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Down with the kids at YHA Ambleside

15 Nov

Todd Crag Loughrigg Fell

If you’re not hardy enough to brave a tent in the Lake District in the winter, there can’t be much better value for money than the view from our room in the YHA Ambleside.

OK, so I admit when we woke up and first eagerly drew back the curtains, we were slightly deflated by the sight of a thick grey mist. But as we sat having our breakfast from the window seat in the dining area below, the cloud gradually lifted, revealing the lake and the surrounding fells.

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The light can constantly seem to change in the Lake District and the evening was even more impressive as we watched the sunset over the lake, with many of the hostel residents gathering outside to watch the natural light show.

YHA Ambleside

Another added bonus of the hostel is that the ground floor has its own pub. And as well as this pub having a corner of children’s books to keep little ones happy, you can also take your pint along the corridor into the large communal dining area, where there is plenty of space for them to wander about or do colouring and happy parents can almost, dare I say it ‘relax’?

 

The hostel is also within easy walking distance of Ambleside itself, which makes a nice change not to have to get in the car to be able to head off for a walk.

I’ve been lucky to spend family holidays in the Lake District since I was a child and was looking forward to taking the girls up Todd Crag on Loghrigg Fell  –  one of the first climbs I did as a child with my parents and grandparents.

 

For the children, the highlight was definitely the bunk beds – they packed themselves off to bed as soon as we arrived and had to be lured out again. They also loved the help yourself/all-you-can-eat breakfasts and could possibly have spent all day gazing at the treasure inside the Waterhead Shell Shop.

Tips: We have stayed before without children and not all rooms come with a view (as would be expected) so it might be worth checking when you book. Breakfast is extra, but we enjoyed it and the views from the dining room are fantastic. Self-catering facilities are also available in a separate area if you would like to bring your own food.

Find out more:

YHA Ambleside

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Summer Adventures in the Alps

24 Aug

Epic is a word that comes to mind when I try to sum up our camping trip to the French Alps. It’s not a short journey from the North East of England… but it was worth every mile.

The scale of the mountain backdrop is hard to capture in a photo and thanks to the cable cars we got the chance to reach heights far beyond the reach of little legs (or mine too.)

It was a picture in Cool Camping that first got me hooked on the idea of a summer holiday in the Alps. Snow-capped peaks, clear mountain lakes, blue skies and deep green meadows all sounded like scenes from Heidi.

And the highly-rated Les Domes de Miage did not disappoint. It is pretty much my benchmark now for campsites that is going to be hard to beat.

Anyway, enough of my waffle – here are a few highlights that I would recommend if you are passing that way:

Stay at Les Domes de Miage

Believe the reviews, it’s as good as they say. Friendly welcome, big pitches, jaw-dropping views, brilliant play park for the children, spotlessly clean facilities, great location for exploring the area.

 

Swimming:

There is no pool on site – but a few minutes drive down the road at St Gervais-Les Bains, there is a fantastic indoor and outdoor pool . The downside of this is it is quite pricey. We used it a couple of times as a treat either when raining or very, very hot. If you were going to use it regularly during your stay, passes are available that may offer better value than one-off visits.

One of the highlights of the holiday for us all is swimming in the Lac du Passy.

Free – apart from the small car parking charge and about a 15-minute drive from the campsite, it is just breathtaking. With views of Mont Blanc in the background, you can take a picnic and cool off in the clear waters.

Walking

Drive 10 minutes in the opposite direction and you come to the ski resort of Les Contamines. From here you can take the cable cars up the mountain, where there are a walks of various lengths and cafes to keep little ones’ energy levels up with an ice cream.

There is also a great playpark, with high rope climbing course and pony rides, as well as cycling and walks along the valley.

If your children are more confident on their bikes than mine – there were tots with balance bikes heading up in the cable cars to whizz back down again along the well-marked trails.

Chamonix

Around 20 minutes drive away is Chamonix. It’s a much bigger resort that Les Contamines. We only visited for the day and the main reason was the kids (or was it me…) wanted to have a go on this – the Summer Luge.

We also took the Montenvers train to the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) glacier where you can walk inside the glacier itself, fascinating.

There are also a number of family-friendly walks – such as this one to the Chalet Floria. 

Further afield:

Le Cirque du Fer-a-Cheval 

I don’t think I have ever felt quite as small as I did on this walk along a deep valley surrounded by more waterfalls than I could count. It does take longer than the guide suggests with little legs – plus stopping to explore – but they loved the cascading waterfalls and hunting for elusive marmots along the way.

Le Cirque du Fer-a-Cheval

Shopping

The campsite offers fresh bread and croissants daily and there is a Super U and Intermarche Super in Passy where you can stock up on supplies (wine… at least Brexit hasn’t affected the price of some things…)

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If you’ve forgotten any outdoor equipment (or even if you haven’t!) Decathlon Mountain Store the is good for a visit. It’s vast and has a cafe too.

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Travel:

We’ve visited Les Domes de Miage twice now.

The first year we took the overnight ferry with P&O Ferries from Hull to Zeebrugge  and made a stop off around Troyes at Lac d’Orient.

Our pitch was very cramped and the campsite more of a Eurocamp style. But the children liked the lake and the pool.

The following year, feeling more confident and also put off by a rise in the ferry cost, we decided to take the Eurotunnel and do the whole thing in one go with no overnight stops. Yes, you are right, of course that was a stupid idea. DO NOT DO IT!

We have friends who told us that this was possible and the advantage, in theory, was it would save the hassle of unpacking the camping gear for just one night – which was not as easy as we had first thought. Plus you get more time at your final destination. But unless you are like Margaret Thatcher and need very little sleep, have angelic children and the patience of a saint… I wouldn’t recommend it.

We all enjoyed both the ferry and the Eurotunnel. The ferry journey became part of the holiday and the children loved it – including the evening entertainment. I felt like I was on a cruise and was able to get in the holiday mood straightaway. I was also really impressed with the standard of the food and would do it again, but unless you get an early-bird discount, the cost is hard to justify.

I also found the Eurotunnel remarkably easy. It’s a long UK drive for us from Northumberland, especially when almost every major road seemed to be closed overnight for roadworks… but the crossing itself, could not have been more straightforward.

A good summary of stopover options can be found here

 

 

 

Charlotte’s Day Trip to Whitby

27 Dec

Charlotte’s holiday homework is to keep a diary, so she’s been helping me out on the blog this week. We tried to find out some facts I never knew about Whitby, including snakes and monkey puzzle trees…

 

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Whitby facts:

  • A monastery was built in AD657 by King Oswy of Northumbria. It became one of the most important religious centres in the Anglo-Saxon world under the Abbess Hild. She ruled over both men and women in a double monastery called Streaneshalch.
  • It is said that sea birds flying over the ruins of the abbey tip their wings in honour of Hilda while the presence of ammonite fossils on the shore at Whitby is explained as the remains of a plaque of snakes which Hilda turned to stone.
  • Whitby Abbey was the inspiration for a famous scary book called Dracula by Bram Stoker that was written 1897. Lots of people come to Whitby at Halloween.
  • Some people say there are 199 steps, some say 198 and others 200. so they say you have to try and count them for yourself!

 

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Things we want to try next time we go back:

  • Mummy would like a necklace made of Jet

Jet Shop W. Hamond says: Unlike most gemstones, Whitby Jet is actually fossilised wood, similar to our present day Monkey Puzzle or Araucaria Tree, which has been compressed over millions of years.

The colour of Whitby Jet is unique; its blackness is so intense that the expression ‘as black as jet’ has been a commonly used phrase for hundreds of years.

Queen Victoria had a necklace made of Whitby Jet

Read more about it here: Whitby Jet

  • Katherine and I want to bring our buckets and spades and go down to the beach and ride on a donkey in the summer.

Other facts we found out about Whitby:

  • By 1795 Whitby had become a major whaling port. The most successful year was 1814 when eight ships caught 172 whales.
  • The famous explorer Captain Cook learned how to be a sailor in Whitby and his ship the HMS Endeavor that he sailed to Australia and New Zealand was built in Whitby.

Cakes and Candle Stick Making

30 Sep

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wpid-img_20150503_192415.jpgIf you ever happen to be passing by Chester I can recommend a detour to the wonderful Cheshire Workshops.

Just a short drive into the countryside from Chester it’s a crafter’s paradise for kids and adults alike – plus they serve up some mean cakes too.

It all started with a local villager who became a candle maker, hand-carving candles to sell at the local market. Now they are the North West’s leading candle makers and the Candle Factory, Craft Workshop and Visitor Centre attracts more than 100,000 visitors every year.

There are a number of different activity packages you can buy on arrival depending on how creative you want to be – a bit over excited and thinking this might be the only time we ever visited – we went for one that included a triple twist candle, decorating a candle holder, model painting and filling a sand bottle.

wpid-img_20150503_114954.jpgThe candle making was fantastic – even though my children were four and six, they had no problem following the instructions and were mesmerized dipping the wick into the different coloured wax and watching it get bigger and bigger. I loved it too and even dad, not usually one for crafting had a go,

 

 

 

wpid-img_20150512_124250.jpgWhile they hung to dry we went upstairs to get on with the other activities – it was like a spell had been cast – a room full of children all sitting quietly working away in concentration!

 

 

 

wpid-img_20150512_124349.jpgTo top it all off, the workshops also has a lovely cafe, where we had scones and cakes and we were able to enjoy a cup of coffee while the children had a run around in the outdoor play area, that looks out across the open fields.

 

 

 

Looking for a spot to have our picnic we then  drove just a little further to The Ice Cream Farm at Cheshire Farm. Here we found picnic areas, a fantastic playground and one of the biggest ice cream parlours I have ever seen…. and all free (apart from the ice cream).

It was under redevelopment when we called in – but now as well as award-winning ice cream and playground has Europe’s largest indoor sand and water play area, animals, an indoor soft play barn, adventure golf and a magical garden…

I just wish we lived closer, but hopefully will be back soon!

 

Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends at The Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway

13 May

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wpid-img_20150321_215849.jpgI am not sure who was more exited the children or their grandparents when I booked tickets to visit the Day Out with Thomas event at The Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway in the Lake District. Well that’s not true actually, I’m pretty sure it was granddad first, then possibly me, followed by my daughters.

Sometimes when an event is built up over weeks and even months, it cannot always meet the high expectations. But I can honestly say our visit was one of my favourite family days out and as you can probably tell from the pictures, during my snap with Thomas I was living the dream.

I grew up with Thomas The Tank Engine stories and the adventures of cheeky Thomas, mighty Gordon and the vain James. So for my dad and I it was a trip back in time 30 years and meeting the Fat Controller was like meeting, well, a complete legend. My daughters are six and four and love reading the stories with their granddad and my four-year-old in particular was completely immersed in the characters – she still talks about Daisy the Diesel: “there was a train and the train had EYELASHES!!)

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Fun, laid-back, well-organised, top-quality and surprisingly non-commercial, we had a thoroughly enjoyable day from start to finish.

Expecting it to be busy, we arrived about 15 minutes before it opened at 10am. There were still spaces in the car park, but it soon built up and people who arrived much later needed to park down the road, or are advised to try the other end of the line at Lakeside instead.

There was just a slight queue and we didn’t have to wait long at all until we found ourselves back in time standing on the traditional platform.

With a train already in the station we decided to hop straight on and headed on the short journey to Lakeside. The children enjoyed the excitement of being on a train and before long we were pulling up at the next platform.

Here there was then a short queue to climb in to a brake-van to go for a quick ride up and down the line. Seeing the queue we took wpid-img_20150321_201858.jpgthe chance for a hot chocolate break in the cafe, which overlooks the lake and then went for a wander around to enjoy the beautiful views. If it hadn’t been such a sunny day and we weren’t in a hurry to get back and see Thomas, I think we would have also visited the Lakes Aquarium, which is right by the station http://www.lakesaquarium.co.uk/

We then seemed to have timed it nicely and jumped on the brake-van for a quick ride and the children loved being out in the open and watching the steam engine in action.

We then took Bulgy the old-fashioned double decker bus back to Haverthwaite to check out the rest of the activities on offer and of course to see the main man himself.

wpid-img_20150512_215925.jpgA storytelling  session was just beginning as we arrived, with the Fat Controller and the engines acting out a short story. Honestly, the children were captivated and hooked on the Fat Controller’s every word. There was lots of interaction, with the children invited to come and collect coal in their buckets to power the engine.

 

 

wpid-img_20150321_215559.jpgOnce it was finished the crowds spread out and we were just able to wander about amongst the engines and clamber on them for the compulsory pictures.

 

 

 

 

wpid-img_20150321_215849.jpgI thought it might be a bit of a struggle to get a picture with Thomas himself, but while busy, the atmosphere was all so relaxed that everyone just took their turn and there was not much waiting around for anything.

 

 

 

wpid-img_20150321_201648.jpgAs well as getting his picture taken with the Fat Controller, a highlight for my dad was climbing aboard Thomas and tooting his horn. The schoolboy grin on his face was fantastic.

 

 

 

wpid-img_20150512_215657.jpgThe setting of Haverthwaite station itself is lovely and you really do feel like you are stepping back in time. We were lucky to have a beautiful warm, sunny day and we crossed over the railway bridge to have a picnic by the line, watching the bustling station and waving as the trains went past.

 

 

wpid-img_20150512_215902.jpgAfter lunch we headed to the events tent where there was a Punch & Judy show, a miniature railway ride, a few arts and craft and birds of prey experience. The girls both loved holding the owls and stroking their super soft feathers.

 

 

Another storytelling session was just starting so my children tore off to get front row viewing spots. This time it was even better and brilliantly interactive, getting all the parents and children to try and pull one of the engines. Great fun.

wpid-img_20150321_201224.jpgFinally, after another quick visit to Thomas and a crazy mum pic with a friend who had also travelled over from the North East with her to children (well kids can’t have all the fun can they?) it was time to head home.Sometimes after I’ve spent a long time at a children’s event I admit I can feel a bit worn out by the noise, the battle with queues, the commercialisation, even the lack of places to eat a free picnic. But there was none of that here. Everything, apart from the hot chocolate and if you wanted to buy a memento from the gift shop, was included in the price, and as I mentioned earlier, although it was busy, it didn’t feel crowded.

So a big thanks to Haverthwaite & Lakeside Railway and Day Out with Thomas. This family had a truly lovely day and took home lots of special memories.

While Thomas may only visit a few times a year, there’s lots of fun to be had on the line all year round.  The initial train ride to Lakeside runs throughout the year and in itself would have been an enjoyable day out for the children, as the excitement of steam trains just seems to fascinate them.

The heritage railway has an intriguing history for trains buffs too and fulfils its promise of recreating a “distant memory of bygone years”.

The train journey can also connect to a steamer cruise along Windermere if you want to extend it to a longer day trip.

Combined tickets, including a visit to the aquarium,  are available.

To find out more visit http://www.lakesiderailway.co.uk/

Thomas will be back at Lakeside & Haverthwaite on November 7th & 8th 2015. To book tickets or find out about other places he will be visiting see:

http://www.dayoutwiththomas.co.uk/

 

 

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