Tuesday 4 April 2017

Family Fun at Wookey Hole - The Variety Attraction (Somerset)

We are down in Somerset currently; it isn't an area we have really explored before but we always pass through on our annual visit to our favourite Christian festival at Butlins, Minehead. This year I tried to book our normal pit-stop hotel in Bristol and it was so expensive so we looked elsewhere and settled on Weston-Super-Mare and as it isn't an area we know we took the opportunity to have a couple of days here and extend our break away.

What a fab area this is, we made a good choice and I'd happily return another time to explore further. There is a very grand looking pier that we didn't get to go on as we arrived too late and the beach is sandy and massive but the kids favourite part was the 2p arcades and they came away with a ton of keyrings, noisy putty, sweets and other assorted novelties that they won.

Before we came away I was having a browse of what was in the local area and I spotted we were only about 30 minutes away from Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole. I knew I'd been to the area as a Girl Guide many, many years ago and recall I really loved visiting the caves. I have this memory of being told the water in the caves had healing power and I can remember rubbing it on cut I had. Funny, how the oddest memories stay with you.

So when we headed to Wookey Hole today I expected to get a bout of nostalgia and silly me, it must of been Cheddar Gorge I visited when young as Wookey Hole was a whole new experience for me, a good one!

Wookey Hole - Dozens of Attractions in One!
It is like a variety show, there is a little bit of everything and something for everyone. It was definitely the caves and the natural phenomenon that attracted me there but I think perhaps that isn't enough to keep tourists coming back so they appear to have bolted on loads of more entertainment style attractions and now it is thriving and busy in the peak months.

For us today we were lucky that some of the neighbouring towns were not yet on school holiday and thus we had a very relaxed day trip. We arrived at 10am as it opened and easily found a parking spot, right close to the entrance and hotel, which looks as if is very plush. The car park is well maintained and there are toilets straight away which were clean and well-stocked.

The entrance fee includes all the attractions and I really like the idea of one price for everything as you don't constantly get whined at by the kids for more, more, more. That I saw the only additional charges were for the panning for gold (£2) and if you wanted to try out the old-fashioned penny arcade where you could buy five old pennies for 50p or twelve for £1,

The cost for a family of five (two adults and three children aged 4-14 years) is £74.70 if booked online in advance. If you want to pay on the day the cost is 10% more. Children under 4 are free of charge.

I won't go into detail about all the attractions as this review would go on forever but I'll tell you about our favourites and you can check out the rest on the Wookey Hole web pages

The Caves
First up we headed for the Caves, this is along a high walkway cut into the hill and you could see that at other times it must get busy as there was markers for how close you were getting to the entrance. For us today, we walked straight up there, paid £2 each for a couple of sturdy glowsticks on a string and joined the tour. I was thankful of the glowsticks as it is quite dark in the caves at points and I could always make out the pink and lilac glow and know my girls were close. 

I'd guess there were about forty of us in our tour group going around together with a tour guide. Our guide was very knowledgeable but I'd say a bit straight laced, as she was professional but there was minimal smiling. If you are going though the caves, make sure you were sensible shoes with grippy soles as the cave floors are wet and slippy and of course you are going up and down stairs. 

I was a little worried when the guide told us we'd have to duck at points and that one part was bridges that are quite high and can be claustrophobic but actually it was fine. I don't like narrow, confined spaces and nothing made me (a big lady) feel unhappy.

We visited a few cave chambers and each one was different and it was particularly cool to see the newer chamber which has rock formations from the ice age and has only been on show for the last two years. In fact it is only one of three examples of this kind of formation in the world. 

In this newer area we had to wear hard hats and the kids liked that, it made the tour a little more exciting somehow. You can take photographs as you go around the tour but not use flash photography as the caves are home to a couple of bat species (not that we saw any). We tended to hang towards the back of the tour crowd as this meant we could take our time getting the photos we wanted and we didn't have any random people in our pictures. 

Lighting is used to really good effect throughout the caves and helps you to see the different types of rocks and the stalagmites and stalactites. In all the tour took us about 40 minutes to go through the caves.

Of course there is no pushchair or wheelchair access to the caves and I personally wouldn't like to carry a babe though the caves for fear or slipping or due to the amount of times we had to dip under ceilings that were only around 3.5ft tall. I also think that toddlers/ pre-schoolers who have a sensitive disposition may struggle as it is fairly dark and the tour starts by talking about the belief that in the Dark ages a witch lived alone in the cave and how the steps we were going down were known as Hell's ladder that she fled down and now she is frozen as stone in the witches kitchen chamber.  

Wild Wookey Experience
New for 2017 is an amazing new experience if you are fit and a bit of a thrill seeker. You can undertake the Wild Wookey experience for £49.99 and for that you get a 3 hour caving experience which includes abseiling, climbing and crawling through the caves and grotto's. It is only for those who love to be physically and psychologically challenged though. There are very strict conditions for this experience so you should read up first and make sure you like what you read. 

Valley of the Dinosaurs
At 9 and 13 my kids are too old for the dinosaur trail directly outside the exit from the caves but I know that when JJ was a toddler and pre-schooler he'd have loved it as everything dino was a winner. There are over 20 life-sized dinosaurs and plenty of information around for those hungry to learn.

4D Theatre
This was a massive winner with our family. Four of us absolutely loved it and Miss M can be a bit of a wuss and was a tad scared. So there is a word of warning again for those of you with kids with vivid imaginations or who scare easily, this might not be one for them. It is pitch black and you take a very unusual roller coaster ride and get the full 4D experience with rocking chairs, it feels as if someone is kicking your bum, breathing down your neck and even spiders crawling onto your legs, it is very, very realistic.

The show was around 25 minutes with the first 5 minutes being in a room where you stand and the story is set, in honesty we all thought this bit was a tad naff and we were worried that was it but luckily as soon as you get into the proper seated theatre it is excellent. 

Soft Play 
There is a large soft play area for 4 - 13 year olds and also a smaller one for the younger ones and they were excellent. Even my 13 year old went on and had fun with this sisters, this is unheard of! It might have been because it was a quieter day but the soft play is easy to get round as an adult and there is immense fun to be had. My husband and I got to sit at the nearby tables and enjoy a coffee whilst the kids played.

Wookey Hole Circus
I am still amazed at the superb skills we saw at the circus today, particularly so as the participants were all local young people who train at the Wookey Hole circus school three nights a week. The show was so real and I adored it, yes a couple of people came off their unicycle or dropped a hoop when juggling but they kept on smiling and got straight back on with the show.

There are three shows a day during Easter and it is themed on the Wizard of Oz at the moment. There is juggling, roller skating, trapeze, ariel silk acrobatics, magic tricks, uni-cycling, stunt cycling and so much more. It is brilliant and highly recommended. 

Pirate Island Adventure Golf
I don't think we've ever been anywhere before that the mini-golf is included in the price as my kids kept asking what it was going to cost us. It is a really nice 9 hole course with some very tough holes, so don't expect to be getting many holes in one. It is really well done to the pirate theme and there are tables outside for if some family members want to watch.

Special Events
As it is the Easter holidays the kids got a sheet to do a trail and collect letter clues to make an Easter word today. Dotted around various places (and you are given clues as to where) there are giant bunnies holding a letter. Once you have completed your sheet with the letters you can collect a 65g Kinnerton Easter Egg at the ice-cream parlour.

There are various special events throughout the year like Halloween, a Winter Wonderland and even a special New Years Eve party

There is a large 400 seat Big Top restaurant and also some outside seating. Both hot and cold foot is served (with hot food stopping at 3pm) but we only had coffees (£XXX each) and a bottle of water (£1.80). At busier times there is also Captain Jacks restaurant up by the soft play.

I found there to be plenty of toilets around the site and each was well-stocked and looked after. There also appeared to be baby change facilities too.

There is a small gift and refreshments stop immediately after coming out of the caves in the Valley of Dinosaurs, a really well-equipped gift shop just before exiting and an ice-cream parlour by the entrance. We sampled the local Marshfield Farm ice-cream and it was very good. It was £2.20 for one scoop but this was a decent size.

Opening Times
Summertime: (Apr-Oct Inc): 10am (first tour) - 5pm (Last Cave Tour)
Wintertime: (Nov-Mar Inc): 10am (first tour) - 4pm (Last Cave Tour)
Closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Open weekends and school holidays during December and January

Getting There
Car is the best option and there is plentiful, free parking on site. It is two miles from the city of Well, about 19 from junction 22 of the M5 and also Weston-Super-Mare and 21 miles from Bristol or Bath so it is very easily accessible if you have a car and don't mind windy roads and country driving conditions. I can imagine the roads are 'fun' in the height of summer.

I'd say follow the brown attraction signs once you come off one of the main roads as these get you there really easily but if you want to use your Sat-nav use BA5 1BA as the postcode.

Generally we all had a great time at Wookey Hole. Probably the least enthusiastic person when I spoke to each of my family members afterwards was my 13 year old son but to be honest he is at that kind of age and just wants to be left to his iPad.

My 9 year old twin girls could quite readily tell me which bits they loved best - Miss M, the circus and Miss E, the caves and 4D cinema and my husband was really pleasantly surprised that there was so much more at Wookey Hole than just the caves.

We ended up staying on site for around five hours and this is more than I expected and we didn't even engage with every part - there were a few museum areas we didn't explore - or have a meal so ti could take you longer and as such I think the entrance price is well worth it. Thanks so much Wookey Hole for having us come to visit.

Disclosure: We received complimentary tickets for our family for the purpose of undertaking this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

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