Summer holidays 2014

It’s been a while since I updated my space here. I know holiday photos are boring but this is mainly for me and my family archive. If you want to see some happy pictures, feel free to read on.

Our holidays started with a trip to Shap to take part in the 2014 ‘Total Warrior’ 10km muddy obstacle race. This is the ‘before’ picture.before total warrior 14This is one of the most energy sapping obstacles we did. The Husband and I are smack bang in the middle of this photo. I’m the one up to my chest in mud. I was very grateful to swim through a river shortly after this! The weather was dreadful, which didn’t make much difference to us as competitors but it wasn’t much fun for spectators.total warrior 14 in the mudFortunately, things improved the day we drove to Beddgelert in North Wales. The mountain you can see in the distance is Snowdon, the highest in Wales and England. This was taken from in front of our caravan, which was parked at Cae Du campsite, a site that prides itself in providing a peaceful, quiet environment. Driving the caravan there wasn’t an experience for the faint hearted but Beddgelert proved to be a good base for exploring Snowdonia. View of Snowdon from CampsiteOne of our first days out was to Criccieth, a little coastal town which had everything you could want (except perhaps sand). We found a patch of sheltered pebbly beach and settled in to eat freshly fried chips. We spent the rest of the afternoon building rock caves instead of sand castles. I could have spent a few days here as there seemed to be a high street filled with delightful, independent shops but I never got any closer than admiring them from the car. There was also a cute little castle close to the beach but we never made it to that either, we were contended enough on the beach.Sea at Cricceth North WalesCaenarfon Castle however, was unmissable. It is truly spectacular. There were so many towers and turrets to explore that we spent hours there. You need plenty of stamina and a head for heights. Climbing the towers gives wonderful views over the town, the Menai Straights and the mountains of Snowdonia.Canaerfon CastleThis is the view from the Snowdon Mountain Railway. There aren’t many mountains you can ascend by rail in the UK but Snowdon is one of them. It was very expensive for us to do this trip as a family of five so we were very grateful for mostly good views. The summit was cloudy, cold and windy but I suppose that was a good experience too. Our children now know how true it is when people say that the conditions can change quickly in the mountains.View from SnowdonWe did have some rainy days during our holiday. This photo was taken the day that the remains of Hurricane Bertha passed over. Apart from putting the storm straps on the awning, it didn’t affect us too much. We just settled in with games and crafts and eventually dodged the showers for a walk to the village.Indoor games caravan Wet Wales hillsidesAnother of our days out was to Plas Newydd, a stately home on the Anglesea side of the Menai Straits. The estate is owned by the National Trust, who have made their properties very family friendly in recent years. Our children generally enjoy the quizzes that the NT provide and the Plas Newydd experience was no different. They also took full advantage of the playground and happily explored the terrace and formal gardens. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me because although I’d never really visited the house or gardens before, I stayed at the adjacent outdoor education centre a few times when I was a biology teacher. I used to visit with the 6th form on their field trips and we spent many an hour foraging in the seaweed on the shore below the house.Garden at Plas Newyyd AngleseaSnowdonia has some fabulous coastline. This picture was taken at Nefyn on the Llyn Peninsula. The colours and the light are a wonderful combination of blues, greens, browns and white. We got quite a taste for swimming in the sea, with the beach at Llandanwg, near Harlech having water that seemed surprisingly warm.Ready for swimming Into the Sea North WalesHarlech and Nefyn both had great sandcastle sand too.

Sandcastles 2014In truth, we could have spent a lot of time just exploring the area around the campsite and Beddgelert. This lake was a short, easy walk away along a quiet lane and scenic footpath.Paddling in lake near Beddgellert Beddgellert scenery lane at BeddgellertBut, North Wales has plenty of attractions too and and we couldn’t resist another rail trip from Beddgelert to Porth Madoc on the Welsh Highland Railway, a narrow gauge railway that runs North to Caenarfon too.Dragon bench on Welsh Highland RailwayWe could have spent lots more time exploring North Wales but our time was up after 11 nights. We had a pressing deadline. The Middle Miss wanted to be home in time for her seventh birthday. However, staying on a site with tents stimulated a short camping trip over the August bank holiday weekend. I told Son Number One that I was never camping again and that if he wanted to I was happy to keep paying his subs at cubs. The Husband fancied a trip though and planned to take the older two children to a site near Robin Hood’s Bay, which is just an hour away down the coast. I hummed and ahhed about joining them and eventually I felt sorry for Babykins, who was going to be left behind if I didn’t go. Luckily, it was a great trip on a pleasant site with plenty of sunshine.tent set up camping camping tea timeOn the Saturday, The Husband, Son Number One and The Middle Miss embarked on a bike ride from Hawsker to Ravenscar, the same trip that we did last September with the local scouts.


Coastline from RavenscarBabykins and I explored Robin Hood’s Bay itself.

IMG_1698IMG_1670IMG_1668IMG_1655IMG_1652IMG_1651IMG_1645IMG_1644 It’s an incredibly photogenic place but I just haven’t captured it. The houses appear to be piled on top of each other and cling to the sides of a steep road down to the harbour.

robin hoods bay housesEverything about it is quaint and picturesque.

old bike at robin hood's bay

As you can see from the picture below, fishing is still a part of the town’s activities.

lobster pots robin hood's bay

I didn’t know it had it’s own sea monster!

sea monster robin hood's bay

Mainly, I think, it’s a place to make happy holiday memories…

memory bench robin hood's bay

 

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Easter Holiday Traditions

A few years ago I heard Steve Biddulph, author of ‘Raising Boys’ speak about parenting. One of the things that struck me was how he talked about traditions. I hope I’m not misquoting him but I seem to remember his speech going along these lines “Children who have grown up in happy families look back on their youth and say ‘remember when…’ as parents we have to provide the traditions that our children will remember with fondness”. He talked about families that spent one night a week all ‘camping out’ on mattresses in the same bedroom to illustrate that traditions don’t have to be expensive, they just require the willing input of the family, particularly the parents.

This all comes to mind now, as I look back on our recent Easter holidays. Traditions are becoming ingrained within my family and our friends family, who we share our break with. This year is the third year that we have spent time together at my Sister and Brother-in-law’s farm in Cumbria, in their simple holiday cottage. You can see posts from last year and the year before herehere and here. You may notice that I take pretty much the same photos every year, all that changes is the weather and the size of the children.

Every year our children look forward to helping out with activities on the farm. They herd the sheep, feed the lambs, look for eggs, fill up the hopper on the turnip masher (I’m sure there is a proper name for this bit of farming kit but I don’t know what it is), throw straw around in a vain attempt to put bedding down for the cows, feed and water the indoor sheep and venture up to the fell top to feed to the hardier sheep up there. Then there is playtime; they build straw bale castles with their cousins, splash stones in the stream, collect ‘crystals’ from out of the stream, kick a football and ride a bike. Together we have Easter egg hunts and walks over the fell, share meals and bedtime rituals. As each year passes, they have more things to look forward to as they remember the things they did the year before. Long may it last. We are already booked in for next year!IMG_4694 IMG_4699 IMG_4712 IMG_4755 IMG_4662 IMG_9752 IMG_4677 IMG_9758 IMG_9761 IMG_4681 IMG_9790 IMG_9836 IMG_4738 IMG_4746 IMG_4745IMG_4750IMG_9846IMG_9861IMG_9867IMG_9870IMG_9895IMG_9898IMG_9899

Sweet, sweet chestnuts

Have you ever foraged for sweet chestnuts? For me they are deeply associated with memories of my Dad. My Grandparents lived in a house on the Broadmoor estate (they were both nurses in the secure hospital) and right behind it was a little area of woodland where lots of sweet chestnut trees grew amongst the pines. I loved going into the woods with my Dad. It seems to me that it was something that we did together, without my Mum, a bit like sledging. Dad loved to tell me all about his boyhood, playing in those woods. I envied him that freedom even thirty years ago. I thought it must have been so exciting to escape into your own woodland playground with your friends to build dens and play hide and seek.

I always felt a frisson of fear in those woods too. They were not far from the forbidding walls of the Victorian hospital which housed some of the most notorious criminals of the last few decades. I knew very well that Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper was in there and, despite my youth, I had a fair idea of what he had done. Occasional thoughts used to flit through my brain along the lines of “What if someone escapes while we are out in these woods”? I must have voiced these concerns to my Dad because I remember him reassuring me that if anyone escaped, they would want to get as far away as possible. I wasn’t so sure. After all, weren’t the inmates locked up because they were mad?

We visited my Grandparents in the October holidays of 1982. I would have been seven years old. I know this because we gathered and ate a lot of sweet chestnuts that year. The following spring, my baby brother arrived with a head of dark brown hair. Clearly (according to my Grandparents) the result of all the chestnuts my Mum ate. I seem to remember Grandad having a sack full of them and every evening some more would be cooked. In fact, I think that sack of chestnuts was still in evidence when we returned at Christmas.

I can’t remember exactly how Grandad cooked them but I think they might have been done in the oven. Actually, it’s probably much more likely that my Grandma cooked them. I seem to remember that they eventually took to doing them in the microwave, piercing the tough shells and putting them in a covered bowl with a small amount of water. I loved them. There’s nothing nicer than fresh, hot  chestnuts, especially if you don’t have to peel them.

However, the best way to enjoy them is with your Dad, in the woods, over an open fire. Dad and I shared a slight pyromaniac tendency over the years and I think my first taste of it was during that October holiday. Dad must have built a little fireplace from stones and found an old upturned paint tin lid (there was a bit of a tendency to dump rubbish around the woods from time to time). He had no problem lighting the fire because in those days he was still a smoker so he had matches to hand. I felt like I had escaped into some sort of adventure story and we were surviving on our foraging skills. I also knew that Dad trusted me around the fire and that made me feel extremely grown up.

We never found any sweet chestnut trees in Teesside. I have a theory about this and it is all to do with Romans. They were the ones who introduced the sweet chestnut to Britain. A Romans road existed through the area that is now near Crowthorne, where Dad grew up, so perhaps that explains why they were so common there. Dad did start to grow a sapling from a nut he brought home once. Mum tells me she’s still got it in a pot in the garden but I haven’t spotted it for a while. The nearest Dad and I got to chestnuts in later years was peeling them for Christmas stuffing.

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Fast forward thirty-one years and my children are visiting their paternal grandparents during October half-term. My eldest is just a little bit older than I was when I went chestnut foraging with my Dad. We decided to have a walk up Penrith Beacon, a hill on the edge of town.

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We hadn’t been on the path long before I spotted the distinctive leaves and spiky cases of sweet chestnuts littering the ground. I immediately sent The Husband back to the car for a bag so I could gather some.

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IMG_3790I was so excited to have found chestnuts. It wasn’t really about wanting to eat them (because I still haven’t – oops) it was purely about me recreating memories. Dad would have been as excited as me about finding them. We didn’t actually gather any until we were on our way back. It seemed silly to carry them up the Beacon and back again. The rest of our walk was lovely. The weather was mild and bright. The sun shone through the leaves and there were lots of other things to spot along the way.

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The view from the top wasn’t as fabulous as we might have hoped. Trees obscured the view in most directions making the beautiful guide to the fells and landmarks pretty much obsolete.

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We could see Penrith, and a few of the fells beyond, through one little gap in the trees.

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When we got to the bottom of the path everyone else went ahead while I gathered chestnuts. I made a few mistakes in my foraging. The best, ripest nuts are the ones in the cases that have just split open. I picked up quite a few cases that were still intact and the nuts inside them were disappointingly pale. Obviously it’s been too long since I foraged for chestnuts.

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Once I got them home I wasted no time in ‘de-shelling’ them. You really need a tough pair of gloves for this job if you don’t want to get spiked. Most of them had one decent sized nut and a couple of ‘runts’ that weren’t worth keeping.

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I took far too many photos. The variety in their ripeness and the fact that they popped out so easily when they were ready got me thinking about babies and due dates. But that is a whole other rant blog post. I’ll let you ponder on that one.

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IMG_3804So beautiful. I really must get around to actually eating them.

And what about my theory? It is well known that Romans lived around Penrith. There was a Roman road in the area that connected Penrith to Carlisle and Manchester. Teesside was also subject to Roman rule and there is plenty of evidence for Roman occupation but according to this:

‘The people living in the Teesside area during the Roman occupation were native Britons or ‘Celts’. Teesside probably saw no large-scale movements of population following the Roman invasion or any great influx of new immigrants. Indeed in many parts of Britain there is little evidence for the adoption of Roman culture or beliefs among the majority of the population.’

Is that why we don’t have chestnut trees in abundance here? Or is it just that we don’t have the right kind of soil? I don’t know but if anyone has an answer, I’d be pleased to hear it.

Holidaying to the very end

My children’s school didn’t start until the 5th of September so we took the opportunity to get away for one last summer holiday trip. This time it was me, my Mum and the children who took off in the caravan. Our six nights away in York went by very quickly. It seems strange to only just be writing about this now, when autumn seems to be very much here.

Our original pitch at the caravan site was not great – as far away from the play area as it was possible to be. Luckily for us we managed to move to a much more suitable position – right next to it! It was a move that was well worth making. In our new position, we could supervise the children in the play area without leaving our chairs. It also meant that we could let Babykins have a lot more freedom than he would otherwise have had. And if there’s one thing that defines a caravan trip for us, it’s the freedom the children have to run, play, shout, jump and make heaps of new friends. As the days of our trip wore on, the number of children dramatically decreased as everyone went back to school and work. Still, there’s always plenty to do in a caravan.

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Son Number One practised some life skills : grilling sausages….
IMG_8211Babykins also practised some life skills: using a hammer.

There is so much to see and do at York, but it isn’t cheap. It is a relatively compact city (as most ancient cities are) so easy to navigate on foot. However, we bought a ticket for the hop-on, hop-off, open top, sight-seeing bus one day and it was well worth it. The children got to see parts of York and hear history that we wouldn’t have had time for on foot. Of course, the novelty of the open top bus is enough to please children.

If you are staying for a few days, live far away and want to see all the attractions you probably need to buy a York Pass. In our case, I decided to buy a full ticket just for the four Jorvik attractions (Jorvik itself, Dig, The Barley Hall and the Micklegate Bar Museum) because it lasts a full year and since we were visiting at the end of the summer holidays, I figured we could get a lot more use of it. York is not so far away from us.

We visited Dig, the hands on archeology museum, on the last Sunday of the summer holidays and it was very quiet. You have to book a slot for this museum as you are guided on a ‘dig’ by an archeologist. We had the guide to ourselves, which was brilliant. Not only because of the undivided attention he was able to give to my children but also because I didn’t have to worry that my children were bothering anyone else! It was a really well set up and organised attraction that got the children thinking about how archeology works. In many ways, it was better than the famous Jorvik museum itself, which was a little scary for The Middle Miss. It was almost worth the trip for the dressing up box in the Under 5’s area. Babykins has taken to slaying imaginary dragons since we visited.

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IMG_2023We also visited Jorvik itself (twice, so that The Middle Miss could get to grips with it without being too nervous).  All the children enjoyed the demonstration of creating Viking money and I think they might even have learned something.

One of the things we always do in York is visit Cliffords Tower, because we have English Heritage membership. The wide, circular tower is all that remains of an old castle. It is a very impressive building on an imposing slope. The view from the top is great, especially as there are interpretation boards up there that allow you to pick out and name the buildings you can see.

The day we visited English Heritage were running one of their ‘Time Travellers Go’ events. This one was ‘Knight and Princess school’ and it was a lot of fun. The man in charge of training the brave ‘Time Travellers’ had a sense of humour that really worked with children. He asked them what their favourite food was and when he invested them as knights, he used their answers: “Arise Sir Babykins of the sausauge, chips and beeer” (don’t ask).

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The children before us were dubbed in the language of toilet humour, which, as you can imagine, made them all giggle. The dressing up props were beautiful and my brood did indeed look very regal in their crowns and cloaks. I don’t know where they got the chap from who ran the event but he was absolutely perfect. Fact filled and funny too.

IMG_1966Our last major jaunt was to Lightwater Valley, another day out paid for by my Tesco Clubcard points. The main attraction as far as Son Number One was concerned was the new Angry Birds play area.

IMG_8202If, like me, you mourn the passing of ‘Fort William’, the log based adventure playground that used to be the best bit of Lightwater Valley, Angry Birds goes some way to compensate. The play area is large, well designed for different levels of ability and reasonably contained. There is even an indoor, Angry Birds ‘Space’ play area.

IMG_2039 I held my breath as Babykins ran, climbed and balanced his way right around, to the highest levels. Luckily, his sister was brilliant at looking after him, running ahead but always checking that he was one step behind. Otherwise I would have worried about loosing him.

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IMG_8187Of course, we went on quite a few of the other rides in the park but it wasn’t always easy to please everyone. Because Babykins is under one metre tall, he could only go on the smallest and lowest risk rides which thankfully, there were enough of. Probably the trickiest part of the whole day was finding things that all three of them would enjoy together. Luckily, because we had two adults, we could split up from time to time so that everyone got to do what they wanted. Unfortunately, the other down side to the day was the bored looking attendents. Most of them looked like they wanted to be anywhere but there. It didn’t make for a fun atmosphere. There were some notable exceptions so perhaps I shouldn’t tar them all with the same brush.

We were very lucky with the weather while we were away, it was still warm and sunny enough for shorts, as these pictures show. Our caravan site was close to the Monks Cross Park and Ride area and the tourist attractions were starting to get a little quieter. All good reasons for holidaying to the very end.

I love the ability to be able to stretch out the summer holidays. We have had such a busy time this year. We have visited Shap for the ‘Total Warrior’ assault course/mud race, Somerset for our main holiday (which was interspersed with jaunts to Wiltshire and Dorset that I haven’t blogged), Penrith for the Bank Holiday and finally York. In between that we have had two birthdays, complete with cake and parties and a first family trip up Roseberry Topping. All in all, it hardly felt as if we were at home at all.

Summer in Somerset

It is less than two weeks since we came back from our summer holidays but it seems like ages ago. We seem to have packed so much in since then. In the interests of documenting family life, here is my pick of the Somerset pics, a lovely region to visit.

Views from our campsite across the Somerset levels towards Glastonbury Tor.

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Beautiful Wells, the smallest city in England. This is Vicars Close, which is supposed to be the oldest, continually inhabited, residential street in Europe and below that, the cathedral.

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Cheddar gorge and caves. A day out courtesy of my Tesco clubcard points! We visited most of the attractions – the show caves, the museum, the open top bus tour up the gorge and finally, we climbed up the steps to the top of the lookout tower. All 274 of them.
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IMG_7925IMG_2972A Somerset cream tea. Much needed to keep me going on a busy sight-seeing day.

IMG_7916More Somerset produce.

IMG_7933Picnicking at the top of Glastonbury Tor. Our picnic rucksack, containing knives, forks and plates has been well used.

IMG_7941Heading up…

IMG_2995View from the top, where we tried to spot our caravan, though it was much too far away.

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IMG_3004Inside the ancient barn at the (free) Museum of Rural Life in Glastonbury.  This beautiful barn, which originally belonged to Glastonbury Abbey is almost 600 years old. Amazing to think of the time, money, care and attention that was spent on it.

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IMG_3025The Middle Miss was very taken with this shop display in Glastonbury – she loves rainbows.

IMG_7939The best sandcastle sand I’ve come across for a while, at the almost deserted Burnham-on-Sea. Much building was done as you can see below.

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IMG_7970The sky looked like this through most of our holiday. It’s classic English summer weather; blues sky with white fluffly clouds. Warm enough for shorts but not too hot to be uncomfortable. Perfect, in fact.

IMG_3050Well, this is England. It wouldn’t be a summer holiday without a little bit of rain.

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52 weeks of happy 19/52

My happy post this week is full of images from our first caravan jaunt of the season. This also happened to be our first trip in our new caravan so we didn’t go far from home, just to Hillside Caravan Park at Knayton, near Thirsk. It’s a lovely (some would say luxurious) site that suits our needs very well. You can read more about it here.

greenery1Spring greenery, brightening up the scenery…

IMG_7103Something that I don’t think I’ve seen before (but hope I will again).

IMG_1187A visit from my brother and his wife.

IMG_1209Established traditions. A trip to Knayton must include buying an ice cream from the farm house no matter what the weather. It just so happens that the heavens opened after this was taken….

All the same, our first trip was a success and that made me happy.