My UK Travel Wishlist for 2016

My UK Travel Wishlist for 2016Forget new year’s resolutions. It’s cold and dark, and all I can think about are  next year’s holidays. I am not even thinking about sunny holidays lounging in the sun. I just love getting out of London and visiting new places. As an American expat, there are still so many places in the UK that I haven’t yet visited. So I thought I would share some of the beautiful UK cities, brimming with culture, that I would like to visit in 2016.

My UK Travel Wishlist for 2016

Bristol – I have been wanting to visit Bristol for ages, and hopefully 2016 will be the year we visit. As a family, there is so much for us to see. There is an open-top bus tour around the city, which takes about an hour. We recently took a bus tour around London and loved it. After the bus tour, we could visit the At-Bristol Science Centre. There are loads of hands-on exhibits and shows for the entire family to enjoy. Afterwards we could walk around the harbour and take in the lovely sights. Stop at Stable Pizza for one of their amazing pizza or pies.

No visit to Bristol would be complete without exploring Clifton Village and seeing the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Whilst in Clifton, the kids would love a visit to Bristol Zoo Gardens. Lions, seals, gorillas, oh my!

My UK Travel Wishlist for 2016

York – Once a year, Husband and I manage to have a weekend to ourselves, and I think that York would make a romantic kid-free city-break destination. Though there seem to be a lot of family-friendly activities there, Husband and I are desperate for some alone time. We could start off by climbing the steep steps of Clifford’s Tower (it is all that is left of York Castle, which was built by William the Conqueror). After working up an appetite, we could have afternoon tea at Bettys. The scones and cakes look amazing. We could also go for a walk through York’s alleyways, passageways and ginnels which sounds quite quaint. Whilst walking around, I could drag take Husband into the many antique shops.

My UK Travel Wishlist for 2016

Colchester – I’ve recently learnt that Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town. That’s a lot of history. And there would be no better place to begin than at Colchester Castle (a Norman castle dating from 1016). My kids love visiting castles, especially my three year old son, Dubz, who loves knights. There are family events, creepy vaults and dressing up. Dubz and Moozles would also enjoy visiting Colchester Zoo. We all love animals, especially elephants and giraffes. Plus a huge soft play and playgrounds for when Husband and I need a rest. While in Colchester, I wouldn’t mind going for a ride on a narrow boat. These boats are such a charming part of British history and I think the kids (and their American mother) would get a kick out of a boat ride. We could then enjoy Sunday Lunch at the Church Street Tavern (it sounds delicious and they even have a kids menu).

 

So these are the three UK cities that I am hoping to visit in 2016. They are full of culture, fun and beauty. Have you been to any of these three cities? Any tips to share?

 

*Photo credit: top photo, Carolyn Eaton

 

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Our Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales

Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales

A few weeks ago my family and I drove 4 1/2 hours from South West London to South Wales. And to Bluestone Wales for our family holiday. This is the third year in a row that we have had our main holiday in the UK, but this was the best holiday by far. If you have never been to Bluestone Wales, then book your holiday now (after reading this post, of course). If you are planning a trip to Bluestone, then read on for tips.

We arrived at Bluestone at 3pm and we only had to wait a few minutes to check in (which we did at a gate, whilst in our car). I have heard that there can be long queues if you arrive at 4.30pm (the time when you are able to drive straight to your lodge). We then parked the car and went to the soft play until 4.30pm. The soft play was a good size, with several slides, mini-golf, indoor rock climbing and even a bouncy castle. We had such great weather during our week at Bluestone that we only visited the soft play twice. But I can see how great it would be if the weather was particularly cold or rainy.

We were so pleased to arrive at our holiday home – a Grassholm lodge, on Preseli View.  I was a bit worried at first, as there was a huge construction site on the side of our lodge, but we could not hear them at all when we were inside the house. Our two-story lodge was detached, but there are some semis (if you have a smaller family or if you want to be next to friends or family). Inside, everything was comfortable and modern. Everything looked quite new, and the kitchen had all the necessary amenities (including a cafetiere, as Husband will not drink instant coffee). The beds were comfortable and the shower had terrific pressure.

I don’t know if it is because I am American, but finding modern family accommodation in the UK can be a bit tricky. Some people will rent out their homes, with all the furniture and amenities fresh from the 1960s. I do not enjoy sitting on old, dusty sofas. I do not like beds that have frilly, polyester bedspreads.  I don’t like to find the fur of 83 different dogs ground into the carpet and rugs. And I certainly do not want to drink tea from your 20-year old kettle that is covered in limescale. But our lodge at Bluestone was comfortable and clean. And the grounds of Bluestone were maintained very well and all the buildings and playground equipment looked nice and new.

Each lodge comes with a highchair and a travel cot, so you don’t even have to ask for one beforehand. And there were stairgates already at the bottom and the top of the stairs that you could use (my youngest is three so we didn’t need them). Another nice touch was that each lodge has a picnic table outside, so that you can enjoy your meals and drinks outside if you are that way inclined. My kids love eating outside, so they were very excited about this. Husband, also known as the ‘whitest man alive’, cannot handle too much sun exposure so we sometimes ate dinner inside.

We did not eat all our meals at our holiday house. We ate most of our lunches out during our day trips, and one night we ventured in the heart of Bluestone Village for dinner at one of their many restaurants. We chose the new Oak Tree restaurant as we loved the idea of Welsh and Italian fusion. And we were not disappointed. The food was delicious and I even had my daughter trying to steal my crab risotto with pan fried cod (picture below – you must try this!). I was a bit surprised that the total came to £90 as we expected everything in Wales to be much cheaper than London. But we thoroughly enjoyed our meal, so cannot complain.

On our last night at Bluestone, we ordered in from their takeaway service. We arrived back at our lodge, after a particularly busy day, at 5pm. Ordered food (paid with a card). Everyone bathed and showered, and then our food arrived 35 minutes later. It was so easy and the food was plentiful and good.

Moozles and Dubz, age seven and three respectively, loved the outside part of our lodge. They were constantly playing in the flowers and looking for rabbits. They would often play with our neighbours’ little girls, which I found quite sweet. And sometimes other children would be walking home with their parents and they would stop to play. On our penultimate day at the lodge, we returned from Tenby to find that the grass has been mowed. My poor daughter was so upset. She had loved the long grass and wildflowers, and dramatically asked ‘why would they do that? Don’t they like nature?’ Awww.

Another impressive aspect of Bluestone is the Blue Lagoon Waterpark. We went swimming most days, and loved it. In fact, Dubz had never been in a swimming pool before (blame that second-child syndrome), and he loved it. Moozles was obsessed with the slides and the lazy river. Dubz loved the wave machine and the pirate area (great for little ones though it was colder than the other water areas). The waterpark is open to the public but only Bluestone guests are allowed in between 9am-11am. Apart from going in the morning, during this quieter time, we also went swimming in the afternoon and neither times were too hectic.

One afternoon, while Husband took the kids to the playground, I escaped to the Well Spa. About two weeks before our holiday, Bluestone emailed me with an offer for a two-hour spa break for just £10. How could I refuse?! I enjoyed the various saunas and steam rooms, but I did find it confusing as to whether there was an order in which to enjoy the thermal rooms. I tried them all, though a couple were so hot I had to leave immediately. But I loved the herbal steam room and the hot slate sauna. Sweating feels so good when you’re not pushing a buggy up a hill in 35C heat (sorry, I’m still have heatwave flashbacks). There was also an outdoor pool/hot tub. And there were some ‘experience showers’ but I could not figure out how to turn them on. In the end I only spent an hour at the spa as it was quite small.

Bluestone is located near some fab family-friendly attractions. We went to The Dinosaur Park and Tenby beach one day and Folly Farm on another day. But part of me wished that we had stayed and explored Bluestone some more. I am still sad that we didn’t get the chance to have lunch at Camp Smokey. And our kids would have loved to go to the waterpark twice a day instead of just once. And there are loads of activities that the kids can take part in (while mum and dad can have a break). I can definitely see us returning to Bluestone in the autumn or winter and enjoying their indoor activities more.

Top Tips:

  • We ordered groceries through Tesco and picked them up in Carmarthen (SA31 3AX) through their free click and collect service. It is on the way to Bluestone and it did not take much time to do. Please be aware that the fridges are small so do not overbuy fresh food. We did also stock up on a few items at the shop in Bluestone Village (the prices were reasonable).
  • For the kitchen, bring handwash, bin bags, paper towels, salt and pepper, condiments and dishwasher tablets. Our dishwasher was in need of rinse aid and salt. Also, bring foil for cooking and covering leftovers, and cutlery and sippy cups for your little ones, if needed.
  • I bought extra loo roll, but we were fine with what Bluestone provided us.
  • If you want to see one of the dinner shows at the Wildwood Cafe, book ahead. We tried to book when we were there, but they were sold out.
  • We were thankful that we had brought out gro-anywhere blackout blinds as the kids’ bedrooms were quite bright.
  • If you want to rent a golf buggy (you’re not allowed to drive your car around Bluestone except for when you arrive and depart), bring your drivers license. Both Husband and I forgot ours, and had to walk everywhere (did I mention that Husband had convinced me not to bring the stroller??!!). Luckily it only took about 15 minutes to reach the waterpark, soft play and the main village. And there is a shuttle that stops throughout Bluestone if you do need a lift.
  • On the morning of check-out, Husband went and bought pastries from Millers Bakery for our goodbye breakfast. The pastries were so yummy. And we also got some French bread for a picnic on our way home.
  • Halfway between South West London and Bluestone is Caldicot Castle. I recommend stopping there on your way home for a visit and a picnic in the courtyard. But there are some other nice castles in Wales you can visit.

Family Holiday at Bluestone WalesFamily Holiday at Bluestone WalesFamily Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone WalesFamily Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone WalesFamily Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales Family Holiday at Bluestone Wales

Check out Bluestone’s Twitter and Facebook pages if you want to find out about any deals they are offering.

 

We were given a complimentary stay at Bluestone Wales for the purpose of this review (though we paid for all the extras). All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

 

 

Our Holiday Cottage – Norburton Hall

I may have previously mentioned my obsessive-compulsive research habits. I am especially bad when it comes to organising a holiday. I search and search and agonise over the decision. This was the case for our recent holiday in Dorset. One of the reasons I chose Dorset was its proximity to London (don’t want to travel for too long as we all know how tough it can be to travel with a toddler). The other main reason was the above cottage. Norburton Hall offers lovely self-catering cottages perfect for a family at a reasonable cost. We stayed in The Shippen cottage, which was so comfy and modern. It has two bedrooms and is all on one floor (which is ideal for us as our 23-month old is overly fond of walking up and down stairs).

Sorry to disparage British folk, but a lot of self-catering cottages are beyond dated. Grandma sofas and granny blankets.  I like sofas that don’t look like they harbour millions of parasites. And we’re a family of four, we can’t just squeeze onto one small sofa. I like duvets with white bedding. I like wooden floors, not old carpeting that makes me sneeze from the owner’s cats. I need a dishwasher because my kids never stop eating and drinking, and I don’t do dishes at home so why would I do them on holiday? I need a washing machine/tumble dryer. I want a fridge and a decent size freezer–on our holidays we eat lots of chips and ice cream.

We all need comfy beds. A bathtub is a must. My kids don’t like showers. A shower too? Fab, Husband and I don’t have time for baths. Speaking of bathing, I want my hot water and heating included. And my towels. We don’t have room in our car for damn towels. I can barely fit in my pillow. I never sleep away from home without my special tempur pillow. 

What did you say–lovely grounds that the children can play in and have a wander? And a lovely playground that is reachable in about two minutes in the car?! Oh, yes Norburton Hall. You will see us again. Maybe next time we will bring the grandparents and stay in the Gardener’s Cottage. Husband and I would love free babysitting quality family time.

Family Fever

Our Holiday in Dorset

I love a good research project. Now that there are four of us, we have decided to go on UK holidays until our toddler is not such a terror older. So I spent 2-3 hours a day for two weeks, a bit obsessively some may say, trying to find somewhere not too far from London (less than three hours driving) but that had lots to do regardless of the weather. And I came up with West Dorset. Ta-daaa.
 
I found a lovely little cottage in Burton Bradstock that looked modern and comfy (even by American standards), so we booked it. And last Friday afternoon we drove there in light traffic. It only took 2 hours and 40 minutes. Result. We had such a lovely time, that we’ve decided to have another holiday in Dorset before exploring Devon and Cornwall.
 
For those not familiar with West Dorset, I thought I would break it down into some of the areas/sites we visited (we tried to keep outings within a 30-minute drive). We had a brilliant break, and it was especially nice to have lots of family time, away from the telly, and I even kept my Twitter and blog usage down to nap times.
 
Burton Bradstock
A lovely and quiet village near the sea. We were near to Hive Beach (National Trust car park), which is a shingley beach. It has a lovely cafe, the Hive Beach Cafe. Amazing cakes and the crab salad–oh my. Chesil Beach is nearby (NT car park) and is great for fossil hunting. There’s also a fab playground in the village which was perfect for a before-dinner run about.
Lyme Regis
About half an hour along the coast from Burton Bradstock is the lovely Lyme Regis. Part of the beach is pebbly, the other part sandy. The carpark is quite close to the sandy bit which is handy if, like us, you have much to carry. There are some cafes, beach shops and an amusement centre on the promenade but we only played in the sand.
Abbotsbury
Abbotsbury is a lovely ten-minute drive, along a hill, from Burton Bradstock. Abbotsbury itself, has several tea-rooms, a children’s farm/petting zoo, a swannery and gardens. We did not have time to visit the farm (which also boasts a soft play) but there’s always next time.

Dorchester
It only took half an hour to get to Dorchester. Dorchester has several museums, which is handy on a rainy day. We went to the Dinosaur Museum and spent an enjoyable hour. My daughter got a clipboard and had to discover various facts located throughout the museum. She was thrilled. I was not too impressed that it cost £20 for three of us (my son is under three so his entry was free).
 
On another day, we went to the Kingston Maurward Gardens and Animal Park. We briefly got to walk around the landscaped gardens (top picture), as the kids loved the playground. They spent an hour on that damn combine harvester. But we did enjoy feeding the animals, especially the goats who had a mutual love with my 23-month old Dubz

Weymouth

We didn’t get up to very much in Weymouth, though it has several attractions including the Sealife centre. It has a bit of shopping. We went to Matalan as I forgot to pack myself socks and panties (der-brain). The Guardian online had a feature on the Top 10 Dorset Seafood Fish Restaurants and included Marlboro Fish & Chips in Weymouth. We all loved the fish, sausage in batter and chips.
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Going On Holiday with a Toddler

I booked this week’s holiday to Dorset about two months ago. We didn’t have a holiday last year so this break was much-needed. The trouble is, when you haven’t been away in a while, is that you forget the difficulties of a holiday. Gone are the non-children-having holidays. I used to pack for my husband and myself before jetting off to somewhere cool and hip. Then we’d eat all our meals out, drink lots of booze, have lots of sex and sleep-in. 

Oh, how times have changed. These days my poor old Husband must pack for himself because I have to pack for myself and both kids. I also have to pack snacks and various essential items. I almost never forget anything for the kids. But I often forget things that I need. This trip, I forgot to pack socks and panties for myself. Ugh.

So if you are pregnant, or have a baby, and want to know what to really expect from your holiday with a toddler, here it goes:

1. Most likely, you will stay in the country as you can’t face to take your toddler on an airplane. Not all toddlers are terrors when flying. By the time my daughter was four, we had taken her to the USA twice, The Seychelles, Spain, Malta and Guam. My son, who is 23 months old, doesn’t even have a passport. The thought of taking him on an airplane sends shivers down my spine.
2. Rather than going to a cool, boutique hotel, you will be staying in a self-catering cottage/apartment/caravan.

3. There is NO sleeping in. You will wake up at your usual time of 6.00am because that is when your children will wake up. You could try alternating sleeping-in with your partner, but the shrieks will keep you from falling back to sleep. However, your partner will be able to sleep through the cries, as always. My husband actually sleeps better as he can then sleep diagonally across the bed.
4. Rather than wandering around the area aimlessly or going shopping or looking at art galleries, you are exploring all the nearest farms and playgrounds.

Who has time to sightsee, we have playgrounds to discover?!

 
5. You will then rush back to your ‘home’ so that the toddler can nap in their travel cot in the afternoon. If you have just the one child, this is when you can relax. If you have another/more children, then it’s time for more ‘fun’. 
I don’t want to nap, I want to play all day long.
6. You will eat most of your meals at your holiday home. Not to save money, but to save the embarrassment.
Yes, I’m normally quite a greedy toddler but I’ll just play with Daddy’s wallet on the restaurant floor then demand food when we get into the car.
7. You won’t be packing lingerie for this trip – but you will need plenty of nappies, wet wipes, games and books.

8. There are no boozy late nights. No lie-ins. No sex. But there is ice-cream. *sobs into ice-cream* 
9. You are having fun and making lovely family memories. There’ll be time for the ‘other stuff’ when the kids are teenagers and no longer want to go on holiday with us. And by then, I should be well into menopause so no worrying about birth control. Silver linings, people. Silver linings!