Thursday 5 May 2011

North Yorkshire

Robin's Hood Campsite, Slingsby, isn't a leafy forest but it is well sheltered and makes a perfect hideaway for the modern Robin Hood.  Snuggled up next to some pine trees our pitch was a real sun trap.

The village of Slingsby is beautiful and sits under the watch of a tumbledown castle which, due to conservation and safety you can only admire from afar. I think this adds to the village's allure. While we were there the scarecrow festival was on and we spent a wonderful afternoon scarecrow hunting round the village and rummaging for bargains at the carboot.  (And scouring the rightmove app on our iphones to see if we could afford to move there).

Nearby Dalby forest is great for walking and cycling. The visitors centre has a range of trails ranging from a 4km suitable for children's trailers and tailgaters to extreme mountain biking tracks. The bike hire place even fixed my bike for nothing. We enjoyed testing out our bikes and trailer and crashing on the giant outdoor beanbags at the cafe with ice lollies.

Scarborough is small and compact enough for our 2 and 4 year old to manage a funfair ride, boat spotting in the harbour, arcades, chips, viewing the lifeboat, a play on the beach all well within our three hour free parking on the seafront, and without the pushchair.

Howard Castle is beautiful. It was a sunny day so we paid for the garden only, although the owners make it clear that children are warmly welcomed into the house. The 2 yo was very excited about the tractor train ride down to the adventure playground. In a clearing in woodland by the lake, the playground is imaginative with wooden houses and musical equipment. We had a cup of tea from the cafe and enjoyed the sun. We gave the 4yo the map and she took her role very seriously. We found the atlas fountain and the secret garden before stocking up for a BBQ at the farm shop.

Robin Hood's Bay is absolutely beautiful, it is a long winding walk down hill to the sea so we were glad we packed light. There were lots of distractions on the way so we managed, much to our surprise, to get both kids down and up again, without the pushchair or too much fuss. We timed it badly as the tide was coming in and it was a busy Bank Holiday Sunday but it was still worth braving the crowds for a short visit as the 4yo managed to catch a crab in her bucket and the 2yo caught a bear fish.

Catch of the Day at Robin Hood's Bay

Scampston Hall near Malton was perfect for little ones. The nature trail had them utterly captivated and the 4yo was soon calling out instructions from behind her clipboard and busily crossing off things she had spotted. Finding Scamp the Mole's house was a real highlight. But the insect hotel and the boat also caught their imaginations. The cafe had beautiful food and cakes.

Insect Hotel
While I went to a friend's Royal Wedding party in another part of Yorkshire, my husband took the children to Playdale Farm Park near Scarborough. There was lots to keep them occupied inside and out.

If we had more time...

We forgot the pushchair so didn't brave York. A friend suggested using a caravan site just out of York, near to a park and ride which sounded like a great way to explore York which has loads of child friendly museums.

We also ran out of time to do the North Yorkshire Moors Railway where Goathland Station became Harry Potter's Hogwarts station.

We would fully explore Whitby.

We would do the coastal cycle path.


The children's playground is very new and has swings, springy animals and a large climbing structure.
Tent camping is next to the playground, caravans are further away.
Toilets, showers and wash cubicles were always clean, and plentiful even over a bank holiday. A little chilly and a bit of a walk, especially if you are in a tent.
Shop sells snacks, papers, odds and ends and alcohol.
Owners are helpful and friendly.
A fantastic, clean, roomy and well sheltered site, a great base, really well situated for moors, forest, city and sea.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Cowgirls at the ready!

May 2009. Tipi in the back garden.
My first and only experience of 'glamping' was a hired tipi in the back garden. (I don't think a caravan counts as glamping as caravan interiors and upholstery just ain't that cool). As you can see it was a tight squeeze to get it in, but it was well worth it. I have fond memories of my mum making me and my brother tipis from garden canes and an old sheet, (apart from the trip to the doctor when a cane accidentally poked mum in the eye). This was the grown up version of my tipis of childhood! The wonderful Anji from The Tipi Hire Company came and put it up in the garden and supplied us with cushions and mats and fairy lights.

After six months of giving everything to my little G, (he is the baby being 'kidnapped' by cowboys in the photo) I was ready to celebrate my birthday with a big party. My lovely friends didn't want me to miss out on our annual May bank holiday camping weekend and I didn't feel ready to leave G. So we 'compromised' on a tipi in the back garden and a cowboy and Indian theme. Here we are reinacting the scene where the native American girl's baby is kidnapped by cowboys - don't ask, after a few drinks we were convinced that was what happened in cowboy stories of old.

As you can see the tipi really inspired us and we got into character over the weekend. It was really snug to sleep in and great for afternoon naps and girly chats. At night you could open the poles at the top and see the stars. I would heartily recommend a tipi to make any gathering of friends or family really special.

Ilam, therefore I am

Ilam Caravan Park
The best place to destress. The pictures do the talking. Finally we have 'camper smugness' about finding the perfect pitch. These aren't my pics, but I promise will make a point of taking more from now on. The site is a really small and quiet site tucked into the most amazing National Trust site at Ilam. Just for caravans and motorhomes as it has no toilet or showers. A real escape with no mobile signal for miles. I spent every spare moment staring out the window - finally our first caravan trip with a proper view. Okay so it rained a bit and wasn't quite as lush as this, but it was still amazing.

We loved the beautiful views of Dovedale, gorgeous food at the NT cafe, the NT shop and gardens. We wondered if the kids would miss not having a playarea. But Ilam was one big playground - how many campsites have on the doorstep a tent like tree you can climb inside, a pooh sticks bridge, banks of giant rhubarb to hide in, a castle, steep hills you can roll down, sheep to watch over breakfast, the tiniest church and the best hide and seek territory.

The resident volunteer wardens were really helpful and guided us expertly onto our first sloping pitch. We definitely needed the help. (Although Mr A - I am very proud of you -I would have needed several double G and Ts after all that manouvering). I think we will and avoid slopes if possible, as it was a long way down from the door to the floor for the kids and G fell out, but it was worth it for THE VIEW! You can also buy eggs and get a paper delivered.

Under a mile away is the start of the short walk to Dovedale's stepping stones. We had a fairly whingefree 'family walk' thanks to bribing the little ones with the best ice cream at one end and the stepping stones at the other - what better carrots for small walkers? And again I was just mesmerised by how beautiful it all was and just unbelievably unspoilt. A picture postcard scene everywhere you looked.

We will definitely be returning to this site. I hear the National Trust are expanding their camping facilities - brilliant idea! And thanks to the NT site for the pictures.

Monday 2 August 2010

Camp as... well Brighton

This is me on Saltdean beach drinking pink Pinot Grigio in honour of our good friend A's birthday and our first caravan holiday. Happy Days!
Our first adventure in the caravan, if you forget the night spent ten minutes down the road testing things out, was to Brighton. We played it safe, knowing there would be expert wardens on hand if we got stuck, and camped at a Caravan Club site. Sheepcote Valley Caravan club site also has lovely tent fields, accepts campervans and motorhomes and is brilliantly placed to explore Brighton. At the same time it is sheltered from the city and has lovely views of rolling hills.

Sure enough the wardens were fab, they provided us with wooden blocks and suggested we used a measuring jug in place of our forgotten spirit level to level the 'van. In the end we resorted to a baby bottle as a spirit level. I discovered in a fit of giggles and tears that I just could not get my brain to translate the water level in the bottle into logical directions to help Mr A to level the caravan. It seems everything about caravan manouvering is counter, counter intuitive. I am doomed! Fortunately this stuff seems to come naturally to Mr A, so all is not lost. (Mr A just read this and told me it is actually counter, counter, counter intuitive - I've got no chance then).

The kids loved the really imaginative playgrounds along the sea front which have sand, shade, sprinklers and paddling pools. They lobbed stones in the sea, wolfed pasta on the terrace at Alfresco Italian restaurant, gawped at the sharks, rays and turtles in the sea life centre and fed the penny slot machines the pier. They had their first taste of candy floss and my daughter discovered dummy shaped lollies. My son even had his picture taken by a German tourist who felt his messy ice cream eating epitomised her Brighton experience.

We even managed to watch Denise Robertson and Alison Hammond being filmed for This Morning live from the seafront. The only downsides were the seagulls, nettles and rabbit holes. When we lived in Brighton I loved the sound of gulls, but for some reason there was an almighty racket above our caravan, every morning at around 4am. I quizzed my dad on this, as the family bird expert, and he reckons it was because their offspring were still very young and so they were waking up ravenous. I can relate to that, nightfeeds with our little ones not being such distant memories. There were, to be fair, signs all over camp saying beware of rabbit holes. However, in hot pursuit of our one year old, who was heading for a wall of nettles, I forgot and managed to sprain my ankle pretty badly. This wasn't the end of our holiday, as I discovered it is much easier to limp round a caravan and get stuff done, than in a house.

So we learnt that its worth checking out your pitch for pitfalls as soon as you arrive, especially with little ones. Everything else can wait, help them and you, get bearings first. We could easily have asked for a pitch away from the nettles but by the time we had clocked it we had most of the caravan unpacked and a sprained ankle.

We had some lovely visits to the caravan from old friends, Guy, John and Caroline. Our camp cooking skills still need some work, although I am loving veggie sausage,veg kebabs in wraps with hummus and spicy relish. Still we were really proud of ourselves by the end of the week, and a lot calmer than on our previous tent and campervan family outings.

Introducing Winnie the campervan

This is Winnie. Our VW T25 camper. Sadly we need to sell her. I think we just realised our campervan dream to late, or too soon. It would have been fab before we had kids, and with slightly older kids probably an adventure too. It was fun before our second child got mobile. But with a one and a three year old it was beginning to be a bit cramped and chaotic.

Our three year old piped up with 'I love the red campervan, can't we take it too?' as we pulled off in the car ready to join the caravan at the site we are storing it at in the Peak District. I felt a tug of nostalgia. I love her too. She's called Win after my Grandma whose inheritence money I used to fund part of her. But I think Grandma would approve of the caravan too, in fact anything that give us quality family time in the fresh air. Incidentally the concrete and fence backdrop in this pic shows you why we feel the need to escape so much.

So, although it pains me to say it, if you know anyone who is looking to give a very cool camper a home, please get in touch.

Four go off in a caravan

We never had ourselves down as caravanners, we loved tent camping and then our campervan. But we've come to realise how important camping is to our sanity, particularly since we had children. So to carry on camping with small kids, all year round, whatever the weather, we decided to go for a caravan. This blog is all about our adventures. Reviews of campsites, places to visit, essential kit, stuff to do for kids and grown ups. Whether it's in a tent, camper or 'van - happy camping to all!

Monday 5 July 2010

Thornton's Holt, Nottinghamshire

Thornton’s Holt was the perfect location for a “summer camping” gathering of under fives and their families. Summer in inverted commas, it really was some of the worst camping weather I have ever experienced, to rival the mud bath that was Glastonbury 1997 and that sloping field of a family holiday in Devon in 1980something. Camping in inverted commas because we cheated and I need to get used to saying this, we 'caravanned'. Sorry to our tent friends, I hope we are still friends.

Thornton's Holt is only down the road for us so it was perfect for those inevitable trips home for forgotten gear. In total we managed six families – 12 adults and 11 children. The pitches are situated around the edge of the field which left plenty of room for kids to run free without being too disruptive. I think this was welcomed by our immediate neighbours. A lovely childfree couple who were watched enviously by several sets of parents of under fives as they unpacked a bell tent, candelabra, fluffy duvet and prepared for some romantic ‘glamping’. Also roaming free were chickens, which the kids loved. Although anyone caught chasing these, according to the campsite rules, will be asked to leave without a refund. Try explaining that to a twenty month old who has just discovered he can exert control over something.
With all the tents in place and the children exploding with excitement at the prospect of spending a whole weekend in a field, it was time for a well earned cup of tea and homemade lemon drizzle cake. I was fully prepared for bedtime to be a communal nightmare. The excitement must have worn them out because by half eight all eleven children were fast asleep. We celebrated with fish and chips for mums and dads from Cotgrave fish bar. Lovely staff who coped brilliantly with our huge and scatty order. Great fish and chips had by all.

Saturday morning was bright enough for chasing balls and bubbles across the field and exploring the playground which seemed to really fire the kid’s imagination. They quickly began to play trolls in the house under the rope bridge and superheros in the discarded tractor wheels. The shop was also a hit and is well stocked for snacks, sweets and toys. There are lots of things to look at around the site, old tractors, horses, an old red phone box, there’s a lovely feel about the place.

The showers and toilets were clean and 20p bought a very long and warm shower.

The weather was absolutely atrocious by the afternoon. We held the kids off spectacularly in one tent with a few crayons, some jammy dodgers and Dangermouse downloaded on an ipad. When we started camping with our kids we believed we would manage it with out TV, that dream lasted one weekend. I need that buffer zone between waking up and actually getting up, and a little peace at the end of all that fresh air.

Meanwhile the off duty adults huddled under the communal gazebo furtively seeking a sugar rush through sharing a bar of Green and Blacks and a few cans of coke. It’s amazing what god like status foodstuffs can take on when camping, especially in rubbish weather. Someone reported that the rest of the campsite had taken the cue from the rain and started ‘proper drinking’, but by then many of us were huddled round an Iphone reading the stormy weather forecast and contemplating the short drive home to warmth and shelter.

Fortunately we had booked the site’s indoor swimming pool so after one last torrential downpour we were under cover again for an hour. You have to book to use the pool as there is a limit on numbers, it can also be booked for exclusive use.

Our weekend ended officially on a high, with sun breaking though the clouds and all the children sat round two big camp tables eating spag bol. We waved off the tent campers shortly before another huge downfall at around 6pm. The caravan was pitched under trees and electricity lines. Bit concerned that this was not a great place to be in a storm, but the promised thunder and lightning never materialised.

Sunday morning inevitably brought glorious sunshine. The tent campers who returned to pick up the homes they had abandoned were at least glad to be packing up dry tents.

A lovely roomy site with great facilities, lovely surroundings, very good recycling and a quirky sense of humour. Comes highly recommended.