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.

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Family prom at the Welsh Proms 

How do you give young children their first taste of live classical music? That’s the question Cardiff’s St David’s Hall was answering in its family-friendly prom performance as part of the Welsh Proms.

Running for around an hour, the family prom took the audience through a journey of family-friendly classical works from Swan Lake to West Side Story to Disney.

The show was presented delightfully by Connie Fisher, who introduced each score and the accompanying dancers. Each work featured talented performances from young local dancers, bringing each piece to life with lively and well-executed choreography. 

Our almost three-year-old was mesmerised by the young ballerinas performing Swan Lake with such poise and grace. She didn’t move from the spot. 

Both our son and daughter relished the opening Pirates of the Caribbean performance, which saw the stage invaded by rafts of young ballerina pirates. A performance of such personality.

I particularly enjoyed the engaging way Connie introduced the orchestra. I’d taken the children to give them their first experience of an orchestra so it was fantastic to hear her explain the different sections, each of whom then played a snippet of music including Uptown Funk and Gangnam Style.

Unfortunately our youngest voted with her feet just before the Beauty and the Beast segment meaning she (and my husband) missed it. I was so sad she didn’t get to see it as it was beautiful. From the delicate Disney-inspired costumes to the thoughtful choreography, it was a definite highlight.

Overall, the family prom was an accessible way to introduce our young children to the experience of seeing (and hearing) a live orchestra. 

With inspired music selections and choreography from local young dancers, it was a great family performance. Bravo!


Blogger note: We paid for our tickets to the family prom and the venue wasn’t aware we were writing a review.

Did you attend the family prom today? I’d love to hear what you thought.

Afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard – excellent food, but lacking in service

Afternoon tea is something I really enjoy as a treat. Over the last few years, my family and I have started going for afternoon tea a few times a year as a way to get together and catch up in a relaxing setting.

So I recently booked afternoon tea as a gift for my grandmother for her 91st birthday. I decided to try Llanerch Vineyard for the first time. I’ve had an excellent evening meal with friends there before and know it’s a lovely location.

We were booked in for noon and were shown to a table in a light and airy room. The windows looked out into the vineyard and I loved the huge Welsh dresser and the vineyard wallpaper.

One of our party was running late so we explained that after sitting at the table. We were told that the table was needed at 2pm so we’d have to be finished by then. 

I was disappointed to hear this. What I love most about afternoon tea is whiling away the time while catching up with friends and loved ones. And, to me, two hours is cutting it fine. 

We asked for the portions for the three of us to be brought out and to save the last portion for our other guest. After we chose from a huge variety of teas, the team accommodated this and brought out a gorgeous selection of food.


This included a selection of delicate square sandwiches with fillings including chicken, salmon, ham and the traditional cucumber. 

On the second tier, we had a delicious scone, clotted cream and jam, a Welsh cake and a slice of banana bread.

The top tier then had a fabulous selection of cakes. A melt in your mouth macaroon; a delicious lemon meringue; a peanut butter and chocolate cookie and a perfect slice of raspberry cheesecake.

The food was everything I’d hoped it would be and the tea was delicious. But I was disappointed that the afternoon tea – which was £16.50 each – only included one pot of tea per person. Any additional tea was £2.50 a pot. I’ve had a fair few afternoon teas in my time and it’s the first time I’ve been anywhere that charges for tea top ups!

By 2pm, we were reminded that we needed to leave our table. We were told we could take our drinks elsewhere in the vineyard, but we didn’t. It certainly soured the experience and made me feel unwelcome.

Overall, the food and setting were lovely but the customer service wasn’t what I expected. It detracted from the lovely food and meant the experience didn’t feel as special as I’d have liked it to. 

I’ll be sticking to my regular places for afternoon tea in future.

Blogger note – We paid for our visit to Llanerch Vineyard and the venue was unaware I was writing a review.

A mid week stay at Bluestone Wales – a review

Nestled in stunning surroundings in Pembrokeshire, Bluestone Wales has been a popular getaway for families for more than a decade. 

With hundreds of lodges, and a swimming pool, a spa, a park, a lake and indoor and outdoor activities in its 500 acres, the five-star resort offers plenty to keep its guests entertained. And partly falling into the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, it provides a comfortable base to explore the beautiful beaches and days out nearby.


We have been regular visitors to Bluestone since 2013, when we enjoyed our first family holiday there. We love its range of family-friendly activities, high quality accommodation and pretty setting and how close it is to home. It is just 90 minutes from where we live meaning the children are fairly comfortable with the journey.

Bluestone offers a good range of free activities for guests including swimming, soft play, mini golf, quizzes and shows. There are also bookable activities including messy play, interactive story times and craft workshops.

It has a range of places to eat from a coffee shop to a family-friendly restaurant and a pub. One of our favourite experiences in good weather is Camp Smokey, where you can enjoy food cooked on a campfire and roast marshmallows.  

The resort has updates and new additions fairly regularly including a chip shop van (perfect for that arrival day!). This year they have created a fabulous new play park in the centre of the resort’s village, which the children were thrilled to test out!

We were fortunate to get sunny weather so we could enjoy walks around the lake and the nature trail. 

The nature trail

We usually rely on prams, the children’s scooters and walking to get around Bluestone. But we opted to hire a golf buggy on this trip for the first time as I’m recovering from a nasty chest infection. At £92.50 for the duration of a mid week or weekend break, it isn’t cheap, but it made getting around the resort easier and the children enjoyed it!

Customer service on site is marvellous. For example, at home we have a stair gate on our toddler’s door as she’s a little explorer. On our first night, she was awake until 9.15pm after discovering she could just walk out of her room. I mentioned it to staff in passing when booking some activities the following morning and they arranged for a complimentary stair gate to be delivered to our lodge that day.

One of the things I enjoy about Bluestone is how environmentally-friendly the resort is. The swimming pool, for example, is heated by biomass and each lodge has recycling facilities. I was pleased to see a disposable nappy recycling service at the lodges, which was a new addition since our last stay.

Breaks vary in price according to your accommodation and when you stay. The resort features a range of accommodation aimed at sleeping between two and 12 people, including cottages, studio apartments and lodges. 

This time, we stayed in a three-bedroom Tenby lodge, which gave us plenty of space to relax and meant the children had separate rooms. Off peak, weekend or mid week breaks can be as little as £250 (sometimes less). 

However, like all holiday resorts, prices increase substantially during peak times, including the school holidays. For example, the cheapest 2-bedroom lodge would cost more than £1,000 for a mid week stay in the first week of August (prices checked on 3 May 2017).

Overall, we had another unforgettable family break at Bluestone. The accommodation and facilities are second to none and give you a great base to explore Pembrokeshire. So, yes, we’ll be coming back again!

Blogger note: We paid for our holiday to Bluestone Wales and all of our activities there. The resort was unaware I would be writing a review.

Where are your favourite places for family holidays? I’d love to hear your recommendations.

A trip to Folly Farm Wales – a review

Pembrokeshire’s Folly Farm is a popular day out for families in Wales and that includes us. 

Boasting both exotic and farmyard animals and a fantastic range of indoor and outdoor play, it was has won accolades from TripAdvisor for being a top family day out.

We do a family day out to Folly Farm at least once a year and it gets better with every visit with new animals and updated sections. 

Our first stop was the barn, where you can find traditional farm animals including goats, pigs, donkeys and a variety of chickens. The hatchery allows children to watch eggs hatch and the interactive cwtch corner enables them to cuddle smaller animals such as guinea pigs. 

The children then made their way to the vast outdoor play park starting with the sand diggers. They both loved digging mounds and steering the diggers. Then it was off to the different sections of the park to explore the pirate ships, castle and network of slides and tunnels.


After an hour of play, we made our way to see the more exotic animals including rhinos, meerkats, lions, zebra and the giraffes. 

One of the lovely things about Folly Farm is the interactive and educational element that accompanies each species meaning you learn along the way. Our five-year-old loved the measuring chart which showed him how tall he was in comparison to a baby giraffe. 

There is excellent information about conservation too, which is helpful to start talking to children about these issues.


Our highlights were seeing the the giraffes and the visit to penguin cove. Both of our children were thrilled to see the penguins swimming, especially through the glass viewing area. 



We ate lunch at the fast food diner at the soft play centre. It cost us £26 for two adult and children’s meals and drinks. The food was good and portions were very ample. There were other dining options including a cafe near the entrance, but we decided on a treat after two hours’ exploring. The children then burnt off some energy by racing around the vast soft play area before returning outside for more play and animals.


The facilities at Folly Farm are great for accessibility, including prams and wheelchairs. There are plentiful drinking water stations and toilets, which is vitally important when venturing out with a recently toilet-trained toddler! 

It cost around £45 for the four of us to get in, but we exchanged our Tesco Clubcard vouchers for four times the value in advance to pay towards the entrance cost. 

The entry fee covers the vast majority of activities at Folly Farm, but some cost a small fee such as the fairground rides.

Overall, we had another fantastic day out at Folly Farm. Fun, informative and interactive.

Blogger note: We paid for our visit to Folly Farm and the venue was unaware I was writing a review.

Pontypridd Lido – a review


It’ll be two years in August since Pontypridd Lido reopened after an extensive renovation. It’s been on my to do list since then and we finally made our first visit there yesterday.

The lido reopened for the current season on Saturday and we booked online in advance. It cost just £7 for the four of us to swim – including an extra £1 per child to access the activity pools. 

The lido is located in Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd and is just a few minutes from the A470. Although there is no parking at the park, there is a choice of affordable car parking options that are a few minutes away. 

When we got to the pool, we booked in and were given wristbands to access the activity pool. 

The lido has a choice of changing areas – indoor and retro outdoor cubicles inspired by its 1927 roots. There is a good mix of family changing cubicles, which is handy for families with younger children like us, and lockers. Ratios are one adult to every child under four. 

The lido features three heated outdoor pools, which are heated to around 28 degrees. There’s a splash pool, a swimming pool and a smaller swimming pool, which is set up for activities such as an inflatable assault course. The pools are surrounded by sunloungers for friends and family who want to spectate rather than take a dip (or swimmers who want to catch some rare Welsh rays!).

Our toddler loved running in and out of the splash pool and getting soaked by the water fountain whereas our five-year-old headed straight for the activity pool, which was kitted out with a giant inflatable assault course. He loved taking on the challenge and launching into the giant slide at the end.

The lido has a cafe which serves snacks poolside through a serving hatch and a visitor centre upstairs, which tells the story of the lido’s history.

Outside of the lido is a beautiful play park and the main cafe entrance. We refuelled in the cafe after our dip. Drinks and snacks for all coming in at less than £10 so it was reasonable. 

After our pit stop it was time to explore the play park, which opened with the lido in 2015. The children spent more an hour exploring and playing in the network of tunnels and sand sections as well as a zip wire. 

Overall, it was a fantastic few hours out as a family. The children were in their element and we’ll definitely be back! In fact, our toddler asked to go swimming again as we were about to leave.

Have you been to the Lido yet? Are you planning to visit? I’d love to know. 

A Sunday night stay at the Celtic Manor Resort – a review


My husband and I are off the scale planners. We like to organise things months and months in advance and organise them to the smallest detail.

But when an offer arrived in my inbox for a late availability Sunday night stay at The Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, we jumped at the opportunity. It was a few days before our wedding anniversary so it was timed excellently.

Although we’ve been to the resort a few times over the years, we’ve never stayed there. So I was surprised at the massive scale of the resort hotel, the grounds and the activities for all ages from high ropes to crazy golf to the most massive bouncy castle I’ve ever seen.

Minutes from junction 24 of the M4, check in is at 4pm (3pm if you upgrade to a signature stay) but you can use the resort facilities before then. Car parking is at an additional cost at £5 for outdoor parking and £15 for parking in the indoor resort hotel for 24 hours.

We stayed in a deluxe suite and were lucky enough to get a fabulous double aspect room. The views were especially beautiful given the weather and blanket blue skies.

View from our room

With such beautiful weather, we checked in and headed outdoors to take on the crazy golf. It was £6 for 9 holes or £9 for 18 and the courses were great fun with lots of water and challenging terrain (for me, anyhow!). 

After a lot of laughs at my lack of golfing ability, we headed indoors to test out the Forum spa facilities. With Roman decor, I loved the pool and the gorgeous painting of a twilight sky (complete with twinkly light stars) on the ceiling above. 

The facilities feature a communal jacuzzi and a huge sauna and loungers. There are also a separate jaccuzi, steam room and sauna by each changing room for women and men only. You can book and pay for spa treatments during your stay if you would like to.

Choosing where to eat dinner was a challenge as there are several restaurants and dining options depending on your budget. This ranges from high end dining to more affordable options. 

We opted to book The Grill, where you can enjoy a selection of grilled meats and veggie options with mains ranging between £15 and up to £35 for a good steak. The concierge service meant we were dropped to and collected from the venue. The food was delicious and I opted for a BBQ chicken dish with crispy bacon topping (£18). 

I couldn’t leave without testing a dessert so we shared the brownie (£7) which was served with honeycomb, ice cream and fluffy marshmallows. It was perfectly gooey. Yum!

When it came to the morning, the pool opens at 6.30am and breakfast is served from 7am with a huge selection on offer from fruit to a full English to pancakes with delicious toppings including white chocolate shavings and chocolate ganache! 

My only quibble was a lack of hot water in our bathroom in the morning which resulted in a rather cold shower. 

Overall, the stay was a fabulous anniversary treat. It made me realise what a family-friendly place the resort is and I’d definitely consider a family stay as well as a couples getaway in the future.

Blossoms on the adventure golf course


Blogger note. We purchased our stay at the resort and the resort was unaware I was writing a review.