I love living in London, for so many reasons. But one reason is that is makes travelling around the UK extremely easy. Although my family and I often drive to many of our British holiday destinations, we sometimes prefer the ease of the trains. I had been wanting to visit York for ages, and when I discovered that there was a direct train from London, I knew that we should head there for a mini-break.
In August, Husband and I packed the kids off to their grandparents' house and we headed to York for a mid-week break to celebrate my 41st birthday. We had a glorious time. We ate lots of lovely meals, drank plenty of delightful cocktails and saw so many beautiful sights. I thought three days would be adequate for seeing this city. But I was mistaken. Husband and I have already discussed returning to York - next time with Moozles and Dubz. There's still so much more to see. But I thought I would share my top five favourite reasons to visit York.
1. Beautiful Architecture
If you live in London or Surrey, you will have heard of Chessington World of Adventures. It is a fab theme park that also has a zoo, aquarium and petting zoo. Last year we went for Howloween, their cool Halloween celebrations during the October half-term. As part of our visit, we spent the night at the Chessington Safari Hotel.
We wouldn't normally think to spend the night at a Chessington hotel (the park has two adjacent hotels: Safari and Azteca), as it is only a 20-25 minute drive away from our house. But as we were offered a room for our review of the theme park, we thought it would be a great idea to check out the amenities. My children love staying in hotels, but a hotel that is decorated in a spooky fashion is even more exciting. They also loved that they had a little nook for their beds AND A TV. Husband and I enjoyed our comfy double bed and the complimentary WI-FI.
My family and I love an outing. And there is always extra excitement when we go somewhere for the first time. After a few months of hearing how lovely The Magic Garden is at Hampton Court Palace, we finally went for a visit a few weeks ago. First of all, I should probably explain what a magic garden is. It's not really a garden, and there isn't technically any magic. It's not a proper playground, but it's more than just some artificial grass.
The Magic Garden is a play area tucked in the splendour of Hampton Court Palace's grounds. There is a big dragon for the children to climb on, a cute tree house to climb and sandpits for them to play in. Kids can climb, slide and roll around. Moozles and Dubz spent 90 minutes of non-stop activity. Their favourite bit was sliding down the grassy hills. They did this for ages, and even managed to get Husband and me in on the sliding fun. We only managed to drag Moozles and Dubz away with the promise of lunch in the cafe and a wander in The Maze.
Earlier this month, the family and I went on our annual camping trip with our Leamington friends. After last year's bone-breaking 10-hour car ride to the Lake District, our friends took pity on us and we all agreed upon Dorset as our destinations. After packing the car to the gills and a speedy two-hour ride, we arrived in Poole.
Upon arrival at South Lytchett Manor, I was impressed at how easily it was to check in. We then had someone personally show us to our pitch and we got to unpacking our car. Although we liked the Low Wray campsite last year (our pitch was lakeside so it was lovely), we did not enjoy having to park away from our pitch. It just made life a bit more time-consuming when it came to unpacking and packing. Our pitch was next to a water tap, which was also quite handy when it came to cooking. Though it was a bit annoying as people kept walking by our pitch to fill up their water containers.
South Lytchett Manor also accepts motorhomes, and they have caravans and sweet little Romany caravans to rent. But we have bought this camping gear and are determined to get our money's worth. This year we got a few new items including a bench table and seats and an electric coolbox. You can pay for electric hook-up at the campsite, so we thought we would get it and make life a bit easier. This meant that I could bring my straightening iron - oh happy days! The campsite also had the cutest red phone box that they used as a library (one of those 'leave a book, take a book'). And there is a playground, though the time we went it was heaving and we were the only adults there. The campsite wasn't that picturesque but it is a very practical campsite.
Last weekend, we spent three nights camping in Dorset with friends. While there, we visited Sandbanks. I had vaguely heard of Sandbanks, and basically knew that it was a peninsula and that it was a lovely long stretch of beach. We soon discovered that finding parking on a sunny weekend was not going to be easy (if you go, get there early!). The various men dropped us ladies and children off and then met up with us. Husband got royally lost and met up with us much later. But once we were all together, we had a lovely time.
Moozles and Dubz made sandcastles and frolicked in the icy cold sea. Husband flew the kite, but then it hit a woman in the face and I yelled at him, so back to the sea they went. Moozles went for a kayak ride with our friends and we ate ice cream. Then it was time to go. Husband got sunburned as usual. And I even got sunburned on my neck (who knew brown girls could burn in the UK??!!). We will definitely visit Sandbanks again, but next time we will get there for 10am.
Last month, my family managed to get away for a sneaky weekend break to Bluestone Wales. Long-term readers will know that we had a week at Bluestone last year in June. It was our best family holiday, and the kids have asked to return to Wales ever since. As you can imagine, they were over the moon when we told them we would be going back to Bluestone for three nights.
I think if many families only had time for a four-day break, they would chose somewhere relatively close to home. And you might think that Wales is too far away if you live in London. But it is not! Bluestone Wales is located in Pembrokeshire in South Wales. It takes about four hours to drive there from south west London. Four hours is an easy drive (especially on roomy A roads and motorways). Even with children. We stopped halfway between for lunch and a toilet break. There are loads of nice services on the way, plus a plethora of castles which make for a lovely stop.
Now back to Bluestone. During our previous visit to Bluestone, we had loads of day trips, but this time we wanted to spend most of the time on the resort. Moozles and Dubz loved the Blue Lagoon waterpark and we went every morning. Last year, we were gutted to miss out on a few Bluestone highlights. The first being our visit to Camp Smokey. We were thrilled to finally walk through the 'deep dark wood' to the cafe and enjoy lunch and roast some marshmallows.
Last week, while we had a family mini-break at Bluestone Wales, we managed an outing to the beach. We went to Tenby last summer and loved it, and could not imagine a trip to Pembrokeshire in West Wales without visiting again. So, armed with buckets and spades, we went to Tenby for a day of fun and fish and chips.
One of my favourite aspects of Tenby is that the beach is sandy. It's great for sitting and chillin', as well as making sandcastles. We saw a few people flying kites and felt jealous that we didn't have one. If you're not fussed about sandcastles or kites, walk along the beach and look up at the beautiful cliff and the pretty pastel houses. It wasn't very warm or sunny during this visit, but we still had a lovely time. To be honest, it is a relief not to need raincoats and wellies when spending the day at the beach in the UK.
If you're visiting Tenby from Bluestone, it takes about 20 minutes by car. There is a fairly big car park near the beach (we paid £3.00 for four hours). It takes less than 10 minutes to walk to the town centre from the beach, where there is a decent selection of cafes. Although there is a cafe by the beach, we like to go into the centre for our favourite place to eat - D. Fecci and Son's Fish & Chips. They make such delicious fish, and even offer them in different sizes (mini is perfect for kids, while I had the regular portion). They also do children's meals, and pies and sausages for fish-haters like Husband. And wonderfully, they have gluten-free options. Such a gem!
Last week we surprised the kids with a visit to Legoland Windsor. Hooray! They were thrilled, to put it mildly (check out the vlog below for their reaction). Windsor is a 55-minute drive from where we live in south west London, so Moozles and Dubz didn't have long to wait. They were also very excited to find out that their grandparents would be meeting us at Legoland and then taking them to Leamington for the weekend (though I think that Husband and I were even more excited).
Anyway, we last went to Legoland about three and a half years ago, when Dubz was five months old. As you can imagine, he did not get much out of it, and I had to keep missing out on things to breastfeed him (there is a baby care area where you can breastfeed in private, as well as change nappies). But now that Dubz is almost four, and Moozles is eight, I was looking forward to a fun day we would all enjoy. Dubz hasn't needed a stroller/buggy in over a month, and can now walk three or four miles, which makes family outings so much easier.
We are in the Midlands for a few days this week for the Easter holidays. Regular readers will know that my in-laws live in Royal Leamington Spa, and we try and visit them often as it is a lovely area. Today we went to Dudley (which is about 50 minutes northwest of Leamington) to visit the Black Country Living Museum.
First of all, I had to ask why it was called the 'black country'. Apparently the area was given the name due to the smoke and soot from the ironworking foundries, but maybe also because of the 30-foot thick coal seam near the surface. The Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) is an outdoor and indoor museum set over 26 acres that shows us what life was like in a Black Country town in the 1800s.
The thought of travelling with young children, whether by car or train, can be nerve-wracking. But if you are prepared, it can go quite smoothly.