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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The bits in between…

I am trying to ‘archive’ this year’s summer holidays so please bear with me. Obviously I am very behind….

Sunny day + paddling pool + slide = big splashes + lots of laughs

A new pet – Isabella the caterpillar –  sadly she didn’t last long

Training Babykins to be useful at an early age

Our one and only cucumber

Hotwheels!

Allotment harvest

They must have played together occasionally – here is the proof

Birthday balloons

Repainting. We chose some bold colours.

More watery fun

Peacock butterfly and buddleia

Stitiching a birthday present kit

The finished product

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.

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.