Battle and Hastings

When working on Julius Caesar for work over the weekend I came across this quote attributed to him – “Experience is the teacher of all things.” It’s one that I try to apply to our HE style. I do believe that lots can be learned from books but it’s experience, seeing and doing really adds context and helps that knowledge take root. Obviously there are somethings that it is impossible to experience – I can never take him back to the actual Battle of Hastings of course but we could go to the battlefield and see the layout with the hill where Harold mustered his army, the marshy valley bottom where the Norman had to fight upwards from, we can take what we’ve read about and stand there and imagine it all.

And go to Battle is what we did last week. It’s about 3 hours on the train from here so to allow us time to enjoy it fully we stayed in Hastings for a night either side to give us a full day in Battle.

We spent the first day exploring Hastings Castle

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playing in the park

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and having fun in the dark walking through Smugglers Caves.  We kept poking the walls as they looked like polystyrene but were definitely real stone.

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Day two took us to Battle Abbey. We started with a long play in a brilliantly designed park. They made the the play equipment look like things that would have been done in that little courtyard of the abbey.

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When the billions of school children had passed through at pace we then headed into the exhibition to explore.

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Before taking the long (and very muddy) route around the battlefield.

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After a snack and drink pitstop several hours were spent exploring the Abbey. Huge amount to see and do there. Might be the best EH visit we’ve done.

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A quick walk about Battle and a nose in the small local museum rounded too the day and we headed back to the hotel for food, baths and bed.

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Final day saw us exploring Hastings seafront, visiting a few tiny museums, walking through the fishing quarter, riding the Victorian cliff lift and having some ice cream and arcade fun.

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A lovely few days away and definitely need a return trip to Hastings when the summer season is in swing, Sam and I loved the place

Castles (again), Catching Up and Cooling Down

Wednesday was forecast to be a scorcher so decided to stay close to the sea for the breeze.

We headed over on the ferry to Portsmouth.  Stopped at Gunwharf shopping village for sandals, sunglasses and more antihistamines and suntan lotion.  With Sam all kitted out for summer we then walked along the seafront to Southsea Castle.


I love this walk.  Gives us fantastic views back to Gosport, takes us past no end of naval heritage and then of course there is the hovercraft to watch.  It wasn’t too hot yet and even rained which was nice.20150702_2 20150702_3 20150702_4 20150702_6 Southsea Castle is an odd one really, not that much to see.  Small, compact and some nice educational activities though.  Cannons to climb on and fabulous views.

20150702_7 20150702_8 20150702_920150702_1420150702_1520150702_18I don’t know why this tickled me so much but it really did.  20150702_12We’d been joined at the castle by another home education family, one we’ve known about 5 years but very, very rarely see now a days.  So it was more a social trip.

With the sun coming out we headed to the nearby splash park.  More paddle than splash, but more shade for parents which I was grateful for.

20150702_20 20150702_21Another lovely afternoon.

We broke the long, hot walk back with ice cream and arcades.

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Reminded myself how much I like this end of Southsea.  I really could do with so many more days in a week, so many people we love to see and places we love to go but struggle to fit it all in.  Talking of places we love – not happy with the painting of the Spinnaker.   Red or blue I don’t care.  You see it for miles around and I love the white against the sky.


Catapults, Capitulation and Castle Building

Seem to have built up a collection of started but not finished blog posts :/

Monday was a stay in doors and wait for the electrician sort of day.  Pete was pottering about having appointments.

Bit of English, last test to complete Mathletics year 4, some live Mathletics and a bit of Timez Attack took up first part of the morning.

We then got into some catapult building.  Firstly from the physics kit we have.

20150629_11 20150629_12 20150629_14 Secondly from a book and kit.  The cardboard catapult was surprisingly sturdy.20150702_3520150629_1620150629_17Then there was some Minecraft castle building.  A concentric castle.
20150629_18One of the hardest things I have to master home ed wise is when to give up an idea.  Our attempt to keep up with the 30 Days Wild had been limping for days.  High pollen counts and itchy skin flare ups made messing around outdoors not something appealing.  So take from it we had some fun and let it go (hard for me to do :)).

I took the guides to the pottery painting place and picked up Sam’s plate.


Alver Valley

We are so lucky in where we live. The beach is 5 mins walk in one direction, country park with meadows, river and woodlands 10 mins walk the other direction.  Unfortunately nature hates me and a trip to the country park usually needs a cold bath and very early night due to puffy, sour eyes (7pm early!) so have to pick our moments when we go.  Do like it up there though, just in the pollen season can only go when we have no evening plans.

The main purpose was a bit of butterfly spotting for our 30 Days Wild.  Very tricky to photograph butterflies.
20150616_2320150616_1 20150616_8 Did get these noisy characters though20150616_12I’d posted we were going on the home ed group so others joined us for a picnic and play in the woods.

20150616_4 This is an old motte (so we were doing castles too 🙂 )20150616_7   Always fun watching dogs swim in the river.20150616_13 20150616_20 On the home front, Timez Attack is back in favour and he’s come on so far and gained so much confidence with his tables.

Science of Siege Engines

In the last few years I’ve seen this workshop arranged a couple of times by others in the local group but for various reasons it has never worked for us to attend.  However with a science topic of forces and a history topic of castles this half term we had to have a go.  I wasn’t sure we’d manage to get a big enough group with it having been done a few times recently but we did comfortably.

20150610_17The workshop was based in one of the Palmerston Forts built in Victorian times to defend Portsmouth from the French.  You can’t go anywhere locally without falling over these things.  Fort Nelson has been converted to a museum and houses some of the Royal Armouries guns and cannons collection.  For good measure it also has a breathtaking view over Portsmouth Harbour.



In the workshop itself the children were split into groups and they had an introduction to siege weapons and identified the various sites of push and pull on a catapult.  Then in their groups they designed and built their own catapult.

20150610_6Then they had some attempts at firing it.  Firstly investigating how tight they needed to twist it and secondly the effects of different sizes and shapes of items being fired.

20150610_9Then we got to go outside and fire the trebuchet.

20150610_10 20150610_11Sam was relieved to find it considerably smaller than the one at Warwick :).

We didn’t really stay and explore as I’m still battling the lurgy and I’d left my Dad and oldest child (inset day) hanging about waiting for us.  But here are 2 of the impressive guns.

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At home there was lots of TV – Story of the Castle and Merlin to carry on the theme.  Wallowing in the bath.  Plus building an insect trap in the back garden for the 30 Days Wild challenge.

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Today was the last proper trip I’ve arranged before the summer break this year.  I’ve had the common sense to realise that I don’t need the stress when we’re hayfevery and woefully lacking in sleep.  I’ve learned the hard way not to rely on getting Sam out of the door.

I’ve organised more trips than ever this year.  They’ve been stressful at times but that has always been because of issues with the organisers not home educators.  I’ve joked before about the ‘herding cats’ analogy but some how this year on all but 1 trip I’ve had everyone turn up or apologise beforehand and pretty much everyone on time.  I’ve not had one trip I’ve ended up out of pocket on, after a few blips at the start of the year not had problems collecting money.  Children and adults have behaved well on every trip.  Not one trip has left me thinking ‘never again’ or even ‘never taking them again’  (had quite a few of them over the years).  I’d like to think I’ve finally nailed it but think luck and a truly lovely, huge bunch of local home eders are the key.

3 Days 3 Castles

Our new project is castles/knights/middle ages/Arthurian legends keeping a very open mind about where this one takes us.

Being Welsh there is no way we can look at castles without a trip to visit some family and welsh castles.  I make no claims on how many castles in Wales I’ve visited over the years, quite a few but I know I’ve only scratched the surface.  Much more familiar with N Wales though so the trip was a chance to explore some new ones to me.

Day 1 – Castell Coch

This is one familiar from a distance but never visited.  Look at the photos on here of it from a distance and you can see why this one was an intriguing one to want to visit.  A real life fairy tale castle.


Originally the site of a Norman castle, the motte was reused to house a stone fortress in the 13th Century by Gilbert De Clare before falling into ruins for approximately 500 years.  In the 19th century it came into the possession of the Marquess of Bute who had it rebuilt as a country retreat by the architect William Burges.


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For our Merlin fan friends, here is the castle in starring role.

Day 2 – Caerphilly

The largest castle in Wales and a castle that makes you think ‘well that is a castle’!

20150606_51Concentric design, a castle within a castle within a castle.  Built in the 13th Century by Gilbert de Clare it played an important part in battle to subdue the rebellion of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.

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Oh and here’s more Merlin

And Dr Who, they use Caerphilly quite often.  Think it was Nottingham castle in the last series.

Day 3 – Cardiff Castle

We’ve been to Cardiff Castle a few times now but it’s handy for the train.  It feels more impressive stately home than castle in general.  It was restored in the Victorian era for the Marquess of Bute by William Burges (those of Castell Coch).  However there is a Medieval keep on a Norman motte and the walls are built on the original Roman walls showing the site has been a fortress for a long time.

I managed to get Sam into the wartime shelters in the walls this time (last time we were there he was scared of the recording of Neville Chamberlain booming out).

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If anyone is wondering what all the stuff on castle green is, we made the mistake of going the day that the Manic Street Preachers were playing.


Warwick Castle

This was the motivation for staying in Birmingham.  The ease of travelling to Warwick.  Actually kind of wish we’d stayed in Warwick.  It was a lot quainter than I imagined and the walk from the station to the castle took us past 2 quilting shops and a bead shop.  I like beads, not as much as buttons but…  Probably best for the boys we didn’t stay there :).

The topic for next half term is castles, so thought in light of the general lack of motivation starting with a bit of a pizzazz  would be good.  Plus I had Clubcard vouchers to use, often struggle a bit to spend them.

Thoughts on the castle… Actually it was a lot more ‘castle trip’ than I was expecting.  I was picturing a glorified theme park type thing really.  But it was a castle you could walk around, climb the battlements and explore the beautiful grounds.  It was busy but you never felt people were on top of you (except in the playground – Sam loved it, Jack and I hated it).  There was a fair amount of touristy stuff and it certainly isn’t a cheap day out, £9 each extra for Dungeon tour, £5 for this, £5 for that… But sometimes days like that are worth it and this one was.

Definitely captured Sam’s interest in the Medieval and Wars of the Roses.  Hopefully something I can hold.  Was a lovely day out.



The boys had a go at archery.

20150528_57 20150528_58Sam went to knight school.


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We had a look around the grounds, which are really beautiful.  There was a Victorian Mill on site.

20150528_80 20150528_81There was a Horrible Histories Medieval village to explore.

20150528_82 20150528_83 20150528_85 20150528_86Stocks and a ballista.

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Over lunch we watched the firing of the trebuchet.20150528_89 20150528_91 20150528_93

Then we finally made it in to the castle.

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Sam and I toured the dungeon.  He was very proud as they didn’t recommend it for under 10’s as too scary (wasn’t really).  Jack doesn’t do enclosed spaces so he entertained himself buying sweets and stationery in the shop.  We then nipped in for Sam to buy some knights and weapons (just what you want to carry around for the rest of the trip).
20150528_112We walked the walls.  Surprisingly encountering a peacock up there.20150528_107 20150528_109


After a play at the fabulous castle themed playground we ended the trip with an outdoor theatre performance ‘Horrible Histories Wicked Warwick’.

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We did stop for a quick look at the birds of prey on the way out.