Tag Archives: National Trust

Hunting for Gruffalos

The summer holidays have started in earnest, dear Reader.  A constant stream of questions over breakfast of who, what, why and when, leaving me utterly exhausted before I’ve even had my first coffee of the day!  With a day spent with the builders not being high on the list of summer holiday fun for Poppy and Primrose, I thought it might be time to pull something out of the entertainment bag sharpish before my little crew resorted to mutiny.

“Gruffalos”, I said through mouthfuls of toast one morning.  I mean, who could pass up the chance to hunt for that illusive of creatures, the Gruffalo, dear Reader?  “There’s no such a thing as a Gruffalo”, came the reply.  No such thing as a Gruffalo?  If you’ve read Julia Donaldson’s infamous story, you’ll be sure to know where this is going…..  With a somewhat sceptical Poppy and Primrose bundled into the car, we set off to see if we could track one down.  Anything to beat the cabin fever of a few rainy summer holiday days.  As it turns out, we didn’t have to venture far, since hunting for Gruffalos is the very thing to do at the National Trust’s Mottisfont this summer.

Following a trail right past Mottisfont’s front door, we were undeterred in our search.  Would we spy a Gruffalo in the wood….?

No sign there but we see Fox skulking away into the undergrowth.  Onwards we marched climbing logs and following streams, till our search led us to the Giant’s garden.  Crawling under the washing line (you’ve never seen such big pants, dear Reader), sadly we found no Gruffalos hiding there either.

We even managed to blend in amongst the guests at Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay’s wedding to see if he was there,

before stopping to listen to Tiddler’s tallest tales in the ocean…..but………

still no Gruffalos.  Could the girls have been right after all?  I was starting to wonder.  With no trace of our purple prickled friend outside, we decided to try inside the house to see if we could hunt him down there.

I can report that sadly there were no actual sightings inside either.  Gosh he really is rather tricky to find.  However, we did find a Gruffalo or two upstairs amongst Mottisfont’s latest summer exhibition of Axel Scheffler’s best loved illustrations.  Colourful, comical and utterly captivating, this marvellous collection of Scheffler’s work features original artworks, sketches and works in progress from the modern classics which Scheffler collaborated on with the fabulously talented Julia Donaldson, Children’s Laureate from 2011-2013.

The team at Mottisfont are consummate pros when it comes to exhibitions and this one is no exception.  With something to delight all ages, the best thing of all is the care and attention taken to hang all the illustrations and sketches at a child’s eye level.  No fear of being told off for getting up close to all the exhibits, there’s plenty to interact with too – from a clearing in a wood made from cushions to deckchairs for resting awhile with a story.

We even found Stick Man before he disappeared up in smoke.

Since Gruffalo hunting is hungry work, it was soon time for lunch and perhaps a spot of pudding.  No Gruffalo crumble on the menu dear Reader so he must still be out there.  I’m wondering if we lost him whilst we made our way through the Climbing bog.

Exhausted and no Gruffalos sighted or captured on this occasion, we decided to call off the search with plans to mount a full scale mission another day.  With plenty more Gruffalo fun to be had at Mottisfont and time to enjoy the Axel Scheffler exhibition until 3rd September, we will most certainly be back.

You might like to check out the Gruffalo family fun on offer too, dear Reader. Mottisfont will be running a Gruffalo Sculpture day on 2nd August from 11am until 4pm where you can join in making a big Gruffalo or right at the end of the holidays, the Gruffalo Mural day on 29th and 30th August.

You know, I didn’t tell the girls, dear Reader, but I could swear I heard footsteps behind us as we made our way back to the car.  You don’t think…..  No it couldn’t have been, could it, dear Reader?

A Tale of Beatrix Potter

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‘Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter...’

There can’t be a soul alive who hasn’t heard the tale of a plucky little rabbit named Peter caught nibbling the vegetables in grumpy Mr MacGregor’s garden.  With plenty of cheeky bunnies, hardworking mice, ditsy ducks and laundry washing hedgehogs inhabiting the world of Beatrix Potter, it is not hard to see how her beloved tales and illustrations have worked their way into the very fabric of childhood.  Well certainly in our house at any rate, dear Reader.  With celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter in full swing, Poppy, Primrose and I popped down to the National Trust’s Mottisfont for a special afternoon of picnics, trails and open air theatre in honour of the lady herself.

FullSizeRenderExploring round every nook and cranny and even into the dusty corners of the Cellarium, the trail took us round and about the gardens exploring, solving riddles, singing songs and peeking behind tiny yellow doors.  I wonder if you can guess which of Beatrix Potter’s characters we found, dear Reader.

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Venture into the house and climb the stairs to the gallery for a treat too.  There you’ll find yet more Beatrix Potter treasures, with an exhibition of 30 original artworks alongside a selection of dolls and figurines, rarely seen outside of their permanent home in the Lake District due to light sensitivity.  This particular Beatrix Potter exhibition at Mottisfont is an unique opportunity to see a rather special collection of illustrations which are an utter delight to young and old and show much of Potter’s own playful and mischievous nature as well as her sense of childish fun.  We really loved finding out abut the stories behind the drawings, inspiration taken from Potter’s daily life and rural adventures at her Cumbrian home, Hill Top Farm.

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Lashing of cucumber sandwiches and picnic rugs all laid out, we sat down to enjoy an open air performance of Quantum Theatre’s production Once Upon a Time there were Four Little Rabbits.  Poppy and Primrose thoroughly enjoyed watching Peter Rabbit being chased round the garden by Mr MacGregor!  Bliss in the sunshine – honestly, dear Reader, you really couldn’t have asked for a more picture perfect location.

IMG_2613With so much to see and do, sadly an afternoon just wasn’t long enough.  So, we will most certainly be back to revisit the gallery and take part in all the other fabulous activities and birthday celebrations planned as Mottisfont’s Beatrix Potter: Play and Childhood exhibition will be running from now until 18th September.  Here’s a taster of what’s in store for the rest of the summer holidays.

Thursday 28th July – Beatrix Potter’s birthday

Mottisfont will be hosting a rather special picnic in her honour between 3 and 4:30pm (normal admission charges apply).  Visitors are encouraged to bring blankets, picnics and birthday buns to join in the celebrations on the lawn with storytelling and party games.  Perhaps a few cuddly Peter Rabbit toys might make an appearance too!

Beatrix Potter activity weekends
30th & 31st July, 13th & 14th and 27th & 28th August between 10am and 5pm –
Mottisfont will be running storytelling sessions and drop-in craft activities plus plenty more Beatrix Potter-themed fun.

Stopping for a delicious cream tea is pretty high up on our to-do list for our next visit to Mottisfont.  Exploring is hungry work!  I’m sure Peter would agree.  Don’t you think, dear Reader?

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Giddy up

Half term zoomed past in a rather joyous blur.  Honestly, dear Reader, we ended up galloping here, there and everywhere.  With both girls now utterly smitten by ponies and Poppy proving to be a real natural in the saddle, I couldn’t resist taking them to the National Trust’s Mottisfont to see the current Norman Thelwell exhibition.  Pony-tailed learner drivers on rotund ponies…..couldn’t be more true to life chez Margot and Jerry at the moment, dear Reader!

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The Giddy Gallops trail round Mottisfont’s grounds proved excellent fun – free range children a plenty being put through their paces on a challenging course.

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Point to point racing, clearing the jumps with the dogs (thank you Mottisfont for being so dog friendly – so lovely to be able to take the pups on our outing too)…

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not to mention polishing the saddles, hanging up the tack and shining boots before taking our tired ‘ponies’ for hot chocolate and cake in the café.

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Giggling over Norman Thelwell’s cartoons and illustrations and marvelling at the 70 original artworks including stunning depictions of local landscapes, it proved to be the perfect day out for the Horse Mad Two from Hampshire.  Watching Poppy and Primrose cantering their imaginary steeds back to the ‘horsebox’ (masquerading as a very muddy Land Rover), I found myself hoping that these two little girls never grow too old for ponies.  Poor Jerry.  We’ll be bankrupt before long!

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With the week ahead fast approaching, we managed to squeeze in a little brunch at the fabulous new look Long Barn café.  Such a treat.

Lashings of toast with raspberry and lavender jam, gargantuan coffees, hot bacon rolls for the girls and even time for a bit of browsing – Long Barn’s displays always have me in magpie mode, coveting everything in site!

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With half term over, Jerry and the girls back to the grindstone and a mountain of deadlines looming over me, I am wondering if I should take up a permanent pew at the Long Barn to see me through until the Easter hols……coffee and cake on hand at all times.  Wonder if they need a writer in residence, dear Reader?

Meeting Lauren Child

So, dear Reader, this is a rather special post – Primrose and I got to meet one of our heroines of the bedtime story world this week and were rendered utterly starstruck.  For as long as Primrose has been able to hold a pencil, she has been desperate to write her own stories.  Amongst a mix of Enid Blyton, Frog and Toad and all the old fairy tales including an ancient Ladybird book of mine of The Goose Girl, Primrose’s love of quirky characters and twists on traditional tales has definitely been inspired by the author and illustrator, Lauren Child.  So imagine when I told Primrose that we were going to meet her “IN REAL LIFE”, to coin a Primrose phrase.

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The National Trust’s Mottisfont in Hampshire are hosting a retrospective of Lauren’s work – The Art of Lauren Child: Adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends running from 18 July – 6 September to mark the 15 year anniversary of the first Charlie and Lola book to be published, I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato.  Author and illustrator, Lauren Child MBE, has such an amazing back catalogue of children’s books which has been loved and devoured across the world and is probably best known for her delightful brother and sister creation, doting brother  Charlie and his picklish little sister (small and very funny), LolaLauren seems to have that uncanny knack for being able to slip into the shoes of children we’ve met, grown up with or perhaps even given birth to.  Perhaps it’s her talent for telling it like it is from a child’s perspective that has seen her works adored by children and adults alike.

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With a selection of never before seen items including some of Lauren’s sketchbooks, the exhibition hosts 50 original art works from Lauren’s own personal collection and gives a wonderful insight into the process from sketchbook to published work.  This is a chance to get up close and personal with some of the objects that have served to inspire Lauren’s fabulous and well known stories, such as Lola’s pink milk glass, childhood pyjamas and the truly amazing and wonderfully detailed original sets which were created for Lauren’s retelling of The Princess and the Pea on which she collaborated with Polly Borland.

I think with Clarice (Bean) I wrote and then I drew and it was almost like creating a graphic novel.  Now I tend to write and then draw.  Often people think that everything is done on computer but it really isn’t,” Lauren shared.  “You find things in the photo album which you think might work – so I know exactly where these photos are from as I put together the collages.  They become more than just drawings.”

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The exhibition also offers a chance for Charlie and Lola fans to catch a sneak preview of illustrations from Lauren’s latest book, entitled One Thing, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Charlie and Lola, which will be published this autumn.

Lauren on One Thing:I wanted to show sums in a really beautiful way – there’s something about the visual beauty of numbers. It’s a story about  Charlie and Lola’s mum telling them that they can have one thing and that bargaining thing that happens with children.  As soon as you say one thing, they immediately start negotiating.    It’s a game I play most days with my daughter.  I wanted to write about the fun of counting and that home truth.’

Alongside the exhibition, Lauren has helped the team at Mottisfont to create a fantastic creative play trail around the house and grounds – perfect for all ages and a chance to go on a real adventure with Charlie and Lola and their friends.  A great day out for the summer hols!  For details of the exhibition and adventure trail, take a look here.

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Meeting the lady herself, Primrose got to ask all her questions.  What inspired you to write Charlie and Lola? How do you create the stories and illustrations?  We had a fab chat about Lola’s invisible friend Soren Lorensen, Lauren’s favourite character Clarice Bean and creating alter egos that you’d like to be and our huge amount of love for That Pesky Rat.  Perhaps the best bit of all was Primrose showing Lauren her own story which she had written and illustrated – A Bad Spell for the Little Fairy.  I shall be eternally grateful to Lauren for making Primrose’s YEAR and for taking the time to talk to her and read her story.  I honestly couldn’t think of a better literary role model and source of creative inspiration for my little writer – a memory that will be treasured forever.

This exhibition is a MUST SEE for anyone who has cherished and enjoyed reading Lauren Child’s books and there’s something for all the family to enjoy as well as going on your own adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends at Mottisfont during the summer holidays.

So on that note, dear Reader, to mark the opening of The Art of Lauren Child: Adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends at the National Trust’s Mottisfont this summer, the lovely people at National Trust London and South East have given me 5 FAMILY DAY PASSES to give away to lucky entrants.  All you have to do is to ‘like’ @MottisfontNT on Twitter (or their Facebook page if you’re not on Twitter) and then write a comment here on this post, telling me which Lauren Child book is your favourite and whyEntries will close at 5pm on THURSDAY 23RD JULY.  The National Trust LSE lot will help pick the winning answers so don’t forget to leave me an email address or Twitter handle in the comment box too so that I can contact you if you’ve won. 

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It’s beginning to look….

a lot like Christmas!  With our little mini Margot, Poppy, turning 3 last week and birthday party shenanigans over for another year, we could finally settle into the Christmas spirit.  Where has the time gone, dear Reader?  Our second country Christmas is a mere whisker of Father Christmas’ beard away and I couldn’t be more unprepared to be honest.  Not a Christmas wreath or a cake steeped in ginger wine in sight this year.  At this rate, our guests on Christmas Day will be tucking into cream crackers and cheese.  Still, with our priorities well and truly organised, the girls and I headed out to immerse ourselves in a bit of Christmas cheer.

Mottisfont1Dear Reader, I give you the most humongous tree (Primrose’s description…) at the wonderfully Christmassy Mottisfont, one of our favourite National Trust haunts.  Christmas with the National Trust never disappoints and Mottisfont is a veritable feast for the eyes this year.  The magic of the Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy is alive and well and we bounded round the house and gardens, eyes agog.  Even the grinchiest adult couldn’t fail to be transformed by the sheer delight of the largest Christmas tree  I’ve ever seen, a trail through the Land of Sweets and Winter Garden, finishing with meeting the Sugar Plum Fairy herself.  I found myself mesmerised by that beautiful tree.  Maybe, just maybe, I could squish it into my country cottage?  I’m  not sure even the man in the red suit could sort that logistical conundrum for me, even if he can shimmy down all those snug chimneys!

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Perhaps one of the loveliest bits of our trip to Mottisfont, was the room of automata.  My girls love puppets and puppets there were in abundance.  Shadow puppets, automata of almost every description from the fabulously talented Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and more buttons to press than you could shake a stick at.  Heaven for two small children.  Poppy and Primrose are still talking about the flying machine, man in a spaghetti bath and running dog a week later.  Glorious entertainment.

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Feeling suitably Christmassy, we headed for a hot chocolate and large slice of cake!

Mottisfont5Now if someone could just have Christmas all set up and ready to go at the old cottage before Christmas Eve without me having to lift a finger, that would be truly MAGICAL!  Oh and I wouldn’t mind Mottisfont’s lovely tree either!  I’m still waiting for that delivery……

 

 

Scaling dizzy heights

The Vyne, National Trust, Hampshire  - scene of our big tree climb

The Vyne, National Trust, Hampshire – scene of our big tree climb

As quickly as it was organised, the day came for Primrose and I to complete our biggest country challenge yet.  You know, the one I’ve been dreading……no.1 of all the National Trust’s 50 things project – Climb a tree.  With this year’s summer of 50 Things already upon us and with so many events and adventures to go on in London and South East, it seemed fitting that we should start at the very beginning with no 1. Continue reading

Ticking off the list

The Vyne, National Trust, Hampshire - surrounded by magical woodland

The Vyne, National Trust, Hampshire – surrounded by magical woodland

Having had a tricky few weeks with the lambs and a broody chicken to boot, we decided that we all needed a bit of a treat and some time to enjoy outdoorsy adventures (not smallholding related ones at least) a bit further afield.  With a half term full of rain and cabin fever setting in……thank goodness for Primrose and her love of lists.  You’ll see why in a mo, dear Reader!

Last year, Primrose, Poppy and I spent a whole summer gallivanting round all sorts of fabulous National Trust properties and places around London and the South East in order to tick off our 50 Things list.  You may remember that our adventures were featured on NT London and South East’s blog.  Ooh the things we got up to!  A summer of den building, pond dipping, camping out under the stairs……..all thanks to this magical list!  I was going to say that the list is endless but it is a very manageable 50 things – all very good fun and definitely a must for the summer holidays, come rain or shine!  To celebrate the launch of the first #50Things weekend of this year’s season, we were very kindly invited to come along to one of our favourite NT places, The Vyne for an afternoon of bug hunting and cake.  Who could resist such an invitation, I ask you dear Reader? Continue reading