Family Friendly Breaks: A Split-cation

With four children under six, the chances of us hopping on a plane are remote. I’m not sure our baggage allowance would allow for two travel cots, steriliser, double buggy and all the other paraphernalia! Our pixies are all fair like me, and none of us like the sun. Consequently, we tend to favour a good old staycation and, in a variation on the theme, this summer we went for a split-cation. Our destination was Devon Heaven. I really don’t know why the county is not renamed as such. It’s stunning. From the captivating landscape of Dartmoor to the classic, unspoilt sandy beaches, as a destination Devon Heaven has it all. And it has scones. Lots of them.

Devon Country Barns
Our first week was spent in Tractor Barn at Devon Country Barns, Lifton. Now, we have history with this place. We first stayed at this small cluster of thoughtfully and tastefully converted barns at our lowest point in the Wilderness Years. Our first IVF attempt had just failed spectacularly. We literally ran away, and into the arms of the Apple House and the warm welcome of Devon Country Barn’s owners, Richard and Ute. Since then, we’ve stayed several times as our family has grown and staying here genuinely feels like coming home.

Let me be frank (you can be Jeremy): Devon Country Barns does not market itself to young families, and nor should it. I’d hate to see this peaceful haven of tranquillity changed. Nestled in the Thrushell Valley, the Barns are marketed towards couples, families with older children and – most importantly – dogs. Dogs are really welcomed here, with the owners themselves avid fans of Flatcoats (although a Parsons Russell terrier has sneaked into their pack).

That said, if a family with young children books in, they are welcomed too. If your children need specific play areas and ‘organised fun’, then this is not the place for you. If, like ours, they can get hours of enjoyment from skimming stones on the river, having a ride in the owners’ golf buggy and exploring the fields, then they’ll love this slice of Devon Heaven. The barns are 5* luxury with all the mod cons and their decor is stunning. In fact, we totally copied the bathrooms when we renovated our own. Devon Country Barns always has been and always will set the bar for us.

Further afield, you are on the edge of beautiful Dartmoor. Every time we have stayed, we climb ‘our Tor’. With the Miracle in his wrap on my chest, Lovely Husband tried to bundle Little into a carrier for the four mile walk. Determined little character that she is, Little refused to be carried and climbed to the very top of the Tor herself! Big and Medium entertained each other all the way, loving crossing brooks on stepping stones and a good dose of Devon air.

Other excursions included a trip to Castle Drogo, rockpooling on Bude beach, a local activity farm park and a visit the infamous Country Cheeses shop in beautiful Tavistock.

Flear Farm Cottages
Our week in Lifton was over all too quickly, and we were soon packing our bags to cross Devon Heaven to the South Hams – East Allerton to be exact and to Flear Farm Cottages. This was our first stay here, but suffice to say it won’t be the last. Before we’d even spent our first night, we were online looking at all the cottage options to book for next year. Before we left, we booked a whopping three weeks in The Stables next summer.

So, why did Flear Farm invoke such a strong reaction from us? Put simply, it’s perfect. Intuitively designed for families with charming owners that have young children themselves, Flear Farm cottages themselves are brilliantly equipped for young families while still retaining the creature comforts and a touch of style and elegance for the parents. The cottages vary in size. We stayed in The Stalls with one double and two twin rooms, but the grandparents stayed in The Dairy – perfectly sized for two. Our pixies loved running between the two cottages.

Cottages aside, the facilities are fantastic. As you arrive you are greeting by a sweet natured pony, alpacas, Bantams, a peacock that just arrived one day and never left and a cat that’s also adopted the farm as her home. Once you’ve patted and petted the livestock, there’s the play barn. Now many cottages boast playbarns. These, in our experience, are often half-baked efforts. Flear Farm’s playbarn is exceptional. Boasting a climbing frame, swings, play house, toys, ride-ons and even bouncers for smaller children, there’s also table tennis, a trampoline, table football and pool for older ones. Amazing. Beneath the barn, there’s a swimming pool, hot tub, steam room and treatment room.

Outside there’s further play equipment, putting, tennis, a bridge for pooh sticks and a camp fire, on which we enjoyed making dough twists, burning sausages and mingling with fellow guests. The estate is vast and there are woodland walks, orchards and fields to explore. You really don’t need to leave the cottages; the estate itself offers multiple opportunities to create incredible memories.

That, however, would be a great disservice to a fantastic area. The South Hams boasts the best beaches in Devon. Picturesque Bigbury, with its tidal island, and beautiful Bantham opposite have both donated their sand to the floor in my car. Nearby Totnes and Kingsbridge offer a spot of boat watching and some fantastic places to eat. Our favourite eatery though has to be the Oyster Shack in Bigbury. With a menu that changes with the daily catch, this rustic and charming restaurant is brilliant with children without compromising on their exceptional food and ambience.

I’m trying to find a downside to Flear Farm, but I’m struggling. Even the streaming cold and lung proffering cough I developed didn’t put a dampener on our week there. If I’m being really picky, I’d love them to offer service washes rather than trudging off to the laundry myself, but if that’s the best criticism I can come up with, I think it’s time to stop digging. We’ve struck gold. Three whole weeks at this charming destination next year. I cannot wait.

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Family Friendly Breaks: A Split-cation

Family Friendly Breaks: Wallops Wood Cottages, Hampshire

So, at 35w pregnant, I wasn’t going to travel far for an Easter break. If anything, I wanted to be closer to the hospital and not further away. We settled on Hampshire and chose to stay at Wallops Wood Cottages, booking Glenside for a five night break. Attracted by the enclosed garden with a private hot tub and a baby friendly promise, we were quietly optimistic about our choice.

Prior to arrival, the owners emailed us several times to let us choose from their children’s kit (travel cot – for once with a proper mattress! – high chair, booster seat, toys, etc.) and to let us know of events in the area that we might enjoy. This personal touch is the kind of thing that can make or break a holiday and it was appreciated, as was the home-baked cake, apple juice, beer and wine that had been left for us.

The cottage was comfortable and very well equipped. The beds and linen were of good quality and the children settled easily. Always a good sign. Sadly, our first night was somewhat marred by our neighbours next door having a very loud and sweary barney until 3am. Our only criticism of the accommodation is that the dividing walls are very thin and at times it felt like we were on holiday with the shouty people next door.

That said, after the initial noisy couple of nights, it did quieten down and the silence was glorious. We utilised the paddock at the bottom of the garden for an impromptu Easter egg hunt and to play tennis. The strong wifi meant we could take our Firestick with us to catch up on all the things we never have time to watch, as well as to catch up with each other.

The cottages are well appointed for getting out and about, and notable things to do in the area included a lovely Easter egg hunt at Mottisfont, a fun packed and busy few hours at the Winchester Science Centre and a great day out at Marwell Zoo, where the very beautiful but elusive snow leopard treated us to an appearance.

But the highlight had to be lunch at The Shoe, Exton. We went for Sunday lunch on Easter Sunday and the food was superb. I’d go as far as to say it was the best roast I’ve ever had and the children’s meals were of excellent quality and beautifully presented. Service was attentive and prompt and we all had a great time. A gorgeous gastro-pub that we’ll return to.

Now we’re home, I’m manically nesting. Every cupboard is being cleared out. I’ve filled ten bin bags in less than 24 hours. No matter how tired I am, no matter how much I ache, I simply cannot stop. The pixies are scared to stand still in case they’re bundled up and tidied away. I don’t blame them. We’re on the final furlong. The Miracle will be here before we know it.

Family Friendly Breaks: Wallops Wood Cottages, Hampshire

Family friendly breaks: Rockefeller, Dorset

So, the ordeal continued. Exactly a week after our discharge, Big woke with a high temperature and was – weirdly – completely unable to bear weight on her knees. In these circumstances, Dr Google is not my friend. After scaring myself, I took her to the out-of-hours doctor (why do these things always happen at the weekend?!) who scared me even more by talking about septic arthritis. After ten hours back on the children’s ward and a battery of tests, the orthopaedic doctor said she had a virus in her joints. It could be the same one that caused her previous hospital stay, or she could come out in chicken pox spots imminently, as Medium had brought it home to share. Apparently, in some children, as the pox develops it causes chronic joint pain. Who knew? “She can’t have chicken pox – she’s been exposed multiple times,” I said. “And we fly to Lanzarote a week on Monday!”

Two days later, Little burst out in violent pox. You could not see skin between the spots. I’ve never seen her so poorly – and nor do I want to. Her temperature hovered just above 40, despite regular paracetamol and she felt very sorry for herself. It was seven days before we were due to fly, and I spoke to our lovely GP who did the plumber-teeth-sucking-thing, and said it’d be tight, but he’d see her on Friday to assess whether she was fit to fly.

Friday came, and it was obvious she wasn’t fit to fly. And nor was Big, who came out in a splattering of pox spots, as predicted by the orthopaedic doctor, in sympathy. Instead, our GP certified them as not fit to fly. You have no idea how much we needed that holiday. A week of sun to see off the winter bugs – and we’ve had more than our share – was just what the doctor ordered. Except he ordered us not to go. Fortunately, Lovely Husband had the foresight to insure what was going to be a very expensive holiday, and, as we should get the money back, we decided to book somewhere exceptional in the UK for a week. We might be in quarantine, but at least we’d be in quarantine somewhere fabulous.

We booked Rockefeller via Unique Home Stays, in Studland, Dorset. Studland is an area I know well, having enjoyed many drunken riding weekends there. In fact, it felt decidedly strange to be in Studland without a beach gallop or a pint of the local brew! Studland is a beautiful place; a sandy, National Trust beach (watch out for nudists!), miles of heathland, a great pub with micro-brewery and now the Pig on the Beach, with its kitchen menu and quirky beauty treatments in old shepherd huts. I sampled the latter with a lovely pregnancy massage and I have a sneaky suspicion I may have snored.

Nearby, there’s Corfe Castle, where we enjoyed a memorable family day out once the poxy pair had dried out. Big astounded us by following the children’s trail and filling in her workbook all by herself. I’ve taken a photo for her teacher. Lovely Husband and I have a thing about National Trust coffee, so we enjoyed a snack in a flash of rare sunshine too.

We found a local activity farm, Farmer Palmers, that the pixies loved. It was rustic, compared to the farm parks local to us, but innovative and Big loved the slides strapped to straw bales and building straw mountains.

A visit to what must be the UK’s smallest museum was also a success. Medium loves dinosaurs, and enjoyed the Dinosaur Museum in Dorchester – three rooms of fossils, models and dinosaur information, including a ‘Sniff a T-Rex’s breath’ feature. All three enjoyed the Bournemouth Oceanarium, particularly Little, who finally decided to get up off of her bottom and walk around and around and around the turtle tank. Boy, did she love those turtles.

And what of Rockefeller itself? It’s certainly swish, with electric blinds, underfloor heating and all the mod cons. It’s location in Studland is fabulous – high on a hill with sea views and a terrace that cries out for gin and tonics to be enjoyed on. The house feels safe; it has a high electric gate and even in the midst of Storm Doris’s rage, we felt snug and secure.

I won’t lie, it wasn’t cheap and more than we would usually spend on a holiday rental. We tend to book five star properties only and are firm believers that if we’re going on holiday, the accommodation needs to be better than that at home. There were a few disappointments. The directions to find the house weren’t clear and my car Sat Nav, which was trying to help me find the house was apoplectic with rage as I stubbornly ignored it and tried to follow the instructions given to us. Eventually, I asked a local who directed us to the rough area, but the house had no signage other than a biro nameplate on the electric gate key pad. By the time I found the house, Big was winding up Medium, who was screaming and Little was hungry. Hell hath no fury like a hungry Little.

We weren’t the only ones who had trouble finding the house. Unique Home Stays promise a luxury hamper on arrival. Ours arrived in time for departure because their delivery driver couldn’t find us either.

If I’m being really picky, the beds were too firm for me, but I accept that’s personal choice. With The Miracle’s tendency to snuggle down on my sciatic nerve and render me a limping, puffing grump along with the eternal cold I’ve been nursing for five weeks now, this didn’t really allow me to conquer my sleep deprivation, despite Lovely Husband’s best efforts.

The weather wasn’t as kind as it could’ve been to a family that desperately needed a dose of vitamin D, but at least we were away and all together. There is nothing more precious than time in our family bubble – pox and all!

 

Family friendly breaks: Rockefeller, Dorset

Family friendly breaks: review 3

Chris Rea famously sung that the road to Hell was the M25. I raise him the A303 in the summer holidays. It took us seven and a half hours to reach Devon. We left at midday, and I’d booked Tesco to bring holiday grub to our cottage at 7pm. By 5pm, I’d phoned the owners who promised to pop our order in our cottage. I hadn’t expected to arrive and find it completely unpacked and put away, but quickly realised this placed me closer to my much craved glass of wine quicker than expected. Phew.

This summer, we booked a fortnight at Long Furlong Holiday Cottages (http://www.longfurlongcottages.co.uk) in the Hartland Peninsular, Devon. We love Devon. It’s our spiritual home. I just wish it was easier to get to. Once there, we quickly got over our terrible journey, though.

We chose Long Furlong because they had amenities for the kids and for us. Big loved the playroom, which fortunately was directly opposite our cottage. We could sit on the terrace with a glass of wine while she and Medium played. They both loved the pool (a large indoor  thats 1m in depth throughout and a wave pool outside). We loved the spa and both had several lovely treatments – my facial was one of the best I’ve ever had.

Long Furlong is ideally located for several fabulous beaches. Our favourite was Sandymouth – miles of golden sand and fabulous rock pools that were deep enough to swim in!

Days out included several trips to the Milky Way – a theme park with just about everything. From rollercoasters to archery lessons, birds of prey demonstrations to a Star Wars memorabilia exhibition, this place is diverse and vast and our girls loved it.

We loved walking around quaint Covelly and gaining inspiration at RHS Rosemoor. Our gardener looked a bit worried when we talked about our plans for a vegetable garden.

And what of our cottage itself? It was comfortable and clean but plastic flowers and an electric rather than a real log burner did make it feel less than five star. We asked for a clean half way through our fortnight and it took persistence from the owner to persuade the cleaners to do so. All said though, we wanted for nothing and enjoyed our family bubble.

Family friendly breaks: review 3

I bet Victoria Beckham doesn’t do this

I’ve neglected you, my friends. I apologise.

Half term has pretty much summed up the glamour of being a mum and juxtaposes the blissful week that went before.

We took advantage of being able to take Big out of Pre-School and prefixed the week off with a week at Centre Parcs. Prior to having the pixies, I wrongly assumed Center Parcs to be an instrument of torture, much like Butlins or Maplins (those under 35 won’t get that reference, in which case, you’re no longer my friend). All jolly campers and *eurgh* ORGANISED FUN. Two words that should never sit together. I digress. It was a lovely week and as far as I know, it’s the only place you can neck a glass of wine and eat a reasonably decent meal in peace while your children clobber others in the soft play.

I’d made the decision that I’d potty train Medium while simultaneously weaning her off her dummy during half term so she could go back to Pre-School in Big Girl Pants. By Big Girl Pants, I mean boys’ pants with Buzz Lightyear and the Gruffalo on because retailers assume that girls can’t possibly like cowboys, cars and dinosaurs.

I hate potty training with a vengeance. I don’t really know why. It’s just a week but by the end of it, my own voice sounds like nails being scraped down a blackboard. If I hear myself saying, “Medium, do you need your potty? Try for Mummy” one more time, I might scream.

Inevitably, there have been accidents. While scrubbing a number two (seriously, how does such a small body hold that much sh1t?!) from our leather sofa, I couldn’t help muttering that I bet Victoria Beckham never has to do this.

As is usually the case when trying to teach your child how to go to the toilet without it ending up in their pants, the week was spent at home, dishing out multiple stickers as Big has decided she should get a sticker for wiping her own bottom. The pixies have found their own entertainment though, by exploring the mound of soil that’s been delivered for some trees we’re planting. Thoughtfully, they’ve trudged that through the house and in my paranoia about anything brown, I’ve carried on scrubbing.

Why won’t anyone give me stickers? Ones that I can trade in for nice, large glasses of Malbec and a takeaway. I bet Victoria Beckham gets those. I want those.

I bet Victoria Beckham doesn’t do this

Family friendly breaks: Review 2

It’s taken us a while to get ourselves organised to head off for another family weekend. We’ve just got back from Chisel Barn’s Whites Ground in Blandfold Forum, Dorset. Blue Chip Holidays promise a ‘Baby Blue Chip’ package that should mean you can leave at least the kitchen sink at home.

We don’t know Dorset particularly well. Our hearts lie in Devon, really. But lovely though the A303 is, it’s just that bit too far for a weekend. We think we might have hit on the perfect compromise in Dorset and, in particular, at Chisel Barn. White Grounds, a converted dairy, boasts three large double bedrooms with either twin or king sized beds, a large open plan lounge/dining/kitchen area, a safe enclosed garden and two bathrooms. It has a separate utility room with washing machine and tumble dryer and the kitchen has all the mod cons. The beds are comfy and, most importantly, Big and Medium settled immediately from the first night. Bedtime was a breeze.

Decor is restful; I’ll go out on a limb and say Farrow & Ball throughout. A large, comfy corner sofa comfortably envelopes the whole family and there’s a cheerful log burner for chilly nights. Outside, the garden is fully fenced without compromising the beautiful view over Chisel Barn’s land. Baby cows, sheep, horses and a large pond are all you’ll see and the quiet is wonderful. Even the cows don’t moo at night and, weirdly, despite them being only a 40 or so metres from the front door, they don’t smell. Big, Medium and Little adored the cows and made several visits a day to say hello. They also enjoyed using the fishing nets left for them in the pond and hunting for frogspawn. Lovely Husband and I enjoyed an evening drinking champagne and eating cheese around the fire pit while the smalls slept. Lovely.

And onto the Baby Blue Chip promise. Well, we felt this was a bit ‘meh’. It didn’t induce us to write a glowing report on the ‘reduced packing’ aspect. There was a potty, loo seat, steriliser, monitor, some bath toys and the owner thoughtfully bought a Bumbo (at our recommendation) for us,  but we were disappointed by the lack of toys and DVDs. If the weather had been too bad to throw the kids outside, we would’ve been stuck. We did need that extra crate of things in the car after all, which means more packing and unpacking at both ends. That’s really what we want to avoid.

That said, we would definitely return, even with the extra crate in the car. The house is restful and incredibly easy to live in. It has a better broadband connection than we have at home, so Lovely Husband could work. It’s location is handy for several beaches (we visited the gorgeous and unspoilt Studland beach) as well attractions such as Monkey World and the Tank Museum (honestly – this place is fascinating and well worth a trip). We were all sad to leave and White Grounds could well be another contender for our regular jaunts.

Find out more about Chisel Barn here: http://www.bluechipholidays.co.uk/dorset/blandford-forum/chisel-barn-whites-ground

 

 

 

Family friendly breaks: Review 2