Butlins, Bognor Regis

The last time I went to Butlins I found myself on stage in a red bikini.

It was 1986, I was three years old and won third place in their “picture of health” competition.

Fast-forward 25 years and I was visiting again, this time with my own family, including our nine-month-old son.

We wanted to take Oliver away in his first year, but didn’t fancy the hassle of flying anywhere, so opted for Butlins in Bognor Regis.

The resort is located on a lovely Blue-flag beach in west Sussex, with the South Downs National Park right on its doorstep. It’s a shame it was freezing when we went though!

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On arrival, we made our way to the main pavilion, where we were greeted by the Redcoats team and handed our activity schedule booklet.

Each one is printed ready for arrivals each week. With pages and pages of information and events, it was clear there was going to be so much to do.

Each section is broken down into age groups, so for us it was a case at looking to see what was available for the under-fives and planning our week.

There was something for all the family to do, every hour of every day, and the absolute best part is that it is all included in what you have already paid.

So whether you want to try beach football, visit the outdoor fairground, play for hours in the indoor play zone, join the messy play activity session, watch a show, go to dance class or meet live animals, you can see at a glance what to do when.

There are even Club Red events for the older children to go on without their parents, where they can make new friends and take part in events such as archery and jewellery making, as well as learning magic and walking the high ropes at the circus.

Having visited other, more expensive, well-known holiday parks in the past, I was surprised at just how many activities were included in the price.

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Even though Oliver is so young, there was even a lot for him to do, including storytime and the daily puppet show.

We also made full use of the babies’ playing area. Complete with a ball pool, soft play, mirrors and slides, it was the perfect colourful place for him to explore and was strictly for under-ones, making it safe for him to crawl about.

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The only time we put our hands in our pockets was when we wanted to buy drinks in the evening or treats.

We also went swimming in Splash World every day. There, you can fly down the flumes, dance in the rain showers or simply float in the waves.

All the activities are designed to help you spend time as a family and it’s obvious a lot of money has been spent – and continues to be spent – on the resort to improve the facilities.

Although the majority is included, there are paid-for activities, including character photoshoots and lunches, bike hire, cinema and ten-pin bowling.

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At Bognor Regis, there are several types of accommodation available on site.

The cheapest are the apartments, which have an open-plan kitchen, diner and lounge and prices vary depending on whether you opt for standard, silver or gold.

We stayed in the Shoreline Hotel, which is designed for families with young children.

We had a Columbus Quarters room, which was the perfect family room, with its own “children’s den” away from the main sleeping area, complete with bunk beds and its own TV.

The main bedroom, with its king-size bed opened out on to a lovely patio area with acres of green space.

We added the dining plan to our room package, which meant we could have our breakfast and evening meal in the main hotel every day. It was worth doing because, although we grabbed a sandwich while out and about during the day, it was nice to start and end the day with a decent meal.

I was quite impressed with the level of food and service in the hotel’s restaurant. Although it was a self-service set-up, we were always greeted and seated, with drinks brought to our table.

Chefs were on hand to let us know what was on offer and the food was of decent quality.

There is also the Wave Hotel and Apartments, a newer hotel, which is perfect for older children, and the Ocean Hotel, which promises the premium hotel experience.

Overall, I can’t praise the resort enough. If you are looking for a brilliant family holiday in a top-class park, with everything you need on tap and all at an affordable price, you won’t find better than Butlins Bognor Regis.

  • Reviewed September 2011

 

NEED TO KNOW…

LOCATION: Upper Bognor Rd, Bognor Regis, West Sussex PO21 1JJ

CALL: 0845 0704757

VISIT: www.butlins.com

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Boat trips with Pennine Cruisers, Skipton

I had no idea driving a boat would be so much fun. For my Dad’s birthday I surprised him with a trip to Skipton, to drive a narrowboat for the day, hired from Pennine Cruisers.FotorCreated2

We’ve never done anything like it before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I can highly recommend it if you are looking for a fun day out with a difference.

Pennine Cruisers is a family-run company based in North Yorkshire, on the picturesque Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

There isn’t a ripple of the water the family don’t know and they provide everything you need, whether you are an absolute beginner, like us, or an experienced boater.

On arrival, we were given an expert boat-handling instruction on the simple controls on one of their six day boats, so we could head out for the day with total confidence.

The kids loved putting on their life jackets and climbing onboard. My kids are only young too – my four year old was just desperate to help and my 16 month old just loved exploring.

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I’d say it’s a trip where the more is the merrier, because it’s not actually as easy as it looks.

Driving the boat is one thing, but when you’ve got bridges to open before you can pass through it’s literally all hands on deck.

Ideally you need a driver, someone to jump off and operate the bridges and then a third person to jump off and tie the boat up once you’ve passed through the bridge while you wait for the person operating the bridge.

First up for us was a swing bridge – we had been warned if we took too long we would cut off an entire village, so speed was key.

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Oliver loved helping to steer

My mum was the designated bridge operator in our party and she did a fine job while we sailed through – waving at the traffic we were holding up.

If you are as inexperienced as us, you are bound to get it wrong, but near-misses brought us the amusement.

They say canal life is addictive and I can see why. We had the boat for a full day, but next time we might book a short break because the company also does weekend and midweek boat hire.

Pennine Cruisers has five luxury boats in its fleet for the season and all are available for short breaks, weekly and fortnightly hire.

A holiday onboard one of Pennine Cruisers’ narrow boats includes a top-class and specially built boat with full headroom throughout.

All boats have fully equipped kitchen areas with a full-size cooker, grill, hob, fridge, sink and drainer, storage cupboards, crockery, cutlery and cooking utensils.

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All boats have one or two flushing toilets and showers over 4ft baths.

Plus, they all have full central heating and three of them also have traditional solid-fuel stoves.

Full lockside instruction is given to all holiday boaters to ensure hirers are confident in the operation of locks and know how to operate them safely so they can enjoy all aspects of their holiday.

A typical weekend break would take you from the base in Skipton either eastward to Saltaire or westwards to Foulridge and back again.

A week’s hire could take you eastward through Bingley Five Rise Locks to Leeds, or westward through the lovely villages of Gargrave and Bank Newton, through the Foulridge tunnel at the highest section of the canal, and then down into Lancashire towards Wigan.

I loved the fact you are never more than a few yards from dry land, and at lunchtime you can simply moor up and stroll down to the local pub.

The children absolutely loved it, one minute they were helping to drive, the next they were at the front of the boat feeding the ducks, and they also enjoyed being inside in the warmth.

Pets are also welcome on board, too.

If you do decide to make more of a holiday of it, there are many attractions in and around Skipton, including Bolton Abbey Estate, Craven Museum, Embsay Steam Railway and Skipton Castle.

While cruising in the Dales you could also just do some walking, exploring the hills and valleys, taking in the fresh air and beauty.

You can definitely feel yourself unwinding as life takes on a different pace and aspect away from the busy roads in the distance.

The earlier you book the better, to ensure you get the dates you want.

  • Reviewed August 2014

 

NEED TO KNOW…

LOCATION: 19 Coach St, Skipton, BD23 1LH

OPEN: All year round. Day boat hire is from 9.15am until 4.30pm

PRICES: £4 per passenger for 30-minute public boat trip.

DAY HIRE: Summer trips for ten people:  £155 on weekdays and £190 on weekends. Summer trips for four people: £110 on weekdays and £120 on weekends.

Winter trips are cheaper.

VISIT: www.penninecruisers.comWinter boat day hire from £95. Peak-season boat hire from £110 for four people or from £155 for boats for up to ten people.

CALL: 01756 795478.

Rushmoor Country Park, Louth

THEY SAY: A small and friendly country style farm park. Set in six acres of Lincolnshire countryside.

WE SAY: Small, but good if you like to get hands-on with the animals.

If you want a hands-on experience, Rushmoor Country Park is the place to visit.

Our on recent day out there – the first time we’ve ever been – my children held everything from owls and rabbits to rats and hamsters.

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The family-run business has been open since 2001 and are keen for children to meet the animals.

We were particuarly impressed with the hawk and owl display. Joel, the hawk trainer was very passionate about his role and took the time to explain everything you would want to know, before flying different birds and then letting the children hold a little owl.
The daily displays and handling are included in the entry price and was the highlight of our visit.

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TIP: If you arrive before 11am the price is reduced to £5.75 per person.

The country park is quite small – it’s perhaps not big enough for a full day out. We spent a few hours there might have stayed longer if it was warmer.
There’s a lovely cafe with a full menu and mouth-watering cakes on display. Apart from that it’s all outdoors so not somewhere to go if it’s raining.

Directly outside there’s a large field with a bouncy castle which is adjacent to another field with swings and a slide. It’s a shame there’s not more to play on here though.
There’s plenty of picnic tables if you want to take your own food and also a large garden where you can walk around the pond.

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The main animal farm area makes up the main part of the attraction. Here you can bottle feed the lambs in Spring and feed the goats. There’s also horses, pigs and sheep.

Children can also enjoy a pony ride. However be sure to check the times on the noticeboard on arrival because they only ran once on the day we visited and so we missed them.

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There’s also an indoor hut with smaller animals in which is where my children held the rats and rabbits. It was the first time my children have ever held rats and closer than I’d want to be to them. But my son loved having it on his knee and let it hide in his jacket and even my two-year-old daughter was laughing out loud as it crawled across her knee.

Being fairly small it’s perhaps not somewhere we would rush back to, but if you’ve not been before it’s nice for a change. Parking is free.

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  • Reviewed April 2016

 

NEED TO KNOW…

LOCATION: Louth Road, North Cockerington, Louth, Lincolnshire LN11 7DY.
OPEN: Open every day through school holidays from 10am to 5pm. Oppen Tuesday to Sunday during term time. Closed on Mondays during term time.
PRICES: @ £6.75 per person. Children aged two and under enter free.
CALL: 01507 327184
VISIT: www.rushmoorpark.co.uk

 

 

Rockliffe Hall, Darlington #metime

IT WAS the luxurious award-winning spa that first tempted me to visit Rockliffe Hall.

Yet since returning from an outstanding weekend at the country retreat, it’s actually the culinary journey we experienced that I’ve talked non-stop about.

As truly delightful as the spa was at the five-star golf and spa hotel in County Durham, it was the stand-out exquisite food in the Orangery Restaurant that blew us away.

The food

The 3AA rosette restaurant in the 18th-century Old Hall of the hotel is the flagship restaurant of three at the hotel.

The restaurant is described as informal luxury – it’s fine dining, but it wasn’t too stuffy.

All the while, a pianist played in the background and it was some three hours later before we retired to the cocktail bar.

For me, it was the highlight of the trip, followed closely by the spa experience, which was the perfect environment to relax.

 

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The Spa

Here you will find a 20m pool surrounded by comfortable seating, heat rooms, a beautiful hydro pool and an outdoor hot tub.

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View from my lounger

I indulged in one of the newest treatments – a neom wellbeing treatment, which includes meditation, Shiatsu, Thai massage and reflexology.

For 60 minutes, I was able to drift away while the therapist worked her magic with a candle oil that was drizzled over my body.

The icing on the cake though was our two-hour session in the Spa Garden, which was just something else.

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Indoors, there are heated relaxation loungers, a glass-fronted sauna, and fire pit with seating looking out over the two hot pools outside, including an infinity edge pool and a warm Jacuzzi.

Despite it being January, I found myself swimming outdoors in the steaming hot pool, overlooking the rolling countryside.

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Anywhere where you can enjoy a Mojito with lunch in your robe gets my vote.

 

The Hotel

Set in 375 acres of grounds, the hotel is one of a kind – it really is luxury at its best.

It was a country retreat we didn’t need to leave all weekend.

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The Room

We stayed in a room in the new hall, complete with mood lighting, a walk-in monsoon shower and a separate bath with its own TV. The room was very spacious, modern, luxurious and spotlessly clean.

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We had a balcony overlooking the grounds and golf course.

However, the sumptuous bed stole the show – it was absolute heaven.

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Without a doubt, this hotel is deserving of its five stars.

You can also get married at the hotel. One can only imagine how amazing a wedding at Rockliffe Hall would be.

We left after our stay feeling wonderfully relaxed and revived.

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The perfect breakfast, and view

I feel lucky to have discovered this wonderful retreat which has now firmly made it onto my wish list of places to revisit.

 

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Redworth Hall Hotel, County Durham

 

As we drove up the sweeping drive towards Redworth Hall Hotel, I wondered whether we had made a mistake bringing the kids.

Picture the scene. A beautiful hotel, and me and my sister with four kids in tow. The website said it was family- friendly – but they all say that.  I was worried we might not fit in among other guests seeking a quiet, luxury break away.

I’m not saying our children aren’t well behaved, but I’d much rather my two- year-old threw a strop in a budget chain hotel surrounded by other stressed-out parents who understand, than in a luxury one with guests who may not be quite so forgiving.

Praying they would behave as we stepped into the amazing reception hall , I need not have worried, thanks to the lovely staff who welcomed the children with open arms. They were given a treasure hunt sheet and encouraged to explore the hotel to look for clues so for them the hotel was already a winner!

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We soon found the Great Hall, with its original Jacobean features and open fireplace, and got lost several times making our way through the building.

The hotel is secluded and tranquil, yet just minutes from the A1.

We reached our luxury room by climbing a grand, sweeping wooden staircase rising up from the Baronial Lounge.

The room was impressive with comfortable beds, sofas, and a roomy bathroom and the kids thought it was amazing.

The 1744 Restaurant serves exquisite dishes in fine surroundings and we enjoyed three courses for £25.

And the 14m hotel pool, designed in the style of Roman baths, is impressive, but the whirlpool bath, steam room, sauna and gym would have to wait until we revisit without children.

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But the icing on the cake for the kids was the soft play area. Behind a closed door lay a world of tubes and slides that didn’t infringe on the hotel at all. Directly outside is the cafe area which overlooks the pool. We visited after our evening meal (to tire the kids out before bed) so we took our wine with us and enjoyed a drink whilst they played. Our kids were the only ones in there so it was heaven for them, and not so bad for us too!

Somehow, the hotel is perfect for families, but also the ideal place for couples to seek some rest and relaxation.

  • Reviewed November 2015

 

NEED TO KNOW…

LOCATION: Redworth Hall Hotel and Country Club,  Surtees Rd, Newton Aycliffe, DL5 6NT.

CALL: 0800 808 9596.

VISIT: www.thehotelcollection.co.uk

White Post Farm, Farnsfield

THEY SAY:  One of the East Midlands most popular tourist attractions.

WE SAY: Full day out, plenty to do both indoors and outside.

COME rain or shine, White Post Farm is open 362 days of the year.

While there’s plenty to do outside if you visit on a warm day, you need not worry too much about the weather, because there’s plenty to do indoors, too.

It rained non-stop when we visited in February half term – but we still had a brilliant full day out.

The farm is one of the East Midlands’ most popular attractions and it’s easy to see why.

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As well as the farm, there’s mini golf, adventure playgrounds, sand play areas, tea rooms and a walk-in aviary.

Indoors, there’s soft play, the UKs largest sledge run and even a pantomime.

As soon as we arrived, Oliver, Jasmine and Bella ran straight for the tractors to pretend to drive the massive machines.

Next was the outdoor play area, where we had fun on the ride-on tractors, go-karts and trampolines.

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When we visited, part of the outdoor play area was under construction and a new adventure fort was being built. However, there was still plenty to go on.

Don’t forget your wellies before taking a stroll around the animal paddocks, where you can feed the goats, reindeer, sheep, cows and llamas, to name a few.

The kids will love using the pulley to send goats some food on goat mountain.

Inside the show barn was our favourite place. It is where the panto takes place and also where the soft play and sledge run is.

There’s plenty of seating for adults to watch because, once the kids get a sledge, it’s almost impossible to pull them away!

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Under the same roof, next door there’s also a smaller sledge run for younger children and a lovely play area for under-fives, with summer houses and plenty of toys.

Here, you can get your face painted and also take part in crafting.

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One of the highlights of the day had to be feeding the lambs with milk from a bottle in the indoor barn. No matter how many times we do it, the kids love it.

 

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In summer you can see sheep racing and the farm show is also popular. Goat Agility shows off the terrific talents of some of the young nanny goats as they jump, dodge and balance their way around the course.

Parking is free, there are indoor and outdoor picnic areas, smoking isn’t permitted and dogs aren’t allowed.

We can’t wait to return in summer to spend more time outside – this place is now on our favourites list.

 

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  • Reviewed February 2016

 

NEED TO KNOW…

LOCATION: Mansfield Road, Farnsfield, Nottinghamshire, NG22 8HL.

OPEN: 10am to 5pm.

PRICES: If booked online: Adults £7.75, children £7.60 Under-twos go free.

CALL: 01623 882977

VISIT: www.whitepostfarm.co.uk

Sundown Adventureland, Retford

THEY SAY: Adventure park for the under-10s with soft play and rides, Angry Birds activity area plus a cafe.

WE SAY:  A great full day out for younger children. Both indoor and outdoor fun with several themed areas to make it feel like several days out in one.

 

Sundown Adventureland gets better every time we visit.

Since our last visit there’s a brand new Angry Birds activity play area which was a massive hit with my two children and my friends two. Also in this new area is a flying pigs ride and teacups.

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Genius swing in the Angry Birds play area

 

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Angry Birds play area

Unlike most theme parks, Sundown Adventureland only has half a dozen- or so – rides – the rest of it is made up with play areas and places to explore on foot. What I love about it is the fact children are encouraged to enter and explore for themselves and see and hear different things – it’s not just about going on rides.

Rides include the tractor ride where you’re taken around the animated farm. There’s two steering wheels and room for an adult in the back so if you’ve got two children that’s one less argument to have!

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There’s also the Rocky Mountain Railroad which is a fairly gentle train ride and the Robin Hood Ride. Not to be missed is the Jolly Pirate Boat ride, but be warned, you most likely will get wet!

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The rest of the park is split into different areas which makes it feel like several days out in one. You can’t miss the massive Fort Apache which has also had a facelift since our last visit. Kids and adults can run around the top of the fort, or, inside is slides, swings, play frames and a zip wire.

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I love Shotgun City – this is the main western street where you can really feel the wild-west atmosphere. Climb on horses or explore in the saloons. You can’t miss it as it’s the main entrance to the park.

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But its Toy Town that is my favourite. Here, kids can go inside a fire station and drive a fire engine, clean teeth at the dentists and visit the butchers, post office and opticians. Grown-ups can squeeze in if they bob down, but the kids love it because it’s all built to their size. There are themed activities in each building and children can even go upstairs and enjoy peering out the windows across the little town.

Storybook Village is similar and also another of our favourites. Here you can go inside the Three Little Pigs’ brick house, or visit Little Red Riding Hood in hers, or Hansel and Gretel’s – being able to play and explore in each one.

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Storybook Village

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My children also enjoyed the Sundown Farm – full of plastic animals and interactive games to learn and discover them.

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We also spent a lot of time in the under fives play area where kids can climb aboard Noah’s Ark or enjoy the monkey swings.

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INFO: There’s several outdoor picnic benches to enjoy your lunch at and also a large picnic shelter to eat under.

If you fancy a sing-along, visit monkey Mischief, where you will find the stuffed animals come to life behind the glass in the jungle singing well-known songs.

And no visit to Sundown is complete without a visit to Lollipoppet Castle. It’s so big, you can’t miss it. Inside my children found a giant microphone and disco lights and stayed for ages dancing on stage.

There’s also two big outdoor sand areas with activity centres to climb on so you can feel like you’re at the beach.

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The heavens opened about 45 minutes before we left but it wasn’t a problem because there’s two indoor play areas. Crash Landings is massive and the Rodeo Corral indoor play centre is smaller but both have a cafe.

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Crash Landings

There’s also Honey’s Pumpkin cafe which has a nice play area at the back. It’s not soft play, but has plastic play houses and ride-ons which is better for younger ones.

There’s so much to do, you’ll definitely need a full day there.

 

  • Reviewed April 2016

 

SUNDOWN at Christmas

T hanks to a variety of days out, my children were lucky enough to see Santa seven times across the festive period.

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It may seem a little like overkill – but it seems the big man pops up everywhere you go in December these days – and it’s nice to enjoy it while they are still young enough to appreciate the magic.

But there was only one place we went to where the journey to the actual grotto was via a sleigh ride.

After jumping onboard the big red sleigh, we were taken through a magical enchanted forest, which the kids absolutely loved, and dropped off at Santa’s door.

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Santa was at Sundown Adventure Land, the theme park designed exclusively for the under-tens every day from November 15 until Christmas Eve.

It’s likely to be the same next year and I’d definitely recommend keeping it in mind for next Christmas.

Each Christmas Spectacular ticket included a pre-booked Santa visit and gave full access to the park and all its rides and attractions.

We played all day and then, as the evening drew in, the market square came alive with hundreds of twinkling lights and decorations.

The shops were full of goodies and chestnuts were roasting in the outdoor markets. It genuinely was magical.

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We only intended staying until late afternoon but, after discovering the indoor kids’ entertainer, we didn’t leave until it closed at 7pm.

 

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Indoor children’s entertaiment

We’ve now visited in both summer and at Christmas and I’d say it’s a fab place to go, whatever the weather.

 

NEED TO KNOW…

LOCATION: Treswell Road, Rampton, near Retford, Nottinghamshire, DN22 0HX.

TIMES: Mostly open 10am to 5pm but times do vary, so check the website before you travel.

PRICES: Adults and children: £14. Under-twos: free.

Free parking.

CALL: 01777 248274.

VISIT: www.sundownadventureland.co.uk