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We made a fantastic discovery at the weekend – Windmill Animal Farm in Burscough.

My mum stumbled across the place and thought the girls would like it so we took them on Saturday and had an absolutely brilliant time!

The weather forecast for the weekend was good, but when we got up in the morning the skies were dark and threatening and Isla still had a bit of a tummy bug so I wasn’t sure a trip to a farm was the best idea, but I had already promised Lilly we were going and she was really excited about it.

From the moment we set off in the car the skies started changing and by the time we arrived at Windmill Farm (via some really gorgeous scenery Parbold way that I never even knew existed) the weather had gone decidedly sunny and even almost warmish.

We knew we’d arrived at the right place when we saw the old windmill (it looks like it has been converted into a rather lovely modern home so unfortunately its not part of the farm itself). We got a very friendly welcome on arrival and were allowed to pet the owner’s sheepdog, before we walked in and discovered all the other nice things that were waiting.

There were play tractors of all different sizes for the children to use, a quite big playbarn with a generously sized under 4s area, an adventure playground with equipment suitable for little tots right up to bigger children, including a zip wire and plenty of opportunities to sit and enjoy your own picnic, which is what we did (outside, because by then the sun was really shining!)

After that we went to see the animals – we saw lots of babies including lambs and baby goats (if my memory serves me correctly they’re ‘kids’?), they had llamas (I don’t trust them!) and  a little donkey and a rather handsome horse who seemed to really want to eat my mum’s coat. I thought that Isla would like the animals because she has just started noticing her Nanna’s black cat, Alex, and gets very excited when he walks into the room, clenching her fists and making a “grrrrrrrrrrrrrr” sound! And yes, she really liked seeing the little goats popping their heads through the fences to get a closer look at the children and she was even brave enough to touch the horse a couple of times. There were some baby lambs with tight curly black wool who were so cute, as were all the black spotted little goats who kept pushing their heads as far through the fence as they could to get a good look at us.

It has to be said though that I think Lilly’s favourite animal was the plastic lifesized cow that you could “milk”! Yep, that was loads of fun and Lilly was in her element telling everyone how to do it and getting herself soaked in the process…

My mum and I had a coffee in the play barn before joining Isla and Lilly in the under 4s ball pool for a bit. Isla was up to her armpits in balls but really loved it – not like Lilly’s first experience of a much smaller ball pool in Southport when she screamed her head off!

Lilly was obviously feeling adventurous today as she climbed right up to the third ‘storey’ of the bigger play area – I was panicking a little because I couldn’t see if she was ok and knew that she wouldn’t want to go down the “tunnel slide” when she got to the top because she’s scared of them. So being an overprotective mum I climbed up after her but she was quite ok, she did say “I wonder how we’ll get down?!” but she didn’t seem too worried and we managed to slip and slide our way back down the very steep but soft stairs.

There was a children’s party on at the same time and after lunch Lilly got ice cream envy when she saw all the children being given one, so we decided to buy one from the cafe but they only really had ice lollies in the freezer so she ended up with an orange calypso – it was pretty obvious it would end in tears when it inevitably melt/spilt/dropped or came flying out after an over-enthusiastic squeeze, and it did, but to be fair she had managed to eat most of it before it predictably ended up on the floor with Lilly sobbing “We’ll have to buy another one…”

But I was really, really impressed with Windmill Animal Farm and definitely plan to go back there many times over the next few years with the girls. We’ve been to Farmer Ted’s in Ormskirk before and liked it, but felt that it lacked ‘something’ – I can’t quite put my finger on it but I much preferred this place. It seemed to have a bit more going on for both quite young children and 3 years plus where Farmer Ted’s always seemed a bit limited for Lilly when she was under 2. Windmill’s definitely has a better outdoor adventure playground with a better mix of equipment for all ages, and it also has a bigger and better under 4s area. I also like the fact that at Windmills they cater well for people bringing their own food. There is a cafe but it isn’t a big food operation like at Farmer Ted’s. 

Oh, and I nearly forgot the best thing of all, the miniature train ride!

The train was running every half an hour and took us to another part of the farm with a “secret” play area where we were allowed five minutes before the train driver whistled to tell is it was time to get back on board. Lilly, being a train fan generally, loved it of course. Isla was sitting quite happily until the train actually started moving – she wasn’t too sure about it at first! But after a few cuddles and reassurance she was fine.

Anyway, if you are local, or visiting, I would definitely recommend this place, we had a really, really enjoyable day and both girls left absolutely shattered, especially Isla who packed quite a few new experiences into one day!

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Last week we spent Monday to Friday at Center Parcs in Cumbria – Whinfell Forest.

We are big Center Parcs fans, and have been twice to Elveden Forest (East Anglia) and once to Sherwood Forest (Nottingham) since Lilly was 10 months old.

This was our first time at Whinfell – Elveden being our favourite so far, but also being a ridiculously long drive from where we live in the North West. Whinfell is a much more civilised 1 hour 45 minutes away, and even that felt long enough! In fact, we made our first parental error of the holiday on the journey there – waiting too long before stopping at the services meaning Lilly fell asleep in the car and napped for 40 minutes – which came back to haunt us later!

Arriving at a rainey Whinfell Forest Center Parcs

First impressions of Whinfell were very good – plenty of parking (unlike Sherwood) and we really enjoyed walking in the rain in our waterproofs through the trees to discover the  Village Centre for the first time.

The Village Centre is all undercover, unlike Elveden, and, as there was plenty of rain showers the week we were there, it was just as well. We spent our first afternoon enjoying a rather large (and expensive) beer in Bella Italia and admiring the indoor water fountain before having a wander to see the Sports Plaza and enjoy a Starbucks on our travels.

The villas are a little different at Whinfell – as they were built when the park was an Oasis – and ours was a two storey wooden house. It looked lovely from the outside – much more aesthetically pleasing than the standard issue Center Parcs bungalows – but inside it could have done with a bit of a revamp – the white goods were a good 10 years old and the decor a little bit tired. We didn’t really mind that though, but could’ve done without the super creaky staircase and no downstairs loo which meant we spent most of our evenings trying not to need a wee in case going upstairs would wake up a very light sleeping toddler….

Our first night was not to be a peaceful one, as that illegal in-car nap formed a lethal cocktail with ‘First-night-in a new bedroom syndrome and resulted in, yes, you’ve guessed it, “I’m NOT tired!!” “I don’t LIKE my new bedroom!” There’s a squirrel at my window!!” “I’m SCARED!!”. We ended up bringing Lilly downstairs with us, which wasn’t too bad as she was chatting away and making us laugh. When 10pm came around, Lilly still wouldn’t go to sleep in her own bedroom alone, so Tony had to sleep in with her before she would settle.

When she woke up the next morning, early, lack of sleep had transformed her into A MONSTER with absolutely zero tolerance for anything and with with her emotions balanced on a knife edge…

But, before we fully comprehended just how terrible a mood she was in, we took the two girls swimming first thing in the morning. It was the first time Isla has been swimming, and she remained very serious looking throughout her short experience – then promptly fell fast asleep!

Tony took charge of Lilly while I got out with snoozy baby. In a fit of unusual recklessness, he decided to take Lilly on a rather big waterslide, which she seemed to enjoy first time around, despite getting water in her face. Second time around I watched – only to see both of them go right under the water in the plunge pool. A screaming Lilly soon emerged from the water – Tony (who was frantically holding Lilly up above the water while trying to steady himself) took another five seconds – Lilly was terrified!! Not a very good second waterslide experience but quite funny for a spectator (bad mummy!)

It all started to go a little bit wrong after that. Lilly wanted to go for a wee, so I walked with her to the changing rooms. On the way there, she slipped and managed to take me down with her, so that I landed right on top of her foot! She was screaming and I was panicking because I thought I’d broken her foot. I managed to carry her to the disabled toilets where Lilly said she couldn’t stand on her foot and then, in all the upset, did a wee all over the floor, all over herself, all over me! I had visions of hospital visits and plaster casts, but luckily after a while she calmed down and was able to walk again… phew.

Soon afterwards we decided to get out and have lunch. Bad mistake at 11.30, as every other family decided to do the same, so there were no changing rooms available, and people queueing waiting for them to become free. Isla started wailing – she wanted her bottle. Lilly started whinging – “I’m hungry, I want a snack, I’m hungry, I want a snack, I’m cold, I want a snack…” on and on and on.

In the end, I took Isla into the disabled toilets to dress her while Tony and Lilly found a too-small cubicle to get dressed and I fed Isla her bottle standing up – not very comfy!

We thought the worst was over once we got out of the pool – oh, how wrong. Lilly’s mood was awful, we couldn’t go five minutes without a tantrum. We had screaming, lying on the floor, “NO! NO! NO!”, hysterical crying, refusal to walk anywhere, running off, you name it, we had it. We gamely attempted a coffee in Starbucks and some soft play near the bowling alley (they have an big open area in the bar where they play CBeebies on a big screen all day!) By about 3 O’Clock we couldn’t cope with anymore public tantrums so we all went back to the villa and prayed Lilly would go to bed ok later. Luckily, 7pm came and she went to bed fine, on her own, so we breathed a massive sigh of relief and poured a large glass of wine…

I’m happy to report that the rest of the week passed off much more harmoniously. Better sleep meant we got our good girl back, for the most part, and we had lots of fun in the playgrounds and back at the CBeebies bar (genius idea, Center Parcs!) One of the other highlights was shopping in the supermarket with the mini trolley – Lilly absolutely loved it, and looked just too cute pushing it around the aisles and loading all the items onto the checkout.

Back at the villa, we hung out three bags of peanuts on the tree outside our window and watched all kinds of birds feast on them for three days. We also had pheasants and a red suirrel come to visit – and spotted a rabbit emerging from a large rabbit hole outside once too. While we were there we had loads of fun spotting different plants and trees with Lilly on mini ‘nature walks’ – there were loads of different types of mushrooms growing everywhere. Typical though, that the main thing that Lilly remembers from these little walks was an old discarded baby dummy: “we saw a dummy, didn’t we mummy?!”

On Thursday, we had my pretend birthday (it was my 30th on the Friday, when we were travelling back), so we ate our lunch at Bella Italia (delicious) and had a takeaway for our evening meal.

We also learnt, while out and about during the week, that Lilly can do a wee in the bushes if neccessary!

All in all, we had a great time, bar an extremely stressful second day. Sleep is absolutely the MOST important factor in determining Lilly’s behaviour, and Lilly’s behaviour is the one and only key to whether or not we have a wonderful day, or the day from hell!

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