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tried & tested

When there are so many places to choose from it's hard to know where to visit! In good or bad weather, with very young children or older teens, activity venues or quiet walks, every venue will offer something different with a variety of facilites available. We will add our thoughts on places that we have Tried & Tested so that you are well-informed before you make your decision to leave the house!

Explosive Fun at the Royal Gunpowder Mills


I had been intrigued to visit the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey since we added it to our Things To Do section last year.  Their science-based special events that we include in our What's On page every holiday period looked like really good fun. So when I saw that this half-term the activities included making your own slime (something my daughter is very keen on, judging by the number of Youtube videos she watched on the subject ) I knew I could persuade the children that this would be a fun day out and they would agree to it without too much fuss.  And I'm glad to say I was right!

"Mayhem in the Mad Lab", was the theme of this half-term's activities and as well as entrance to the exhibition spaces, the admission price included all the special activities on offer - in this instance the aforementioned slime-making, making your own modelling dough, a number of hands-on experiments, make and launch your own rocket and a free-form art & craft room.   

The biggest attraction however, is Professor Nitrate's Science Shows. The shows run three times a day during the holidays, and on the day we went there were two different shows, so you could go along twice. The shows were all about making science accessible and fun with demonstrations based around the theme (we saw "The Space Race") and, as you might expect, including some explosions along the way.  It was relaxed and fun, with audience participation (try and sit near the front if your children might like to volunteer to take part!). Even though as whole the place didn't seem too busy the science shows were packed out, and you are advised to get there in plenty of time to make sure you can get in (if you're very lucky and get there super-early you may even get a seat!)  

The main point of the site as a visitor attraction is of course to explain the history of explosives and the part that the Royal Gunpowder Mill played in that - a history that spans 300 years and includes explosives used at the Battle of Trafalgar, the Battle of Waterloo and in the Dambusters Bouncing Bomb.  This is done through an attractive exhibition space - "The Secret Island" - with some hands-on exhibits and a very interesting short film shown in a comfortable little cinema.  There was also the armoury, displaying an impressive range of handguns, rifles, machine guns, bayonets and swords from through the ages, which fascinated my son.

For lunch there is a cafe serving burgers, hot-dogs, jacket potatoes and similar, but on this occasion we took our own lunch and the weather was good to us so were able to use one of several picnic benches available to enjoy our lunch outside in the sun (in February half-term... not a hat, scarf or glove between us!)  Should the weather be less favourable indoor lunch rooms are also available.   

If the children need to work off some energy there is a wooden trim trail and zip wire and lots of green space for them to run around. 

The only attractions not included in the admission price are a ride around the site on a tractor or military truck, and the narrow-gauge and miniature railways. Tickets for these can be purchased on the day, and at only a £2 for adults and £1 for children (less for the miniature railway) they are not expensive.  The railways only run on certain days though so do check the website before you go if this is something you particularly want to do.

Overall we spent a good few hours on our visit and didn't even get around to all the activities or visit all of the exhibition spaces.  Two other big pluses for me were that the parking was free, and easy (on the day we went); and there is a range of family tickets options, which can be booked online in advance or bought on the day.

The Royal Gunpowder Mills is only open for Special Events and Open Days, such as the events run during the school holiday periods, as described above.  Do check the website to ensure it is open before you travel.

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