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 1

Lovely Husband works ridiculous hours and I am permanently shattered from the demands of our three smalls. We don’t spend enough time together. Weekends are full of chores and catching up. We still don’t spend enough time together. Consequently, we’ve decided to try and get away for a long weekend once a month to preserve precious family time. Our smalls are growing up fast. Despite the demands on our time, they won’t wait. They’ve growing to do and we don’t want to miss it.

We’re not unique in the push-me-pull-me of everyday family life. We’re fortunate to be in the position that we can make a decision to spend more time together away from social and household demands and squirrel ourselves away. I’ve done extensive Googling on suitable destinations and I’ve been shocked at the lack of reviews by other parents to help me find family friendly self-catering cottages in the UK. So I thought I’d share our experiences with you, so if you’re looking for somewhere to go, perhaps we’ve tried it first and can guide you. This weekend, we bunged our stuff in the car and took our first trip.

Twin Cottage, Burley (New Forest)
I simply Googled ‘luxury self-catering, New Forest’. That’s all. I was thrown up with results of camping and hotels and then Twin Cottage caught my eye. As a parent of tiny smalls, the idea of a weekend away almost doesn’t seem worth the bother. We need a travel cot, toys, books, steriliser, Bumbo, a billion different options for whatever the weather, food, wine… Plenty of wine. Twin Cottage seemed to clear the boot space for the wine.

When I say that even if you have a four-year-old, a two-year-old and a 20-week-old like we do, you only need throw a bag of clothes in the boot, I really do mean it. We walked into a cottage with an unrivalled welcome pack. Bread (baking in the bread maker), wine, milk, eggs, bacon, sausages… A pack of Peppa Pig cookies ready to bake and both Calpol and Baby Nurofen. Seriously, you only need clothes.

Boasting a fully stocked playroom and a stable full of outdoor toys, one crate of packing was no longer needed. The toys were perfect for our smalls. Medium fell in love with a Woody doll, and he was consequently treated to a National Trust and a Buckler’s Hard (v interesting) outing. The only way we managed to leave him behind was by telling her that Woody had to go on a special mission to find Jessie. Fortunately, she’ll be finding Woody and Big will be finding Jessie in their stockings this year. I’d already bought and wrapped them so it’s nice to know this year’s gifts will be a hit!

Walking through to the dining room and our girls were thrilled to discover wrapped presents waiting for them. Perfectly chosen gifts that they were delighted with. Even Little had a Lamaze cloppety horse (we love Lamaze toys). Alongside, we found chocolates and wine for us. The night ahead looked good.

Upstairs and the girls’ room had more toys, a fabulous nightlight and friendly owls waiting on their beds for them. The bathroom boasted REN toiletries for us and baby friendly ones for the girls. I really didn’t need to pack their bath stuff.

A full compliment of DVDs and books completed their entertainment options and a steriliser, baby monitor, night light and Bumbo meant Little’s needs were catered for.

One thing that always annoys me about self-catering cottages is having to buy dishwasher tablets and sundries when you’re only there for a few days. Really, I’d rather pay a bit more and have enough loo roll for our stay. We stayed at a wonderful house in the summer with five bathrooms. Not one had hand wash. I bought five dispensers of hand wash for a week’s break. And left them there for the next occupants. This bug bare was not brought into play at Twin Cottage where there was hand wash, hand cream, dishwasher tablets and every other domestic product you can think of. Really, the owner had thought of everything.

The house was clean, comfortable and homely. We settled in immediately and our four night break felt much longer. We loved being able to walk straight from the door into the New Forest and see ponies, deer and pigs. We had a lovely family walk and built some precious memories. We’re not thrilled by the eateries (we’re a bit foodie) but maybe we just didn’t find the right places to go.

The most precious gift Twin Cottage gave us though, was family time. We weren’t endlessly unpacking, packing and cleaning. It was done for us. So thank you, Amanda. We’ll be back.

*If you own or manage a family friendly self-catering property and would like us to review it, please get in touch. We’re not looking for freebies. We’re looking for places to go where we don’t need to pack the world into the back of the car. Recommendations gratefully received for venues within two hours of West Sussex. 

Family friendly breaks: Review 1