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.

IMG_7861

Advertisements
Family Friendly Breaks: A Split-cation

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

Fear of forgetting

Today I submitted our school application for the Big One. She’ll be five next September and my tiny baby will be plucked from my arms and into the world of school. I’m not ready. She’s not ready. Even my mum’s not ready. NO ONE IS READY.

I have no idea where the time has gone. It seems like yesterday that I was sitting on my sofa with my six NCT friends, bemoaning our first experiences of piles, reflux and stroking our enormous bumps. Lulled into a false sense of security by our four birthing classes in which we were promised that our partner massaging our feet would make it a beautiful, slightly ‘uncomfortable’ experience and that breastfeeding was easy and completely painless. Gullible twits that we were. The reality is that it bloody hurt and who knew that nipples could actually bleed?

But I digress. As usual.

I’m scared I’ll forget. I worry that I won’t remember what it feels like to see Big’s beautiful face light up in the best smile when she sees me at Pre-school pick up. That she’ll get the swagger of a schoolgirl and Mummy becomes Mum and totally uncool. I worry that she won’t ask to do craft any more and that the endless cry of, ‘What are you doing, Mummy? Can I do it too?’ will cease. I worry that my shadow will disappear.

I fear forgetting the tickle of Medium’s fuzzy hair in the middle of the night when she’s joined me in bed without me knowing and the way she smiles, just showing her bottom teeth. Sometimes I forget she even has top teeth. I fear her lovely, chunky toddler legs will disappear too soon and she’ll no longer climb on my lap and let me stroke them.

And then there’s Little. Will I remember how she snuggles into me as if she wants to get back inside my skin if I make a move to get out of bed? How much I love just lying in the dark with her in my arms and sniffing that intoxicating baby smell on the top of her head? The feeling I had when I first saw her smile and the tears at her first laugh.

I feel like I need to back up my brain, like I do the photos on my phone but I’m not convinced Dropbox stores memories. Perhaps they could work on that. In the meantime, if time could just slow down a little bit – just a little bit – so I can stop and smell the children, that would be great.

Fear of forgetting