Six places to visit on a South West England staycation

Since our son started school a few years ago, I’ve found February half term a challenge. The weather can be too wet and cold for days out so it can end up being an expensive and stir crazy week.

As our daughter has now started school, I decided to book us a little break – a staycation in Devon.

We stayed in a Hornbeam Lodge in Lady’s Mile Holiday Park in Dawlish. As it’s out of season, the Monday to Friday break cost us less than £300 for a spacious two-bedroom lodge with a bath, an ensuite and a hot tub . The park has a mix of pitches, static caravans and lodges and our lodge was spotlessly clean and well-presented.

Although a little dated in places, the park has a warm indoor pool, a restaurant, a small gym, a hairdresser’s, an arcade and bowling alley. Other facilities such as the on-site shop, chip shop and outdoor pool were closed due to the time of year.

We made it our base for a range of family days out. We also broke up the journey from South Wales with a stop at around half way.

Here’s what we did and thought about our South West staycation.

1. Bristol Zoo

We broke up our travel to Dawlish with a visit to Bristol Zoo. Our daughter hasn’t been before and our son couldn’t remember his trip as a toddler so it felt like a good chance for a visit.

The children loved seeing the animals – with the monkeys, lion and gorillas selected as their favourites – and to learn more about them. Its focus on conservation helped us talk to the children about caring for animals and our environment.

They enjoyed the zoo detectives trail that was running for half term spotting the relevant items and pictures around the zoo.

I loved the underwater walkway as we could watch the seals and the penguins swim past us.

Entry prices vary, but we booked online as it’s slightly cheaper. We paid £15 per adult and took advantage of the children go free at half term offer that was running. Parking was £3.

2. Killerton House

It’s nearly six months since we joined the National Trust and I make sure we make the most of our membership by visiting new places near home or when we’re away.

So on our first full holiday day, we headed to Killerton in Broadclyst, Exeter.

We walked the spacious grounds and visited the grand house including its Votes for Women? exhibition, which tells the tale of two Killerton women who sat on opposite sides of the suffrage campaign.

It gave us the chance to talk about the centenary of some women being given the opportunity to vote and the exhibition asks visitors to vote for and against.

The children enjoyed spotting the small toy mice hidden in the rooms dressed in suffrage and anti-suffrage colours. Our daughter also enjoyed dressing up as a suffragette and trying out the different hats.

Killerton also houses a fantastic fashion collection which showed the changes in fashion over the decades.

Killerton is free for National Trust members. Entry prices for non-members can be found here.

3. Babbacombe Model Village

We visited Babbacombe Model Village near Torquay for a fun few hours out. The children enjoyed seeing miniature villages, people and models.

New additions such as The Great British Bake Off and celebrity mansion kept me entertained too. They also enjoyed the free crazy golf and its 4D cinema experience.

With off peak prices, we paid £26 to visit as a family. There is a pay and display car park outside the model village.

4. Babbacombe Cliff Railway

Just a few minutes’ walk from the model village, you’ll find Babbacombe Cliff Railway.

Open since 1926, it takes passengers down the steep cliff to Oddicombe beach with views of the English Riviera.

We enjoyed the fairly unique journey to the lovely flat beach, where we skimmed stones and had a picnic before stepping back on board.

The return journey for four cost £9.60. The service also offers 10 rides for £10 (five returns).

5. Exmouth

After wrapping up warm, we had a brisk walk and visit to Exmouth beach. It is a beautiful sandy stretch and the children enjoyed hunting for shells, pebbles and sticks.

After a short walk, we thawed out in Oceans Soft Play, a beautifully clean soft play centre with sweeping views of the beach.

The children loved tearing around and it gave us all a chance to warm up.

Finally, we stopped for a delicious lunch at the Proper Fish and Chips Co, which makes high quality fare cooked to order.

6. Tyntesfield

As we made our way home to South Wales, we decided to stop at Tyntesfield in Bristol to stretch our legs. This is a very special National Trust property and the house is a must see. You need to get tickets upon entry to visit the house, which is filled with fascinating artworks and collections that bring the house to life.The grounds are beautiful and the children loved running free and exploring.Entry is free for National Trust members. Admission prices for non-members can be found here.


2017 – the year that was

It’s New Year’s Eve 2017. A day during which many of us will reflect on the good, the bad and the in-between bits of the year gone by.

With hours to go until 2018, we may be thinking of pledges to be thinner, fitter, better versions of ourselves after the season of goodwill or, in many cases (myself included), a good fill of food, drink, late nights and sofa-lazing.

So here’s what I did and didn’t do in 2017 and my hopes for 2018.

What I did

Started mindfulness

In the spring, I was pretty unwell with a chest infection that I just couldn’t shift. I was stressed, anxious and frustrated and I realised that my feelings had a part to play in me being and staying unwell.

So, after reading Ruby Wax’s Frazzled, I put the cynicism aside and started 10 minutes of mindfulness a day with Headspace. It means I’ve clocked up more than 1,000 meditation minutes since May.

I’d love to say I manage to fit it in every day, but often I don’t. But I do use its techniques every day and they’ve helped massively, especially in paying attention to the moment and noticing things rather than letting them pass you by.

Got a tattoo

This one was a surprise. 2017 has thrown me some challenges that I’ve had to grit my teeth to get through.

So when I saw the #shepersisted campaign and resulting tattoos on Instagram, it resonated with me. So my 33rd birthday present to me was a tattoo on the inside of my wrist. And I love it.

Joined a running club

Before I had the children, I ran. Not fast, not far, but enough to have a few 5Ks and 10Ks under my belt.

Fast forward to 2017, and my New Year’s pledge was to run the Swansea Bay 10K. With training waylaid by an epic chest infection, I decided to take action and joined the Pencoed Panthers for their Couch to 5K sessions.

I could barely run for a minute at that point, but the Panthers’ training and encouragement led me to conquer the 10K.

Did my first 10K since 2010

I did it and raised more than £260 for Mind thanks to my awesome supporters.

Wrote a line a day

Last year, I was given a beautiful Christmas gift – a line a day journal. It’s been a great way to capture the ups, downs and those precious little moments with the children that could easily be forgotten over time.

Joined the National Trust

As a family, we love being outdoors for walks, exploring and finding muddy puddles.

So I took the plunge and signed us up for a National Trust family membership. It’s given us some stunning days out and encourages us to visit new places this year. And I’ve discovered a new favourite place a short drive from home – Dyffryn Gardens.

Did a Rainbow Run

I did the Ty Hafan Rainbow Run in Porthcawl, something I’ve always wanted to do. It was as fun as it looked even if I did sport a green tinge for a few days despite numerous showers.

What I didn’t do

Lose that weight

At the start of the year, I pledged to lose weight (like I usually do). It started well, but I fell off the eating less and moving more wagon at Easter and never got back on.

I refuse to diet after doing unsustainable slimming groups a few times in the past, so I know that eating less and moving more is the sustainable way to do it.

Perhaps I’ll manage it this year. Or perhaps this is just how I am now.

Break the treat myself mindset

I do like a treat. Whether it’s food or a little shopping pick me up, too often I go for the short term thrill of a treat, which is fine from time to time but not as a regular thing.

Blog enough

My blogging has been more sporadic than I would like this year. I hope to be more disciplined with it in the future.

So, what do I hope for 2018?

My main hopes for 2018 involve being kinder to others and myself as well as being more patient and grateful.

I have also signed up to do my first half marathon, which fills me with fear.

So goodbye 2017 and hello to 2018. I hope it brings you joy, good health, happiness and lots of muddy puddles.

What has 2017 been like for you? What are your hopes for 2018? I’d love to hear from you.

Cardiff Half for Cliff

Cliff was my grandad.

He was charming, funny, controversial at times, maddeningly old-fashioned but entirely committed to his family.

Generous with his time, he and my lovely Nanna Val were always there from school concerts to cherished days out to listening to my tales around the dinner table every Friday night.

Barry born and bred, he and my Nanna moved to Port Talbot in the 1960s where his charm and ability to strike up conversations with anyone made him the perfect fit as a sales rep at a local printing company.

He was just 60 when I came along as his first grandchild. He and my Nanna were the most loving grandparents I could ask for (at 91, my Nanna still is).

Some of my happiest days were spent with them. During the school holidays, I’d wake up from a sleepover at their home to have boiled eggs cooked perfectly runny for soldier-dipping.

We’d then go on outings to town, or perhaps somewhere further afield like Swansea, to do spots of shopping.

I loved searching shelves for pocket money treasures, with both my Nanna and Grandpa instilling me with a good understanding of value for money that I still use to this day.

Grandpa was an expert storyteller. He was vitally proud of his time in the RAF in World War Two and was posted to Burma. He’d regale us with tales from the time, including once finding a monkey in his accommodation.

Friday nights were dinner nights. My Nanna would cook delicious roast dinners with sides of French bread and an array of desserts that would put most restaurants to shame.

And after dinner, the record player would go on and we’d dance to La Bamba, Jive Bunny or ABBA. Grandpa was quite the dancer and spent Saturday nights on the dance floor with my Nanna at the Aberavon Hotel.

As I grew older and became an idealistic teenager with strong, liberal opinions, our relationship changed.

Friday night dinner became a time for debates, where Grandpa and I would thrash out our contradictory opinions over roast potatoes and trifle.

Politics, my future career choice, the news, nothing was out of bounds. I like to think this encouraged my love of a good debate.

As I passed exams and started college and university, he and my Nanna supported me steadfastly along with my mum and dad.

Grandpa was a huge believer in education and was proud to see me go to university and start my career in journalism (although deep down I’m sure he’d have preferred me to make the far more sensible choice of becoming a teacher like my dad).

He was also a proud wedding guest when I got married in 2008.

As Grandpa grew older, he stayed remarkably active and well. At 85, he still drove, socialised with friends and danced every Saturday night with my Nanna. He could still charm a room.

But old age did mean he needed knee operations. He’d put them off before, but by the summer of 2010 the pain was such that there could be no more delays.

A few days before his 86th birthday, he had the operation. On his birthday, we visited him on the ward with gifts and cake and he seemed in good spirits.

But not too long after, he sadly had a devastating stroke, the kind that meant he could no longer speak and lost the use of one side of his body.

At first, we had hope. But then we knew that he would not recover his speech, or his movement.

Every night was spent at the hospital, holding his hand, combing his hair and talking to our Cliff as his sky coloured eyes met ours.

My heart felt like an anvil. I felt as though I had this extra invisible weight with me everywhere I went.

We had a month of this, a month of limbo, a month of watching our Cliff, a man of fierce independence, try to communicate but not being able to.

After this month, a long month that stretched and stretched, I got the call asking us to come in as he was slipping away.

I was fortunate enough to get there to tell him how much I loved him. Because, oh, how I and we loved him.

He died later that night.

My Nanna asked for donations in lieu of flowers to the Stroke Association in his memory and raised around £2,000 in his name.

That’s why a little over eight years later I’ve decided to run my first half marathon – the Cardiff Half Marathon – for the Stroke Association in his memory to help other families affected by strokes.

I’ll be blogging about my training efforts as we get closer to the day – Sunday 7 October 2018.

This one’s for you, Grandpa.

An autumnal Bluestone break

It’s a bit of a tradition for us to spend a weekend in Bluestone in late September.

We usually go around my birthday and it’s a lovely time to mark autumn’s arrival. I love autumn and it’s a pretty time of the year to visit Bluestone and see the hundreds of trees turn gold and shed their leaves.

This year, we were pleased to discover the Pembrokeshire resort was hosting a Bwbach festival offering a range of autumnal and Hallowe’en activities including a Bwbach parade.

The festival also meant that scarecrows were hidden around the resort. The children loved spotting them from the scarecrow couple walking a poodle to the scarecrow fishing at the Bluestone lake.

In previous years, we’ve been treated with autumnal sunny weekends. This wasn’t to be this year but we packed waterproofs and wellies so we were prepared for the wet Welsh weather.

The weather meant we didn’t leave the resort during our stay. The children were content splashing in the swimming pool, tearing around the Adventure Centre and playing in the park. Our daughter spent an age splashing in muddy puddles during our break too.

As our son is learning about forests and the outdoors at school this term, he also took us on a hunt for acorns and conkers and both children were pleased with their acorn treasures.

The children also enjoyed other free activities such as making jingle sticks for the Bwbach parade and the Bwbach festival, where they could dance and sing along to live music.

Overall, a lovely family weekend away to see in the start of autumn.

Blogger note: We paid for our holiday in Bluestone and the resort was unaware we would be writing a review.

Swansea Bay 10K ✅

On the first day of January this year, I pledged to take on a new challenge and signed up for the Swansea Bay 10K.

I have never found running easy so I knew it would be hard, but I decided to run it for the awesome mental health charity Mind following my difficult experience of post-natal depression.

As today inched closer, my nerves grew. Although I’d trained for the best part of three months, a nasty cold meant I’d had to have a fortnight off earlier this month so I worried if I’d make it around the course.

I felt proud putting on my Mind running vest and taking my place among the runners. Shortly before the race started, the rain arrived to soak us through as we waited to get moving.

When it was time to set off, the atmosphere was exciting. I loved

seeing my fellow charity runners taking on the course.

The first few kilometres were okay as I found my slow pace and settled into it. So many supporters

braved the rain and lined the course to cheer us on with pom-poms, shakers and cow bells. Props to the man dressed as Donald Trump at around the 6K mark for making us smile.

From 7K onwards, I struggled. I’ve never run in such heavy rain before and found it challenging to dodge puddles and maintain momentum as the course narrowed.

But somehow I just kept going, one step at a time, and ran without stopping. Yes, I was slow but I was determined to run it all.

Seeing the 400m to go sign felt brilliant and I felt near to tears as

I finally crossed the line. I’d done what didn’t feel possible three months ago.

A huge factor in getting me around the course has been my training with the Pencoed Panthers running club, which I joined in June. Their support and ability to push me when my legs and mind want to give up has helped me achieve a 10K – something I hadn’t done since 2010 (and pre-children).

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me and sponsored me so far. At the time of writing, I’d raised almost £200 for Mind thanks to your generosity.

The Gruffalo on tour – A review

As one of the best loved children’s books, Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo has enchanted children – including ours – for many years.

So when I heard it was coming to Cardiff’s New Theatre, I made sure booked tickets for a family afternoon out.

We took our seats in front of the deep dark wood and waited for the show to begin. Performed by a small cast, we were soon introduced to the book’s well-known characters – mouse, fox, owl and snake.

The well-known words of the story were woven into narrative and jolly songs. A particular highlight for me was the Madness-style song by Fox, which featured Madness-style choreography too.

The rapport between the cast was a pleasure to watch and the audience participation was pitched just right. Children were encouraged to speak the words from the book and to fill in the gaps. They helped the mouse by roaring and sitting with pin-drop quietness at the right times.

The snake had many of us – including the narrator – in stitches with his flamboyant performance. The owl worked well as a military-style character ordering poor mouse around before she outfoxed him.

Both of our children were asking for the Gruffalo and what a delight when he took to the stage in a costume of soft layers studded with purple prickles all over his back. He even had the poisonous wart at the end of his nose.

At 55 minutes without an interval, it was a fun telling of the Gruffalo tale at a good length of time for young children. The cast and songs brought fun to the stage in an imaginative telling of Donaldson’s classic tale.

The Gruffalo is on tour across UK theatres until January 2018. Find out more here.

Blogger note: We purchased our tickets and the venue was unaware I would be writing a review.

22 things you’ll know if you’ve been on a family summer holiday in the UK

1. Packing the car is like a particularly perilous game of Jenga. One false move and that boot will never shut.

2. The front seat passenger will be contorted in all directions due to the extra luggage at their feet.

3. You realise “Are we nearly there yet?” could be a useful interrogation tactic. Especially when it starts five minutes from home.

4. The comfortable time threshold for a car journey is 90 minutes by which time you’re willing to spend £7 on a sandwich each at the services just for a change of scene.

5. The 50mph signs on the M5 seem like a cruel joke because you’ve covered 0.9 miles in 20 minutes.

6. When you arrive where you’re staying, you realise you’ve forked out a small fortune to stay somewhere that is a fraction of the size of your home.

7. When you’re settled in to your accommodation, Wi-Fi is slow to the point of uselessness or non-existent. No streaming here!

8. The children’s holiday money will be spent on day one, often within the first hour, on an overpriced and ill-judged purchase.

9. But they will still ask for more during every other day of your holiday. Especially when you’re in the vicinity of a shop. Which is pretty much all the time.

10. Gift shops will become scene of nightmarish negotiations when you refuse to fork out £7.99 for a frisbee that your child insists they need.

11. You will never have packed enough pants for the children. Even the contingency ones will be used up with unexpected incidents such as rushing down a soggy slide or running into seawater in clothes.

12. There will be public tantrums on monumental scales attracting a mixture of disgust/sympathetic gazes.

13. Shattered from lack of sleep, the children will insist they can’t walk so you finish the holidays with superb biceps.

14. You’ll find yourself incredulous at the cost of any tourist attraction. £60 to look at a garden? Are you kidding me?

15. The British weather means you must bring coats/sun cream/hats/wellies/flip flops for every trip out so a 6lb bag accompanies you at all times. And you’ll still have forgotten something.

16. You’ll only realise you’ve forgotten that important thing when you’re miles from the car.

17. Despite your meticulous route planning and sat nav system, you will get lost usually as a child announces that they really need a wee.

18. Your child will start singing their rudest song during a quiet, educational day out making you want to crawl under the nearest table. Bum bum song at the museum anyone?

19. Someone will drop their ice cream the second after you’ve paid for it.

20. Any dream of a nice meal out will be shattered by the reality of overtired children and frazzled parents. Cereal it is then!

21. The onsite entertainment will remind you of Phoenix Nights, but the kids will love it and worship the oversized animal mascot sent out to interact with them.

22. The lack of structure means the children won’t sleep so your days consist of parenting between the hours of 5am until 9pm, when you collapse in an exhausted heap, too tired for wine.