As a midlands family (we're from historic Leicester) we're in a pretty clever position geographically, literally slap bang in the middle of the UK with a modest journey time to all the country's main cities and landmarks. But we're also spoiled locally with beautiful countryside, parks, museums and attractions within an hour's drive and our local cities are rather nice, too.
On that note, we've had a little family meeting to come up with our top five affordable (less than £50 for the family) midlands days out in the hope our readers might pack up a picnic, jump in the car and take a nice little road trip up, or indeed down the motorway to pay a visit to our beautiful midlands.
5. Clifton Park
Entry price: Free
Clifton Park in Rotherham is Lyall and Richard's favourite park. For grown-ups, there are beautiful lawns, flower gardens, a museum and art installations, but Clifton Park is there for the kids, really.
There's a mini theme park, an exciting wooden adventure playground, mini golf, a skate park and the proverbial cherry on top is a great big splash park with hundreds of jumping fountains.
4. Drayton Manor & Thomas Land
Entry price: (Feb half term, booked online) Adults £18, Kids (4-11) £7
While the UK's biggest theme parks serve up a day of brave thrills and excitement, unless you've won the lottery they can't really be described as affordable. Meanwhile, for £50 for a family of four like ours, Drayton Manor in Tamworth is open during February half term and packs in some decent kids' rides, a 4D cinema and an excellent zoo.
The boys love the boomerang rollercoaster - it sends them back and forth at quite an admirable speed - not to mention Lyall and Rich will happily go around ten or eleven times, allowing Tom and I an hour to sit and people watch with a coffee. The zoo is a good size and home to loads of adorable little mini-monkeys. Best of all, parking is free (you don't get to say that about many UK theme parks) and only a short walk from the main park so you can leave your picnic in the car until lunch time! Result!
3. War Memorial Park
Entry price: Free
This one's all about the splash park. Open during school holidays, War Memorial Park's splash park is big, wet (no surprise there) and keeps the boys entertained for hours and hours. Like Clifton Park, War Memorial Park is another huge victorian park with a wooden adventure playground, splash park, a lovely cafe and woodlands. There's also a funfair in May which charges just £1 per ride in the afternoons. We love it.
2. Peak Wildlife Park
Location: Leak, Staffordshire (about ten mins from Alton Towers)
Entry price: Adults £12, kids £10
We stumbled across Peak Wildlife Park during a weekend at Alton Towers Resort. It's a zoo, located about ten minutes' drive from Alton Towers in Staffordshire, right up in the hills - a stunning setting. A family ticket costs about £40.
Peak Wildlife Park is different from any other zoo we've ever seen because visitors wander about inside the enclosures with the resident animals, which incidentally are very friendly and clearly quite comfortable with their human guests. The penguins and wallabies are adorable and as you'll see from the pictures above, the kids were able to pat, feed and talk to the animals under surprisingly little supervision. Peak Wildlife Park is quite an extraordinary place.
1. Dudley Zoological Gardens
Entry price: Family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) £44
By absolutely miles, our favourite day out in the Midlands, nay the whole country (quite an accolade) is Dudley Zoo and Castle. Put simply, it's an enormous, sprawling zoo in woodlands, winding around a hill with a medieval castle on top. There's a ski-lift from the bottom to the top of the hill. The animal enclosures were built in the early 20th century by modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin. While not to everybody's taste, we love how the big, concrete exhibits tell a story of an exciting time before theme parks and foreign holidays existed, a time when the zoo was a pioneering, bewildering idea. Whatever your preconceptions about Dudley Zoo, put them behind you - it's full of surprises.
The animals are happy and the staff are friendly and they like to introduce their two/four legged friends to visitors. The best thing about Dudley Zoo however is the wonderful castle on top of the hill. Think Warwick Castle's underrated brother and you'd not be far off. Lyall and Rich love to climb the ancient stone spiral staircases right up to the top of the turrets, where there's an amazing view of Dudley City and the zoo beneath. It's the best zoo in the UK, and it's only about 40 quid for the whole family - less than half the cost of Warwick Castle and you get a zoo thrown in!
What are your favourite days out in the Midlands? We're always looking for new, affordable ideas. Please leave your ideas in the comments below (scroll right down to the bottom to leave comments).