Out and about

Our wonderful week in Woolacombe

It’s been almost three months since I last updated this blog and it’s safe to say time is flying! Life with two kids and a three-day working week is always going to be busy. Throw in some much-needed house decorating, planning for the festive season and several bouts of family illness, and keeping up to date online had to drop off the to-do list for a while.

But in that time there have been many memories, magic moments and milestones that I don’t want to forget so I’m hoping to catch up on some of those now.

Our wonderful week in Woolacombe

Back at the start of September we set off on our first family holiday as a foursome, a week in lovely Woolacombe.

It’s a place that holds a special place in my husband’s heart. The last four generations of his family have been regular visitors to this seaside gem in north Devon. I’ve seen old black and white footage of his granny, great granny and my mother-in-law when she was a child enjoying the beach back in the late 1950s. And he spent many a happy summer holiday there with his brothers when he was young.

I, on the other hand, had never been before. This is a bit odd really, given that I spent the first seven years of my life living in Devon! How could my parents have neglected to take me?!

Road tripAnyway, Woolacombe it was for our first family road trip. And it really was quite a road trip, with a travel time of around four-and-a-half hours solid driving on a good day. We had a gnarly day with traffic and once we’d factored in toddler-friendly stop gaps along the way, this translated into an eight-and-a-half hour door-to-door journey. With Little Mister being sick just five minutes before we reached our final destination! Thankfully the car seat was largely spared – if you’ve ever had to properly clean one, you’ll appreciate our sense of relief.

Once we’d arrive the little man was back on top form and both children loved exploring our new home for the week – number 6 Sandy Lane Apartments, just minutes from the beach (booked through Woolacombe Cottages).

It was a great base for our week. And, apart from the disappointing shower, had everything we needed, including handy carport parking. There were quite a few steps to negotiate but we managed fine with this, especially since we could leave bulky things like the buggy and beach stuff in the accompanying garage to lessen the load. As you can see from the picture below, the location and view from our windows were pretty impressive.

Woolacombe views

What I loved about Woolacombe…

It’s all about the beach. A beautiful, three-mile long stretch of sand. It was the winner of the 2015 Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice award for best UK beach. It was also an impressive 4th in the best beaches in Europe category and 13th in the best beaches in the world category. Safe to say, it is a very decent beach!

As well as being very long, it’s also very wide – especially when the tide’s out – and there’s just such a feeling of space. Lots and lots of natural, unspoilt space. We went at the end of the summer season when it was quieter but it would take a huge amount of people to fill this epic stretch of sand.

It’s perfect for little ones. As well as great sand for digging holes and making sandcastles, there are dunes to explore and, my favourite, lots of rock pools to discover. Importantly, it’s also very clean. It is clearly well looked after and dogs are not allowed on the main family area of the beach. They are welcome on the quieter parts a little further along, though. It’s a sensible approach, I think.

Woolacombe Beach Collage

You can see above how lovely it is, even on the less sunny days. And that’s only the main beach. To the north of this are two smaller beaches: Barricane (my mother-in-law’s favourite!) and the more secluded Combesgate, which we didn’t see this time.

Also known as Shell Beach, Barricane is quite a small, narrow, bay, surrounded by rocks. It’s also home to a popular beach cafe that in the summer months serves evening curries. It comes highly recommended by my in-laws and we would have loved to have sampled one while watching the sun set. Hopefully next time!

Aside from the beaches, the other thing I really loved about Woolacombe was the feel of the place. Seaside resorts these days all too often have a bit of a tacky, dated feel to them. Not so here. It isn’t overrun with gaudy amusement arcades, shops and general tat. Yes there was the usual colourful array of buckets, spades and other plastic souvenirs on offer but within reason. The place has retained a quaint, village feel. The pace felt slower, quieter and the beach retains its rightful place as the star attraction.

There was a small amusement park a few minutes walk from our flat. It had crazy golf, bumper boats and a few other ride-on things. Just right for our little ones, especially Little Miss.  And if you do want more in the way of activities and entertainment – perhaps if you have older children than ours – there are several holiday parks in the area offering more. But, as someone told me on Twitter before we went, “all you really need is the beach my friend”.

Obviously beaches are much better when the weather is half decent and the elements were extremely kind to us. It was wet the week before we left. Wet the week after. Sunny and warm while we were there. Jammy! I even braved a dip in the sea, which was chilly but strangely pleasant, calming (once the initial shock wore off!) and very invigorating (because of the shock!).

We did quickly learn that holidays with two kids are different. Our visions of quality adult time and evenings spent chilling out with a bottle of wine once the kids were asleep were generally replaced with passing out after a single glass of wine once the kids were asleep.

And we became quite acquainted with the medical services of north Devon – having never before needing to see a doctor while away on our own! On the second morning in Little Miss hurt her foot and wouldn’t put any weight on it, meaning a trip to Ilfracombe Hospital’s walk in centre. And poor Little Mister ended the week with a temperature nearing 40 degrees after his cold turned into a sinus infection needing antibiotics and two visits to a lovely lady doctor, a second detour to Ilfracombe (this time the medical centre), who even called us as we were driving home to check he was ok.

But despite the hick-ups, we did have a lovely time. Lots of ice cream was consumed – much to Little Miss’s delight and a first for the little man. Sandcastles were built. Holes were dug. Shells were collected.  Crabs were caught (in the rockpools, behave! And put back again). We paddled. Little Miss played on the slot machines! And we enjoyed an epic cream tea in Croyde.

I’ll write a bit more about what we did in and some day trips in a second post (which hopefully won’t take three months to write!).

But Woolacombe, we will be back!

PS: You can check out the other 24 Top UK Beaches here at Trip Advisor.

Let's Talk Mommy
Categories: Mummy memories, Out and about | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Little Miss in the Autumn…

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this time of year. On a crisp, clear autumn day, full of crunchy leaves and glowing colours, I love it. On a damp, dark and dismal one (a bit like today!) it can make me feel a bit down in the dumps.

But thankfully we have had some nice, bright days lately and Little Miss has certainly been embracing the season. It’s been lovely to see those little autumnal things amuse and enthrall her, much more so than any of them did this time last year. Little Miss in the Autumn She loves spotting squirrels in our garden and always asks “what they doing?”, one of her favourite questions at the moment.

She loves walking in crunchy leaves.

She loves playing with leaves at the park, especially getting a bunch and pretending they’re a duster to clean the slide with!

She loves collecting leaves, taking note of the different colours and shapes. Every time we go out we seem to come back with a mini collection under the buggy.

She also loves collecting little sticks and sending them down the slide or playing a little game where she shares them out among family members.

She’s fascinated by things like acorns and sycamore tree aeroplanes. She’s yet to encounter conkers but I know she’d love them so I need to work on that one.

Little bugs are also ultra interesting. She spent ages (well toddler ages anyway!) looking at ladybirds at the park last week and catching them on one of her stash of leaves.

Little Miss with ladybird

She also loves wearing her bright yellow wellies and finding a muddy puddle to play in. This time last year she was still pretty unsteady on her feet and puddles, while enjoyed, often ended up being fallen into by accident, which kind of spoilt the fun! Now she can really play properly. Standing in them to see how far her feet get covered. And yet more leaf action as she loves collecting them to throw into puddles and see if they float.

And I mustn’t forget Little Mister. He, of course, always accompanies us on our little excursions and seems to like getting out and about. He’s very nosey and loves having a good look around. He’s always been keen on watching clouds and branches blowing in the breeze – such is life when you’re only a few months old!

This time next year I’m sure we’ll be chasing after him and trying to stop him eating stuff! He already seems to be a much more ‘mouthy’ baby than his sister was. But for now at least he often spends much of the time out dozing. So here’s one of the cutest pictures ever of him doing just that at the park back in September.

Little Mister sleeping at park

Categories: Mummy memories, Out and about, Toddlerdom | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

A trip to the park with Peppa…

Once upon a time Little Miss couldn’t get enough of In the Night Garden. To be fair, it was one of the few things we let her watch on telly when she was younger. But in recent months she firstly developed an inexplicable fear of the Pinky Ponk! Whenever it innocently appeared on screen she suddenly started crying for us to turn it off. We still don’t know why. And secondly a certain cartoon pig has stolen her affections.

So it now is that most days, at some point, we’ll hear the words “more Peppa”. And at the moment I can cope with watching Peppa Pig on repeat (I know, I will eventually eat my words). Personally I find Peppa a darn sight more entertaining than Igglepiggle and his ultra-repetitive little gang. Especially the hapless Daddy Pig who, as my husband complains, is so often the butt of the jokes!

So, for now, I’m happy to indulge her love of all things pink and Peppa. A few weeks ago we baked Muddy Puddle cupcakes. Potty training is being ably assisted by the lure of bright pink Peppa Pig pants. And we also recently took her Peppa Pig ballerina toy on an outing to the park, which as you can see from the photos below everyone enjoyed – and ‘shhh!’, perhaps Mummy enjoyed it a bit more than a grown-up strictly should!

It was a dry day so no muddy puddles but Peppa had great fun… hope you like our little photo story!

Peppa at the park

Peppa Pig toy on swing

Peppa Pig toy on bouncer

Peppa Pig toy on boat

Peppa Pig toy walk

Peppa Pig toy on see saw

Peppa Pig and Little MisterAnd that was our lovely trip to the park with Peppa. Snort!

Categories: Mummy memories, Out and about, Toddlerdom | Tags: , | 7 Comments

A trip to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

So the long Easter weekend saw us embark on a lovely little mini-break in Southampton. You can read all about our first day and where we stayed here – it was a real bargain and we’d definitely recommend it. Day two of our trip saw us head out of the city. We’d originally planned to go to the toddler magnet that is Peppa Pig World at Paulton’s Park but the weather wasn’t playing ball. We didn’t think any of us would fully appreciate a day of wet rides and soggy attractions – Little Miss complains if her sleeve so much as gets a bit damp! – so we opted for somewhere it would be easier to duck the showers. We set off to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard instead to see some big boats…

A trip to Portsmouth Historic DockyardIt was about a half hour drive away, in the right direction for home once the day had finished. The Dockyard is less than a ten-minute stroll away from the Gunwharf Quays shopping centre, which is great for a spot of bargain-hunting and a bite to eat, with plenty of choice of child-friendly restaurants including our default options of Strada and Pizza Express.

The centre hosts a lot of outlet stores, with parent-friendly highlights including Clarks, Gap, Marks & Spencer and Next (although I was a bit disappointed with the latter on the day we visited). There are also a number of more premium shops that all seemed to have great deals on, stores like Hobbs, L.K. Bennett, Kurt Geiger and AllSaints. On the homeware front there’s a cut-price Denby crockery store – handy for us as we need to replace some of our chipped wedding china! And perhaps most importantly there are Cadbury and Lindt chocolate shops!

It is also home to what is billed an ‘award-winning’ car park! I didn’t know such a thing existed but to give it its due, the car park was easier than usual to use, with a clever lighting system to show you exactly where the spaces were – hubby was very impressed!

HMS Victory stepsAnyway, shopping aside, first port of call was the Historic Dockyard, home to HMS Victory, The Mary Rose Museum, HMS Warrior 1860, WW2 submarine HMS Alliance, the National Museum Royal Navy Portsmouth and several other naval-themed attractions.

I’d cunningly picked up a leaflet in our hotel the night before giving us a 20% discount coupon. You can buy separate tickets for each individual attraction BUT it’s really not good value for money, probably deliberately so. The alternative is a ticket covering all attractions, which may seem pricey at £28 for an adult (full price, we paid £22.40 each) but you can use it as many times as you like on all the attractions for a whole year. I’d say most people would struggle to get round everything in a single day, so there’s a real incentive to come back. Plus children under five are free.

Other attractions covered by the annual ticket include Action Stations, which sounds like great fun and we’re looking forward to visiting that another time. It’s billed as a series of interactive displays and experiences to suit kids of all ages, including physical challenges, simulators and technological experiments. It include Sky Tykes, a new rope course, designed specifically for children from ages two to seven, with rope bridges and balance beams. Basically a chance to pretend you’re a mini marine! Harbour Tours boat trips and the Explosion! and Royal Marines museums across the water in Gosport, for which a free waterbus runs, are also covered in the annual ticket price, making it a great deal if you plan to come back.

We set off first for HMS Victory, the outside centrepiece of the yard, famed as the flagship of Lord Nelson and for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar, one of Britain’s greatest naval victories. It’s a proper, old-style, wooden ship, perfect for little adventurers to explore and with plenty of climbing up and down little staircases, which Little Miss loved (although something to bear in mind for those with restricted mobility). As you can see from the photos, the tour starts with a walk up the gang plank. Once aboard you can see how the 18th century crew would have lived – from the Grand Cabin occupied by the Admiral to the Lower Gun Deck where hundreds of men ate, slept and fought together.

HMS Victory photo collage Little Miss especially loved looking into the ship’s kitchen and meeting the pretend chickens! Everything is quite small – it being a ship I suppose and also because people were smaller in those days – but I suspect that makes it all the more appealing for younger visitors.

On the main deck there’s a gold plaque commemorating the spot where Nelson was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar. I can’t say Little Miss showed much respect for the site of this moment in history, she prodded it roughly with her foot then darted off to further explore the Quarter Deck and peer up at the higher Poop Deck – yes, the name made us snigger too but apparently has nothing to do with, er, poop! Either way, the Poop Deck was out of bounds.

HMS Victory collage 2 After lunch we headed into the new Mary Rose museum, where entry appears to depend upon visitors posing for a cheesy tourist photo with a Henry VIII waxwork  – it costs £8 if you actually want to buy it, we declined.

Mary Rose entranceThe museum looks great and is a vast improvement on what was there when I last visited, aged seven, with my grandparents back in the 1980s. The only problem is – as it was back then – that to a small child the Mary Rose just doesn’t look like a real boat. It is, after all, the remains of a wreck that spent almost 500 years at the bottom of The Solent. All I’d wanted to do on that first visit was to get on the Victory, which for reasons I’ll never understand didn’t appear to be on the old folks’ agenda! At last I managed to fulfill that childhood wish today!

Anyway, the new facilities housing Henry VIII’s favourite battle ship are just under a year old and, apparently, cost a cool £27 million. It’s now a proper, posh museum with loads of Tudor artefacts recovered from the ship to see. At the centre of it all is the Mary Rose itself, which is now in the final stages of its conservation. When I saw her last she was in little more than a glorified shed, constantly being sprayed with water to stop her from drying out and disintegrating. The view you get now is so much more impressive – much closer and better. However, it was still a struggle to hold Little Miss’s interest. Pretty much everything, understandably, is behind protective glass so unlike the Victory, there’s much less to explore. It’s fine if you’re old enough to read and understand the displays – and there are computerised games and gadgets that older children will enjoy – but for toddlers, less so. It didn’t help that by this time she was tired and really needed to sleep but refused to go in the buggy!

Mary Rose collageSo let’s just say Little Miss was less than enamoured with the Mary Rose and we became ‘that family’. The one with the noisy, slightly out of control toddler who regularly descended into floods of tears at the slightest thing. Oh and she also had a bout of post-lunch wind too, so you could smell her coming! We ended up scooting round the museum before deciding to call it a day and head for a stroll back to Gunwharf Quays and a coffee, while Little Miss finally succumbed to her nap.

Toddler tantrums aside though, it was still a fun day, especially given the weather, and I’m sure we’ll be back soon to make use of our annual ticket and see the things we missed, including the Harbour Tours boat trip.

You can find out more about Portsmouth Historic Dockyard here. It’s worth looking out for discount leaflets/coupons to save on the ticket price. Discounts are also available if you book online in advance (although these are currently less generous).

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Our bargain, toddler-friendly mini-break in Southampton

Bank Holiday Monday saw us embark on a one-night mini-break in Southampton. Perhaps a bit of a random choice but a few months ago hubby spotted some great deals on the Premier Inn website, meaning we were able to get a room for the three of us for just £25. Good Friday had been our fifth wedding anniversary and we both had this week booked off work so it felt like an ideal time for a night away, even if it was with the toddler in tow!

We chose Southampton as it’s a relatively easy drive for us – just an hour-and-a-half and Little Miss slept most of the way. There are also plenty of family-friendly attractions nearby – not least the famous Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park – and the city also has the big West Quay Shopping Centre, with a huge flagship John Lewis store that I’d been wanting to check out for ages!

Premier Inn West QuayWe stayed at Premier Inn West Quay, which as the name suggests, is perfectly situated next to the shopping centre – dangerously close some might say! It opened in the summer of 2011 so everything still felt very fresh and new. In fact it felt much more like a proper hotel than your average Premier Inn. That said, I’ve never stayed in a bad one. You generally know what you’re going to get, that the standard will be decent and everything clean and functional. But this one really was a cut above the rest.

A warm welcome…

The staff on reception were very friendly and welcoming. Even though we arrived a little early we were allowed up to our room straight away. This had a comfy double bed and a smaller, lower single which given a few months would have been fine for Little Miss but we brought her travel cot this time as she’s yet to make the transition to a ‘big girl’s bed’. That said, she did still love pretending the bed was hers!

Hubby declared the posh rainforest-style shower the best he’d ever had! It was fab but if you’re not planning on getting your hair wet you definitely need a shower cap – there’s no way of adjusting it to save your locks from the full force of its impressive flow! I had a bath in the evening and saved the shower for the morning, when it was great to wake up with.

Of course a new hotel room is always going to provide an endless source of amusement for a busy toddler. Thankfully there wasn’t much she could damage or hurt herself on but we did have to grab the kettle and tea-making kit as soon as we got in the room and the toilet tissue dispenser proved highly fascinating (she thought it was a soap dispenser and kept pretending to wash her hands under it!). We also had to stop her climbing in the drawers!

A toddler-related ’emergency’… 

Outside of the room, Little Miss got a taste for pressing the lift button, which initially was fine. What we didn’t notice, until it was too late, was how low down the emergency alarm button inside the lift was! Naturally Little Miss found it and set it off! Luckily we were the only ones around and the reception staff were quickly able to turn it off before anyone tried to rescue us! And we didn’t get told off either. In fact despite her general cheekiness and the lift incident, Little Miss proved a very popular guest with the hotel staff, who always waved and said hello to her.

Lunch at John Lewis… John Lewis Southampton

Our first port of call in Southampton (excuse the sailing pun!) was, of course, a visit to John Lewis, where we had a lovely relaxed lunch in the cafe – cunningly called the Place to Eat! Here we found plenty of choice – hot and cold meals, delicious sarnies and baguettes, seriously tempting cakes, a good children’s choice and a decent cup of tea or coffee – and views out across Southampton Water where a big cruise ship was docked. It was perhaps a little bit pricier than usual but worth it we thought. Little Miss loved picking things for her children’s meal bag (and we saved money by sharing some of these as it was much more than she’d usually have), which also came with crayons, pictures to colour in, a finger puppet to make and stickers.

Afterwards we had a quick look around the baby and children’s department, which had some lovely things, but unfortunately this quickly descended into toddler mayhem so I, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to leave the shopping centre! My days of leisurely browsing are apparently long gone! But if the toddler had been asleep there was loads to look at – and that was only in John Lewis. There are also plenty of other shops and a huge Ikea across the road. Alas, I tore myself away and we headed out for a stroll through the older part of the city.

Ship spotting in SouthamptonA little walk and some big ships…

There’s plenty of history to see here – it’s not called Old Town for nothing! And much of it is completely free as you walk past. If you have more time, there are some self-guided walks you can do for which you can download the following maps – Old Town WalkTitanic Trail and QE2 Mile. We passed through the Bargate, the medieval walled town’s grand entrance, and also stumbled across the Titanic Crew Memorial. I hadn’t realised that the doomed ship had set sail from here in April 1912. Since the anniversary of its sinking had only recently passed there were fresh floral tributes here, one of which was to someone’s grandad who had worked on the liner.

We then headed down to the waterside, where the Red Funnel Isle of Wight ferries dock. These hold happy childhood memories for me as we had many family holidays there when I was growing up. We all enjoyed watching the boats coming in and out for a while. Then we found a handy little playground in Mayflower Park (named after the historic sailing from Southampton to America by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620). It was ship-themed, of course, and Little Miss had great fun letting off a bit of steam here.

Play time collage

Back at the hotel we decided to eat in the attached restaurant, called Thyme. The menu offered a wide range of freshly cooked meals with something for everyone – a range of starters, gourmet burgers and steaks, pizza, pasta, salads. Prices were reasonable and if you’re happy to stick to a more restricted menu there’s also a meal deal offer of a three-course dinner and drink plus all-you-can-eat Premier Breakfast the next day for £22. The children’s menu offered an equally good choice that should suit even the fussiest of little eaters and a three-course meal was a bargain £5.25 (for children aged 12 and under).

Dinner Thyme!

We arrived at 5.30pm, not realising it didn’t open until 6pm. No bother, we thought, we’ll just have a drink in the bar area. Little Miss, however, was on top form. Thankfully she wasn’t too distressed by the delay but by 5.50pm had taken to loudly shouting ‘highchair’ every few minutes, just in case the staff weren’t aware we were waiting!

Once she was safely sat in the eagerly anticipated highchair Little Miss continued to excitedly shout ‘lady got highchair’ every few minutes and loudly point out every ‘lady’ or ‘man’ who happened to walk past. When offered a table fairly near to ours, one man eating on his own opted for the peace and quiet of the opposite side of the restaurant!

Thyme restaurantWe all thoroughly enjoyed our food – and I can be quite a picky customer! Everything was very tasty and beautifully presented. Hubby and I shared a garlic flatbread between us as a starter, which was more than enough, then I had freshly hand-battered fish and chips with garden peas and chunky chips. The fish was lovely and the batter very tasty and light.

Little Miss had a freshly-baked dough stick served with garlic and parsley dip for her starter, which went down very well – yes we all went for garlic! She followed up with hand-battered fish goujons, which were essentially the same as my meal just smaller, served with her favourite baked beans and a mini garlic flatbread – there was a good of choice of side dishes/accompaniments and much more food than she could eat.

Hubby went somewhat off-piste and had the rather epic Smoky Full House Hot Dog. We were both so full we didn’t need pudding, though Little Miss saved room for her Yummy Organic Yoghurt. We paid just over £27 for all our food, excluding drinks.

A big breakfast…

After a decent night’s sleep – spoilt only by Little Miss snuffling around her cot on and off from 5am onwards but we can’t blame the Premier Inn for that – we returned to Thyme for our breakfast. Hubby had the full Premier Inn Breakfast (£8.75) which means you can pretty much eat as much as you like of everything on offer, including the bacon and eggs. I had the Continental Breakfast (£6.25), which included cereals, fresh fruits, toast, crumpets and plenty of yummy baked goods. Both options also included unlimited Costa Coffee and Twinnings Tea and kids eat free when accompanied by a paying adult. It was more than enough to fuel us until lunch. The friendly staff even encouraged you to take a few bits, like yoghurts and muffins, for later if you wanted!

With breakfast done we checked out and headed off for the day… but that’s a whole new blog post. We had a lovely stay in Southampton and we’ll definitely be keeping our eyes open for any similar deals at Premier Inn West Quay in the future. Maybe next time we’d stay another night or two. It makes a great base from which to visit some of the many family-friendly attractions nearby. Or *she says wistfully* maybe one day I’ll get a proper look around the shops!

Parking for the Premier Inn is in the main West Quay car park next to the hotel, which was a bargain £5 for our overnight stay (you need to get your ticket stamped by the Premier Inn staff to get this deal). There is a small pick-up/drop-off area outside the hotel where you can leave your car for half hour while you get yourselves sorted.

Family-friendly attractions in and around Southampton…

I’ll let you know what we did on our second day in another post but options for activities in or near Southampton, include… Peppa Pig World logo

Paulton’s Family Theme Park and Peppa Pig World

Children’s Pleasure Park

Solent Sky Museum

Manor Farm Country Park

Beaulieu National Motor Museum, House and Gardens

The New Forest

Or you could even hop over to the Isle of Wight, either on the Red Funnel car ferry or the high-speed Red Jet passenger service.

I’m already thinking about planning our next trip!

Super Busy Mum
Categories: Out and about, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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