to pass and yet we all carry on. But most of all, the beauty is in the words themselves, conjuring images that carry you away from your sofa to a place where “sea lions adore / the abandoned, the thawed / freezers of heads and tails / as if they found Eden”.

Jarvis’s turn of phrase is so evocative and succinct, it’s like encountering each single drop of dew on a spider’s web as captured in a photographer’s lens. Here are a few excerpts from my favourite poems in this collection.

From “The Boxes”

She refilled the candy
when the grandchildren came,
peppermint mints and kisses
made of milk chocolate.

And we always found it,
in her special hiding place,
just below the pictures
and her little children things.

From “Rail Man”

The ballast, anchor, and roadbed,
the torn unfastened fastenings,
they severed his whole to his parts.

From “Old Growth”

Grandfather grew forests for us,
pierced the clouds and summoned their falls,
feeding the roots of his children.

From “Memory Bird”

And like an architect drafting the air,
she wants to remodel her memories,
piece together the wings, and fly back home.

Landslide is available to pre-order from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. If you are truly awesome, you could also try ordering it from your local bookshop, old-school style, for my old school friend.

If a child falls in the forest, does anyone hear him scream?

A visit to Peter Rabbit’s Post Box in Limpsfield Chart.

Yes, they definitely do, as I learned today.

Recently I met up with a friend with the intention of taking our children on a fully wholesome and healthy adventure. And of course it was, but boy am I rubbish at being even vaguely outdoorsy.

We were headed to a unique attraction in Limpsfield Chart, near the KentHedgehog Hall/Surrey border. I’d heard about it around town from other mums – a number of Beatrix Potter inspired dens in the forest. It sounded magical. And before I go any further, it really was. There were perfect little diminutive animal houses, including Fox Villa, Badger Barracks, Hedgehog Hall and, best of all, Peter Rabbit’s Post Office.

But damn was it hard work with a 4-year-old and a toddler. So here are a few tips, gleaned from painful experience, to make your visit easier.

Tip 1: Don’t get lost

First of all, I got lost finding it. It’s not super easy to find. I’d duly looked up a postcode before I left the house and then failed to bring it with me. I tried to look it up on my phone but I had no signal. So plan to go to Ridlands Grove Car Park in RH8 0SS. Write that down on a good old-fashioned piece of paper and remember to bring it with you! If you don’t have a sat nav, I suggest having a nice long look at Google Maps before you go, maybe make yourself a nice little sketch.

Tip 2: Owls live in trees

Near the car park, there is a sign that says “Owl’s House” with a sort of diagonal pointing arrow. We thought the arrow was trying to tell us which path to take through the forest, as there were no other instructions there. We later realised that we were supposed to look directly up into a tree, in the direction of the arrow, to see Owl’s House. Duh! This is where sleep deprivation gets you.

Our kids all ran in the opposite direction to the arrow anyway, just for kicks and giggles.

Exploring is great, but if your kids have little legs and are easily tired, or you’re hoping to get to the local off-licence before it closes, take the path that goes off to your right as you’re walking towards the woods from the car park. It will get you to the good stuff a lot sooner.

Tip 3: All-terrain buggies… 

…absolutely, positively cannot roll over fallen tree branches in any way whatsoever. Do not attempt it. If you have a buggy, stay on the path or bring a saw, because you will certainly get stuck. A non-all-terrain buggy has no chance.

Tip 4: Clumsiness

I’m the sort of person who bumps my hip on the corner of the kitchen worktop pretty much every time I walk past it, and my 4-year-old takes after me. Eldest tends to trip over his own two feet or fall off of nothing at least once a day. He SCREAMED when he couldn’t keep up with the other children. He SCREAMED because in trying to catch up he tripped and fell on his face. And then he would try to climb on some pile of tree branches, which more than once resulted in him SCREAMING while suspended upside down by his feet with his head stuck between two sticks. I’m not entirely sure how to avoid this problem or prepare for coping with it. Maybe some earplugs.

Tip 5: Don’t believe everything you hear

Peter Rabbit's Postbox
The postbox is much smaller than a welly boot

Now I was sure I’d heard that if you put a letter in Peter Rabbit’s Post Box, you’ll get a note back. So we spent some time writing one, but when we got there, we found that the postbox was so small only a note written on a single square of toilet roll would have made it through. I let Eldest cram the note partially in until he lost interest, then hid his letter in the buggy.

Tip 6: SNACKS

I know you probably wouldn’t leave the house without snacks anyway, but I just had to mention it. At one point my son just sat down in despair and the half-squashed Nutri-Grain bar I handed him truly saved the day.

But all this said, it really is a fantastic free day out. My friend and I went home with the knowledge that the children had exercised, that they’d learned about nature, and that it was nearly wine o’clock.