The Joy of Caravans – Part one: Knayton

Caravan holidays are a favourite part of our summer holidays. They are not always easy with three small children but they are worth it. My Mum and I are becoming masters at this type of break. This summer we have specialised in the ‘last minute dash’ caravan holiday. The first of our two trips was to Hillside Caravan Park at Knayton, near Thirsk in North Yorkshire. We stayed for four nights from the 8th of August. Luckily for us, the weather was fine, warm and dry.

Hillside is a great caravan park for novices because the pitches are flat and there are several that you can drive onto without the need for reversing. It is also fairly luxurious. The toilet block has underfloor heating and is spotlessly clean. We used a pitch that not only had an electric hook up but also the potential to connect your fresh and waste water. More importantly for a family of Olympic addicts, it had a direct link to the TV arial too. Normally I wouldn’t mind doing without TV but without it we would have missed the spectacle of Mo Farrah’s 5000m win and the drama of Tom Daley’s bronze in the 10m platform diving. It is a quiet, family-friendly site in a ‘play-outside-from-morning-until-night-with-new-friends’ kind of way. Fortunately Son Number One and The Middle Miss were very happy to do just that.

When we were entertaining the children, water was often involved. We visited the local stream a few times to enjoy the usual games – plopping stones in, building dams and playing Pooh sticks.

Our sunsuits and ‘crocs’ have had plenty of wear this year, despite the earlier dismal weather in April, May, June and July.

The Middle Miss preferred wellies. She wasn’t keen on the temperature of the stream water.

There is a lot of freedom for children on a caravan holiday. They get to ‘play out’ without obvious supervision in a way that they don’t at home. The danger from cars is minimal on this kind of site. Because of this, most of the time the oldest two just wanted to go to the ‘park’ (think play area with swings, a climbing frame, slide and balance beams). We had to train them to slip out quietly because Babykins always wanted to go too. Sometimes we went with him when he toddled off after them (sometimes we had to run after him in our nightclothes) but often we went for distraction. You can have a lot of pleasure pouring water from one container to another when you are 20 months old….

Bathing your horses is fun too.

I managed a few moments of peace and quiet. It’s always nice to take time to ‘smell the roses’. In this case it was more like ‘appreciate the blooming verges and hedgerows’.

There was a little bit of time for crochet. As you can see I’m still working on circles for my blanket.

I polished off a bowlful of cherries after scoffing that two whole packets form M and S was surely too much to buy. Well, they’re wheat free after all.

All in all, it was a very pleasant little break. I’ve got a feeling it might become an annual tradition.
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Blackpool

We spent the second week of the school holidays in Blackpool. Look, there was sunshine!

These photos were taken on our very first afternoon in town. The Middle Miss soon spied the Big Wheel on the Central Pier and begged to be allowed a ride. I wasn’t that keen, but I climbed aboard with the rest of the family. I think Babykins was a little bit scared by the experience, he certainly held tight to his Dad (and his hat).

It does look like an awfully long way down….

It is quite some time since I have been to Blackpool. In fact I think it was probably around 1995. The Husband (merely The Boyfriend at that time) and I had a day out at the Pleasure Beach. Somewhere, we have one of those cheesy roller-coaster action photos to prove it. Truthfully, I was a bit nervous about a family holiday there. However, if you are not bothered by or can ignore the tackier side of the British Seaside, Blackpool certainly has something for everyone.

For example, if you are a lover of modern art, I give you this view of the Prom, walking north from the Central Pier. The North Pier can be seen in the distance, though we never made it that far. The large black bendy things are some sort of ‘installation’. I haven’t been able to find out much more than that. I will leave it to your imagination what the majority of the locals said about them when I enquired. Personally I quite liked them. They bend and move in the breeze. I’d be interested to see them on a very windy day. Our host said he had seen them with only about 8ft of clearance from the ground!

If the traditional, bucket and spade approach appeals to you then Blackpool can certainly supply the sea, the sand and the donkeys. You have to be prepared to retreat from the beach though because when the tide comes in, there is no sand at all.

The donkeys were a big hit, in fact the children went for a ride three times. They were very cute. The fleecy blankets under their saddle caught the children’s eye. For example, they would have described the nearest two in the picture as being disguised as a ladybird and a tiger respectively. They also took a very keen interest in their names, which were on their nosebands. Babykins thought the whole experience was fantastic. He grinned from ear to ear as they plodded down the beach and back.

My children are also hooked on the ‘money games’ as they like to call the arcades. They must have spent £5 each on 2p slot machines but it gave them a lot of pleasure. The Middle Miss even managed to extract a couple of dubious prizes. I know it’s a crazy way to loose money but hey-ho, it was a small price to pay for two or three hours of entertainment. We made them spend their own pocket money on that, so that they knew where the limit was. I was, however, also persuaded to part with the best part of £25 for some rides on the roundabouts, helter-skelter and dodgems. Surprisingly, the Middle Miss is quite a daredevil when it comes to these rides.

They all enjoyed this little ride and must have been round in at least four different vehicles each. The Middle Miss did a sterling job of looking after Babykins until he got enough confidence to ride alone.

This water shooting game was another family favourite.

Of course, Blackpool can offer all the important and traditional culinary experiences associated with the British seaside. Son Number One was astounded at the number of fish and chip shops. He would have been happy to test every establishment.

I really wanted to go into the convenience store in this picture to see if it had a vicious till. If you are familiar with the work of Ronnie Barker (think Open All Hours) you will understand what I mean. A bit further along this street was a shop where you could go and watch rock being made. It looked like a busy family business. I couldn’t help but laugh at the words inside the rock that was being produced while we were there: SKEGNESS.

There are all sorts of expensive attractions in the vicinity of the Central Pier in Blackpool: Madame Tussauds, The Tower and The Sea Life Centre. We only visited the latter. I thought Madame Tussauds would be lost of the children because they wouldn’t know who half the people were.

Compared to some other aquariums, the Blackpool Sea Life Centre is quite pleasant. All the usual creatures are on display, in pretty much the usual way but it somehow seemed smarter than the last one we visited (I won’t name names but it was in Yorkshire). Maybe it was just the fact that we were pretty much the first visitors of the day, so it wasn’t crowded, and, on the basis of past experience had decided to leave the pushchair behind.

If wildlife is your thing, Blackpool also has a pretty good zoo. The enclosures are reasonably animal friendly and there is certainly a wide selection of species. For me, the most impressive were the Gorillas. They live on an island so there is relatively little in the way of bars separating you and them. There is plenty of distance, of course, but they still catch the eye as they go about their business. The sight of the male silverback moving around is very impressive. Here are some of our other pictures.

You may be wondering why we ended up in Blackpool, considering I mentioned near the start that I wasn’t sure about it as a destination. The truth is that it was a deal too good to refuse. Because of Son Number One’s connection with the RVI and CLIC Sargent we were offered a holiday at Donna’s Dream House. The house was set up by the Curtis family in memory of their daughter, who died in her early 20’s of a rare form of melanoma. As holiday destinations go, it’s a one off! How many places have you stayed with that are decorated with old Blackpool illuminations? Can you spot us in this photo? We are camouflaged.

This is the play room. There are so many toys there is hardly room to play with them.

The back yard has it’s share of Blackpool paraphernalia.

These fish are a fitting decoration for outside the hot tub room. Oh yes, this place has a lovely hot tub. The children LOVED it. We enjoyed it but it was a far cry from the old ‘BC’ days when one of our neighbours had one. There was no chance of having a quiet glass of red wine this time.

Another big hit was the home cinema. There was an enormous screen, proper flip-down seats, surround sound and even free popcorn. What more could you want.

Thanks to the generosity of the people who support Donna’s Dream House, the holiday was free. Previously we have benefitted from static caravan holidays with CLIC Sargent. When Son Number One was on active treatment they were a great benefit. Children undergoing leukaemia treatment can develop serious infections at the drop of a hat and have to be hospitalised. This makes it impossible to consider booking a holiday, there is little chance you could get insurance. This year, almost a year since he finished his chemo, he was really quite well. I felt a bit of a fake really. I just told myself that it was treat for the children that we might struggle to afford otherwise. Both Son Number One and The Middle Miss have had to put up with a lot because of leukaemia. Thankfully, it’s an issue that is mostly in the past. I think this will be the last holiday of this type that we will have. Though I’ll miss the opportunity to go on holiday for free, (who wouldn’t) going out and putting down a deposit on a break will be another milestone in our family journey up and away from childhood cancer.

Out and about on a school night

The appearance of the sun on Monday galvanised me into action. I have been wanting to go to Saltburn again to view the new Jubilee themed yarnbombing. I packed up the car with sand toys and a picnic, scooped up the children as quickly as I could from school and headed over there. It was still half past four by the time we arrived. Nothing ever happens fast round here.

By the time I had unloaded the children from the car and attempted to squeeze all my bags under the pushchair, time was running out. The cliff lift was only open until 5, the yarnbombing was at the top and there was no way I was pushing my groaning pushchair up that hill. We just had enough time to go to the top, inspect the knitting and ride back down again.

It was very satisfactory actually. I am so impressed with the skill and sense of humour of the knitter or knitters. Riding the cliff lift is a fun experience. The inside is wide enough for a pushchair or wheel chair. You get a lovely view out to sea and the windows themselves are worth looking at. They have beautiful stained glass that my photo really doesn’t do justice to.

Once we were back down at promenade level and had negotiated the inevitable toilet stop, we had a little walk on the pier to see the Olympic yarnbombing. But there was no holding the children back – they were ready for some sand action. They scampered off onto the beach via the steps. I was left with the fun task of trying to get Babykins and the pushchair down the very rutted and ridged stone slope (see first picture).

I was tickled by how the older two had arranged their shoes. They were wedged in behind a big rock “Keeping the sand out of them, Mum”. Wishful thinking.

They indulged in much digging and fetching of water, the eternal childhood pleasures of a trip to the seaside. It felt as if it was the first time that I had been able to sit back and let them get on with it. When they were younger I think I supervised the sandcastle building a bit too much. Nowadays I am just too preoccupied with keeping an eye on Babykins to worry too much about the older ones.

I finally managed to get the picnic out and persuade the children to keep a bucket of water nearby to rinse their sandy hands in. Nevertheless, I think Babykins managed to ingest his fair share of sand. Why is it that at home, he is very keen on using cutlery but when his hands are holding half the beach he thinks its a good idea to use his fingers?

Despite my preparations, there was one essential piece of kit that I had left behind. I normally have my swiss army knife in my bag (you never know when you might need scissors or tweezers) but typically, on the day when the ring pull came off our can of sweetcorn, I’d taken it out.

No problem, Son Number One had the answer.

Him: “Why don’t you take it up to one of the cafes and see if they’ll open it for you Mum?”.

Me: “Yes son, but I don’t want to pack up all our stuff and I don’t want to leave you guys on the beach on your own”.

Him: “I can do it”.

I pondered for a moment. He’s at the age where he wants to be more independent. He needs the practice at asking for things from people like shop assistants. Not long ago he would have been terrified of the idea of speaking to someone he didn’t know. I would be able to see him the whole time and there were no traffic issues.

Me: Alright then, off you go.

Result! The kind ice cream parlour owner helped us out. She was even sensible enough not to send him back with a sharp can lid. What my boy will do for sweetcorn.

Time was getting on again and Babykins was starting to get cold. The Middle Miss requested an ice cream and I was happy to oblige. They had done a good job with their picnic tea in difficult (sandy) conditions and I was all in the mood for treats. Alas, the ice cream shop had been shutting when Son Number One went to get our can opened. Instead, we had a couple of portions of chips and sat up on the prom to eat them. As far as I am concerned it’s practically obligatory to eat chips when you go to the seaside.

As we sat, the light changed. The sun shone just that bit more and was lower in the sky. It really lit up the beach beautifully.

We decided to finish our trip by walking the full length of the pier.

You can just about make out the cliff lift in this picture. The carriages are half way up because it is closed.

The shadows were really starting to lengthen as we headed back to the car. It was half past eight by the time I got them home and into bed but I had one of the best trips with my children that I’ve ever had.

I don’t regret going out on a ‘school night’ though I wouldn’t stay out as long on a regular basis. In the ‘summer’ we are having, you’ve got to take the chance when you can.

I hope enjoyed reading about our little trip. Make the most of the the sun today because tomorrow it’s going to rain. Again. A lot.

Camping Fun and Top Tips

We spent to long, diamond jubilee weekend camping at Gibside. As always, it was a bit of a gamble. The weather was pretty grim to start with and it was never what you would call warm. However, if you have promised to take your children camping and have spent several hours packing the car, you have to get on with it and hope for the best.

Camping is a strange experience. There’s no doubt in my mind that it is good for the soul, even if the body is feeling rather like an ice block. It takes existence back to a much more basic level.

For example, you get a real sense of how much water you actually need to use. Our washing up was done in a couple of inches of water in the bottom of a bucket (note to self – you need proportionately less washing up liquid too or the bubbles are ridiculous).

The children ran around the camping field, playing football, hunting for bugs, chasing bubbles and making new friends. Even Babykins had relative freedom to explore.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the grown ups had complete freedom but we were freed from the bother of work, emails, housework and laundry. Being with a couple of other families also freed us from some of the ‘entertaining’ that often comes with small children. After only two nights, we felt as if we’d had a real break.

Gibside is a National Trust property just outside Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It is not a proper campsite so the facilities were basic. There were six port-a-loos for the whole field of 80 pitches. However, the Trust volunteers did a sterling job of keeping them clean and stocked with loo roll. There was also a programme of optional activities at no extra cost. On our first afternoon we scampered off into the woods to take part in some den building and marshmallow toasting. The volunteers had had a bit of trouble lighting the fire because everything was so wet.

One of the more imaginative members of our party had brought along some candles and mini marshmallows so we could do some toasting at our tent. This took considerably longer…..

On Sunday we took the children to the new looking play area. It was very popular with our bunch. It’s central area is made up of a wooden fort called ‘Strawberry Castle’ with lots of spaces to climb up, over and through. They chased in and out of it for ages. You can just see the edge of it in the left of picture below.

There were three smaller play houses at the edge of the space. Babykins had fun with these too. He  had no trouble climbing the stairs and negotiating the slide.

Son Number One and the Middle Miss were treated to a spot of face painting. It wasn’t cheap (£3.50) but in the case of Middle Miss’s paint job, very much worth it. I could have done Son Number One’s myself.

There was some gentle entertainment on the camping field each evening. The steel band the first night was particularly good. Food was available in the form of ‘something in a bun’ and there was a mini bar with real ale. It really was quite civilised. There was even a coffee stand in the mornings. It didn’t stop us from cooking a ‘full English’ on Sunday though. We pooled resources so here I am cooking the sausages. Don’t I look fabulous in my flannel PJ’s and wooly hat.

Do you like my camp kitchen? It is a 1980’s original that I pinched from my Mum. I remember taking it on family camping trips when I was younger. It folds up beautifully small.

It’s a shame I couldn’t get the matching gas stove mended.

In hindsight, we should probably have taken less food and ‘eaten out’ more at the facilities on site. So, with that lesson in mind, here are my top tips for family camping.

1. Choose your site carefully. Check here for honest reviews of virtually every camp site in the land. Be aware that sites that often allow basic, back to nature camping with open fires etc. are also often the least well supervised and frequently attract loud, beery groups. This is not the case for all sites but it’s worth bearing in mind. It’s also worth checking out what is available for wet weather. If there is some sheltered activity to take the children to within walking distance so much the better. In the event of rain on packing up day it could make all the difference.

2. Consider camping with friends. We have found that having other children around makes life much easier. Depending on the age of your children, they can sometimes be just that bit more independent when they function as a team. We are very lucky to have been camping with very old friends (and some newish ones) who have children almost exactly the same age and sex as our older two. I honestly don’t think they bickered at all. Having other children around also means you can share toys, games and general mayhem.

3. Don’t go far from home. I suggest an hour and a half maximum travelling distance for your first few trips at least. You don’t want to arrive at a site late at night and then have the bother of setting up, especially with tired children.

4. Take more bedclothes than you think you will need. Stuff extra blankets and duvets into each and every available space. Make sure you have plenty of warmth below you as well as above. Make sure you all have fluffy pyjamas and a hat that can be worn at night. Ideally, take hot water bottles too. I’m not kidding, it gets COLD at night in the UK, especially in this joke of a summer we’re currently experiencing.

5. A dust pan and brush is an essential item. Honestly. Don’t forget bin bags either (I did).

6. You can’t beat a head torch for convenience at night.

7. Take a basic first aid kit and make sure it contains insect repellent and antihistamine cream for bites and stings.

8. Children need shoes that they can easily manage themselves. There will be lots of going in and out of tents and you don’t want them bringing half the field in with them (see note about dustpan and brush above). Crocs are ideal in dry weather and wellies/snowboots are essential whatever the weather. Both of these items do double duty in the event of exploring a stream/rockpool.

9. It’s a good idea to have some food readily available. A picnic is ideal for when you first arrive at a site. I also recommend taking a pre-prepared ‘one pot’ meal for your first evening. We almost always take a bit pot of spaghetti bolognese. Ok, I know, that’s two pots by the time you’ve cooked the pasta but you get the idea.

10. If you are choosing a tent think about play space and cooking space. Our tent has stupid porch that is only half sheltered. In wet and windy conditions it’s pointless. Our friends Outwell tent has a brilliant side tunnel extension that houses all their cooking gear. This leaves masses of space inside. You can compare the two below (the photos are from last year – you can tell, the sun is out). Ours is the green one and you can see their tunnel on the right hand side.

No doubt I could add more top tips but I think the  traditional and alliterative ten is enough. I’ve got my eye on a lovely new camp site not far from here so maybe there’ll be more camping posts later in the (alleged) summer. So for now I’ll just say “Hi-de-Hi Campers…..”.