Migration – online as in life

It has been a silent few months for Backpacks and Babygrows. Apologies for that … but rest assured behind the scenes the cogs are whirring, turning and spinning at 100 miles per hour. Things are still on track for us to leave on our travels in September (just about). The trans-siberian is booked, China accommodation is booked and everything else is in the pipeline.

I’m not going to lie, this past year has been tough. I’m working 3 jobs including a nightime one along with raising a toddler in order to achieve what I want to and I’m still flying by the seat of my pants at all times. But hey, life would be boring if everything went smoothly all the time (right?). That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.

So, to catch you up I’m now thoroughly in the process of migrating the blog over to wordpress.org in order to monetize it ready for our travels and hopefully live my dream, travelling, writing and managing to insprie other parents and single parents to grab hold with both hands and do all the things society tells you you can’t do – with a big middle finger raised to anyone who moral panics you, moralises over single parent travel or tries to supress you in any other way – I suspect if you’re a parent (or even if you’re not!) this has happened many times as you attempted to plan to leave the 9-5 rat race and live your dreams.

When I move the blog, the focus will be on professional travel articles. I will be providing full and useful travel information about my experiences tarvelling as a single parent with a small child. This will include information on how I’ve done it, the challenges I faced and how to do the budget stuff safely. This is alongside all the usual travel infomration about things to do, where to stay, where to eat and helpful culturally focussed insights. I know before I started I defintiely wondered if hostelling was going to be OK with a small child, so now I’ll be out there doing the research and passing on my wisdom for free…

All I can ask is that you follow me on this adventure, you take the information and use it to inspire you in your own life. I know so many single parents (usually Mums, but not always), who have been convinced by ‘helpful’ and ‘concerned’ third parties or have convinced themselves that they need to give up on those dreams of adventure, travel and sometimes even exotic holidays simply becasue they are solo parenting. I desperately want to take away those nerves for people and prove that travel is possible and not only is it possible, it will enrich and benefit the lives of your children in a way a school never could.

I’ll be homeschooling as we travel and eventually I plan to have a separate site with a ton of globally focused information, lesson ideas, lesson plans and work books for people to download (open source) to help with their own dreams and achievements.

Come and join me when it’s all migrated, I will post on here and will be setting up software to take my followers with me so don’t fret. Many of you have been with me from the start way back when I was still finishing my degree and I genuinely love and appreciate all that support you have given me. This year is a big one, the time is now and I couldn’t be more excited / terrified (in a good way!!).

Please engage with me, email me at backpacksandbabygrows@yahoo.co.uk  and ask me any questions you might have about anything to do with travel, single parenting and home schooling… life is nothing without friends, family and support.

Glamping at Hoddom Castle


The beautiful Hoddom Castle near The fabulously named Ecclefechan. We were very happy to see a stunning rainbow produced by one of the few upsides of British weather – a lot of rain and a brief amount of sun. 

I’ll do a longer more informative post soon on the camping facilities here, I just wanted to share this beautiful rainbow.

How to Plan for a Long Trip

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On researching how to plan a long term travel itinerary I came across some advice which said to get some big white boards (I can’t remember the reference now as it was a while ago, so many apologies for the absence of a link to the advice). Being a visual person this idea really appealed to me so I’ve gone and set up a ‘travel wall’ in my kitchen. I sourced some big white boards from Rymans (about £10 each although they are probably available cheaper elsewhere to be honest). One of these is half pin board/half white board.

I’ve then attached these large maps of the places where I’m spending a good 3 months so I can visualise my route through and where the various attractions are that I want to visit. I wrote a post on the maps and where to find them previously so take a gander as they are a mega resource for anyone interested in travel or education etc and they’re available in very high resolution, meaning a large print can be done (also a fab teacher’s resource).

It’s also given Aria a great visualisation of these places I keep talking about and next week I’m going to get her her own little white board as she loves doodling on them. Since taking this picture I’ve filled up 2 of the boards with to-do lists and packing lists and no doubt the 3rd will fill up fast too. It’s really cemented in my head now as something ‘real’ that we’re actually going to do next year so a great idea that I fully recommend.

Magna Science Museum, Rotherham

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Magna Science Adventure Centre, Rotherham

I had a  day in Sheffield last week visiting my mum and whilst we were there we discovered Magna. It’s a science centre set in an old steelworks and it also has a fantastic outdoor play and water park. You can buy a day ticket for both areas which you can turn into a free annual pass on the day, or alternatively it is possible to buy tickets for the outdoor park area only – these are pretty affordable. Prices are around £10.95 for an adult ticket and about £6.95 for a child’s but the outdoor area only is considerably less.

I’ll be very honest and say that the actual indoor area was not exactly the greatest science museum I’ve ever been to. It doesn’t use the enormous space to its full advantage for starters. Secondly, it looks as though it received a lot of funding a few years ago and not had much since. This results in a tired look about the place with a lot of the best exhibits not working (the tornado machine for example). But the premise is good: the museum is split into 4 areas named ‘air’, ‘earth’, ‘fire’, and ‘water’; the best was definitely water and had the most children in it. You could use wave power to light the light house, see how a canal lock works 1st hand (in miniature form) and fire water guns amongst other things.

I really think some money needs to be spent to be able call this a great science museum. However that said, the outdoor area is incredible. There is a fab water area with taps and buckets and all kinds of fountains that children (or grown ups) can run through. This was next to a huge play area with something for all age groups. You could easily just come to the outdoor area and have a fab day out on a budget. Or you can experience the whole thing for about £35 for a family of 4 and then come back for a year for free. Bring a picnic and this is great value on a sunny day. P1020848P1020854P1020849P1020847

A Day out in Warwick, UK

 

P1020677Well, really it was a day out at Warwick Castle but I won’t quibble over a title; although we did have a little wander around the town afterwards to find a place to eat (as it happens the amazing ‘Aqua’ Lebanese restaurant had incredible food with really great service and can be found at 12-14 Jury St, Warwick CV34 4EW).

P1020685Warwick Castle is actually part of the Merlin Group so I’d decided to go due to the fact it’s free with our passes. I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest, however the usual entrance fee is about £25 which is comparable to most of their attractions. I’ve got to say that I was very pleasantly surprised. I’ve been dragged to a lot of castles as a child, and Warwick was probably one of them but I don’t remember it so who knows. It’s definitely one of the best kept castles I’ve ever been to and the attractions were also well organised and well timed throughout the day and some of the best I’ve seen in that setting. I chose to go on a weekday outside of the holidays and the only people there were a few school visits, nothing was over crowded and the sun was shining – a perfect day in my opinion.

P1020751Activities at Warwick include an archery display, the Princess Tower (bit rubbish and dated in my opinion and solely centred on girls hanging around for a kiss for hundreds of years, these ‘princesses’ also have no autonomy or control in their own lives and Warwick Castle clearly haven’t realised it’s 2016 not 1816). However putting the terrible tower of slave princesses aside it’s a fabulous day out. For example, the falconry was one of the best I’ve seen; the birds seem extremely well looked after with lots of information about their lives at the castle. The falconry houses some of the largest eagles in the world alongside falcons and owls, who looked magnificent simply flying around and eating snacks. The archery display was good and interesting and then later on we got to see one of the largest trebuchet’s in the world in action – firing rocks across hundreds of feet at high speed.

The Castle is beautifully laid out and preserved inside with lots of information but also not too much information either. On a sunny day the grounds are really stunning and there was food available in several places along with toilets, the most accessible of which are right by the entrance so it might be an idea to do a good toilet break and baby change

P1020812before you head into the castle grounds. Food is typically expensive so bring a picnic if you can. Prams aren’t allowed inside the actual castle (they are however allowed in the grounds) so try and bring babies in a carrier if possible as it will allow you greater freedom of the whole place.

There’s a great play park which is big enough to accommodate a lot of children and there’s a Horrible Histories Maze which we had good fun completing in-between the various scheduled displays. The Maze is really aimed at the 7+ age group but Aria had fun running round and collecting the stamps even though there was a lot of educational info that went over her head. The falconry show was different each time and there were at least 2 slots to see each show, the princess tower has to be booked in advance but doesn’t cost anything extra. There is parking but be prepared to pay even if you’re in the disabled bay – a blue badge gets you next to the Castle but doesn’t give you free parking (it was £6 for a disabled badge and I think £8 all day otherwise).

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Keep an eye out on the blog for more photos – I got so many great shots of the birds that I’ll do a whole separate post just for them.

Somewhere that surprised me – Jersey!

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Jersey has it all , stunning ocean views, sunny weather and some major tourist attractions. If it’s not on your list it should be!

A few years ago a friend wanted to go on an impromptu holiday, we had a limited budget and she suggested we go to Jersey. I’d never been, didn’t know much about it and had no opinion either way. I’d been to Guernsey as a child, which

St Matthew's Glass Church featuring glass work by Rene Lalique

St Matthew’s Glass Church featuring glass work by Rene Lalique

was small but warm and pleasant, although there wasn’t a huge amount to do. I suppose I was expecting much the same from Jersey. * I just want to add a wee edit to this, to say that my thoughts about Guernsey are based on my memories of a family holiday when I was about 8 years old; so I’m probably wrong about this. I’m sure there’s actually a fair bit to do here, it’s just my family weren’t exactly active travellers. We spent a large amount of time on a lovely beach and that was all, but this should probably reflect on us and not on Guernsey!

Anyway, I couldn’t have been more wrong about Jersey! It was definitely mild, and very pleasant, but this is one of the most surprising places I’ve visited. It’s full of hidden gems, including historical places of interest due to the Island’s involvement in WWII which shamefully I knew nothing about until this visit. I didn’t even know it was occupied by the Germans for a significant amount of time. It may be because my expectations were so low, but this has got to be one of the best and most family friendly destinations you can visit in the general area of the south of the UK or France – it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere after all. It’ll be more family friendly if you visit in tourist season which I suspect runs from around April to September as this means all the tourist season bus routes will be up and running and you’ll probably experience some nice weather. Check out http://www.jersey.com or http://www.jerseytravel.com for loads of info on what to do.

The Gerald Durrell Conservation Park

The Gerald Durrell Conservation Park

I did my usual bit of research before we left and had a pre-prepared list of things we could do, I’d discovered that the Gerald Durrell animal conservation park is on Jersey – it seems unfair to call it a zoo as it is way way more ethical and animal centred than any zoo I’ve visited before. I’m not a fan of zoos in general as their main focus is on profits and not the welfare of the animals – I don’t visit them anymore unless they’re rescue centres catering for animals who are unable to live in the wild or if they do some seriously special conservation work like the Durrell Foundation do. The Durrell Park is completely set up to conserve and breed endangered animals; they have one of the most successful breeding programs around and grow all their food for the animals on organic farms. The animals are not forced in any way to cater to visitors and the only time you are guaranteed to see anything is around feeding time, other than that all the enclosures are designed for the comfort and happiness of the animals, not the happiness of the visitors. They have meerkats, orang-utans and silverback gorillas to name a few, but none of the more controversial animals like elephants, which are well known to be extremely unhappy and have short lifespans in zoos as they need huge areas for roaming and constant company of other elephants in order to survive. This place is a must see for anyone who visits Jersey and/or champions animal welfare. They also run a lot of research programs aimed at gaining an insight into the issues facing endangered species and how we as humans can help them. If you are studying in this area you can even apply for an internship and help with the research program. Check out http://www.durrell.org for more info.

The next place on my list was a lavender farm – neither me or my friend were that fussed if I’m honest, it was probably the

The Lavender Farm

The Lavender Farm

least exciting place to visit (or so we thought), but we had the time and it was on a bus route, as is everything – one of the nice things about Jersey is that in a week you can do all the tourist attractions without charging round and feeling stressed, whilst also enjoying the beauty of the Island. Anyway, the Lavender Farm was the most surprising place we went to. It was absolutely stunning, smelt amazing (as you’d imagine), and had a really peaceful atmosphere. We both loved it and actually thought it was the best thing we did by far – possibly because we were so pleasantly surprised by it. There’s more info to be found at http://www.jerseylavender.co.uk they also have a fabulous shop selling all the locally produced items. On the lavender farm hidden away is also a delightful gem called Reg’s Fairy Garden. Run by Reg (of course) who we met, a lovely older man who takes care of birds and animals and created a cute fairy garden for kids and adults to

Reg's Fairy Garden

Reg’s Fairy Garden

enjoy. It’s not a playground but a place to enjoy some tranquillity and enjoy looking at the pond and waterfall. Reg also does charity work – have a read about what he does here: http://www.reg-fairygarden.co.uk

The major attraction on the Island has got to be the Jersey War Tunnels, these are really impressive and are cut into the mountain. They were built by European slave labour and remain the largest permanent reminder of the 5 year German occupation. It’s full of artefacts, information and personal stories, I found it completely fascinating and the setting just makes it feel so authentic. I love historical settings that just immerse you in the stories simply with the environment they’re in. The space was used as a war hospital originally. One of the really special moments for me on this trip was seeing a little rowing boat that was the vessel the only successful escape to the UK was made in. A young guy rowed all the way from Jersey to the south coast of England in it – many tried and failed and died but he was successful. We were exceptionally lucky enough to meet the young man’s granddaughter in our hotel, she’d come to see the boat and I was just blown away by this meeting!

The entrance to the Jersey War Tunnels - literally cut into the mountain

The entrance to the Jersey War Tunnels – literally cut into the mountain

There’s plenty of other historical things around the Island all related to their experiences during the 2nd World War. It really makes you think coming here, because they were so close to us geographically but had such a drastically different perspective of the war. A very humbling experience!

We also paid a visit to one of the Island’s 2 castles – Mont Orgueil Castle. It was very higgledy piggledy with loads to explore and discover – perfect for adventurous kids and adults. It’s right up on a hill so you get some amazing views of the ocean too. There’s a really beautiful bus ride to get there too. If you really like castles or have more time then you can go to Elizabeth Castle as well.

Another surprising little place we went to was the specialised Eric Young Orchid Foundation – it was a bit of a trek, requiring 2 different bus journeys and a walk but worth it in my opinion. They have one of the largest and finest orchid collections in the world – you’ll see some incredible flowers here. Even if flowers aren’t really your thing I think this place is worth a look. The collection has won tons of awards and is recognised worldwide as one of the best in existence. My absolute favourite one was an orchid that looks like a wee monkey’s face, but you’ll find ones that look like ballerinas amongst other things as well. Check out http://www.ericyoungorchidfoundation.co.uk for all the information.

Monkey Orchids!

Monkey Orchids!

I’ll be honest as I can’t really remember any major foodie places of interest but I was with someone who wasn’t that fussed about where we ate or drank – however there was a nice coffee shop called The Curiosity Coffee Shop in St Helier. They’re open 7am-7pm and you’ll find it on 14 Sand Street. Check out http://www.facebook.com/CuriosityCoffeShop for more info.There are also some fabulous and unique jewellery shops on Jersey – locally sourced pearls are a big thing. Also you’ll find the Catherine Best jewellery shop in a windmill in St Peter – extremely expensive but worth a look just for the artistry. Another fabulous hidden delight is Saint Matthew’s Glass Church featuring some awe inspiring glass work by Rene Lalique – the entire interior is basically all glass fully designed by the artist himself. It’s on a bus route so easy to get to. Have a look here for all the info you need: http://www.historyhouse.co.uk/articles/glass_church.html

If you haven’t heard of him, then Lalique is more famous for his jewellery and ornamental creations so this church is a real treat for art lovers.

Jersey is just one surprise after another with unique and quirky things dotted all around the Island – you’ll find what is apparently the largest shell garden in the world here, take a look if you have time as it’s really cute and someone has put an awful lot of effort into building it. There’s information here if you want to read more http://www.jersey.co.uk/attractions/shellgarden/

As you’ve probably gathered Jersey is filled to the brim with things to do, and it’s all extremely family friendly. It of course has lots of beaches and my friend and I hired bikes and rode around the town a lot. Be warned though, if you want to bike the whole Island it’s pretty hilly – so make sure your thigh muscles can cope!

Mont Orgueil Castle

Mont Orgueil Castle

Mine definitely couldn’t although I could probably do it now as I’m much fitter than I used to be and spend a lot of time in the gym biking. The only thing I’d do differently is that we stayed in a hotel that was about a 15 minute drive from town.

Next time I’d stay somewhere more central like St Helier – this is where the action is at, and late at night when we’d been out for a meal and a drink there were no buses back so we ended up spending unnecessary money on cabs. The Island is popular with retirees so the hotels are generally clean and quiet but also family friendly – it’s not exactly a stag party destination! France is also a daytrip away so if you have the unlikely event that you run out of things to do on Jersey you can always nip across and pay the French a visit. In summer you’re more likely to get some nicer weather here than most UK destinations too.

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A beautiful miniature shell chapel

Jersey has definitely been my biggest surprise so far and I can’t recommend it enough; not just for families though but for anyone who fancies a relaxing break away with lots to see and do.

The largest shell village in the world

The largest shell garden in the world