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 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


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…..”.