A Day at Almond Valley Heritage Centre, West Lothian
As we all enjoyed our day at Auchingarrich Wildlife Centre in Perthshire so much, as soon as we got home, Terry and I started looking for somewhere similar – but a little closer to home – to help us in our ongoing mission to keep Max entertained and out of trouble.
(Because, seriously, people, the struggle is SO real right now. I mean, I thought having a newborn was the hardest thing in the world, but that was only because I’d never had to chase a toddler through a soft play area, or re-stock the toy kitchen for the 678th time in a row yet. I mean, we STILL regularly drive to the supermarket just to try to kill some time, because we’ve already visited all of the playparks within a 10 mile radius, and it’s somehow still only 10am. HOW?)
Fortunately for us, we didn’t have to look very far here. Almond Valley Heritage Centre has been right on our doorstep for years now, and has been recommended to us by… well, by pretty much everyone we know, basically. Terry and I, however, had never been: mostly because we assumed it was one of those places that’s just for kids, and, as much as I secretly wanted to go and see all the animals, we thought we might feel a little bit silly going there on our own. This, of course, was pretty silly of us, really: you don’t need to have kids to be able to appreciate Almond Valley. It is, however, designed with little people in mind, so, on a sunny day earlier this month, we jumped into the car, and headed off for a look around.
It’s actually hard to sum up Almond Valley Heritage Centre in just one sentence, because there are so many different parts to it. It’s a farm, a water mill, a museum… and that’s without even getting into all of the many, many different indoor and outdoor play areas you’ll find there. There are riverside walks, tractor rides, a miniature railway, a cafe… I could go on. (And on, and on, and on…) The place is absolutely huge, with the various different activities and attractions spread out along a stretch of the River Almond, so although it’s hugely popular (Especially right now, during the school holidays), it never really feels too crowded to be able to enjoy it.
Once you’ve purchased your tickets and done your best to resist the Jellycats on sale in the gift shop, you emerge into the little museum, which tells some of the history of the local area, and particularly the shale oil industry which dominated this part of the world for many years. The museum is small, but packed with information, and it’s really fascinating – especially if you live locally, and know some of the places in the old photos and maps. Max, of course, is too young to appreciate this at the moment, but he did get a kick out of this part:
Which, you know, isn’t creepy AT ALL, is it?
Once you’ve exited the museum, you’re back outdoors, where you’re basically spoiled for choice in terms of what to do next. Our first stop is always the play area next to the cafe, where Max would quite happily spend the rest of his life pretending to drive the little wooden car, but once we’ve prised him away from that, we normally move on to…
I might only have photographed this one sheep, but there tons of other animals to visit in the farm section of the park, including ponies, donkeys, goats, alpacas, and a selection of smaller animals like guinea pigs, and newly hatched chicks. (Which you can actually watch hatch in their glass incubators…) Oh, and there’s also the opportunity to bottle-feed the lambs, and listen to talks about the various animals and how to look after them: so, it’s an animal lovers paradise, basically.
Once you’ve said hello to the animals, meanwhile, you can take a tractor ride, or hop aboard the little train:
(Don’t be fooled by Max’s unimpressed expression here: he cried to get off the train when first got on board, but then cried when we tried to take him back off it again at the end of the ride. Toddlers, huh?)
As awesome as all of this is, though (And I’m really aware here that I’m gushing so much that some of you are probably assuming this post is sponsored: it isn’t – I’m just so relieved to have found somewhere relatively close to home that holds Max’s attention, but isn’t a soft play that I’m slightly delirious right now.) (There IS also a soft play, though, obviously. In fact, there’s more than one…), it’s the many, many different play areas at Almond Valley that have really won Max’s heart. Here he is, for instance, is the reason my house is now permanently coated in a thin layer of sand:
This might look like a sandpit, however, but it’s actually a simulated “archaeological dig” – so, as you dig, you start to uncover skeletons and various other artefacts from the past. It’s, er, less creepy than in sounds, I promise. Also, there’s a bright yellow dumper truck, and that’s all Max cares about, basically. (Seriously, though, the historical part of this is obviously aimed at older children, but this is the kind of thing I’d have LOVED as a kid. And also as an adult, if I’m totally honest…) Again, a quick look at my camera roll tells me this is the only play area I’ve actually bothered to photograph (In my defence, that’s probably because it’s the only one Max remains still in for more than a few seconds: the rest of the time I’m too busy chasing around after him, and trying to keep him out of trouble, to remember to take photos…), but there’s tons of other stuff to see: from the ubiquitous soft play, to various climbing frames, slides, trampolines, bouncy castles, mini tractors… you’re not going to run out of things to do, let’s put it that way.
With that in mind, then, it’ll come as no surprise that within an hour of arriving at the farm on our first visit, Terry and I had already decided to buy annual passes to the place. It costs £35 per adult for unlimited yearly entrance, compared to £9.50 for a single day. (Children under three are free, so Max has plenty of time to enjoy it before he has to start dipping into his pocket money…), and as there are big events at both halloween and Christmas, we knew we’d definitely want to go at least two more times, so we’d pay close to that £35 anyway. As it turned out, though, we’ve already been back way more than tree times (As you can probably tell by the fact Max is wearing a few different outfits in this post alone!): in fact, we’ve probably averaged at least once a week since we got our passes, so it’s definitely been worth the investment. And as it’s a year-round attraction, I know we’ll more than get our money’s worth: I mean, did I mention you get to bottle feed newborn lambs? Case closed…