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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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.

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.

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.