Oxford, I discovered last week, is such an incredibly beautiful place to visit. It’s streets are filled with stunning buildings, and it is a place that oozes with tales of the past (and of course a rich history of educating legends)! Just to wander around it leaves you feeling in awe and a sense of joyfulness! It was so lovely to visit there last weekend for a little family weekend adventure.

About 16 years ago now, Nathan lived there briefly and since we have been together it’s been on “the list” to take the kids to…we love to take the kids to places where they can get a hands on experience with history and hopefully appreciate our countries culture and sites. An invitation to tour the castle was that perfect excuse to finally go, do all of the aforementioned, and we all loved it.

Oxford Castle Unlocked!

 Oxford castle was the main focus of our day on Saturday, and it has certainly had an impact on the kids since. It is a great attraction of the city and something that really brings its history to life! Just yesterday Megan retold me stories of prisoners “in the tower” with no toilets, and sleeping in a room of wee and poo!(?!). She found it both hilarious and completely disgusting, but mostly very fascinating, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I love to see my kids excited about history as it’s something we both love so much!

Oxford castle is really interesting because it’s less about the Jewels and Royalty (like we saw when we visited Edinburgh), and more about scandal, theft, hard labour and murder! It was great because you see the meeting of medieval and modern crime, and prisoners held for anything from murder and war to a 7 year old stealing a pram! Each story, even those of modern prisoners, is fascinating and adds to the experience.

Built in 1017 it was used as jail as early as the 12th century, in 1531 it was formally constituted as a county Jail and changed briefly over the next couple of hundred years. By the 19th century it was expanded to cope with demand and was used as a prison until as recent as September 1996!! It only opened it’s doors to visitors back in 2006 after a complete refurbishment and restoration in 2004.

As part of it is now also a hotel and restaurants, the part preserved for visitors is small, but ample for a jump into its History and just long enough to hold the attention of kids. The tour took about an hour, and is led in a small group by a character taken from the castles History.  We had “Anne Green” a prisoner from 1650 that survived her own hanging…lets just say it really added to the feel and fun of it all, and certainly grabbed the kids attention!

The tour starts through a creepy metal gate at the bottom of the tower where you meet your guide and hear a brief history of the castle; with tales of hard labour by those sentenced to term there during the Victorian era. Next you can climb the 1o1 steps of the Saxon St George’s tower to a decent sized cell and hear tales of prisoners held there, as well as an Empress’s escape! Continuing up the tower you are greeted with 360 degree panoramic views of Oxford city from the top of it. The kids thought this was marvellous and thoroughly enjoyed looking down on the crowds and feeling on top of the world.

Next we plunged (or rather walked) down into the castle crypts to see where the bodies were stored (spooky!).

The rest of the tour takes you through cells, telling you of key characters from its 1000 years and how they lived, were treated and their doom! It was all super interesting and presented in a way gruesome enough to capture the kids and yet not enough that you couldn’t stomach it!  We had a lovely (and informative) visit and learnt tonnes.

Knight school at The Castle

Knight school is a free added bonus to a visit to the castle, and both Ethan and Megs loved the 20 min sess! It runs as part of their “King of the Castle” event for the school holidays, and takes place twice a day on a weekend only (11.30am & 2.30pm) out in the courtyard by staff trained in Sword fighting! In addition you can try to solve a a “King of the Castle” themed trail or take part in Arts & Crafts at the end of the tour.

knight school was certainly one of the highlights, and something a little different to anything we have done before at museums and castles! It was great to see the kids having an opportunity to not only hold a sword, but practice holds, stances, walks and counter strikes with little wooden swords of their own alongside “a real knight”! The session was informative, interesting and lots of fun, and again just long enough for kids ages 5 & 6.

Oxford Sites…

Following church on Sunday, we spent the afternoon walking around the colleges and checking out the famous buildings one thinks of when you think of Oxford. The sun was shining, and whilst tourists were out in the masses, it was absolutely beautiful. For brief moments I felt like we were in some foreign and far off land, but it was exciting to remember that all of this beauty is just a mornings car ride away!

We loved seeing all of the sites of Oxford and barely spent a penny doing so! There is so much to see and appreciate just wandering it’s streets and we had a lovely weekend there.

Being away from the everyday is always more fun and life is great when filled with some adventures. It was so exciting to have a change of scenery, especially in such a stunning city that’s right here in our country! If you have a chance to visit Oxford this Summer then get yourself there and check out the Castle too…you won’t be disappointed!

*Oxford Castle Unlocked is open daily 10am – 5.30pm. A Family Ticket is just £35 (or Adults £10.95 each / Kids £7.75)!! We are grateful for them for giving us a complimentary visit in return for a review. 

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July 1st to many of us is the countdown to the end of term and the beginning of our summer plans, but on Friday our families attention was drawn away from our everyday life as we were taken back 100 years along with many other by standers to witness a moving scene throughout the UK. It was a piece of living art commissioned by 14-18 NOW which depicted young men dressed in WW1 uniform appearing silently and wandering through our train stations, shops and streets. Thousands of volunteers took part in this UK-wide event as a modern memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. The work was conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre, and it combined 2 of my personal passions…theatre and history!

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I think most people know that Friday whilst a seemingly normal day for us all was in fact the 100 year commemoration of the start of the Battle of the Somme; an awful period of WW1 where over 19,000 British soldiers lost their lives in just the 1st day and known still today to be the bloodiest day in history for the British Army. We don’t often have reason to pause from the madness of life and to truly reflect on these events that have changed the course of history, but the reality is that the principle effect of War is death, and on that day 100 years ago a disturbing number of young men fell in battle in a hope for peace. But who were they? Who were the ones that gave their tomorrows for our today? I have since found out that one of them was my great great uncle, but what about the other thousands? Whose uncle, brother, father or son were they? Well lest we forget them by name, each actor remained silent in their ghostly presence amongst us, only interacting to hand a simple white card where upon was written the name and age of the soldier they represented that fell in battle on the 1st July 1916. As I held them in my hand I had to share on Instagram:

Not one spoke to me, just each handed me their card as they stared past me and I looked upon it to see who they were and when they were killed!
Unbelievably moving… I cant stop thinking about the tragedy of war and how blessed we are so many gave their lives for us to have peace and a future”

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I have said before how the great wars and post war period are one of my favourite historic periods to learn about, read about and see things about. I think that living in our day, with so many luxuries, wasted food and freedom we can never truly comprehend what war torn Britain was like, and the strength of those from that period genuinely fascinates me. The thought of fear and mass genocide is harrowing and humbles me, and there is no way we could ever ever imagine the horror of what being in the trenches was ever like…and thankfully we do not have to.

These men lived what we can only try to imagine, and this campaign paused our world to remember theirs. It briefly drew our attention to this sobering act of sacrifice as these silent WW1 soldiers, all volunteers and men aged between 16-52, took time to portray the men who would have fought in the Somme. They were not trained actors but come from a range of professions, including a sheep farmer, flight attendant, doctor, lawyer, social worker, shop assistant, portrait artist and GCSE student. They came together to rehearse in theatres across the UK over a month-long period in the run-up to the performance. The daylong work ran from 7am to 7pm and covered the width and breadth of the UK, from Shetland to Plymouth. Sites they visited included shopping centres, train stations, beaches, car parks and high streets – taking the memorial to contemporary Britain and bringing an intervention into people’s daily lives where it was least expected, and thus causing people to stand still, to reflect and to remember each individual that fell that day.  I am grateful we were some of those who were paused in our own tracks, it certainly was a powerful sight to see and we were moved by this poignant scene, thankfully able to take some time to follow them on their journey where members of the public cleared a path in awe to let them through.

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‘We’re here because we’re here’ was made possible by an Ambition for Excellence Award from Arts Council England and by the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional support from Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Creative Scotland and Art Fund. 14-18 NOW is principally funded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, and by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, it was the first time 3 national theatres had worked together on such a project and the results, if you were a witness of it, were truly touching and thought provoking.

For this one day we paused our lived and reflected on WW1, we had an opportunity to stand still and to remember a time of unity and sacrifice by our nation. We watched them walk away remembering they would never have returned and Twitter went mad with the #WeAreHere as people shared their own experiences, pictures and emotions surrounding these scenes that were sprung upon them. It was magnificent, it was powerful, but it was rare, and I hope as we look upon these scenes around social media we can see the bigger picture… we can appreciate what thought and planning went in to pull this off in remembering every single one of those almost 20,000 men that fell for us.

Let us each pause to remember that we are here because of them.

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If you missed it or want to see how others reacted then visit www.becausewearehere.co.uk where all shared videos, pictures and reactions from the public have been collected as well as further insights into the Somme.

Run Jump Scrap!
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It seems absolutely ages ago since we last had a Saturday where we weren’t busy with stuff or too ill to embrace the day together; whilst life has just been happening, and has been good with various events, parties, family stuff and tired kids in a new school routine, I have really missed our Saturday adventures out and about just the 4 of us. So this weekend when we spotted an open day we grabbed it and decided to head out to a fairly local National trust spot (East Riddlesden Hall) and then on to an Ice cream parlour with the mother of all play barns, and it was lovely to just go back to the Ordinary Moments of life wandering, talking and exploring together.
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I did this exact same day out back in the summer with my sister in law and it was such a joyful day which was enjoyed so much by us all, that I have been waiting for the right opportunity to share it with Nathan too. Since getting our National Trust membership for Christmas last year it has opened up a whole host of cheap days out filled with learning, beauty and adventure. We have spent more time outdoors than ever before and I just love it, the kids thrive and it makes us feel we are “living the dream”!

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I absolutely love to see them intrigued by history (one of our shared passions) and to see them dressed up in olden day attire (thats just cute) and I love the play areas they have and find joy there both as an observer and participant in their adventures and games. I find it wonderful that no matter how often you return to these places, they always feel different depending on the Season and it creates so many new  scenarios for these games and play. This time we made witches brew in the mud kitchen with a few frogs and spiders for good measure!

East riddlesden

My favourite things to see this time round (other than my kids looking like little olden day children) was this cute little kids shed in the garden where Megs sat a while reading books on tadpoles, bees and plants…it has been such an ordinary scene since she was almost 2, to just be sat captivated by books, and this moment made me happy to see that her little passions go all over with her. It was a lovely little spot, decorated beautifully and very enticing for the kiddos!

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I loved to see Ethan’s Joy of doing his usual boyish things of pushing the boundaries, taking risks and generally being a fast mover, whilst Nath and I stroll along chatting, hand holding, legging it to assist and play, and just enjoying being parents to them both.  I realised how all of these moments; the chats, the education, the laughs and the antics make up our ordinary, and why I have missed so much these days out all together. It was such a pleasant day of the appreciation of, and embracing of the season as we walked in scenery filled with yellows, browns, reds and oranges, and then a lovely bonus to be greeted at the Ice cream parlour with an array of pumpkin displays, witchey things and general excitement and treats made us all very happy to celebrate in Autumn and be together for some fun.

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I love these days, when we have time to make memories and do our ordinary family adventures, filled with the same little quirks from us all that come together to make something beautiful. Being out together exploring in these ways really makes me realise how much I love to be outside and see the gorgeous scenery of England, it makes me feel blessed for just an ordinary little life that at times feels so full, and to share it all with my beautiful little family is wonderful!

Isn’t it lovely to embrace together the things each season brings us?

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I almost feel like this post is a predictable one following Ethan starting school this week, but it is one I want to write anyway. On Wednesday we packed a picnic and the kids into the car and enjoyed our last midweek family day out to Fountains Abbey before Ethan started “big School”…
WP_20150909_12_29_25_ProWP_20150909_12_34_30_ProIt is ran by the National trust and so very family friendly, easy paths, lots to explore and was one of the biggest monasteries in mediaeval England. I found it such a fascinating place to be, bursting with history as far back as the 11 hundreds and set in the most gorgeous parts of North Yorkshire..it was peaceful, exciting and just lovely to be there together and less than hour from home. How lucky we are to live in England with so much history and loveliness.
WP_20150909_12_32_38_ProWP_20150909_12_56_23_ProWe saw the whole Abbey, played in the park and the woods, had a quick look around a portion of the manor house, the old mill and had a picnic lunch. There was so much more to see but we were just exhausted so we didn’t see the deer park or lake walks.
fountains abbeyAs we explored, climbed, relaxed, laughed and learn’t together, I noticed I kept saying things like “I do this all the time with the kids” or “The kids normally get an ice cream at this point” haha not to be a “know it all” wife, but this is, or rather was my Ordinary. Whilst I knew we had planned this day out to make the most of our last day in the pre-school chapter, it really hit me that this was the end of an era! Having Megan and Ethan at home together all the time, doing what we please, going on adventures and exploring the world has been our Ordinary for 3 years since Megsie made her arrival, it is all Ethan has really known and it has been the focus and priority of my life…I have being a regular stay at home mum, and love it, whilst this meant some days have been terribly hard, frustrating and draining, it has also been absolutely amazing, and gone way too fast!  I know we have weekends and school holidays and I very much look forward to the adventures we will have on those days, but Wednesday was such a special day as I soaked up and was thankful for what my Ordinary has been for these few years and how from then on it would be no more.
WP_20150909_13_08_08_Pro WP_20150909_12_40_43_Pro WP_20150909_12_35_42_ProI know we will have more children and we will have similar adventures ahead of us, but in the future our Ordinary means adventures which are bound to school runs, it means adventures where Ethan and by next year Megan too, will no longer play a part in (other than hols and weekends), but we went out with a bang, had one last midweek frolic all together and are ready for a different dynamic to life. We have so many changes with Ethan starting school and Nathan back to his final uni year, and It will be far less mad with just Me and Megs at home 3 days and we plan to do some things which are easier with just one kid too (like baking)!
Wednesday was a beautiful day out, just an Ordinary moment made extra special because it was the end of an era, one I will miss, but a new Ordinary chapter ahead that I am ready to create.
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theordinarymomentsbadge_zps284f9457                              Linking up with Katie @ mummydaddyme for The Ordinary Moments

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