Spring mini sessions for children and families in Arundel, West Sussex
Writing this in the depths of January winter, it’s tricky to think too far ahead to Spring. It seems a distant dream at the moment. We know the leaves will come back on the trees and the bluebells will sprout in the woods, but it seems so far away right now!
Having said that, we’ve had a wonderful winter so far – there’s something about the post Christmas blues that makes me even more determined to get outside. Plus, two little four-year olds wouldn’t let me have it any other way!
We started off the year with a bang – or should I say splash – as we always do. Every year, we organise a New Year’s Day dip in the sea mid-morning, supplying our friends and family who take the plunge with teas, coffees and sausage rolls. We head to West Wittering, which this year thanks to the beautiful weather was packed. There were 8 of us Arundel residents who took part aged 14 to 60 with many more coming down to cheer us on! Such a thrill jumping in the sea and dashing out again ana an amazing way to start the year - so much so that two of our party have carried it on and have done a sea dip every day since!
As you may have come to expect reading my column, we’ve been exploring the local woods quite a bit. We’ve just moved to a new house on the ‘other side of town’ and I’ve loved discovering the local woods – the ones up behind ACE that stretch up towards Tortington Lane and on to Binsted Woods. How have we never been there before! There’s a fab tyre swing in a clearing which the boys loved – and their mummy (me!) loved the many beautiful spots for family photos. Also, excitingly near us, there’s some interesting work going on at the fields near Priory Lane. Many local residents are putting their heads together with the help of the Arundel Castle Groundsman are clearing up the field and turning it into a beautiful space the community can use. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds, I will keep you updated.
Another way I avoid the January blues is to organise a family trip away – so we’ve just returned from a bit of an epic long weekend in the Scottish Highlands! Literally the other end of the country from us here in Arundel but such a breath-taking place. We were staying on the Isle of Seil on the West Coast. I certainly recommend – although perhaps fly. We drove and the 14 hour trip home in the snow with four year olds may have pushed us over the edge! (I have detailed some tips on road trips with kids if you’re keen to hear more – check out my blog)
Finally, I can’t talk about January without mentioning the other big milestone for us and many families of preschool aged kids – the primary school application deadline that loomed… we got our application in and now just have to sit tight until April to see which school the boys’ get into. No matter where we get in though, I did do a lot of research into schools in and around the area and I can say with certainty we’re incredibly lucky with the two schools we have in Arundel!
SO while we’ve had a wonderful Winter, Spring is on my mind. A time when our County comes alive with events, Spring Fairs, Mother’s Day celebrations and Easter Egg Hunts. There’s so much going on I thought I would outline the things we have pencilled in our diary to give you some inspiration.
Most locally, come April we will see Arundel Castle reopen. Which feels like it has come around very quickly this year! From the 6-7 April they celebrate with Combat At The Castle – which my boys will love. The event gives you the opportunity to see and hear how Robert de Belleme, Earl of Arundel, trained his soldiers in preparation for what was to be the first siege of the Castle in 1102. With traditional weapons and armour demonstrations plus archery competitions by the knights it’s a must see and full day out. It’s always incredibly popular too. The event is included in the standard Castle ticket price.
Staying in Arundel, the Wetlands Centre has a wealth of events on this Spring. I’m particularly excited about seeing what the Dark Skies Days event is all about. It’s being run in conjunction with the National Parks Dark Skies series – focussed on learning all about nocturnal wildlife with the centre being open late into the evening so you can see the birds going into roost. For kids like mine, who are big fans of the Gruffalo and the Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark, this is likely to be a winner and a treat to stay out a bit late. As well as watching out for owls, there’s also the opportunity to build a bat box (restricted numbers so need to book that one) and make pine cone decorations.
If birds are your kids’ thing – I recently learnt about the Chichester Cathedral Peregrines project. Unbeknownst to us, Peregrine Falcons have been living and nesting on the roof of Chichester Cathedral for years and thanks to a local couple, David and Janet Shaw, a web cam has been set up so you can watch them nest and watch their fledglings hatch. The couple will be at the Cathedral in March to tell you more about the local Peregrine Falcons. I’ll certainly be looking up to try and spot them next time we’re in Chi.
One of our favourite spots to explore come Spring is Amberley Museum which always makes a great day out. They have a special event on the 31 March for Mother’s Day called Mums Can Do which I like the sound of. If getting out and about (rather than a swanky lunch) is more your thing then this could be for you too. The weekend is set to be action packed with mums learning to drive a train, conduct the vintage buses and make some pottery. More information will be released closer to the time, but the museums events are normally best pre-booked as they are so popular.
If your children are of the age where they love some craft, I also spotted a lovely event a bit further away in Petworth. It’s being held at Petworth House and is an opportunity for children to make something for their mum and finish it off in a personalised frame – while mums can apparently relax and enjoy the beautiful house. The event costs £5 per child on Saturday 30th March from 11-3pm.
As a photographer, I always look forward to the Bluebells popping up in all our local woods. I’ve explored further afield but to be honest some of my favourite spots for Bluebells are in our local woods along Tortington Hill and towards Binsted. Much quieter and the beautiful light across the fields is magical. The bluebells can be expected as early as March depending on the weather and can last until around May.
Finally, lambing is another highlight of our Spring calendar. We always head to Gaston Farm in Slindon which will be open later this year since Easter is so late. It’s an absolute must for local kids with many of the schools planning visits there. We will be taking full advantage of having pre school aged kids and heading there on a week day to try and avoid the crowds.
I hope that gives you some Spring time inspiration and I can’t wait to report back on all the things we get up to and start thinking about Summer fun… where is the year going?!
If you’re a follower of my Instagram feed you’ll know how much I love getting my boys outside and especially to the beach. I believe in Vitamin Sea, blowing away the cobwebs and the grounding nature of walking in the sand. Plus my pesky dog, if I’m honest - my boys too, can live their best feral lives at the beach with limited judgement!
But beaches for me, are for life not just for Summer! And I believe that in West Sussex we have some of the best beaches around. So if you’re looking to visit West Sussex and want some tips on which beach to head to, or if you’re local and need some new inspiration for some of the best spots, this blog is for you.
So here are my top 5….
The widely acclaimed one: West Wittering
So this is hugely popular beach in Summer. I had a photo session there on the May Bank Holiday and it took me over 3 hours to do the 15 mile drive home… but for me it will always be worth it. And it is firmly my favourite in Winter when there’s only a handful of walkers on the weekend and even less in the week.
We always drive to the ‘dog beach’ end, which is basically the far end of the car park. In winter when the tide is low the beaches are huge and if the wind is too strong, you can escape and explore into the dunes which my boys love to do. In Winter the cafe is open on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday - 9am to 4pm.
A locals favourite: Pagham
Pagham gets on my list personally because it’s round the corner from my children’s school. I love nothing more than picking them up early and heading there for fish and chips in the summer - in the winter I pop for a bracing dog walk after I’ve dropped them off in the morning.
It’s a long shingle beach with sand in spots at low tide, it’s very quiet through the Winter and I’ve often found myself having the whole beach to myself on a cold and sunny morning. Bliss! Parking is free and there’s a great greasy spoon just off the beach. Also try spotting for seals in Chichester harbour from the beach. I’ve spotted one very close to shore shadowing a fishing boat. Made my week!
A quick dip: Climping
One that is incredibly close to my home is Climping. A lovely quiet spot. It’s a shingle beach with not much there in terms of facilities, but if it’s a bracing walk on a shingle beach you’re after, this is a great spot. You can easily walk to Littlehampton and beyond to other cafes but it is quite far for little legs. My boys love it for the giant rocks that they climb and the little rock pools at low tide.
The one with my favourite cafe for breakfast: Ferring
My favourite thing to do on a Saturday morning by far is head out to breakfast at the beach. It probably harks back to when we lived in Sydney. And my most favourite cafe to do this at is The Blue Bird Cade at Ferring. It’s breakfast and lunches are great. It’s bright and airy, friendly staff and they are very dog friendly. It’s a must see on my list.
Once you’ve had breakfast then you can take the walk in front of the beach huts and on to Goring. It’s paved so perfect for little ones who love to scoot and a proper walk for the dogs.
The one with my favourite cafe for dinner: Bracklesham Bay
Billy’s at Bracklesham Bay is worth a visit in itself, the fact that it’s beautifully located on the beach is a bonus. It does do breakfast but it also does dinner on the weekends which we’ve been to with the boys - the restaurant is light and airy and accepts dogs. The beach itself is shingle and you can walk along the beach towards East Wittering.
Over the last few years, I've really tried to hone my skills taking photos of the true essence of childhood. My obsession with capturing moments and memories of the ordinary everyday of my own children and now other people's families has driven me to discover and study from some of the best professionals and experiment. Whether you're using your phone, a point and shoot or 'proper' camera here are some of the best prompts, angles and tips I've gathered to achieve beautiful imagery of children.
1. Establish real emotion
I don's say 'cheese' ever ever ever. I never say 'smile' or 'look at me'. Achieving the real look of emotion be it happiness, laughter, joy and sometimes even moments of sadness can't be faked with kids. That's what I love about photographing them the most. They wear every single emotion like a badge of honour. Not just smiling through their eyes but through their hands, head, whole body really. I love love love it, but it does mean if you want your images to scream joy you have to get real and work for it. And saying 'cheese' isn't going to cut it.
The way I do it is to talk to the children I'm photographing. Really talk to them about the things they love. If it's your own children this should be easy, getting them to say 'cake' or 'tractor' or 'unicorn' for example will make them glow if they're their favourite things. Singing songs from their favourite TV shows or nursery rhymes all elicit happiness. Real happiness.
2. Get on their level
Literally get on their level! I'm not talking about thinking like a kid, although this can definitely help. It's about getting down low at eye level to take their snap. All too often we snap quick pics of our kids from above (our level). The kids are looking up, often into the sun which makes them squint with necks straining. Get down on your knees and look them straight in the eye.
2. Let the kids take the lead
Whenever I shoot a family session I like to have a rough plan of what we're going to do, but that goes completely out the window if the kids aren't into it. The best photos to take will always be of your kids doing something they're really into be it climbing a tree, playing with toys or just wondering around on a walk. Let them direct the action and the smiles will flow. Following them around you get to see the world through their eyes and children really do see magic.
4. Take a lot of photos
I am a self confessed over shooter. In a 2 hour family session I take about 1500 photos! Of course they're not all keepers, in fact I get it down to about 70 images that I love. Now obviously your iPhone doesn't have room for 1500 photos, but in a few minutes you should keep snapping away especially if there's fast moving little ones racing around. Phones are surprisingly good at capturing movement, just make sure you take enough and you'll get a keeper.
5. Time is of the essence
Some of my clients are surprised about the length of time I like to have for portrait sessions. Often it's no more than 5 minutes to get one great portrait shot! The first shot is usually the best and when I've got it I call it a day. As anyone with kids knows, they have very limited attention span even more so when you're trying to take some photos and get them to look at you. Photograph in short sharp bursts. Sit them on a stool, chat and get it done with. If you don't quite get what you want, try again a few hours or even days later.
6. Bribery will get you everywhere
The last tip and possibly the most important! My own kids are so over being photographed, but even at three they know how much mummy loves it and they understand the bargaining potential! Snacks, TV time, a trip to the playground, when the chips are down and you want a photo, don't be afraid to resort to bribery to get what you want!
Sounds like a nightmare? It doesn’t have to be!
In a previous post, I mentioned some of the struggles I felt about finding out I was having twins. It was not part of my plan, with probably the biggest adjustment being my fearsome independence and love of travel being jeopardised.
You see, I’d had visions of sauntering through departures with my baby strapped to my front exploring the world while on maternity leave. But twins? My travel dreams became as unrealistic as zero screen time and sleeping through the night….
That’s why I was so excited that now, with the boys aged three and three quarters, I started to think that travelling just us three might become a reality.
We warmed ourselves up to it earlier in the year. While my husband was back home in Australia, the three of us stayed in an Airbnb in Devon for a couple of nights. It was freezing and it rained but it was so fun and while I was in bed at 8pm when they were, we had fun watching movies and choosing our own adventures.
This month’s international adventure came about by accident really. The twins and I were supposed to be flying out to Spain with my parents and my husband a few days later, but Ryan Air’s crazy pricing system meant we would be saving hundreds (!) by travelling on our own a few days before anyone else. And I was actually cool about that idea! In fact, I got quite excited about what we would do and where we could go….
So here’s my tips if you’re thinking about embarking on an international adventure on your own with a couple of kids.
1. Pack light.
I always try and pack light (always try, usually fail) but the prospect of being the only person able to carry the bags meant that this time I was extra vigilant.
I decided we were only taking hand luggage which resulted in one small wheelie suitcase, a back pack and my basket. I went to town ordering bottles to decant toiletries and a small bottle of Soak – great to hand wash underwear and small stains and let them dry overnight.
Another tip I found useful when packing was to make sure all the items that needed to be taken out when going through security were in one place – liquids, iPads and a laptop. It meant I could easily take everything out of that one bag while keeping an eye on the boys.
And while we’re talking security – I took off all my jewelry before leaving for the airport – anything to avoid setting off alarms and extra checks!
2. Buggies in – Trunkies are out
So the boys have trunkies and they are very very cute – but a nightmare if you have two kids who both want to sit on them and one of you to pull them and carry all the other bags.
We also have a double buggy which at their age hasn’t been out of the shed much in the last few months but god was I pleased I took it. Although the boys are reluctant to use it, when things got really tough or they were tired I could wrestle them in and they had a safe place to be strapped in for a little while. It was also useful to use as a trolley for the luggage!
3. Airport rules
The part of the trip I was most hesitant about was being at the airport – arriving in Spain, not speaking the language and the boys doing a runner. I had visions of them disappearing in crowds – my own father even had a sleepless night worrying at the thought of me on my own with them!
I got through this by prepping them well ahead of time – we talked a lot whenever we were out and about how we would all have to stick together like glue when we went on our holiday. One of my boys is a lot more responsible than the other so I also had many private chats about how I would need his help as daddy wasn’t with us – responsibility he relished!
The rules at the airport were simple, easy to follow and completely black and white. They either walked beside the buggy holding on to it or they sat in it. No negotiations. And I’m pleased to say, the prep work paid off. They were as good as gold in the airport and all tiny tear-away behaviour was postponed… until we got to our apartment!
4. Splash the cash on car seats
We normally always travel with our own car seats – they are an extortionate added extra compared to the cost of the car hire, but I was so glad I booked them. Lugging two car seats on and off planes might have pushed me over the edge. I was also really surprised how good the hire car seats were, with removable covers on them that were spotless and washed after every use.
5. Don’t book a hotel
A long time ago we realized hotel rooms were not for us. Being restricted to one room sends our boys mental, not to mention having to placate early risers with a bruised banana from the bottom of a bag while waiting for the breakfast buffet to open – so a kitchen is a bonus.
I didn’t book a very big place but it was central which was perfect and in a lively block so no one was going to complain about the noise!
We always book through Airbnb. It’s been a mixed bag of places we’ve stayed in – top tip is to take photos of all the rooms as soon as you arrive, then de clutter the cool decorative items on display – then when it’s time to leave you know exactly where to put it all!
Any other tips you can share?!