“ Almond Valley Heritage Trust / Millfield / Livingston / West Lothian / EH54 7AR / Tel: 01506 414957. „
I recently went on a day out to Almond Valley Heritage Centre with my husband and two children aged 3 and 1. It was a great day out for everyone and there is plenty on offer for kids of all ages.
It currently costs £5.50 for an adult and £4 for children from 3-17, family tickets are £17 for 2 adults and 2 children. You can also get free entry by using Tesco vouchers.
There is a small museum and shop at the entrance and then you go into the actual attraction. You can get all the information about what's there on their website (www.almondvalley.co.uk) but we particularly enjoyed the petting areas, the larger animals, the soft play area, the baby play area, the tractor and trailer ride and the 'bones and stones' - which is an archaeological dig for kids, well, bones covered in sand anyway! The kids really enjoyed the trampolines and the adventure playground as well.
We ate in the cafe which was quite busy with very little room for buggies but the food was good and reasonably priced. The
This weekend, I had the prospect of spending Sunday afternoon with three high-energy boys aged between the ages of two and ten. The idea of being confined to a small livingroom as they tore through the house demolishing everything unfortunate enough to be in it's path was more than I could stand. The sun was out and the sky was blue so for the first time in a long while we weren't limited to indoor activities. Unusually, it was my partner who came up with the idea for a day out to Almond Valley Heritage Trust although we had been before.
Millfield, Livingston (signposted from junction 3 of the M8)
10am to 5pm
Open every day of the year apart from 25th and 26th December and 1st and 2nd January
As far as days out for the kids go, I was extremely impressed with the costs here. However, be aware there are additional optional costs (tractor ride 50p per person and train ride £1per person). Almond Valley does receive support in terms of revenue from West Lothian Council which allows the Trust to maintain an admissions cost that is affordable, making it accessible to a wider spectrum of visitors.
Adult tickets £3
Child (3 -16) £2
Children under 3 go free
Family tickets (2 adults and up to 4 children) £10
***About Almond Valley***
Almond Valley is an independent museum that exists to preserve and interpret the history and environment of West Lothian. The Heritage Trust was established in 1990, to combine a series of volunteer initiatives which had been running previously since the 1970's.
It offers a unique resource for learning to over 85,000 visitors per year. It is an interactive environment for the whole family to explore and learn from.
As a 4 star visitors attraction under the VisitScotland grading scheme they have achieved full registration under the museum accreditation scheme and have won a range of awards for innovative educational and interpretative work, as well as being named Scottish Museum of the Year in 2002.
The small museum situated as you first come in is an exploration of the historical and environmental background of the West Lothian area with interactive displays for children and adults alike. There are tunnels and other games for kids to explore while parents take too long to read the information boards on each display.
What I particularly liked about this museum is it's section on environmental awareness. The effects of pollution were clearly shown in a number of small displays indicating how the planet is effected by our irresponsibility. This is a nice introduction to smaller kids to help them grow up to be mindful of the space around them and a great reminder to older kid who perhaps don't give the matter as much thought as they should.
There is also a separate building which holds all types of farming equipment like an impressive old-fashioned Combine Harvester. My boys were desperate to get on these but for obvious reasons (a two year old on a tractor with blades is never a good idea) they are for display purposes only.
The only issue I had with the museum is that some parts are a bit dark and it is easy to lose excitable little boys who are eager to explore.
There is an old water mill and mill house on the property for visitors to explore. The two levels of the house are filled with displays from mannequined scenes showing how butter was churned, to examples of equipment that was used to grind wheat and other grains. The history of the mill is outlined for visitors on a number of information boards throughout the house.
The mill house is not staffed and some areas where visitors are not permitted are simply cordoned off with ropes. Although a rope is enough for me to know not to cross it, my son who will be three at the end of March wasn't as clear about this. Make sure you keep an eye on the little ones!
The Almond Valley Heritage Trust is a farm, and what would a farm be without animals? Between the Museum and the mill house are a series of stables which home everything from Giant Rabbits, Gerbils and Quails to adorable (and friendly) goats, sheep, cows, ponies and horses. Be warned, if you have a weak stomach, the stables that house the bigger animals do not smell of a bowl full of sunshine - they smell of horse and sheep and all things horsey and sheepy that you would expect to smell at a farm. There are also several pens with quite striking roosters and chickens and a small pond with a variety of ducks.
It is worth pointing out that the pond is not guarded by a gate (although there is signage to this affect)and it is reached via a relatively steep hill. Again, I would advise you to keep a tight grip of small children.
*Soft Play area*
There is an indoor soft play area for under 5's however, as two out of three of the boys were too old for this I cannot say I have used it. I have however had a look inside and was impressed. It is conservative in size but of a modern and high standard and is certainly enough to occupy any child quite happily in the event of unexpected rain clouds. It is staffed although parents are expected to stay with their children.
*One of the developments currently in the works is an indoor adventure play area for kids of all ages. This is due to open in autumn 2007.
*Outdoor play area*
There is a rather old play structure which kids can climb all over with slides, tunnels and ramps. There is also a giant metal tractor play structure which also has a slide, a rope swing, two tire swings and various hidey-holes for kids to get into.
This area could do with some updating although my three played happily for about 20 minutes, leaving only when we mentioned lunch! The woodchip base the structures sit on are ready for replacing as they are quite soggy and make for a muddy experience. - Bring wellies!
*Narrow gauge railway*
The train runs about 500m from Livingston Mill to the weir on the river Almond. Trains are worked by a range of diesel locomotives collected from various army depots and munitions factories. The railway is operated by volunteers and therefore only available on Saturdays and Sundays between Easter and September, except for during the school summer holidays when it runs daily.
*Plans are underway to extend the track further, however; substantial funding is needed before plans can be set in stone.
The tractor ride last for about 10 minutes and takes you through the lower paddocks and back to where the museum is situated. This is a great ride for kids (consider the £1 you pay for 40 seconds on a Tweenies ride at your local Asda) as it brings them close to some of the bigger animals and is quite an exciting ride with steep, bumpy, muddy hills to navigate along the way. The tractor rides are operated once an hour and although they claim to only operate under the same dates as the train, it was fully operational last weekend.
*Herb and flower Garden*
There is a lovely herb garden at the centre of the farm, called the "Smelly garden". Not only does this give kids a chance to smell and touch a variety of herbs they were perhaps not familiar with, it has information plaques dotted around to give the visitor some history and guidance notes on each of the plants. Additionally, as the weather warms up it will fill the air with a lovely aroma.
There are picnic benches dotted around the farm and a barn with more tables for families to enjoy in the better weather. I understand they put on barbecue's and musical events during the summer. There is also a great little restaurant which sits up to 60 people comfortably. From it you can choose from a good selection of light meals (freshly made sandwiches, jacket potatoes, and homemade soup) or a heartier Burger and fries. There are two varieties of kids boxes to pick from (one is a healthier option with fruit and yoghurt instead of crisps and chocolate) and a far too tempting selection of home-baking. There are some cute touches, like calling the toilets Bulls and Heifers instead of boys and girls and carrying the theme across to include cow patterned toilet seats.
*Toilets and changing facilities*
There are two sets of toilets with disabled access and changing tables available. They were clean, the toilet paper was fully stocked and there wasn't a big queue - what else do you need?
As with all of these places, there is a visitors gift shop which you have to enter and leave by meaning there is no avoiding the chants of "can I have it mum?" or "Dad, I want this!". I was impressed with the merchandise as for the most part it was relevant to the museum and farm i.e. environmental experiment kits, postcards, colouring books, books on farm animals, and toy tractors. Things seemed reasonably priced and we didn't break the bank by allowing each of the boys to pick something.
Whether you are looking to book the venue for a kids birthday party, an evening barbeque or a business conference. The Almond Valley Heritage Trust can accommodate you. Please check out their website (address below) for more details.
The immediate car park accommodates roughly 35 cars however; there is overflow parking available for busier times.
The Trust hosts several events and special days throughout the year including Springtime adventures over the Easter period, various discovery days, environmental fairs, Halloween horror nights and of course a Santa's Grotto in the winter.
If your kids insist on roller coasters and haunted houses, this is not the place for them. However, if you are looking for somewhere where kids can have a bit of freedom to roam while introducing them gently to some educational factors such as caring for the environment and appreciating the history of where they are, then I suggest this is a good morning or afternoon out.
There are areas that could use improvement such as some safety matters like fencing off the pond and updating the playground area, however, it is clear the staff and volunteers work very hard to create an environment that is enjoyable for everyone and still manages to teach its visitors a little something at the same time.