Tag Archives: Oxfordshire

Oxford Mommy’s new job

Are you a busy parent?

Don’t worry, I’m still Oxford Mommy and I’ll be reviewing Oxford’s eateries, attractions, and activities for baby- and toddler-friendliness for a long time to come! But I also have a new job as a Professional Declutterer and Organizer. I’ve opened my own business, Clear the Decks!

Never heard of that job before? Most people haven’t! A professional declutterer and organizer helps others transform their living and working spaces into something that truly fits their needs. I’ve always had a passion for organizing, and now I’m making it into my profession. I work with anyone who needs their home decluttered and organized, but as the parent of a young child I am very much in tune with the needs of families with young children.

If you need help paring down your stuff and organizing your home and your schedule so that you have more space and time for your family, I’m here to help. And because I am so grateful to my Oxford Mommy readers for supporting me over the last two and a half years, I’m offering a 15% discount to anyone who books a session with me before 31 December 2015. Email me at clearthedecksUK@gmail.com to book a consultation.

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Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens

I’ve never been much of an animal lover. Zoos and wildlife parks have never held any appeal for me; I prefer cultural and culinary adventures rather than getting up close to nature in all its glory. So I very nearly didn’t go along when the Baberoo’s Gran and Oxford Daddy planned a trip to Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens (near Burford, Oxfordshire, OX18 4JP; £14.50 for adults, £10 for children 3-16 and seniors, free for under-3s). And that would have been a shame – because as it turned out, it was more fun than a barrel full of monkeys.

And there sure were monkeys. Monkeys, marmosets, lemurs, tamarins, and gibbons! They were all so interesting up close – I never thought I would enjoy observing  small primates so much. The Baberoo loved the smaller animals, especially the meerkats and the squirrel monkeys. She also enjoyed seeing the penguins and tropical birds as well as the larger mammals (although I’m not quite sure she can distinguish between most of them yet: the wolves, warty pigs, and capybaras all elicited a ‘woof woof’ sound).

Cotswold Wildlife Park penguin

What struck me most about the Cotswold Wildlife Park was how nicely it was laid out and how beautiful the vegetation was – both in the animals’ habitats and in the landscaped gardens. The gardens are as finely and professionally cultivated as any botanical garden, although they prefer to refer to their style of horticulture as ‘theatre with plants’. We were lucky enough to go on a beautiful sunny day that was not too hot, but I imagine that the gardens are equally lovely in different seasons. Since nearly everything is outdoors, make sure you plan accordingly with umbrellas, stroller covers, sweaters, jackets, and/or sunscreen, depending on the weather forecast.

Cotswold Wildlife Park landscaped gardens

The Cotswold Wildlife Park is an easily walkable size, and for those who don’t want to walk the whole time there’s a narrow-gauge railway (£1, free for under-3s) that will take you around the park. (Unfortunately, you wouldn’t be able to fit a stroller onto the train, so it’s not suitable for babies or toddlers.) If you have an older toddler or child who likes crafts, you can also visit the Brass Rubbing Centre, located in the Victorian Manor House in the centre of the Park (open school holidays and summer weekends; £1-£2.50). There’s a Children’s Farmyard where young ones can pet the animals and an Adventure Playground so they can run around, and a new ‘Skymaze’ adventure playground is set to open on July 19th.

Cotswold Manor House

Judging by the number of strollers and small children, Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens is no secret to families around Oxfordshire. We loved it and will definitely be back. Here’s how it rates for baby- and toddler-friendliness according to my five criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: The Oak Tree Restaurant is the main eatery at the Wildlife Park; it offers standard cafeteria-type dishes such as chilli con carne, jacket potatoes, burgers, or chicken nuggets, with chips as a side for most meals. A few of the dishes can be eaten one-handed if you are holding a baby in one arm. The restaurant offers children’s portions as well as baby-sized portions of most of the main meals. There are also three kiosks serving ice cream and snacks. But frankly, your best bet, for price as well as for ambiance, is to bring a picnic and eat in the gardens or at one of the picnic shelters or picnic tables around the park. We laid our blanket out on the Anniversary Lawn and ate a lovely picnic while we watched the train circling the park.

Space: There’s plenty of space in the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, and even double strollers – of which we saw plenty – will fit comfortably into all the entrances, paths, and facilities (although pushchairs are not allowed in the Madagascar exhibit, so you’ll have to take your little one out if you’d like to visit that one). The hard part is getting there: the Park is two miles south of Burford on the A361, about 20 miles west of Oxford. Coming by car is by far the best (some might say it’s the only) option, as buses to Burford are few and far between. The bus route from Oxford is the Swanbrook No. 853, operating three times daily on weekdays, four times on Saturdays, and once on Sunday, and you need to get a taxi from Burford to the Wildlife Park after getting off the bus. If you don’t have a car, it might be an idea to hire one for the day. Parking is excellent, with staff directing drivers to the next available space in the grass car park.

Ambiance: This is definitely a place for kids and it’s geared towards their enjoyment, from the signage to the Adventure Playground. Whoops of delight and happy faces everywhere made it clear that families were enjoying themselves, and the commercial aspects of the Park were kept very clearly within the shop and the eateries. The animals we saw looked like they were thriving and happy in their surroundings. All the staff we saw were pleasant and knowledgeable.

Facilities: There are four toilet blocks around the park, one of which is in the restaurant. All of them have baby-changing and disabled facilities. The baby-changing in the large block of toilets nearest the shop (shown at left in the picture below) is bigger than the one in the restaurant (shown at right). All of the baby-changing facilities I saw were clean and well-aired.

Cotswold Wildlife Park baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If your little one is eating solid food, you can get a child- or baby-sized meal at the restaurant. If you’re breastfeeding, there are many places to sit around the park, including picnic tables and garden benches, or just on the grass. If you’d like a secluded area for breastfeeding, you’ll be able to find one somewhere around the park.

In total the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens gets an 8.25 out of 10 for baby- and toddler-friendliness. Although it’s much more geared towards school-aged kids than towards babies or toddlers, I’d highly recommend it as a great day out for even the youngest of babies. Most little ones will be thrilled to get a close-up look at the real-life counterparts of the toys they snuggle with and the animals they read about in books.

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Jacobs Inn

Like all the food-related bloggers in and around Oxford, it was only a matter of time before I reviewed Jacobs Inn (130 Godstow Road, Wolvercote, OX2 8PG), the new(ish – they opened in July) dining room and public house by the people who brought you Jacobs and Field. I had been looking forward to the day with great anticipation.

The Baberoo, her Gran and I visited the restaurant for a weekday lunch, having booked the day before, and boy was I glad we had. It was jam-packed in there; the Jacobs Inn guys do a great job at PR and they have an almost cult-like following already.  They even have a Twitter account for their chickens (@jacobschickens), which they keep in the back garden along with their pigs. Talk about locally-sourced eating!

To tide us over before our lunch arrived I ordered some pork crackling with apple relish (£3.50). The apple relish was delicious, but the crackling had been overdone to a hardness that was no longer edible – really too bad, since I had been hoping for a crispy treat.

Jacobs Inn pork crackling

It was hard to decide on my main, given all the delicious-sounding meats on the menu. The venison and bacon ragu sounded tempting, but in the end I went with the Blythburg free range pork belly (£13). It was tender and succulent, with a lovely, almost jammy, seared exterior. I offered some to the Baberoo – big mistake, because she liked it so much that she clamoured for more and ended up eating half of it!

Jacobs Inn pork belly

Despite the pork cracklings not turning out well, I enjoyed the meal and the relaxed atmosphere, and would certainly go back to Jacobs Inn. So, how did it fare on the baby-friendliness scale? My ratings system (explained fully on my About page) encompasses five criteria: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: For a restaurant that revolves mainly around meat, Jacobs Inn has a surprising number of dishes that can be eaten with one hand while you hold a baby in the other arm. Although the big cuts of meat that require both knife and fork aren’t a possibility, a pie, pasta dish, stew, and lots of starter and brunch plates are easily enjoyed one-handed.

Space: The restaurant area is in the back of the inn, easily accessible with a pushchair (although we didn’t have one on the day since we came in a car). There’s not too much room between tables, so groups of parents with babies in carriages might have a hard time, although there were a few nooks and crannies in the dining room where more than one pushchair might fit, if you can get it through a somewhat narrow space in the middle of the restaurant area. Jacobs Inn also has parking – always handy if you have a car and would prefer to make the trip out to Wolvercote without braving public transport, although the number 6 bus does go right by the inn. But be warned: the parking lot can be a pretty tight squeeze, as we learned on our way out (no thanks to the obstinate lady in a Porsche).

Jacobs Inn interior 3

Ambiance: Quintessential laid-back gastropub, complete with roaring fire. It’s a beautiful interior. Staff were very friendly and helpful with the Baberoo. We were offered a high chair immediately and shown the way to the facilities when we needed them. Staff didn’t even blink at the amount of food that the Baberoo threw on the nice cowhide rug underneath our table and told me to leave the mess for them to clean up (I did clean it myself, though – who wants to pick up half-eaten cucumber and muffin?) The Baberoo also received lots of attention from a nearby table of friendly lunching ladies, which tickled us no end.

Jacobs Inn interior 1

Facilities: The baby-changing table at Jacobs Inn is somewhat of a puzzler. It’s a wooden shelf that folds down from the wall and has one leg supporting it. It’s easy to accidentally kick the leg and dislodge it (which I did), and although I could see that the table had supports at the wall, I was still nonplussed at the idea that the leg could be so out of place. I knew the table wasn’t going to fall, but it still didn’t inspire confidence. Otherwise, the bathroom was clean and fresh-smelling and had enough room for a pushchair to fit comfortably. No shelf or area to put your changing bag, though.

Jacobs Inn baby-changing facilities

Feeding: The Baberoo ate a lunch brought from home (along with half of my pork belly); our table was on the small side so if you’re planning on seating your baby in a high chair and feeding them, see if you can get a table with enough surface area for the baby’s lunch (which always turns out to take up twice as much space as you think it will). If you’re breastfeeding, there are some tables with soft bench seating that might be more comfortable than the wooden chairs.

By my ratings scale, Jacobs Inn earns a 7.5 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s best to reserve a table, even for a weekday lunch. Go and relax by the fire and remember not to let your baby eat half your meal.

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