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What we did on our holidays

8 Jun

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Do you remember Victoria Wood’s Val de Ree (Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha) with the estimable Celia Imrie?  It’s a while since I’ve seen it, but as I remember, Victoria and Celia hike for the best part of a day across moors to reach their bed for the night in an windswept and inaccessible Youth Hostel.  When they arrive, their greeting could be warmer.  They’re told that they’re not allowed in until evening, despite the driving rain, and they spend some time trying to outwit the formidable manager by sneaking round the back.  When they finally make it inside, they’re forced to listen to an interminable evening lecture whilst eating one, only one, biscuit, then they’re kicked out again at the crack of dawn.  It’s an experience they wish never to repeat.

I’m happy to report that if Youth Hostels were ever like that, and I suspect that Victoria Wood was using a little artistic license,  times have mercifully changed.  You can stay inside all day, should you wish, eat as many biscuits as you like and compulsory evening lectures are thankfully absent.

What you do get is a clean, well-appointed, en-suite family room, a large self-catering kitchen with everything you’d need, a common room with TV, books and board games, a small shop selling food and drinks, and real coffee for breakfast.  The staff are cheerful, helpful, and a mine of information about the local area.  Did I mention the real coffee?

When were offered the chance to review a Hostel over half term, we asked if we could stay in one that was by the seaside, close to London and accessible by public transport.  The nice people at YHA suggested their Eastbourne Hostel, which fitted the bill on all three counts, including the public transport, which isn’t always the case outside of London.  The Hostel is on the edge of the town, a short bus ride from the beach and pier, right next to the footpath for the South Downs Way, and a shortish – depending on the length of your legs – walk to Beachy Head.

We ate proper fish and chips in cafe with formica tables and straws for drinks; sheltered from the weather on the pier, feeding two pence pieces into slot machines and coming away at least a pound poorer; found interesting shells and paddled on the blustery beach; got thoroughly muddy sliding down a bank, in the late evening sun on the footpath just behind the hostel; looked at Jubilee related art and made up words in the fab Towner Art Gallery; played new-to-us boardgames and discovered that Steve’s knowledge of boy bands is more extensive than any of us thought; and kept our spirits up on the slightly damp and extremely blowy walk to Beachy Head with large quantities of very sticky rock and a rousing rendition of Val de Ree.

I like to think that Victoria Wood would approve.


If you’d like to stay in a YHA property during the summer holidays, click on the link below for a SPECIAL OFFER: £99 family rooms for 3 nights during the whole school holidays! Bookable until 12th June for stays from 7th July – 12th September.  OFFER CODE: FAMSTAY-027.  WEBSITE LINK:

We stayed for free for two nights at the Eastbourne YHA Hostel, where the manager makes very good coffee.  All views expressed are my own.


18 Aug

It’s not that cold, I promise, he says, come with me.  OK, I will.  I get changed, grab a towel and slither down the steep shingle beach to the water’s edge.  I slip off my shoes and pick my way carefully over the smooth, hard pebbles, the soft soles of my feet complaining and the damp sand squelching between my toes.

The foamy little waves at the water’s edge wash over my feet.  He’s wrong.  It is cold, not arctic, but still cold.  But I’m here now, the sun is hot on my back, and he takes my hand.  Together we wade deeper, slipping on the pebbles and shivering as the water reaches our first our knees and then our thighs.

You know the best thing to do, don’t you, he says as he ducks down and starts swimming towards the horizon.  But I can’t bring myself to swim.  Not just yet.  I let the waves wash over my legs, gasping as they creep ever higher, splashing on warm, dry skin.

He’s bobbing about in the swell a few metres in front of me.  Come on, it’s better once you start swimming, come with me.  I take a deep, ozoney breath and wade into the chilly water, until it reaches my shoulders.  He’s right, it’s not so bad once you get in.  The bottom is pebble free now, a mix of sand and the soft, velvety clay that oozes between your toes and makes the water murky.

I swim a little way out and find a warmer patch, where I stop, with the tips of my toes just touching the bottom.  All around me are lengths of floating, brown, seaweed.  I catch some and pop the rubbery bubbles.  The water isn’t gaspingly cold, it isn’t even goosebumpy cold.  It’s just cold enought to make my skin tingle and wake me up.  I understand why people do this every day.  Why it’s addictive.  The sun is dazzling, scattering the water with sparkly diamonds. The sky is a vivid, clear, blue.  The roar of the water and screech of soaring seagulls are the only sounds.

The children are otherwise entertained and we are the only swimmers.  The only people.  We tread water in companionable silence, jumping up as waves hit our backs.  For a few perfect moments, we could be alone in the world.  He turns to me and says, the next time we do this, we’ll be in Hawaii.


This post was written for the fab writing workshop at Sleep is for the Weak.  The prompt I chose this week is ‘Lucky‘.

26 Crabs

10 Mar


One beautiful sunny day in Walberswick, we caught 26 crabs.  If you want to know how to catch a crab, look here.  It’s fun.

This picture is part of today’s Photo Gallery at Sticky Fingers, which has a number theme.

The dinosaur hunters

19 Feb

The dinosaur hunters scramble over the waves of smooth iron-red sandstone to reach a higher vantage point.  They had been searching for the red-coated Eviesaurus for many days and were getting desperate.  They’d been wading through slimy swamps, treking through the wintery forest and fighting thickets of pricky gorse, releasing wafts of coconut scent into the air.

They are now weak with hunger so they stop by a still, inky pool to share the last of their meagre supplies.  Suddenly, a high-pitched shriek pierces the air and the hunters are running in the direction of the cry, spotting a glimpse of red coat through the braken and heather.  Will they catch her? Will they make it off the mountain alive?

Once upon a time, dinosaurs roamed Thurstaston Common…

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. For lovely travel pictures, click here

We love museums

17 Feb

What makes a museum good for children?  I don’t buy the argument that they can only be entertained by high tech flashing lights, pressing buttons and touch sensitive computer screens.  I think the very best museums engage and entertain children in the most imaginative of ways.

We’ve been deafened by explosions, created artistic masterpieces, become Saxon householders, been eaten by a Venus fly trap,  joined a band of revolting peasants, met the young Queen Victoria, peered down microscopes, danced with Chinese Dragons, camouflaged ourselves and sung carols around a blazing bonfire.

Museums are wonderful places for families and we are lucky that so many are free.  But what of museums that charge?  Does their family ticket suit your family? Does your local museum ticket admit 2+2, while you are a single parent with three children?  Kids in Museums is asking for your help.  They are gathering information about how family tickets suit real families, because families come in all shapes and sizes.  Let them know by filling in their simple form or by leaving a comment on this post, which I shall pass on.  Thank you.

Does your local museum ticket admit 2+2, while you are a single parent with three children?

All was quiet in the deep dark wood…

18 Jan

The approach to Black Down is deeply snowy, piled four feet deep in places.  Dusk is already falling as we climb up the path into the woods, slipping a little on the ice and piles of slimy leaves.   The children run on ahead with the exuberance of puppies, delighted to be released from the confines of the car into the frosty air.

The tall pine trees shelter us from a cold wind and the ground is squelchy underfoot.  Ponds are still covered in ice, which the children jump on, splashing freezing water into their wellies.  Huge branches litter the ground, casualties of the heavy snow.  The sun is setting across the wintry valley, silhouetting trees and bathing the children’s faces in a beautiful warm light which belies the air temperature.

It is easy to feel depressed during English winters.  It is dark when you wake up, often grey for much of the day, then dark again at about 4pm.  Getting three children dressed for the cold and the rain is a tiresome chore.  But a walk on a winter afternoon is worth the effort.

The woods are magical as darkness is falling.  Anything could happen…

5 highlights of 2009

8 Jan

The lovely Kelly at A Place of My Own has tagged me, asking me to write about my 5 highlights of last year.

2009 was a good year in our family.  No huge revelations or major excitements, but it felt like we finally made it out of the long dark baby tunnel into a new and exciting world of pre-schoolers and school age children.  We got out and about, we ventured abroad, and we washed a lot of pants.  So, without further ado, my first hightlight is…

Getting enough sleep

Many years ago I was a nanny for a brief period, including caring for a newborn baby boy.  He was a ‘good’ baby, who drank his bottles when he was supposed to, slept well and rarely cried.  It was a piece of cake.  So I thought I knew what I was doing when Eve came along.  After about 10 minutes, it became abundantly clear that I was as clueless as every other new mother.  Add in a few sleepless nights and I realised that I had been deeply deluded about caring for newborns.  Nothing, but nothing, is a piece of cake when you don’t get your full eight hours.  I kept thinking, ‘if I could just get four hours, five hours, six hours without being woken, I’ll feel better’.  It took me many months to accept that I would never sleep in the same way again and for the six years that I had newborns, teethers, growth spurters and early wakers I stumbled through the days in a fog of scratchy eyes and memory loss.  2009 was different.  Gradually, without my noticing, all my children started to regularly sleep through the night and regularly wake at about 7am.  I feel different, in a good way.

Starting  a blog

After two years of reading other people’s travel blogs, I finally took the plunge in February last year.  I have enjoyed it more than I could have ever predicted.  It has become an almost daily pleasure, writing, tinkering, thinking about my blog.  It’s re-ignited an old love of words and I hope that one day I can do something more with it.

Our first camping trip

I am a fair weather camper.  I really, really don’t like being cold or wet and I’m not too good at sleeping on the ground.  As we have not been anywhere warm, like Australia, in the last 8 years, the children have never been camping.  Until this summer, when we spent a gorgeous, but perishingly cold night in a field in North Yorkshire.  We splashed in the stream, built a huge, smoky, eye-stinging campfire, toasted marshmallows and told ghost stories.  I hope we can recreate the experience on our trip, but with warmer weather and hammocks.


Last summer we had the most yodellingly fantastic holiday in Switzerland, a country I have always suspected might be right up my street.  Every cliched view I had previously held was blissfully right and we spent two weeks enjoying a soundtrack of clanking cow bells whilst hiking through flower-filled meadows, marvelling at the efficiency of their trains, swimming in lakes with picture postcard backdrops and eating a Matterhorn of cheese and chocolate.  For a rash of posts and some gorgeous photos (if I do say so myself) click on Switzerland in the category cloud on the right.

Catching crabs

2009 was the year I learnt how to catch a crab.  Goodness knows how I’ve survived so long without this knowledge, but I now feel confident in any crab catching situation.  It was a lot of fun.