A stunning palace, with it’s own lake, forests, landscaped parklands- this is Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Combine this with the popular TV series, Countryfile, which makes me proud of the beautiful British rolling hills and stunning coastlines. You have Countryfile Live 2016 with presenters and all!
It makes me want to pull on a pair of wellies and meet outdoorsy people enjoying outdoor pursuits. I rearing to go, but then reality hits and I have to summon up the energy to get three kids dressed, and gently persuade the husband too. As a family, anywhere that offers a safe environment for the kids and a cup of tea, good food and toilets is often a good tactical approach to getting us all out of the house. But it’s already starting to sound a bit boring and a bit less outdoorsy. So, let’s make it more adventurous. Let’s try out less run of the mill activities such as, say, 4×4 driving and canoeing. Can that work? For the whole family? Even with a toddler in tow?!
The event this summer in Oxfordshire this August, Countryfile Live will be putting on its huge debut country show in the magnificent grounds of Blenheim Palace. A four day event with over 800 exhibitors in one of our favourite stomping grounds, (yes we are lucky enough to have Blenheim Palace on our doorstep) we reckoned it has to be worth checking out. We tested out a few of the activities on offer on the event’s preview day.
First up, canoeing.
Blenheim is such a huge place, this was our first jaunt down to the riverside that lies past the Pleasure Gardens and beyond. Over a quaint humpback bridge, and down to a gentle gravelly shoreline. It was easy enough for George and Libby to jump right into the canoe without getting soggy toes. Jack went at the front to power us along, and I provided the ballast at the back. The friendly instructors from LNC Activities and Training helped us jump in and were around to help, but let us find our own rhythm and pace. Waterlilies created a natural boundary to our paddling at one end, speckling the the still and shallow water like golden pear drops. Libby trailed her hand in the water the entire time, absorbed by the serenity and beauty of the water moving slowly past. George sat still, little eyes peering out from above his buoyancy aid, until nearly the end, when he proudly attempted to paddle our little vessel himself. Encouraging words from our instructor in nearby canoe assured me that he had a spare paddle if mine got lost overboard. Our family felt united – all four of us kept afloat, and we had navigated ourselves from bank to bank with relative ease. It was with a sigh of relief and regret that I stepped out of the canoe and back on to the bank. For just a short while time had stood still and we had regrouped.
It was time for a spot of fishing – with a difference. Equipped with miniature footballs on the end of the lines, the children’s fishing rods came in bright colours, and were an immediate draw. We were fishing into plastic buckets and well away from water, but it was still fun. Despite clear guidance, I couldn’t encourage George’s little fingers to move in time with the line and the reel. Giving up, I busied myself taking photos of Libby who was enjoying herself hugely, sitting on Daddy’s knee with the longest rod I have ever seen with a cup on the end. Between them they aimed for the furthest away bucket and gently plopped their blue ball from the cup into the bucket. Realising I had forgotten about George, I turned back to find one of the instructors had got him holding the rod correctly and had actually got him to hold and release the line with his finger at just the right moment to swing his football into his bucket. I wondered out loud how on earth he had achieved such sleight of hand. The instructor explained that he had small children of his own who were just as enthusiastic about fishing as he.
Next up, we approached the Mitsubishi Off Roading team. Their L200 Series 5 has a nifty feature of being able to switch between 4 wheel and 2 wheel driving, and looking at the bumpy course, I could guess which of the two modes we would be using. I decided to graciously allow Jack to go and do this stereotypically manly sport, and was hugely surprised when we were all offered to jump in. Although Jack didn’t get to drive the pick up, we had a fun trip round the course. No hillock or bend was ignored but driven right over or through, and the slow ride round gave the kids all the enjoyment of off roading with no nasty surprises. The kids hopped out at the end and ran back up the ‘mountain’ that they had just driven down while our driver Selwyn, indulged Jack in his taste for engineering with the full lo-down on this mean machine. I know in my heart to drive round the course at speed and experience its full power and steering capabilities would have been more of Jack’s thing. I was simply grateful that even this activity had been made family friendly and a positive experience.
I assumed that dog-handling classes would be lost on us, since we don’t have a dog, but I hadn’t accounted for dog trainer, Adem Fehmi and his three gorgeous black labradors. With a cheery banter and a few doggy sweets he soon had enlisted Libby’s help in showing off some tricks with dog Yogi. With a passion for passing on his knowledge of how the doggy mind works, he gave us tips for how to encourage safe situations around children and when to leave a dog well alone.
We were now getting a little peckish, and the toastie aroma wafting in our direction from the vintage horsebox was beckoning, but not before Jack tried his hand at the STIHL Loggers’ stand, heaven for anyone who loves chopping, sawing and slicing up big chunks of tree. Chopping and sawing at scarily breakneck speed, the team demonstrated their talents and showed off incredible skill and precision. Jack’s attempts at sawing through a large log were slightly longer than the standard 13 seconds for the team, but then the call went up for a second person to join him with a double handled saw… Oh me??! Is this a picture of 10 years marriage at work or what??!
Duly fed and watered by the Horsebox toastie extraordinaire (I can thoroughly recommend the mushroom toastie, although they were all good), we wandered back over the bridge, revitalised and satisfied by our experiences.