Family friendly breaks: Secret Meadows, Suffolk

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Now, I’ll be honest. Lovely Husband and I do like a spot of camping. Pre-children, we used to have a boat that we’d take down to the Hamble and poodle around on the Solent with, while camping at a lovely, quiet site nearby. I have wonderful memories of rain lashing down on our tent while we snuggled within. Post-children, a tent in the garden is about all we could bring ourselves to do. With four smalls of six and under, and The Miracle only just about to turn one, we just need too much STUFF. The Miracle has had a rough winter with two hospital admissions, so the idea of trying to check his temperature and administer Calpol with the aid of just a wind-up torch left me a bit cold. Yet still we hankered for fresh air and simplicity and the chance for the smalls to run wild.

Being married to Lovely Husband is, at times, a challenge: He’s the man who has everything (including the most fantastic wife in the world. That’s me, by the way) and if he doesn’t have it, he buys it. Birthday and Christmas presents consequently need a bit of blue sky thinking and for his birthday this year, that’s exactly what I decided to buy him: Blue skies (hopefully). We’d rediscover our camping hearts with a spot of glamping. The five star version of camping, if you will. So, armed with my credit card and laptop, I looked for a glamping site and stumbled across Secret Meadows, a site in a  115acre wildlife reserve in Suffolk. Secret Meadows has six Safari tents, one, which we stayed in, has power and Wifi. and another has a hot tub. There’s also a converted horse box, gypsy caravan and a shepherd’s hut.

I won’t lie, it wasn’t cheap. It’s comparable to hiring a cottage for the weekend, but if the price was similar, so were the furnishings and special touches. A four poster bed in the master bedroom, crisp white linen, organic produce on the welcome tray… But it was under canvas, so it’s still camping, right? It was definitely still camping; the first night was chilly, and we were grateful for the log burner in the living area. Hot and cold running water, an electric shower and our own loo made the camping experience with a recently toilet trained Little and her muddy kneed sisters a pleasure.

Fundamentally a wildlife reserve, Secret Meadows offers all sorts of cool extras. We booked a three hour bushcraft session with Ross. Despite the tender age of our littles, he was able to engage Big and Medium in making jewellery out of elder branches and teaching them how to light fires. Even Little had a go with the saw, which was a bit scary; She’s a liability at the best of times. Little enjoyed playing shops in a nearby den, and examining the gazillion tadpoles in the pond nearby.

You can also hire chickens for the duration of your stay. We have chickens at home, so are spoilt with fresh eggs every day anyway, but it’s a charming extra for those that live in cities. Now, though this isn’t a bookable extra (it should be), Ross and Charlotte have a very special and friendly cat. I was woken at dawn on our first morning by Big saying there was a cat on her bed. Random, I thought, assuming she was dreaming. “Mummy,” she persisted. “There’s a big cat on my bed.” When I went in, lo and behold there was indeed a cat on her bed. Probably the most friendly cat we’ve ever met, she came to spend our final night with us too. Big is obsessed with cats; it made her holiday.

You can order breakfast, celebration and barbecue boxes, but these are expensive. We ordered a barbecue box for convenience, but we could’ve chosen exactly what we wanted from the well stocked honesty shop on site.

You know when you watch a film, and it replays a protagonist’s memories in a sepia infused film? I think back to our time at Secret Meadows and my mind does just that. We were blessed with the most incredible weather: blue skies and warm sunshine every day. I loved the freedom the site brought the smalls. Big, in her cycling helmet all day and to-ing and fro-ing between our tent and that of the friends she’d made. Medium searching for perfect smooth stones to give me as gifts. Little becoming ever more feral as the days wore on, and The Miracle exploring the wood and grass around him. A brilliant day crabbing at Walberswick and lunch in a sunny tea room.

I see snap shots of myself, curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine reading an actual book (and not my kindle) while Lovely Husband went out on his bike, then us sitting down to a barbecue in our tent lit with candles and gaslights. No TV, no stereo, just peace and quiet. And the stars; oh boy, the stars. It was, quite simply, perfect.

Find out more about Secret Meadows at http://www.secretmeadows.co.uk/.

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Family friendly breaks: Secret Meadows, Suffolk

Dealing with death

It’s not been a good fortnight. Within the space of 14 days, both of our beautiful cats were hit by cars. Jessie, first to go, was the more adventurous of the two and was killed instantly. Woody, a huge gentle boy that would let Little bury her face in his fur and pull his tail, looked like he might survive. Lovely Husband and I were on our third night away in five years. We were having a lovely time and had been looking forward to it for months, until a call from a vet half an hour away from our home called to say a lady had found our big boy in distress and taken him in.

She thought he’d been hit by a car and maybe damaged his pelvis, but he was stable. She planned to x-ray in the morning. He never made it to the morning. His lungs were punctured and filled with blood. I am forever thankful to the lady that took him to the vets. At least he wasn’t in pain or alone.

It’s a minuscule comfort though. I am an animal person. Horses, cats, dogs, goats, chickens – I love them all. And I really, really love(d) those cats. Not least because they were so incredible with the children. Big would wander around with Woody slung over her arm and Medium would sit pulling Jessie’s ears – something Jessie loved. She’d seek Medium out and reverberate her loud purr as she pulled away at her ears. Jessie was affectionately known as Nurse Jess. Whenever one of the smalls was poorly, she’d come crashing in, find them, frantically wash and then settle alongside them until they felt better. I don’t know how she knew. Woody, a huge hairy boy, just loved everyone. When most cats would hide from noise and excitable children, he’d be there in the thick of it. They really were the most perfect cats.

Our biggest challenge has been helping the smalls to understand that their beloved pets are not coming back. I was careful to use the word ‘died’ and not to say they’d gone to sleep and won’t wake up. We’ve had enough sleep issues without adding in a fear of falling asleep! Big, on the whole, gets it. She knows the cats aren’t coming back, but she keeps repeating that the cats are dead which of course sends me into floods of tears! Medium just found their burials novel and quite exciting, but then looks confused if I look sad. Little hasn’t got a clue. Death is such a huge concept. Far too big for smalls to really grasp. In a way, I envy them that. Life just goes on. In the meantime, I wait for the sadness to pass.

RIP Boods and Jess. You were loved.

 

 

Dealing with death