Friday, 17 April 2009

Splish splash

Yesterday, we took Rosemary for a day out to the Sea Life Centre in Birmingham. Birmingham’s about an hour and a half on the train, so not too long journey. We left the house at a very civilised 9.45am, leaving my mother to dog sit, and were back by 4.30pm.

As some of you will know, we don’t drive, so trips like this have to be in public transport reach. But, even if we did drive, I’d be inclined to use the train as often as possible, because it’s a lot easier to keep a small child amused on one, than strapped into a tiny seat in a car. In a lot of cars, small children can’t see out of the windows, whereas there’s lots to sea from the train windows – trees, fields, cows, sheep, building… You can walk up and down as much as you like (though I do recall it getting a bit tedious walking Rosemary up and down and up and down and up and down… for the whole journey to Wales when she was only just on her feet). You can get food and drink from the buffet or unpack your own packed lunch. Children can draw, read, play games, even meet and befriend other children. But it does mean we can’t easily go somewhere like Longleat or Bowood or Alton Towers.

So, the train journey was pretty good, even though we didn’t get a table seat. On arriving in Birmingham, the signposts for how to get out of Birmingham New Street station weren’t brilliant and we ended up traipsing through a mall for a fair way before finding the fresh (and rather wet) air. Then we had the fun of trying to find the right way to the Sealife Centre. We didn’t print a map out, because the website had said just follow signs to the ICC and NIA. The first sign we found actually pointed to the Sealife Centre itself and the rest to the International Convention Centre. And they weren’t always terribly clear. Personally, if I were editing the website, I would also have put the number of a bus going from the station to the centre, or close, and an actual map.

We got there in the end, to see huge queues stretching all the way round the building. There were staff going up and down the line selling Sea Life branded rain coats and offering immediate entrance to anyone willing to purchase a year’s membership. Fortunately for us, Chris had had the sense to buy tickets online in advance, so were able to go straight inside. I would definitely recommend doing so, especially if you’re visiting in the school holidays – it’s cheaper to buy them online, as well.

We saw a number of pools and tanks with fish and eels in them, as we followed the one-way trail round. There was then a larger pool, with (quite small) sharks and rays in. Rosemary was fascinated in everything so far. She then got an opportunity to touch a crab, which she seemed to enjoy. We then saw some otters swimming around. And then, one of the highlights of the trip (as is so often the case with these kinds of outings); we had an ice cream.

After that, we moved into darkened areas and saw lots of different sea creatures. Chris would probably be able to tell you in proper detail, but I was flagging a bit by now, as was Rosemary. We think she was a little bit scared in the darker bits, but also the dark was making her sleepy. After a quick glance at the sea horses (would have liked to have spent a bit more time looking at them) and a loo break, we went in the lift to the tunnel.

I think the tunnel was probably the most stunning bit, though it was all pretty amazing. There were lots of fish swimming around, but the highlight were two large turtles which looked like they were flying over our heads. I did feel a bit odd in the tunnel, though, a bit like going in a very fast lift, or taking off in a plane.

After that there was a rather bizarre mirror maze that led directly into the shop. Very manipulative planning there. We had to fight our way through trying to escape. I noticed a family with young twins – the mother pushing the twin buggy and the father desperately trying to keep hold of both children’s hands. Made me think of MTJAM and how it might not be the easiest place for her to navigate!

We came out into quite heavy rain, though it was a bit of a relief after the crowded and very warm centre. We had had the foresight to pack Rosemary’s raincoat, but neither of us even had coats. It wasn’t very cold though. We went and found a cafe and sat down and a drink and bite to eat, then braved the downpour to catch the 14:40 home. My SPD started playing up on the walk to the station and I was very glad to sit down when we reached the train, just in time.

I would definitely recommend the Sea Life Centre, particularly for slightly older children. If you can go during school terms, it’s probably a bit quieter, but that’s the case with most things. And, if you’re going by train, print out a map of how to get there from the station!

I think Chris enjoyed it a lot more than I did and, if he reads this, will wonder why I haven’t mentioned this and that the other – feel free to comment, honey!

Have you been going on any trips over the Easter holidays? Do you prefer to travel by train or car, or hot air balloon? Have you been anywhere recently that you would particularly recommend? 


  1. One really good aquarium we tend to go to is The Deep in Chester. It's very near the Zoo, which I'm not sure if that helps the Deeps admission numbers or hinders them.

  2. Good review, we have something similar here in Edinburgh, bit expensive though.

  3. Dan: I've heard good things about Chester Zoo - didn't know there was an aquarium nearby, too.

    Erica: Think we may well check out the Edinburgh one next time we're up visiting the in-laws.

  4. What a good review. I think I'd like to visit it by train, too - we'll look into it. We're a bit limited on day trips because the girls still sleep for a three hours during the day. If we go somewhere by car I can plan the journey so they nap on the way, but I'm not sure they'd do that on a train - far too much to explore!

  5. MTJAM: Up until she was about two, I think, Rosemary would sleep a lot on the train. The first trip up to Scotland, when she was only a few months old, she slept almost the entire 9-hour journey, with brief breast-feeding pauses. These days she doesn't sleep, though she often looks like she's away to.

    The movement of the train, I think, has a similar rocking affect on little ones as a car. Then again, if they're not used to trains it might well be far too exciting for them to sleep!

  6. When I first read 'Sea Life Centre' I thought you'd come to Brighton!!! I'm such a Southerner! And then I saw Birmingham... Haven't been to that one, but have been to the one here and the children love it. Well Renée loves it, but Edie's freakishly scared of everything so spends the whole time wanting to be picked up and carried. It is a tad exhausting! Strangely enough I have never taken the children on a train. I know. I know!!! I am such a driver that I worry about having to keep them entertained on a train. At least with a car you can keep them strapped in (good and bad)!

    BTW - I had SPD in both my pregnancies. It was hideous. I couldn't walk for the last couple of months with the first. I hope you're not suffering too much!

  7. Think I clicked too early!! Meant to say that we had a 'day out' yesterday as well. Got caught in the rain at a sheep farm. I was a tad reluctant given the weather (same as you by the sounds of it), but we ended up having a great time. Most recommended.

  8. MT: Would have happily gone to Brighton, but it's too far. I've only been once for a day and a half, but would have loved to have stayed a whole week at least. Must be a nice place to live.

    I read about your day out earlier (and could have sworn I'd commented, but maybe I just thought the comment) and it sounded lovely.

    I have a friend whose dad offered to take her children on a short train journey (35 miutes), as they'd never experienced it. She, quite reluctantly, agreed and then drove to the other end to meet them off the train, as she was worried he might not cope with getting all three of them off the train. I'm quite blase about trains, as my mum has been taking groups of kids all over Europe on them for years and hasn't had any problems. If she can do it with four kids to one adult, I can manage one to two! It's funny that you're worried about how you would keep yours amused on a train, where I would have no idea how to keep Rosemary entertained for a car journey longer than about 10 minutes. It's all what you're used to, I suppose.

    Did you walk with the second? I was on crutches for the last month (would have been last two, but Rosemary came early) and going up and down stairs on my bum. I honestly do not think I can do that now, with a toddler to haul around. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the physio next Tuesday - the woman sounded like she knows what she's talking about. And I have details of a private physio reasonably local who is recommended specifically for SPD, so will go there if necessary.

  9. The SPD was much better with the second - but only because I read an article about an osteopath who specialised in pregnant women's problems including SPD - and I went to see him. I was devastated because I felt it recurring when I was only about 2 months pregnant (not even showing) and I cried when it happened because I thought the next 7 months were going to be spent in complete hideous pain. Anyway, osteopath totally sorted me out (whereas the physio I went to see with the first didn't). Could have done with him during my first pregnancy. Hope yours gets sorted. x

  10. MT: Thank you! That sounds promising. My physio with the first was useless, too. She didn't know anything about it and just gave me a big tubigrip and a printout from the internet of where you could buy the belts - and a pair of crutches. No manipulation whatsoever. I am confident that, this time, I know enough about it to go elsewhere if I'm not getting what I need. Mine started up at 13 weeks this time. I was walking with Rosemary and literally shouted 'No! No! No! You have got to be kidding me!' to which Rosemary responded 'What's the matter, mummy?'

  11. the birmingham one is very good, and we have done sea life centres uk and beyond thanks to a budding marine biologist in the family. shark would probably rate it in her top 5 if you'd like that endorsement!

  12. Grit: Good to know it's a good one. Seemed pretty good to us, but we have nothing to compare it with. As I said in reply to your other comment, I will be back later (have to work, now) to read lots more of your blog. Very interested to hear about your home-education experiences!

  13. Well hello.. just wanted to tell you that your name is a name that I never thought anyone else would have... but HELLO!! I'm also Tasha Goddard.... just thought that was amusing

  14. Gosh, how strange. There aren't very many of us out there, though. Just googled our name and 7 out of the 10 results on the first page are me. Nice to meet you, Tasha.

  15. I would choose car over anything else, i don't drive myself (hubby does) so get public transport alot and its just horrible - then again i do have 3 young kids .

    Sea centre sounds like fun

  16. We love the Birmingham Sealife centre too. The giant turtles in the see-through walkway were a big hit as was anything that could 'kill you' bizarrely!

  17. We went to the London Transport Museum and used a train to get there. You've inspired me to review it now!

  18. Laura: I can imagine public transport can be a big challenge with three children, yes! One is perfectly fine and, hopefully, two will be just about OK, but three? Nah. I think we would get a car!

    Tara: Yes, those turtles were amazing. They almost made me forget the very weird feelings I got being underneath all that water.

    HOM: Must try the LTM out one day, though I think Chris has 'booked' the Natural History Museum for the next trip of this kind!