LittleStuff

Remote, secluded, Banlicken – remember the holidays we used to have?

The final leg of our Scottish Road Trip for One Off Places was way over off the West Coast of Scotland, on to the Isle of Arran.

The ferry itself is almost an hour’s crossing on a surprisingly big car ferry – the cost for us was over £60 each way, as it’s £31 for the car, plus £5 per person (there’s no benefit in a return price ticket unless you’re going back within 5 days; which is no use to holidaymakers!). We opted to catch the last ferry of the day to make the most of our journey down, so it was already 6 in the evening by the time we boarded – and 7p.m. when we landed in Brodick, excited and clutching the instructions to find Banlicken, our home for the next week.

arran banlicken cottage

The instructions were clear, so with a fleeting glance at the delights of Brodick we headed inland to the ‘String Road’ which cuts across the middle of the island – we were headed to the coast on the the exact opposite north west corner of the island.

By the time we’d left Brodick the sun had gone down, and we had no idea what countryside we were driving through. We knew when we reached the coast on the far side, obviously (the ride simply runs along the beach so it was hard to miss!), but I would suggest catching an earlier ferry – it would make finding the cottage a little less fraught even with the great instructions!

Banlicken farmhouse Arran

Banlicken Farmhouse, with the Byre on the left

Eventually we found the farmhouse we were looking for and followed the track up behind it – we kew the cottage had a 3/4 mile track which it is suggested you need a 4×4 for. We didn’t have a 4×4 with us, of course, but we trusted Dora the Caravelle to handle whatever came her way. The track is very bumpy, and you cannot take it at any speed, but it’s totally passable. It takes about ten minutes to climb up the hill to the top (through two gates and a ford with a waterfall), where Banlicken finally materialises in front of you.

The road to Banlicken

The road to Banlicken

Bundling ourselves out of the car we had a quick explore and baggsied bedrooms. There was no question that the magnificently  grown up double with its own staircase would be ours. At the other end of the house, up their own staircase, were three more rooms. Well – two rooms and a cupboard really. The twin room is spacious, and the bunk beds room was big enough for the two middle boys (though the older had to give up the top bunk as he made it creak every time he moved!). The third ‘bedroom’ is a teeny tiny space with a camp bed and a cupboard in it. Bear accepted that as the youngest it had to be hers (No.1 really didn’t want to share the twin room, and at 15 we could see his point about sharing with his 7yr old sister), but she wished to lodge her disproval with The Management (me).

If you’re thinking of visiting Banlicken, do note that you’re  along way from a shop, so be sure to take your bare essentials, and probably take your first night’s meal in with you. There was no welcome pack waiting for us, so not even milk for a much-needed coffee. There’s a big Co op just off the ferry if you’re not already stocked up – you really do not want to have to do the track more than you have to; there is definitely no ‘popping to the shop’ from Banlicken!

The view from our bedroom window

The view from our bedroom window, with the Byre next to the house.

The following day dawned, and we could finally see where we were staying! The views from the house are wonderful – Banlicken is right on the edge of the cliff top (which sounds over-dramatic, but if I say hill-that-runs-down-to-the-sea it’s not dramatic enough), and you can hear the sea from the kitchen.

The kitchen diner is the gem of the house – it’s a huge room, full of light, a massive table and a brilliant kitchen. We spent most of our time in there, and can only imagine how beautiful it would be in the summer with all the windows open. We loved this room – only lighting the fire to sit in the snug little sitting room once the children were in bed.

The heart of Banlicken, the beautiful kitchen

The heart of Banlicken, the beautiful kitchen

The house wasn’t very warm at first – it took us a few days to work out the storage heater system, and the decor is very much for a summer beach house – lots of thin curtains or blinds at the windows. Amazing in the summer months, but staying there in March we could have done with some really thick curtains! However once we had worked out the settings on the heaters we were comfortable and warm.

The sitting room - snug with its coal fire

The little sitting room – snug with its coal fire

The extra en-suite bedroom – which we didn’t use – is in the byre, an entirely separate building (it sleeps five all in one room). If you’re not using the Byre, like us, that does limit you to the one family bathroom only, which has a huge roll top bath but no shower, making mornings rather busy in there; and NOT the time for enjoying the huge tub! The cottage could also have benefited from a good deep clean – whilst not in any way dirty, quiet corners were dusty and thick with cobwebs.

The gardens have a rather neglected feel – admittedly we were there at the back end of winter, of course, and not seeing them at their best. But the collection of tumbledown old farm buildings are protected by large swathes of brambles, and if you’re a gardener then a wander around may make your fingers itch to start clearing more of the space. One of the old buildings has been re-roofed and provides the play barn which houses the table tennis table – it would be a great space to go on a wet afternoon if you had toddlers. The gardens themselves are worth an explore though – lots of levels with hidden nooks and quiet spots where you’ll come across a hammock just waiting for you to lie back and enjoy a summer’s breeze. I was rather envious – the bitter March wind wasn’t quite so welcoming!

The games room

One half of the games room

There is a small price for staying at Banlicken – you have to check on the water supply every other day. On a warm summer’s day this would be no chore – it’s a short sharp scramble up the hill behind the cottage to the tank, where you’re rewarded by breathtaking views. On a pretty filthy cold March day it’s not such a pleasant job, but luckily for us we brought along a teen who was up for the job.

Kitchen with a view...

Kitchen with a view…

Arran itself was lovely – though not the destination for you if you’re looking for non-stop entertainment. This is much more your old-fashioned beach holiday, with a  spot of walking thrown in – and maybe some board games on the wet days (the cottage is brilliantly equipped with games and books).

beach of arran

Never underestimate the competitiveness of the can-you-hit game

It’s very much a holiday to step off the merry-go-round, and just spend some time… being. We spent an entire afternoon hunting for sea glass. Another we simply walked down the track from the cottage, beachcombing for driftwood, pretty shells and remarkable stones.

Cooking in the kitchen was a breeze with all the equipment on hand

Cooking in the kitchen was a breeze with all the equipment on hand.

Of course, we were there off-season, so not even Brodick Castle was open. Most of the shops were, but we exhausted Brodick’s browsing potential in one morning (our top shopping tip is the charity shop, next to the chip shop opposite the ferry – an absolute treasure trove of finds, we picked up a bucket of Hama  Beads, a collection of books and a simply brilliant (and much needed) woolly hat).

The view from the garden

The view from the top of the garden

But lack of organised entertainment didn’t bother us in the least – we were happier exploring anyway. We did a fabulous walk from Whiting Bay to Glenashdale Falls, via an Iron Age fort and the Giants Graves (take the path signposted at the top of the waterfall to avoid the climb of the 300 steps to the cairns!). Another day we followed the North Glen Sannox walk, finally admitting defeat to the boggy ground in the foothills of the Carn Mor ridge.

Walking the glen from Catacol Bay. An dyes, that's the sea in front of the hills at the end of the glen

Walking the glen from Catacol Bay. And yes, that’s the sea in front of the hills at the end of the glen

Our best walk was probably from Catacol Bay – one short saunter down the valley in the sunshine led us to return the next day for a really good 5 hour hike – in the sun, then rain, then snow, then sleet, then a huge thunderstorm cracking over our heads! Our final day was spectacular – the hills had a fresh shaking of snow on the peaks, but the sun came out to wash everything in spring sunshine as we walked through the deep forest to the amazing King’s Cave, where Robert the Bruce met the famous spider.

walking to King's Cave

walking to King’s Cave

We had a pretty special time staying at Banlicken. It was unfortunate that the day after we arrived the String Road across the middle was closed, making getting to the bigger villages on the far side of the island a much longer expedition (N.B if you’re going this summer, it’ll be closed for three months – remember that going Northwards is definitely not only quicker but more dramatic, and MUCH more fun!).

We saw so much wildlife too – far more than we expected at that time of year. Red Deer were a common site (we quickly went from choruses of “OOOOH!!! LOOK! Red Deer!!” to a bored and nonchalant ‘Oh, yeah, deer over there. Again.”

But we also feasted our eyes on a Golden Eagle who performed just for us, and one night we had a Pine Marten dash across the road in front of us, lit beautifully in the headlights. Fantastic!

Holy Island

Holy Island by moonlight

The husband got to practice his night photography too. I’m not sure I’ve ever been a colder, more shivery, teeth-chattering photographer’s assistant before; it was flipping FREEZING on the hilltops after dark. But the night sky over Arran? Wow. That is something to see – absolutely worth every frozen finger and toe.
We slept late, we pottered, explored and generally had a marvellous time.
The whole week was a quiet reprieve – I’m sure time went slower as we drifted. The cottage was comfortable and spacious enough for all of us, and brilliantly equipped. You can always tell when a holiday cottage is the owners own holiday home – it’s full of all the small touches that make it just that little bit more perfect. And Banlicken is an amazing retreat which looked after us perfectly.

As the teen says...

As the teen said…

The price for renting Banklicken is £1500 per week in peak season, less obviously at other times of the year.

 

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Knoll Lodge, nr Fort William – our Scottish Road Trip Stopover

Following the perfect week at Fisherman’s Cottage, Dora the Caravelle wound her way all the way across the great glen for a couple of nights just outside Fort William for a stopover to explore the West Coast of the Highlands.

Some incredibly marvellous men (The SAS memorial) watching over Spean Bridge. Knoll Lodge is in the foothills of the mountain range in front of them, just at the edge of the pine tree line.

Some incredibly marvellous men (The SAS memorial) watching over Spean Bridge. Knoll Lodge is right in the foothills of the mountain range in front of them, just at the edge of the pine tree line.

Our host for the couple of nights was Knoll Lodge – actually in Spean Bridge, around 7 miles from Fort William.

Finding it is easy – it’s right on the A82 – and although we arrived as it was getting dark the Lodge (it’s a Bungalow really) was warm and inviting. We soon found our feet; had baggsied our bedrooms from the four available (1 double with en-suite shower room and toilet, 2 twin, one with en-suite shower room and toilet, 1 bunk room), the teen had found the wifi code, and dinner was in the oven.

knoll lodge kitchen

This is the L-shaped kitchen diner at the back of the property

The kitchen is an L-shaped kitchen diner, and has everything you’ll need for your stay. The utility room has full washer-dryer options too, which makes a big difference when you’re staying somewhere with such unpredictable weather! The family bathroom has a shower over the bath, and between it and the en-suites there’s plenty enough bathrooms for a family of 6.

knoll lodge spean bridge

One of the twins – the rooms were a little snug for adults, but the children were fine.

The cottage was immaculately clean, and filled with small touches that made it feel homely rather than a sterile holiday property. There was even a big tin of shortbread waiting to welcome us :). The owners are really lovely – warm and helpful, but mot intrusive. They are on site in an adjoining annexe, but we didn’t see them during our stay except when they passed the kitchen window on their way out!

The Sitting Room - seats for us all, and wifi too!

The Sitting Room – seats for us all, and wifi too!

As a location the cottage isn’t in itself perfectly situated for us – the A82 is a busy road, and although the bungalow is set well back the traffic can be heard. And the garden runs onto the railway too!

knoll lodge from the A82

This is Knoll Lodge taken from the main road – it’s the one in the middle tucked up at the back near the trees. See how close you are to the mountains!

However, it is tucked right under the mountain range that includes Ben Nevis, and you’d be hard pushed to find a more spectacular area of Scotland to stay in. Knoll Lodge is genuinely perfectly placed for exploring this part of the Highlands – we travelled North to the Kyle of Lochalsh, and travelled ‘over the sea to Skye’ (and yes, we were singing that for days…). The road bridge is just 65 miles away, and well worth a trip, the coast is amazing.

knoll lodge area
Heading south, you of course have Glencoe, which is just awe-inspiringly stunning. I don’t think I’ll ever forget sitting at the head of the glen, watching a  rainbow move down the valley as we felt the crisp cold air that was sweeping off the snow-covered peaks. Just too beautiful.

glencoe knoll lodge

The coast is within easy reach, of course, and if you turn inland and head east then before you know it you’ll be at the head of Loch Ness and the Great Glen. In fact it’s only 2 1/2 hours all the way across the inverness and the East Coast!

fort william knoll lodge

Knoll Lodge was a good stopover point for us – personally we’d choose somewhere in a little bit more of a remote location, but I know we like things wilder and more isolated than most!

For a touring and exploring family holiday, or as a comfortable well-equipped base for an activity holiday based around Fort William, Knoll Lodge is a really good choice. For busy families it’s a good, easily accessibly location – but book it soon, I know availability is limited for the coming summer season.

Fact box

Property: Knoll Lodge – Reference W41550

Oil CH, gas, elec, bed linen and towels inc. Cot. DVD. CD. Gas cooker. M/wave. W/machine. T/dryer. D/washer. Freezer. Wi-fi. Lawned garden and furniture. Portable BBQ. Ample parking. No smoking. NB: There is an unfenced stream 10 yards from the property.

Provider: cottages4you

Contact: www.cottages4you.co.uk or call 0845 268 0760

Price: £455 for three night’s self-catered accommodation based on arrival 1st June 2014. Sleeps eight with room for one pet.*

*Prices accurate at time of writing and subject to availability. Property details are edited for space and booking conditions apply – please see website for full details.

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Snowboarding in the Cairngorms – about as much fun as you can have as a family.

While we were staying at Fisherman’s Cottage with One Off Places, we took Dora the Caravelle down to Aviemore one afternoon for an unforgettable afternoon as guests of The Ski School and Cairngorm Mountain.

On our way... going snowboarding in them there mountains. Just LOOK at the weather!

On our way… going snowboarding in them there mountains. Just LOOK at the weather!

The husband and I had tried snowboarding about 20 years ago on a dry ski slope, but we had a feeling that a 3hr private family lesson in real snow way up high on a mountain side might be a little bit better than a dry ski slope in Dorset… The day dawned, and unbelievably, the weather was incredible; properly fantastic. We’re not talking quite-good-for-Scotland, I mean brilliant blue skies, no wind, and perfect snow.

We were booked for a family lesson to start at 1, so had to arrive by 12 to make sure we had got ourselves booked in and kitted up; thanks to Cairngorm Mountain we had not only the lesson, but the gear hire and mountain passes too (I thought this was excessive for putting on some boots… but it turned out they knew what they were talking about, it was just before 1 that we were finally all set and ready to go).

Once we had checked in and provided height, weight, shoe size and colour of underwear*, and been provided with everything we needed (the kit was excellent – good quality, well-looked after and perfectly fitted to our oddly-assorted body shapes and sizes) we met our lovely instructor for the afternoon, Craig.
He escorted us onto the Funicular train (we enjoyed the ride up, but I think the boys felt a bit cheated as they watched the skiers sliding up on the ski lift), and was kind enough not to laugh at our “Oooh!!!” faces when we reached the top and stepped out onto brilliant snow. We probably gawped and squeaked a lot, but I’m guessing the instructors are used to that.

Making our way from the train to the nursery slope

Making our way from the train to the nursery slope

We navigated across the busy skiing lanes and headed to the neatly formed huge bowl which is perfect for total novices like ourselves – easy sloping sides that aren’t too terrifying the first time you wobble up onto the board.

Craig was brilliant as a teacher; funny and encouraging, authoritative enough for everyone to pay attention, but fun enough to make everyone WANT to listen.

Cairngorms snowboarding 8

Family snowboarding lesson on Cairngorm Mountain with The Ski School

Having learned the rules of being on the mountain, and the parts of the snowboard (and yes he tested us!), we finally got up on one foot. But still no slidingy fun stuff… oh no, first we had to learn how to stop, stay still, and work our way around the slope safely. Just turning around with a plank of wood strapped to your foot is surprisingly awkward at first, and I know Bear felt a little despondent at this point, finding it all a bit hard work, not much of the fun stuff and plainly struggling to keep up with her brothers. But Craig was very watchful, and swooped in and helped quicker than even an eagle-eyed parent could manage when they were encumbered by wood on their feet.

snowboarding scotland

Last minute boot check before we started the slidey-stuff

Once we’d mastered all the basics (and made hideously hard work of scooting ourselves out of the way of an oncoming snow plough…) we were finally allowed to start slipping sliding trying to snowboard. Still with only one foot strapped to the board, we made an orderly queue and took turns to slide down a (really) short track with the board in a simple horizontal position, feeling secure with Craig standing between us and the rest of the mountain, supporting and advising one by one.

snowboarding lessons Scorland

He’s not sporty, NO.1. – never has been.
But snowboarding? The boy’s a natural…

Some of us were better than others (no.1 was easing down with no assistance by his second attempt. Bloody teens), but none of us felt we were under pressure, or were particularly bad. Maybe that’s because we were just a family group, but we cheered Jolly’s first unassisted wobble as much as we did No.1′s confidently easy glide down a 40 foot run. And naturally the biggest cheer of all was when I went over on my backside yet again.

Bear waiting for her first go. That's her excitedly terrified face.

Bear waiting for her first go. That’s her excitedly terrified face.

As the afternoon went on we all grow in confidence in simply handling the board and moving around, and we were increasingly eager to gallop back up the hill for another go. But Craig wouldn’t be rushed, and took his time with each of us so that we all felt we were learning as we went.

Look! No Hands! GO ME!!!

Look! No Hands!
GO ME!!!

Having mastered the straight slide down (sssssh, I’m proud of that), trying out the turns was my finest moment. All of a sudden I felt in control; confident and sure of what I needed to do. For a brief moment, everything clicked, and I wasn’t trying to think of everything at once, my body just did what it needed to almost by itself. I felt like I was actually snowboarding (in a slow, awkward, tentative fashion), and the sheer joy of the moment was amazing. I know that sounds sappy, but honestly, I LOVED that feeling. Naturally, I pulled to a controlled halt at the bottom of the run, and immediately threw both arms in the air in an impulsive yelp of triumph. And promptly fell flat on my bum again.
But I SO didn’t care.

Mid-lesson reboot for Boy with a painful foot - Craig was far more patient than me... *shamed face*

Mid-lesson re-boot break for Jolly with a painful foot – the ever-patient Craig to the rescue again.

Finally, at the end of our three hours, we had a short ‘Free Run’. The boys obviously headed up as high as they were allowed for a long run down. Boy sat, clipped his second foot in, extended quickly and gracefully to his feet unassisted and headed straight down, confident and loose limbed as he swooped and zig zagged back and forth, and had to land himself rather less gracefully to make sure he didn’t keep right on going back to the car park.
He hadn’t shown any confidence up till that point, and we all whooped and cheered in admiration. No 1, who had been the boss of us all afternoon asked that I filmed his final run, his crowning moment. Naturally, the minute I had the camera in hand, he collapsed into a sequence of ungainly heaps, and only when I turned it off did he manage to board the rest of the way down in a rather disgruntled manner – but without further mishap.

No.1 ruefully acknowledging that it was bound to happen as soon as the camera was pointed at him...

No.1 ruefully acknowledging that it was bound to happen as soon as the camera was pointed at him…

In the meantime, the not-so-confident Jolly hadn’t gone any higher, but had got up on his feet by himself, and after a wobbly start managed to start slowly and finish with a magnificent, hand-to-the-ground, side-sliding flourish.
Pink held on to Craig for a double run down at a speed which left her breathless and starry eyed with Happy.
Which left the husband and myself. Me, having used half my free run time watching the children, spent the other half actually trying to stand up. Pathetic. Craig finally took pity on me, helped me up – and I stood confidently, ready to go. I slid a full 5′, squawked in terror, and fell flat.
Again.
I know, it’s a gift.

The husband, on the hand, refused to flail awkwardly and cheated, flipping onto his knees and making it onto his board backwards. He then jumped round 180 degrees till he was facing the right way (I know, shocking behaviour), and zoomed off. WAY too fast, if you ask me. Which he didn’t. He was too busy boarding. The git.

Sadly, that was our time up, and we had to head back to the train and make our way down the mountain the slow train way.

Bear telling no.1 just how good she's going to be...

Bear telling no.1 just how good she’s going to be…

We were genuinely buzzing. I know we’re utter novices, and saying we can snowboard is ridiculous. But what we can do is say how much we loved every single second of repeatedly falling on our backsides (and in one particularly spectacular episode of my own, fully flat on my back with a loud “OOOMPFF!”), and the brief glimpses we got of how great snowboarding is going to be (thanks to the patience and excited encouragement of Craig) simply made us want to go back again and again again. So watch out Scotland. Next year it’ll be the Hitchcock Family smugly zooming down the mountain and slicing obnoxiously through the gaggles of nervous learners (if we were ever to be quite so rude. Which we obviously wouldn’t. Unlike some we saw).

So the hugest of thanks to Cairngorm Mountain for inviting us, and to the immensely brilliant Ski School for the tuition, and lastly to Craig for the endless patience, kindness, tact and enthusiasm which simply gave us the best afternoon any of us can remember (And Bear says when she’s on the Winter Olympics team, she’ll tell every interviewer that you taught her everything…).

We really cannot recommend  the Ski School highly enough – if like us you’ve been fired up by the Winter Olympics, and are desperate to give it ago, then now’s your chance. The season is still open, and a family lesson is simply an awesome way to start out – as we were all beginners doing the basics together really helped us, and it was a family activity we’ll remember for a very long time.
Just those 3hrs on the mountain gave us a personal introduction to what is obviously going to be a lifelong love for us all.

Team LittleStuff!

A rather happy Team LittleStuff!

Hiring your gear makes sense initially, though I’m pretty sure that buying your own would work out cheaper  (I have a friend who takes her kids skiing every year, and while they’re growing she simply scours ebay for this year’s salopettes) if you were to go anywhere near regularly.

Cairngorm Mountain:
Snowboard & Boots Hire is £24 for adults, £17.50 for juniors – we used our own waterproofs/ski jackets, gloves, and helmets are free.
Day Passes – £90 for a family of four (we had two extra juniors, so £130 for us)

The Ski School:
3hr private lesson for 3-6 people – £170

It quickly adds up doesn’t it?  That’s £418 for an afternoon. But of course we had the personalised Grand Tour – it’s far cheaper to join existing classes, and there are even better deals if you’re staying for a few days and buy a package rather than a one-off. And obviously once you have mastered the basics, getting out and practicing doesn’t cost you in the lesson fees.
However, we’ll be saving very hard to drive all the way up to Aviemore (actually, we’ll probably see if we can book the perfect Fisherman’s Cottage again, it’s only 45 minutes away, and we do love it so) to move on to Level 2 snowboarding next winter. It was so unspeakably brilliant I simply can’t imagine not going again.

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Fisherman’s Cottage, Cawdor – The Ultimate Family Highlands Retreat

fishermans cottage cawdor estate

Fisherman’s Cottage, nestled into the foothills, looking out over the Findhorn

First stop on the recent LittleStuff tour of the Highlands, courtesy of One Off Places and VW, was a stay on the Cawdor Estate, between Inverness and Nairn.

Now if I were to close my eyes and imagine my absolute ideal peaceful family holiday retreat, I would actually be conjuring up Fisherman’s Cottage. Of course, I wouldn’t have known what it was called until a few weeks ago, and a few of the details would be different, but in essence, that’s where I’d be.

fishermans cottage on the findhorn river

Follow the sweep of the track and then the river, you can just spot fisherman’s Cottage in the centre of the picture, to the left of the white cottage in the distance.

It’s a cottage that simply wraps itself around you as you step inside; it envelopes you in it’s warm welcome, and makes you feel as though you’ve actually come home to a place you’ve never been before.When we arrived (it’s a lo-o-o-ong way up there to the Highlands – Cawdor is around 14 miles from Inverness, and we started from Dorset way down on the south coast. That’s nearly 600 miles.) the outside was admittedly rather unprepossessing; I’ll be honest, we were less than bowled over with the squat dark wooden structure we pulled up in front of.
But the situation? Oh, we were certainly in the right place. Right in the flat of the valley, a matter of 100 yards from the river Findhorn, with the hills sweeping away on either side of us, and absolutely nothing to be heard except the birds.

perfect family retreat highlands

Dora the Caravelle basking in the early morning sunshine as she enjoys her spot right outside the front door of Fisherman’s Cottage

Heading inside we didn’t really mind if the cottage was super-basic, we were prepared to love it anyway.

But it wasn’t.

Basic, I mean.

fishermans cottage near inverness

The sitting room by daylight. See? Comfortable, welcoming and room for everyone.

holiday cottage findhorn river

The view from our bedroom window. on the opposite bank there was a resident flock of Arctic Terns – watching them wheel through the valley was a daily pleasure.

It was… charming. It certainly charmed us. The pictures can’t really do it justice – the feeling inside is warm and welcoming and comfortable and… homely. I know it sounds a bit mad, but we just instantly fell in love.
In terms of being equipped, the cottage has everything you’d need. There are three bedrooms – two twins and a double (we actually pinched one of the twins as it was bigger and had the river view. Didn’t see why the children needed to enjoy that…), and two bathrooms (one with a brilliant shower).

family holiday cottage highlands

The second twin room – every room was equally light and airy, yet with super thick curtains and excellent central heating the cottage was permanently snug

One Off places scotland

Fisherman’s Cottage by night. The stars from the doorstep are just amazing.

The bedding was of very high quality; actually ALL the soft furnishings were, but this wasn’t a place you felt scared for your children to play. Everything was well-thought out, sturdy and practical. The decently-sized kitchen is fully equipped with all you’ll need, the porch is a brilliantly practical shedding-spot for wet clothes and muddy boots, and the large living/dining room will become the centre of your stay. We spent a LOT of time in that room. The soft, mildly battered old chairs are so comfy you will end up bribing a child to go make you another cup of tea as you just can’t be bothered to move away from the delicious log burner…We found that the children naturally drifted in to join us there too. They had their own rooms, and whilst there’s no wifi or phone signal in the cottage they all had their DS’s, tablets and toys/games with them.

highlands family holiday cottage

‘Modern family by night’… 5 screens and me. The only sound was the snap and hiss of the log fire, and occasional murmured conversation. Heavenly.

But we found they invariably brought whatever it was into the sitting room, and we spent hours in the same room just… being together. The chairs are comfy enough for curling up with a book for an hour or two without moving, and the table is huge enough for big family meals.

large family holiday cottage near inverness

The giant table. Brilliant – but if you’re tall then watch out for the evil downward spikes on the light fitting. They stabbed my scalp repeatedly.

fishermans cottage cawdor

Through the hatch-hole… from the kitchen there’s a super-handy serving hatch to the dining area

We played cards, we read, we challenged each other to Angry Birds Go, we watched TV… and enjoyed the simple pleasure of each other’s company.

perfect family holiday highlands

That’s MY chair and MY iPad, you pyjama-clad sneak…

One memorably cold and overcast day we decided to stay close to home, and simply walked up the valley (there are some magnificent views and amazing finds just a 20 minute stroll up the track and round the bend) – by late afternoon we had dinner in the oven, we had all changed into pj’s and the husband had lit the fire. I was curled up in my now-favourite battered leather armchair, listening to the rain slap at the windows outside and the gentle noise of my family around me, drinking a large mug of tea and reading my favourite book of all time (Pride & Prejudice if you want to know)… I am not sure I ever remember feeling quite so perfectly content as I was in that moment. It was just a perfect, rare moment of absolute bliss that I know I will always treasure.

holiday home highlands log fire

I don’t think I need to say anything about this. A long walk, then home for fire, PJ’s, slippers, book, and tea… *sighs happily*

As a base, Fisherman’s Cottage is a great place to explore from. Right from your front door there are countless walks following the river and up into the forests and onto the moors surrounding the cottage – it’s a walkers paradise. But even though you’re deep into the private estate and feel like you’re in the wilds of nowhere, a mere 20 minutes in the car has you on the coast enjoying the amazing beaches of places like Nairn, and the city of Inverness is close enough  to provide all the facilities you’ll possibly need. We had never visited  this side of Scotland before, and we took the chance to really explore it. We headed south for an afternoons snowboarding – just over 45 minutes found us in the middle of Aviemore. Equally, we were only 40 minutes from Loch Ness, and less than 20 from Culloden (TOTALLY recommend a visit). Fort George was another brilliant visit we almost missed out – we intended to just stop for half an hour and ended up spending the whole morning. Dropping down the coast towards Elgin we spent a cheerful day in very windy Scottish weather being blown around ruined castles, rolling down Motte & Baileys and exploring old Abbeys.

fishermans cottage cawdor review

Our room – the singles together made a huge double bed for us, and we’re considering going the duvet-each route at home… #HeMarriedADuvetThief

Possibly the only thing I can suggest to improve Fisherman’s Cottage itself is a slight lack of books and games on the shelves. It’s always nice to have a selection of board games for a wet morning, and a small bookcase with a  choice of books is always nice to have. There’s no wifi in the cottage at all (or mobile phone signal, but there is a payphone), but a short stroll around the neighbouring cottage, across the bridge and through the outbuildings of the main house (not lived in, also available for rental for the estate – they were all empty when we were there) into the Games Room where there’s a table tennis table and an internet hub. Make it there, and wifi is yours! Not as convenient as having it in the house, but a few minutes stroll is certainly accessible enough for checking emails and keeping up with things once a day or so. plus, an early morning wifi visit gave me my first ever sighting of a red squirrel, which was a bit grumpy at me disturbing his breakfast!

We were genuinely happy at Fisherman’s Cottage – we entirely fell in love, and cannot wait to go back and stay for longer.

one off places review

Luckily for me, the husband decided to practice some night photography while we were there. This is the valley by moonlight. Just stunning.

A week in Fisherman’s Cottage from October to April is £730 (high season is £1165), and everything is included in the price from linen to wood for the fire. But please don’t all rush to stay – we haven’t booked our next break ourselves yet.

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Staying at Ty-Maen cottage -#BridgendBites

Whilst we were staying as guests of Bridgend Bites, our home for those hectic few days was Ty Maen (http://www.ty-maen.co.uk/ ) converted cow byre on a farm about 5 miles from Bridgend itself.
TY-MAEN COTTAGE 1

The directions were detailed, and we soon followed the past-the-school, past-the-pub instructions (it’s funny how they always look confusing before you set off, and then when you’re in place it all becomes clear), and we found ourselves driving up the track, past the magnificent viaduct, round the hairpin bend and Ty Maen came into view.
TY-MAEN COTTAGE 2
The cottage is attached to the owners farmhouse, but has its own entrance, garden and parking.

The situation would be idyllic, we’re it not for the fact that Llangynwyd as clearly grow a lot over the years, causing an unfortunately big nightglow, and the noise from the main road which can be clearly heard from the garden.

However if you stand at the side or behind the property, you would think you had stepped back 100 years, looking out over hills and moorland and wild open spaces.

TY-MAEN COTTAGE 4

I have to say that the cottage itself was probably the cleanest I have ever stayed in (and I’ve stayed in a few over the years!); it really was immaculate. There’s a mix of styles in the decor – contemporary bright and clean walls and laminate floors mixed with rather dated furniture and plates on the walls.

But it was comfortable, warm, and the six of us were able to sleep and eat and sit.Ty maen cottage kitchen bridgend

The kitchen/diner was snug – it’s a fairly small kitchen to start with, and having the table and 6 chairs in there really made it rather cramped when we were all eating.

ty-maen-sitting-room

It’s also a bug bear of mine when a holiday property sleeps 6, but doesn’t provide comfortable seating for everyone in the sitting room. A 3-seater sofa and two armchairs means that someone always had to perch on the footstool, or stretch out on the floor.

There are no carpets in the property, it is laminate throughout. Whilst this meant the sitting room lacked a certain cosines, even with a rug in front of the log fire, it was easy to keep clean, and there were no worries about a muddy dog hurtling in after a day out in the rain.  I started off not loving the floors, but by the end of a few hectic days in very wet weather, I grew to absolutely love their practicality!
TY-MAEN COTTAGE3
The two bathrooms we more than enough between us, and the showers were properly amazing – always a Good Thing when you’re on holiday, I think. The cottage was well-equipped with basic kitchen essentials, and washer, dryer and a small table-top dishwasher (which isn’t really big enough to cope with a meal for 6 so we treated the children to lessons in washing and drying. They were thrilled!). Towels, bedding and fuel are all included – and nothing quite beats curling up by a log fire after a cold wet day crammed with activities, does it?

log fire and woolly socks

Log fire + woolly socks = Happy

Ty Maen is a great place to explore this area of Wales – we were only 20minutes from surfing at Porthcawl, half an hour at the most from Swansea and Cardiff – but head North for  15 minutes and you’re in the Brecon Beacons. I’m not sure I could name a better location for touring and exploring this amazing region. We’ve often stayed in the Brecon Beacons in the past, but never the Bridgend area of Wales – it always seemed just that bit too far to reach.

But during our four days we really did fall in love with the area and the people, and we fully intend to go back for a much longer visit, to see and do all the thigs we wished we’d had time for on this trip.

7 Nights in Ty Maen costs from £450, and there’s a £25 supplement for the dog.

Http://www.ty-maen.co.uk/

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When LittleStuff learned to make a fire. Bushcraft skills with Cwm Tawel #BridgendBites

The last of our activities in our packed few days in BridgeEnd was a morning of Bushcraft skills with the amazing Sasha at CwmTawel, a luxury Yurt and Tipi camping site near Bridgend in the beautiful Llynfi Valley.
Of course, we weren’t there to try out the yurts (sadly… we did have a good nosy though, and have promised the children we will return and camp properly; it was the first time we’d actually been inside one, and they are amazing!) – oh no. We had much more serious tasks afoot.

We were there to Build Fire.

family bushcraft course

(I think there were plans for foraging and shelter building too, but the fire building was so engrossing we kind of stayed with it…)

Sasha greeted us at the car, and gave us a quick guided tour of the site, ending up at the Bushcraft meadow. The solid structure keeps the rain off, and is the perfect place for a spot of survival skill learning, nestled in a quiet valley with beautiful views all around.

making string bushcraft

winding string from grasses

First task was to decorate a ‘wooden cookie’ – and once we’d done so we had to make our own string from the variety of natural resources Sasha had available to string them around our necks (ho knew you could make string from nettle stalks? We’re determined to try it for ourselves).

Name tags complete, we got on to the good stuff – making sparks.

bushcraft course bridgend

If you look carefully you can see the impressive sparks

We were each handed a flint and steel, and had a practice at just making sparks in the air. We older ones got it straight away, but the younger three struggled slightly. Bear in particular found it tricky to manage to hold the flint and the steel, and also maintain enough pressure for a really good spark.

But she persevered, and by the time I had lit my own tinder (we started with cotton wool, but we also tried thistle down), I looked up to see Sasha was sitting on the ground with Bear who was producing HUGE sparks with ease, with an equally HUGE proud smile on her face.

young children bushcraft skills

A quick 1-to-1 on how to get those sparks started when your hands are small

No.1 (the 15yr old) was the first to move on to the next step, and he managed to land his spark in a crampball (or King Alfred’s cake) – a fungus we had often seen growing, but never knew what it could be used for! As long as they’re dry, if you land a spark in them they will begin to smoulder – and keep smouldering for hours. They’re amazing, and this is another we-must-try-this-at-home thing we’ve carefully noted.

crampball fire starter

Boy blowing on the crampball he finally managed to light

With some huffing and puffing No.1 had his bundle of dried grasses smoking away around the crampball, and then suddenly it went up in flames (and he dropped it on the floor rather than into the fire pit *eyeroll*).

There goes fire number one. On the ground. But note how we all stand around and admire it...

There goes fire number one. On the ground. But note how we all stand around and admire it…

The husband was the next to have a smoking bunch of grass in his hands, and his aim was a little better – one ball of flaming grass now burning rapidly IN the fire pit.
But that was a good thing, because we had also been collecting ‘snappy twigs’, the first stage of kindling, plus making ‘feather sticks’ with a sharp knife and a store of small logs.

bushcraft skills bridgend

Jolly making feather sticks: hold the wood firm, knife arm dead straight, shave slivers off in a firm downward push. Perfect technique…

Everyone had a go at feeding the fire, building up the size of the fuel until we had a decent fire burning some good twigs, and were ready for some small branches.
That section didn’t take long to write – but I think we had been at it for well over 90 minutes at this point!

Once we had some good logs burning it was time for a little foraging – nettles for some tea, and some willow withies for toasting marshmallows.

toasting marshmallows on bushcraft fire

using our williow withies to toast the marshmallows – willows are great because they have long straight shoots, are safe to eat from, and are easily shaved to a point for mallow-stabbing :)

Boy finally managed to get a fire going himself (despite some massive spark-making, he was cursed with some fire-resistant cotton wool, and two duff crampballs. But finally he got a spark to grow, and ‘his’ fire was used to heat the Kelly Kettle. The pride in his face as the kettle boiled matched Ella’s when she made her first spark.

So as the nettle tea brewed, everyone gathered around the glowing fire and toasted marshmallows. WHY is it they taste so good? And when toasted on a fire you made yourself? Unbelievably good.

bushcraft marshmallows

Nom nom nom.

Then as we sipped our tea (or squash – certain people threw faces when I waved the tea in their direction; I admit we were all a little cautious in trying it, but I can categorically state that nettle tea is delicious!), Sasha placed a skillet over the fire.

Onto the skillet went the Welshcakes she’d made earlier.

Oh man they were good. Really REALLY good.

welshcakes on an open fire

Just looking at this is making my mouth water again…

But the time we’d eaten and drunk, it was sadly time to leave Cwm Tawel – and we genuinely could have stayed and listened to Sasha for hours longer. The children loved her, were in awe of her fire and knife skills, and were all standing an inch taller with pride at their own abilities.

My husband and I could also have stayed and walked and talked with Sasha for hours – she has so much knowledge to share, and her deep passion and commitment to what she’s doing just shines through. We learned so much in our short time – not just how to make and build a fire, but a range of odd snippets, from how to spot Ash trees in the winter to how to ease nettle stings (and no, it’s not dock leaves!). We’ve promised the children we will return and stay in the Yurt next Autumn once dogs are allowed on the site (no dogs when the sheep are out), and I cannot imagine we would do so without spending a day learning some more from Sasha – next time we’ll make a shelter and go foraging properly!

 

Cwm Tawel offer a huge range of outdoor crafts and skills courses from willow basket making to wild food foraging. Prices start from £20 per child (children must be accompanied by an adult) for the Willow Sculpture course.

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When LittleStuff went Quad Biking in Wales. And got Muddy. #BridgendBites

When BridgendBites suggested we might try Quad biking during our trip, the house might have echoed with a teeny bit of cheering.

Too right we would!

So we headed off to Adventures Wales in Porthcawl (very close to Cardiff, just a bit further West along the Welsh coast if your brain can’t place it) – and this time all six of us were signed up to join in.

I mean, come on. It’s Quad Biking!

quad biking cardiff swansea

There was a little consternation about Bear when she arrived – the minimum age is 7, but they DO need to be over 4′ tall. Luckily she’s grown an inch this winter, and stands proud at 4’1″. Huzzah!

With no hanging around we were escorted to the Quad biking area, and climbed into an array of waterproofs. There were wellies available, but we had come equipped with our own. Note to any future quad bikers – if you’re going on a rainy day, double and then triple check all your fastenings. Mud will be involved in this activity.

muddy quad biking wales

That’s me. In my beloved PURPLE wellies. *cries*

First up we had a quick safety lesson, and then we all took a turn to drive a quad bike around a small circuit – it proved very tricky for Bear, she was on the same bike as the rest of us, and the tight corners were heavy and tricky for her. but she managed the speed magnificently, and got all the way around with no help (if  very sloo-o-owlyyy).
Next came the real thing – we literally climbed on to a quad bike each, and got told we’d be called in 35 minutes time.

And we were off!

quad biking south wales

No.1 shot off straight away, quickly outstripping the rest of us who took a circuit or two to find our comfort zones and notch up the speed a bit.

Then the competitive spirit started to kick in.

Jolly (who’s 11) and Bear found cornering a slight issue to begin with, but we had two marshalls with us who were endless patient at repeatedly getting them back on the track, and keeping them going.

They didn’t even laugh (much) when I decided that a sharp corner was the PERFECT place to overtake the husband… and drove over the tyres and out into no mans land, shrieking quite a loud “Oh bloody sodding Craa-a-a-a-AP!” as I went. *sigh*

quad biking for 7yr old south wales

That’s Bear – the 7yr old perched on the big ole quad bike, which she drove magnificently

After maybe ten minutes the erratic driving settled and we all stayed on the track long enough to really start enjoying ourselves. At first I kept an eagle Mumma-eye on the two youngest – driving the same sized quad bikes as the grown ups seemed silly, and I felt sure they’d get frustrated and disheartened at not being able to control it as easily as the grown ups. nit one bit of it – they both gritted their teeth in determination, and bounced and flew around the track.
Pretty soon I relaxed and started trying to catch no.1 myself.

family quad biking with children wales

And this is her stopping to ask Daddy if HE’S okay (he’d moved off track and got off his bike to video us all).

The weather wasn’t kind – we had slashing sleety rain as we hurled ourselves around the track, which was freezing and painful on the hands. It did however make the puddles magnificent and the slippy parts of the track totally treacherous. Which was excellent, naturally.

The noise is not to be underestimated – these things are LOUD. So loud that I was pretty sure there was no way that any noise I made from inside the helmet could possibly be heard from the other side of that roaring engine.
So I *may* have let fly with a merry warble or two.
And when I saw that the husband had disembarked to take some video, I may have roared my way down the track at him, sniggering at my fearsome noise. Sadly, my perception of how the noise would carry was a little off. If you listen on the video, the thin wailing “Raaaaar!” is me.
Yes, I am ashamed at my fearsome noise. In my defence it was MUCH more scary inside my helmet.
And when I heard this, I realised that yes, the marshalls could hear me singing quad-bike-themed opera on the far side of the track too.

When our time was up, we couldn’t believe it had gone so fast – talk about an exhilarating morning. We couldn’t stop chattering and comparing notes as we started climbing out of the protective waterproofs – and sniggering at each other’s mud spatters. We LOVED it – and would love to go again, as a family activity it’ll take some beating for pure excitement and out and out fun.

quad biking family

gettin’ competitive now… there may have been hollers along the lines of “Get out of my Waaa-a-a-y”…

Quad Biking sessions at Adventures Wales start from only £22.50, and you get to ride Race Built 90cc fully automatic Quad bikes – so no tricky gear changes to worry about.  It’s a Fully instructional session with dedicated instructor staff, and  helmets and waterproofs are provided. Try it – I guarantee you’ll have a blast!

11yr old quad biking wales

mud mud mud…

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When LittleStuff Went Surfing in Porthcawl’s Rest Bay. And WE Got Very Wet. #BridgendBites

As guests of Bridgend, we had a few activities arranged for us – but when they suggested surfing, I gracefully declared myself and the husband out of the invitation. Naturally I accepted happily on behalf of the children.
Oh, come on.
Surfing in Wales in February?
Be serious.
On top of which, there’s the whole wetsuit thing.
No, I think not, thankseverso though.

So, after a fabulous morning at Bryngarw, and a quick pitstop back at the cottage for lunch, we headed down to Rest Bay to the Porthcawl Surf School.
Initially we couldn’t find it – mostly because the area was drowning in big vans. Not surf vans, either – no; BBC vans. Dr Who was being filmed! Oh the excitement!
Anyhoo, we located the ‘surf school’ – which is actually a trailer in the car park with an enormous amount of surfboards outside, and met up with Hugh the owner and our instructor.

porthcawl surf school

see? Hamster-cheeked seals. I’d say they were adorable, but i’d get my toes stamped on for that.

Hugh, and his glamorous assistant Dan, were lovely. Properly lovely.
They assessed the children for sizes, and then we whisked over to the changing rooms (fully heated, with lockers and hot showers too). Never mind the surfing, this was my workout for the afternoon – wrestling three of the children into wetsuits. It was exhausting. Then I found that the easy one, the 7yr old, had been plopped into one too big – and had to start all over again!

surf school porthcawl

Waxing her board. Resisting the temptation to draw flowers on it.

Eventually they were all kitted out in suits, hats, gloves and shoes, with white t-shirts on over the top. I instantly became mother to a bunch of hamster-cheeked seals, and have been sworn to protect the less-flattering photographs with my life – sorry.

First up, they had to wax the board. I loved that Hugh took them through everything they’d need – not just bunging them straight into the sea, but teaching them from start to finish. Bear, who does not like the sea and was feeling very nervous, had been so excited at the wetsuit idea, and so encouraged by Hugh that she was feeling quite confident at this stage. And then they got given a great big white crayon and got told to colour the board in… I was a bit surprised she didn’t start drawing flowers on it, but she was good and gave it a good scrub the way she was taught.

bridgendbites surf lessons

First lesson – pay attention, this one’s the safety stuff.

Then they had to carry their boards down to the sea, and across the sands of rest bay out to the edge of the surf.
here the first lesson too place, with safety and basic catching-the-wave principles.
Hugh was brilliant – not only providing the sharp eye and guidance the older ones needed, but also the warm encouragement and support that ensured the nervous Bear (who swims like a fish in swimming pools) felt confident in the sea for the first time ever.

bridgendbites surf lessons children

Watching Hugh demonstrate before they hit the water; aa-a-and here comes that black cloud…

We stood and watched, threw sticks for the dog, and eyed the black cloud fast approaching and blotting out the glorious blue sky. Eventually the cloud made it to us, and the heavens opened. we got utterly drenched, and entirely frozen – the sleety rain was February-vicious!

bridgendbites surfing lessons

Where’d the blue sky go? Not that they care…

Bear lasted around 15 minutes in the water, managed to catch a wave and ride it to shore on her tummy which she seemed to feel was the signal to quit while she was ahead.

surfing porthcawl 2

Hugh taking his time with bear, really helping her confidence.

So I headed back up the beach with a shivering wreck who declared that she really loved surfing – but only in the summertime please. Shivering myself, I could completely understand that.

bridgendbites surfing

Typical Welsh Weather – rain and sleet are gone, blue sky is back. Lesson Part II – this is where they learn to stand up…

Once I’d wrestled her back out of the wetsuit and shoes – which, by the way, is nigh on impossible when you’re both giggling and sniggering at how pathetic you are at tugging them off – we headed back to the beach where the boys were just receiving part two of their lesson. They had all by now managed to catch a few waves whilst lying on the board, so now they had to learn how to stand up.

surf lessons rest bay

Just look at the glorious sky. Amazing – Rest bay is properly stunning.
Chilly in February, but stunning!

They quickly headed back into the waves with a determination I have rarely seen. time and agin they caught a wave, got up on their knees… and then rolled under or flipped off. Over and over and over – and yet none of them was defeated. None of them gave up and decided it wasn’t for them.
The skies cleared, the sun came back out, and they just kept trying.

surf lessons for children bridgend

Pretty sure the board is winning that one, Boy…

Jolly came close – made it to his feet for maybe 2 seconds of exultation before losing his balance and tipping off.

But then, eventually, there was a shout. Boy had made it; he was gliding securely in to the beach, feet planted firmly on his board, shouting in triumph.
Eventually we had to call them in – all three came reluctantly, all three wanting just-one-more-go.We trekked back to the changing room, and they couldn’t stop talking, comparing and explaining. All three agreed that the feeling of catching a wave, the surge and the lift they found, was like nothing they had ever felt before, and something they couldn’t wait to do again.

surfing lessons bridgend

and again, and again, and again…

Eventually, we had managed to extract all the boys from their wetsuits and shoes and gloves and hats, and we returned all the gear to Hugh and Dan with the hugest and most heartfelt thanks I’ve ever heard my children exclaim.

So thank you Hugh – whatever it was you put in the board wax, it worked. My children are now officially surf addicts, and cannot wait to get out and do it again. And again. And again.

surf lessons bridgend

Getting ready to practice throwing themselves on the board.

I cannot recommend Porthcawl Surf enough – I never felt that they were in anything but the very best of hands, but not only was I confident in the safety and the teaching – Hugh was an excellent teacher. He lowered his level to be warm and reassuring for a nervous 7yr old, but managed to engage and enthuse a 15yr old in the same lesson. That’s no mean feat.
Plus, of course, Rest Bay? well, as beaches go, it’s pretty damned stunning…

A beginner lesson at Porthcawl Surf School costs just £30, and includes tuition, wetsuit and surfboard. Best of all for me, this isn’t the start of a hideously expensive exercise – with that one afternoon’s surfing under their belts, the boys now have all the basics and we can simply hire them the equipment next time we go. Board and summer wetsuit will cost just £15 for the day.

Even better value (and more fun for the whole family) for learning is Porthcawl Surf School’s Family Weekend Surf:

We know how costly it can be if you have a family and want to spend a weekend surfing so we’ve done our best to keep the cost as low as possible.

This is based on a family of 3,4 or 5 sharing a room.

A weekend of 1 Learn to Surf Lesson, and  2 Surf Hire sessions means you can surf for 2 full days.

Cost is just £65 per person, and the Accommodation is right on the beach at Rest Bay.

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The Keepers of Bryngarw – #BridgendBites

Our recent trip to Bridgend started off with a visit to Bryngarw Country Park, and a sneaky peek at their coming attraction for this year, the ‘Keepers of Bryngarw’.
I’ll be honest – the children weren’t over-excited. Let’s be honest – a walk in the woods couldn’t really compare to quad biking, could it?
But I was looking forward to it, and the dog could join in this one, so I gave them ‘the look’ and they acquiesced gracefully enough.

On arrival we were met by Ranger Dan, and the lovely Gina, who were giving us the guided tour. As the Keepers Quest isn’t yet officially up and running, we had to use a little imagination – but from the time they spotted their first Keeper (we started in the Meadow) the children were totally involved, and having a ball.

keepers of the quest bryngarw

Off to find the Keeper of the River with Ranger Dan

The Keepers of Bryngarw are the mythical guardians of the park’s woodlands, meadows, gardens and river. The story goes like this:

“The Keepers are the ancient keepers of the story of the land; it is they who keep Bryngarw’s flame alight. But now the Keepers have fallen asleep, the story has fallen silent and a shadow hangs over the land.

To bring Bryngarw to life once more, you must journey through the gardens and woodland, along the river and across the meadows. Using the special Star Talisman, find the Keepers and awaken them at last, and re-light the flame as their story begins to be told once more…”

By the time it launches later this year, each keeper will be an interactive totem, in which you can place your star talisman and listen to their story.

Keepers of Bryngarw

The Keeper of the Meadow – in the summer this is a wildflower meadow in which the keeper appears as you approach.

However – I think we went one better with our sneak preview, as the actor’s recordings aren’t completed yet; we had Ranger Dan (who wrote all of the stories) reading them aloud to us.
Which was pretty special – the writing is powerful and evocative, and his passionate love of the land and his enormous knowledge of the natural world shine through in every line. We were all entranced.

Listening to Ranger Dan tell us the story of the river

Listening to Ranger Dan tell us the story of the river

There’s no official route, you simply make your own quest to find all of the Keepers. In so doing you are encouraged to explore all areas of the wild and beautiful woodland and meadows of the Park (currently a shocking 70% of visitors to Bryngarw never leave the play area and tea room). You could probably whizz round and find them all in 40 minutes, but equally on a  nice day I’d suggest you take a picnic and take your time – stroll around, explore each area, play for a while and just ‘stop and stare’.

Our children are used to wide open spaces – pretty manicured formal gardens don’t hold much appeal for them. But at Bryngarw they were itching to play in the stream, explore the woodlands, and the meadows were just made for rolling down.

guardian of the garden bryngarw quest

The Keeper of the Gardens – which are the formal gardens of Bryngarw House, a series of interlinked paths and ponds weaving through the tranquil oriental style garden, dating from 1910.

guardian of the garden bryngarw

See? I want to sit and drink tea with him…

We had a genuinely fabulous morning – we loved the Quest idea, and it wasn’t just the youngest who went dashing off to try and be first to spot the next Keeper. The stories from the Keepers made all the children stand still and genuinely listen to what they had to say; and look around and notice with fresh eyes the things they talk about with such love. The Keeper of the Woodland was big, powerful and eery, but I wanted to make the Keeper of the Gardens a cup of tea and sit with him a while. The (very well-endowed) Keeper of the River had the most powerful story, told to the backdrop of the rushing river beside us, and the Keeper of the Meadow was so ethereal and flighty the 7yr old had to touch her to make sure she was real.

guardian of the forest bryngarw

Cautiously approaching the Keeper of the Woodland – even in daylight he’s an impressive sight. Looming out of a misty clearing at dusk I can imagine he’d be pretty alarming…

We also loved the fact that each of the Keepers has been handcarved by a local craftsmen from a tree that has grown in the park and been  blown down by a storm. That circle of life, the knowledge that these trees really have seen the story of this landscape, and are now going to remain for potentially a hundred more years to tell their story to new people, created a strangely emotional connection to the park.

General Consensus voted his magnificence the Favourite Keeper overall.

General Consensus voted his magnificence the Favourite Keeper overall. Notice how far back everyone stood from him – the picture just doesn’t convey his sense of quiet power as you come across his clearing set deep within the woodland.

We loved our time at Bryngarw, and have had to promise the children we’ll return in the summer to spend the day completing the trail when it is up and running properly. And also to try the magnificent slide in the play area ;)

Bryngarw House is set within 113 acres of parkland and amazing Country Park; yet is just five minutes from Junction 36 of the M4 motorway. I strongly suggest you stop by for a visit if you’re in this corner of Wales.

 

 

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Deco Tregill Farm Cottages Menheniot Cornwall – Family Holidays with a twist

Brought to you by Cottages4you these cottages are perfect for families with teenagers!

 

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Deco, Tregrill Farm Cottages, Menheniot, Cornwall
Property reference: TJ3 – Book through Cottages4you

These cottages are in an enclosed courtyard garden, each with its own barbecue area.
For families with teenagers, Tregrill Farm is ideally located for visiting the whole of Cornwall, South Devon, Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor with plenty of things to see and do.

 

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The Eden Project is just 10 miles away and Whitsand Bay, which is popular with surfers, is only eight miles away. Watersports such as windsurfing, canoeing and fishing can also be enjoyed at Siblyback Lake (5 miles); Adrenalin Quarry and Karting are also less than a mile away. For indoor activities the cottages share the use of a game room with an antique snooker table (for over 16s only), table tennis, darts board and hi-fi. The cottages also have Wi-Fi.
Price: £300 for seven nights self-catering accommodation starting 14th March 2014. Sleeps four people in two bedrooms (£10.71 pppn).

 

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‘‘Character cottages occupying a tranquil setting on Cornwall’s coast…’’

Situated in a tranquil hamlet just 6 miles from the coast, the cottages have been converted from barns dating back to 1824 and retain many original features. They are set in an enclosed courtyard garden, each with its own barbecue area.
Tregrill Farm is ideally located for visiting the whole of Cornwall, South Devon, Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor, with countryside walks accessible directly from the door. The stunning South Cornwall Coast, with its attractive fishing villages such as Polperro and Looe as well as the famous South West coastal path, is a short drive away. The fishing port of Looe can also be reached by taking the scenic train journey from Liskeard (2 miles). The maritime city of Plymouth is only a 30 minutes’ drive away with the National Marine Aquarium and its historic Barbican district. The fantastic Eden Project (10 miles), Cotehele and the Lost Gardens of Heligan are amongst the many wonderful Cornish gardens and historic houses which are within easy reach of Tregrill. The Rame Peninsula, known as Cornwall’s Forgotten Corner, is close by with picturesque villages and quiet beaches and Whitsand Bay which is popular with surfers is only 8 miles away. Watersports such as windsurfing, canoeing and fishing can also be enjoyed at Siblyback Lake (5 miles); Adrenalin Quarry and Karting are less than a mile away. For indoor activities the cottages share the use of a games room with an antique snooker table (for over 16s only), table tennis, darts board and hi-fi. Shop and pub ½ mile.

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A cosy, individually-styled cottage with furnishings and decoration that have a 1920s feel. Living/dining room with open Jetmaster fire in stylised surround, large feature window and stained-glass lighting, open-plan with well-equipped kitchen with tiled floor. One step up to double bedroom with 5ft bed and en-suite bathroom with over-bath shower and toilet. Separate toilet. First floor: Twin bedroom with sloping ceiling, Velux windows and en-suite shower area.

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Original Diving – Family Holidays with a twist

So why not Rent a Private Gozitan farm house and learn to dive as a family!

 

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These days, Gozo basks in relative anonymity as the smaller and more discrete sister island of Malta, with diving in the island’s surrounding waters replacing sea-nymphs as the main lures for travelers. Lying further south than the northerly parts of Tunisia, the Maltese archipelago enjoys reliably hot climes, perfect for all kinds of breaks. In spite of the island’s close proximity to Malta, few people have heard of Gozo meaning that it has escaped the fast pace of development and instead is full of rustic charm, nowhere more evident than in the villas and farmhouses. Families can rent their very own very charming private Gozitan farmhouse, complete with private swimming pool and BBQ area and close to nearby restaurants and shops. The island’s close proximity to the UK make this an absolute must for keen family divers as Gozo offers some of the best diving in the Mediterranean.

Original Diving (www.originaldiving.com/ 020 7978 0505) offers 7 nights in a private farmhouse on a self-catering basis from £2,400 for a family of 4 including a PADI Open Water course each and return airport transfers and car hire. Flights to Malta start from £350 per person with Easy Jet.

To find out more: http://www.originaldiving.com/europe/gozo/private-gozitan-farmhouses

 

Injecting fun into the Family Holiday Process:
Original Travel’s Partnership with Sharky & George

·         Last year, Original Travel and much loved children’s party people Sharky & George joined forces to insert some creativity and fun into the family holiday process. The partnership aims to improve each and every element of the holiday process; from expert advice when booking, to teasing out the tantrums in airports and on transfers.
·         Every child will receive a personal fun pack of ideas and adventures for them to enjoy on their own, with the family or while bonding with dad.  If need be, Original Travel are even offering parents their very own Sharky & George ‘Fun Guru’ to take on holiday, armed with Go-Pro video cameras for capturing action shots, first aid kits, ideas for spontaneous games and a desire to find the fun in everything.
·         The partnership frees up valuable time for parents both prior to the holiday and at the destination, allowing them to enjoy precious moments without having to worry about the kids and whether they will be entertained.

 

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Hands Up Luxury Tailor Made Family Holidays with giving back! – Family Holdays with a twist

Hands Up Holidays specialises in luxury, tailor-made family trips that combine sightseeing with giving back.

Hands Up Holidays’ family trips are all tailor-made, and are ideal for families for these reasons:
-         So that children can appreciate how fortunate they are
-         To provide meaningful interaction with another culture in a safe context
-         To instil the values of service and giving back in children
-         To bond together as a family

 

They do loads, but we chose this one which is for families with children under 10, wildlife conservation trip.

 

Elephant Encounter – Thailand

 

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  • Getting up close and personal helping elephants
  • Bangkok immersion tour
  • Thai traditional massage
  • Chiang Mai and her temples

 

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Your “Taste of Volunteering” Project

Elephants were historically extensively used to move and carry heavy objects such as tree logs, but with deforestation and loss of habitat, elephants in Thailand face their greatest challenges ever.

You can help care for elephants at a center in Northern Thailand; help these beautiful creatures and gain an insight into Thai culture as you get to know the people who permanently care for the elephants.

Volunteer tasks are varied according to the season and needs at the time, but you should get to:

  • Prepare meals, feed and bathe elephants
  • Help preserve the rain forest, and help with replanting trees
  • Learn about diseases affecting elephants and how to treat them when they are sick

 

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Trip Summary

This remarkable volunteer project blends the stunning sights, fascinating people and delicious food of Thailand, with a unique, hands-on elephant rehabilitation mission.

You have an overview of Bangkok’s highlights and we include a traditional Thai massage to finish your day before flying to Chiang Mai.

The northern reaches of Thailand are home to the Asian Elephant. Domesticated for centuries, it is commonly used in the forestry industry and tourism. Unfortunately these magnificent endangered creatures are often mistreated. Feel the rewards of making a real difference to their quality of life and get to know the people that care for them on a daily basis.

Spend the next day relaxing back in Chiang Mai – a fabulous zip lining day is an option if you still have energy to burn!

Then fly back to Bangkok, where your trip ends, and extension trips begin.

 

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Accommodation:  accommodation will be in 5* hotels based on 2 persons sharing a twin-bedded room, except for whilst volunteering, which is in 4* accommodation.

 

 

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In The Saddle Worldwide Riding Holidays – South Africa Ants Lodges – Family Holidays with a Twist

In The Saddle Riding Holidays specialise in horse riding holidays all over the world. From ranches in the Rocky Mountain states of Montana and Wyoming, beach and mountain rides in Europe, horseback safaris in Africa and riding expeditions to remote and unexplored parts of the world. In The Saddle can find a holiday to suit just about anyone, whatever their riding experience.

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Tailormade riding to suit all abilities and ages amongst South Africa’s plains game on responsive and well mannered horses. Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill are ideal for everyone with the length and pace of rides tailored to suit ability and experience. Top Tip: Combine a few days at each lodge to enjoy the best of the riding and game viewing available. The two beautifully decorated and luxurious lodges are based on their own private game reserves, offering a very personal experience. All levels of riders are catered for on excellent well-schooled horses – Non riders are very welcome!

horse riding safari in south africa

Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill are run by the Babers, whose family have lived in the Waterberg since 1865.  They have perfected the art of the luxurious and very personal safari. Activities can be tailored to suit each person in the group, making this an ideal holiday for riders and non riders alike, and both lodges offer you the chance of a fabulous riding safari.

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Each lodge has a number of excellent well-schooled horses from Thoroughbreds and Arabs to Boerperd crosses. All riding abilities can be catered for with horses for experienced riders as well as steady ponies for children. Even those who have booked as non-riders may be encouraged to ride at least once during their stay since one of the best ways to get close to game is on horseback. You will be amazed at how close you can be to the animals. For those who prefer to walk, the guides will take you on guided bush walks. Vehicle game drives and cycling safaris are also available.

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Each reserve has an incredible variety of game from rhino, buffalo, nyala, waterbuck, giraffe, eland, sable, oryx, wildebeest, red hartebeest, kudu, impala, zebra, blesbuck, warthog, bushpig and brown hyena as well as all the smaller animals such as African wild cat, mongoose and more than 250 species of birds. There are no elephant or lion so all levels of riders can be safely taken out on horseback. The guides can also take you to other places of interest in the Waterberg such as to see bushman paintings, archaeological sites or an elephant-back safari. For those who are a little saddle sore or in need of real relaxation, you can enjoy a massage. All these extra activities are at an additional cost.

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At both lodges, great pride is taken in the delicious cuisine on offer. Enjoy bush breakfasts, starlit dinners around open fires or impromptu lunches beneath a shady tree. Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill not only offer a fabulous game viewing experience and a wide variety of activities, they are superb places to just relax and watch the sun go down for those needing a well-deserved break.

 

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The lodge is nestled in landscaped gardens, with an expansive saline pool that blends naturally into the surroundings. There is a thatched covered chill out spot furnished with large sofa beds for those in need of a siesta or respite from the African sun.

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The lodges are pen all year, and you may Arrive and depart any day and stay for as long as you wish (they recommend a stay of at least seven nights). Each lodge can be booked at an adult and child rate on a non exclusive basis or alternatively booked exclusively for a private group. Prices based on a 7-night stay in a standard room during the summer holidays start are £1514 per adult, £996 per child.

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Go glamping in Devon at Woodovis Park – Family Holidays with a twist

Woodovis Park is a small, safe and peaceful 5 star holiday park nestled on the edge of Devon’s Tamar Valley: an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a designated World Heritage Site. It’s ideally located for exploring the West Country, with endless places to visit and things to do on your holiday. They are close to Dartmoor National Park and within easy reach of the UK’s most dramatic coastlines and beaches.

You’re guaranteed a warm, friendly welcome. Whether you’re camping, touring or staying in a luxury caravan, nothing’s too much trouble for their staff who are on hand to help and advise at all times.

Woodovis Park has won many top level awards for its superb facilities and services, but they’re most proud of “what our guests say

 

Leave the tent behind…Enjoy all the fun of camping without the packing up! If you love the idea of camping but understandably want to keep dry and cosy and away from those creepy crawlies, then our cute Camping Pods & Super Pods are the answer. They’re the ideal place to build your own warm, snugly nest. Bring all of your normal gear but when you arrive you just move in straightaway! No time lost erecting or packing away a wet tent!

Live under big skies, see the stars, get back to nature. But there’s no need to stray too far from comfort: chocolate croissants for breakfast from our shop and a short stroll up the road to a superb local pub for dinner.

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Two new super pods at Woodovis Park (www.woodovis.com) in Devon are the perfect family-friendly solution for kick-starting the camping season this spring. Fully insulated and complete with electric heater, the  super-size camping pods offer the appeal of getting close to nature without any fear of chill and dreary weather ruining an affordable spring break.  Campers can arrive and check straight in without breaking a sweat erecting a tent, and there’s no muddy canvas to pack away at the end of the stay.

The super pods come equipped with a table and two bench seats that convert into a double bed, covered decking with table and chairs for watching the world go by, double glazing, insulated walls, heater, electric socket, lighting and even a TV.  Two additional camp beds can be supplied on request. Positioned in a quiet corner of the tranquil site, pod guests can awake to the sound of bleating lambs and birdsong before setting out to explore the bluebells and rhododendron of the beautiful Tamar Valley and nearby Dartmoor National Park.

 

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Other family-friendly features at Woodovis Park include an outdoor table tennis area and solar-heated, indoor swimming pool. Kids can also sign up for archery and ‘water walking’ in the pool while adults relax in the infrared therapy sauna.

Top free Dartmoor activities include cycling the Granite Way or the new Drake’s Trail.  More unusual and free pursuits include swimming wild and letterboxing – navigation, walking, running or hiking on Dartmoor amidst breathtaking scenery whilst searching for letterboxes and the coveted stamps inside.  Families will also enjoy seeking out nearby film locations from Spielberg’s ‘War Horse’ or heading to Dartmoor Zoo, inspiration for ‘We Bought a Zoo’.

 

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The super pods sleep up to four people and cost from £55 per night.  Woodovis Park sits in 14 acres in the tranquil surrounds of the Tamar Valley on the Devon-Cornwall border, located on the edge of Dartmoor in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a designated World Heritage Site.
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Also within a half hour’s drive of Woodovis Park, Hidden Valley Discovery Park (www.hiddenvalleydiscoverypark.co.uk) makes for a great day out, whatever the weather.

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Normandy Family Adventure Holiday – Family Holidays with a twist

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Have you ever seen your children come back from their school adventure holiday residential trip and thought to yourself “I so want to do that too!”? Well, how about doing just that this year in France? NOt only are the activities for the grown ups too, but if you go with newly-launched Family Adventure Holidays you can snap up a really affordable bargain this year – they claims their family activity holiday in Normandy is the best value on the market this summer!

Ideal for families with younger children, the Normandy Adventure Holiday is an all-inclusive week based at a 200-year-old chateau near Avranches and the coast. Included are more than 20 activities for all ages – from canoeing and climbing to biking and bread-making – plus accommodation, all meals and drinks and evening entertainment.
value activity holiday France

Activities are tailored to different age groups, with circus skills, bread-making and a mini-farm for the tots, aeroball and assault courses for children, and clay pigeon-shooting and cider-tasting for parents.
The action takes place within the chateau’s 100-acre grounds encompassing woodland, meadows, lakes, rivers and waterfalls.

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Normandy Adventure Holidays run from July 17 – September 13, with seven-night prices (based on two adults and two children sharing an ensuite  family room) starting at £295 per adult, £245 per child aged 6-15 years, and under-6s free (prices apply for weeks beginning August 30 and September 6). Everything is included except travel! Prices for the rest of the summer are £345 per adult, £295 for 6-15s, £95 for 2-5s and free for under-2s.

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Winter Adventure Week in Finland – Family Friendly Holidays with a Twist

Finland: Winter Adventure Week with Dogs, Reindeer and Snowmobiles

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The Mighty Fine Company’s Winter Adventure Week in Finland features plenty for parents and children to get their teeth into, including snowmobiling, reindeer sleigh rides and an overnight husky sled safari to a remote wilderness hut. Families can even opt to spend a night in a snow igloo!

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Departures available until 19 April 2014. Prices for the Finland: Winter Adventure Week with Dogs, Reindeer and Snowmobiles start from £1,864 per person and this includes return flights from London Heathrow to Kittilä Airport; transfers; five nights’ accommodation at the Harriniva Holiday Centre and one night in a wilderness hut, all on full board basis; all the required equipment for the activities, including thermo-overalls, socks, mittens, boots, warm hat and sleeping bag; a two-day husky safari and a one-day reindeer programme; cross-country skiing equipment or snow shoes for one day; a snowmobile tour and the services of an experienced tour guide.

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Family Friendly Holidays with a twist – Biking Across Scotland anyone?

 

Bike Across Scotland: The Great Glen Trail
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While tales of a family cycling holiday from Fort William on the Atlantic Coast to Inverness by the North Sea is sure to impress friends and family, it is suitable for those as young as 11 – even younger, if they ride their bikes most weekends.  Spending five days in the saddle, families explore the sights, sounds and activities of Scotland, with the opportunity to try out canoeing, horse-riding and monster-spotting on Loch Ness along the way.

Cycling three to five hours daily, follow trails along canal tow paths, forestry roads, easy singletrack and quiet minor roads and visit an array of Highland villages and ancient castles.

Mountain Biking – Family Coast to Coast (Self Guided)From Fort William, meander along the Great Glen Way, passing through Clunes Forest and along the shore of Loch Lochy and onto Laggan Locks. Heading north east, visit the historic Bridge of Oich and follow an easy trail along the Caledonian Canal leading to the village of Fort Augustus at the head of Loch Ness. From here take a boat trip for some compulsory monster-spotting and sample a taste of forest riding. Climbing high above Loch Ness, families will enjoy fantastic views down the length of the Great Glen, before a thrilling descent brings them to the Highland village of Drumnadrochit. There is plenty of free time here to visit the 13th century Urquhart Castle or the Loch Ness Monster Museum. The finale is a route to the capital of the Highlands, Inverness with its castle.

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Price: Bike Across Scotland – The Great Glen Trail self-guided family mountain biking break costs £600 per adult and £575 per child including five nights’ B&B accommodation, high quality bike hire, baggage transfers, detailed route notes and  maps, baggage transfers and emergency support, if required, with Wilderness Scotland (www.wildernessscotland.com, 01479 420020). The holiday operates between 4 April and 31 October.

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Family Holidays with a twist – Les Petits Caravanniers, and their Family Adventure Trek

It’s that time of year when we all start thinking longingly of holidays – so we thought we’d help you out a bit with our ‘family friendly holidays with a twist’ series: we’ve found some of the freshest and best ideas to help you think of something beyond the ordinary. Let’s all make our 2014 trips something extraordinary, whether here in the UK or heading to wider horizons.

First up in the series is Les Petits Caravanniers – an 8 day family adventure trek on the edge of the Sahara in Morocco.

morocca camel safari for families

This super bi-lingual family trekking holiday starts out beyond the Atlas Mountains amongst the palm-fringed oases of the Draa Valley. Here, you meet the Berber crew and their team of camels, and set out on a 4-day trek on the edge of the great Sahara Desert. Travelling in the traditional way of the camel caravan, the route will take you across high sand dunes to isolated villages and rock ridge viewpoints.

Sleeping out in the desert, meeting Saharan dwellers and hunting for fossils, this is an enchanting experience for the whole family. This unique trip is run with a mix of English and French families – it’s a great way for youngsters to make international friends and develop or practice language skills. The trip also includes time for sightseeing in the wonderful city of Marrakech where the evening entertainment is still provided by jugglers, acrobats and story-tellers.

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Highlights include:
·         Camel trekking in the desert and sleeping out under the stars
·         Family adventure trek with French and English families
·         Traditional camel caravan on the edge of the Sahara Desert
·         The magic and mystery of Marrakech
·         A unique family adventure holiday

What’s included?

All meals except 2 dinners, 2 nights in hotels, 5 nights camping, transfer and all land transport, English speaking local guide and all activity equipment

Price: £495 Land only – (Join in Marrakesh)

Departures: 29 Mar, 12 Apr, 18 Oct, 25 Oct, 20 Dec, 27 Dec 2014 and 14 Feb, 28 mar, 11 Apr, 17 Oct, 24 Oct, 19 Dec, 26 Dec 2015.

Suitable for children aged 6 and over – check out the details and see loads of photos and videos in the gallery on KE Adventure Travel’s site.

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The YHA Sale – have you looked? Save up to 50% on Great Escapes!

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It may still be cold and dark, but summer is on its way, and our friends at YHA want to help you and your family experience the UK for less this year with up to 50% off family rooms!

YHA Ilam

If some one says ‘Youth Hostel’, this isn’t exactly what springs to mind, is it? The YHA at Ilam is something pretty special – who wouldn’t want to take the family and stay here?

YHA have a huge variety of locations all across England and Wales, from medieval castles to country houses, even eco-friendly camping pods and shepherd’s huts! Many locations have their own cafes and restaurants, or you can self-cater to make your holiday even more affordable, and many of their family rooms are en suite.

YHA York

YHA have really moved on – this isn’t really how you picture a Youth Hostel, is it? This is YHA York. And I’d like to go and stay there, please.

Using code NY2014-003, you can save up to 50% on a private room at many locations for stays between 1st June 2014 and 21st August 2014, perfect for a low cost summer getaway!

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For example; A family of four booking in at YHA York for 3 nights in June will save £202.50 on their stay!

Rooms are going fast and the sale will soon end, so grab yourself a bargain now! Just visit the YHA Sale page, pick yourself a hostel and see how much you could save.

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Big Family Camping – the properly excellent Bahia 7 tent from Outwell

It used to be that the husband and I only ever had one question to answer for our holidays – where do we fancy taking the tent this time?
We ALWAYS camped. And it made us happy to our bones.
Once the children came along, the logistics got a bit harder than a couple of duvets, cooking equipment and a few clothes bunged into a bag.
But it wasn’t until I was pregnant with boy no.3, had a crawling 10mth old, and a boisterous 3yr old to fit into our tent that I decided that next year, we would be holidaying in a place with a washing machine, a tap, and a real bed.
And so we switched to self-catering – we found cottages in as remote and secluded places as we possibly could find, but we had to admit we’d softened up and gone for the easy option.

And we missed it.

We really did.

And also – we felt the children were missing out, too.

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This was where we took them – Best Campsite Ever

A cottage holiday is fun – but it’s just not the same as experiencing camping, with the weather, the chores, the togetherness, and the sheer OUTDOORS-ness of it all.

So a few years ago, we headed to Yorkshire to show them what camping was all about. And they got totally bitten by the bug. No, not those bugs (though the midges were shocking), the camping bug.

And now we divide our holidays – camping IS harder than an all-mod-cons cottage, that’s for sure. But also? Nothing beats it. Doing both allows us the best of all worlds, and keeps us all happy.

But there are 6 of us, plus one really very big dog, and finding a tent that fits us all comfortably enough for a two-week living space is trickier than you’d think.

So we were delighted when Outwell asked if we’d like to review the Bahia 7 (delighted? I may have bitten their arm off in my speed to say yes please).

Sadly, a now-famous argument with a lawnmower (I got lucky – one slightly shortened finger is all the damage I did in the end) put paid to our Big Camping Adventure last summer. But the Bahia 7 waited patiently for us, and we managed to get a quick weekend in it before the weather turned cold and wet (we’re lightweight fair-weather campers these days, I’m slightly ashamed to say).

big family tent with pods Bahia 7

So – was it all we needed?
Oh my yes! Everything and more!
It looks utterly enormous, doesn’t it?
Well, that’s probably because it IS – and it needs to be. Imagine 2 children, 2 teens and 2 adults, plus one large and bumptious dog living in one room together? Exactly.
But the Bahia 7 gave us all the space we needed.
We had the additional Storage Pod too, which meant that the bedroom space was more roomy with no bags in it.
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The layout is an easy tunnel set up – bedrooms at the far end, one separate for the grown ups, two that have the optional divider (we don’t bother) for the four children.
That leaves you two ‘rooms’ for living space – which is plenty. It feels HUGE inside, and there’s bags of room on a wet morning for everyone to sprawl out and play games.
You could easily fit table and chairs in there, if that’s what you choose (we don’t – but we think that we should every time we camp, and now we actually have a tent big enough to take it!).
Most importantly there’s enough room for everyone to spread out a little, and not feel like you’re living in each other’s laps – there’s nothing more grumpy-making than being squashed up on a wet day with no space to move.
We used the front ‘room’ for cooking and eating, and the middle area for spillover stretching out and storing games/boots/dog. You can remove the middle panel and make it one large space, but we found the best option for us was to close that off as soon as the evening meal started to cook, which kept the middle area free of midges, and maintained some warmth for later – leaving it as one huge space made it feel cold and damp at that time of year quite quickly.

If you get some proper weather, the front end can be opened right up, really making you part of the great outdoors – on warm summer nights we fully intend to sleep ‘outside’ by bring the beds up to the front, and sleeping almost under the stars. But even ona  dull day there are so many windows that the tent feels bright and comfortable to be in.

Honestly, there are so many great features to this tent that I want to tell you about – being Outwell it’s made incredibly well, and the design has simply been thought out by someone who actually camps; they just know the small things that make a huge difference.
As the Bahia 7 was designed with family camping in mind, there are great touches like the masses of pocket storage. And whilst we tried it out in damp old Blighty, the ventilation netting on every available door and window and wall mean this tent is going to work just as fabulously in the heat of the south of France this year.

The best price we found online for the Bahia 7 was at CampingWorld, where’ll you’ll get a penny change from £1200 – a really great price for a truly brilliant family tent with masses of growing room, and years and years of holidays.

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