Category Archives: holidays

An eco holiday at Owl Barn Retreat

In line with trying to become more eco-focussed this year, we decided that we wanted our holiday to follow the same principles, so we chose to stay at Owl Barn Retreat. This is a delightful barn conversion in a rural location about a mile from the village of Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant in Wales. It is a sustainable and eco-friendly holiday cottage which has achieved a gold award from the Green Business Tourist Scheme. This was how we discovered the cottage. I’m particularly impressed with the kitchen work surfaces having been constructed from recycled glass bottles.

Owl Barn Retreat

Owl Barn Retreat

From here, we were able to do several walks to the nearby villages of Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant and Penybontfawr, plus most magnificent of all, a longer walk from the cottage all the way to Pistyll Rhaeadr, the tallest waterfall in Wales which is in a remote area of the Berwyn Mountains. And of course we had to take a trip to CAT, the Centre for Alternative Technology, my third time there. We also enjoyed a walk from Lake Vyrnwy to a nearby smaller waterfall.

Pistyll Rhaeadr

Centre for Alternative Technology

Penybontfawr

Stepping Stones near Lake Vyrnwy

We were provided with Faith in Nature toiletries and Ecover, Ecoleaf and Method cleaning products, along with a tasty welcome pack of local food. We continued to try to buy locally with produce from the village butcher, Oswestry market, Llynclys Hall farm shop, plus Honeysuckle whole foods shop in Oswestry and Down to Earth in Llanfyllin. Zero trips to the supermarket on this holiday.

Recycling and composting are key at the cottage with separate clearly labelled bins for each type of recycling. I’m already aware how recycling varies from county to county. Here in Powys, there appears to be no recycling of tetra packs or metal jar lids. We did consider the possibility of bringing those back home but decided there probably wasn’t space in the car. But we did head home with an eco brick half filled.

butterfly

Owl Barn Retreat

And I loved relaxing in the wildlife garden watching the butterflies and listening to the birds. We’ve also seen rabbits, squirrels and a fox. Son2 has enjoyed using the telescope when it has been less cloudy and has spotted Arcturus. He also loved playing in the maze, which is another great area for wildlife with all the long grass and bracken.

Owl Barn Retreat

It was a great feeling to be on the same wavelength as the owners. Anne phoned me a few days in advance of our holiday and told me things like there being a fishmonger at Oswestry market on Wednesdays. Just like I do here at home, Anne takes her own boxes to the butcher and fishmonger to avoid plastic. She was quite happy to leave me a supply of boxes to use, so we didn’t have to pack those.

We loved it so much at Owl Barn Retreat, that we have already booked two future stays there.

I’d love to hear your eco friendly holiday suggestions and tips please.

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Our House swap to the Pyrénées

Regular readers may remember when I told you about the benefits of house swap holidays. Well I am delighted to tell you that we had an excellent house swap to France this summer and have now scheduled another to Germany, both arranged via HomeExchange.com. Let me tell you a bit more about our experiences with this website and our French holiday.

The website is simple to use. You set up your profile with a description and photos of your home, making sure to include all the basics like how many bedrooms and whether pets are welcome or not. You may optionally list specific dates that you are interested in a house swap and whether your car is available for use or not.

Then you can either browse around the 65,000 listings or sit back and wait for others to contact you. We didn’t have a specific destination in mind initially, so we opted for the latter method. The first couple of replies were nice houses in Spain and Italy, but both families wanted to travel 2 weeks prior to us. And of course, my dates aren’t very flexible, as I need to fit it around my shift pattern. But we hit the jackpot with the third reply and it was still less than a month since we registered with the website. A lovely house in France on the edge of the Pyrénées. Whilst we were finalising the details with the other family, I had a bunch of other enquiries that I had to turn down. All we had to organise were our flights and car hire.

Pyrenees holiday

Roll on a few months to the summer and it was holiday time. I made sure our home was clean and tidy. We flew to Lourdes, where we may have unknowingly passed our host family in transit. When we arrived, a tasty welcome meal was waiting for us. Most appreciated. We looked after our host family’s cat, who I’m sure was totally confused by the change of people.

Pyrenees holiday

We packed plenty of sightseeing and fun activities into our holiday. We visited the nearby towns of Pau, Lourdes, Nay, Tarbes and Bagnères-de-Bigorre. We did karting, crazy golf (2 courses), swimming (3 places) and caving. And son2 celebrated a birthday there.

Here are a few of our holiday photos.

Pyrenees holiday - karting

Pyrenees holiday - crazy golf

Pyrenees holiday - crazy golf

Pyrenees holiday - caving

Pyrenees holiday

Pyrenees holiday - water park

Pyrenees holiday

Pyrenees holiday

Pyrenees holiday - Chateau de Pau

A fab time and now we’re looking forward to doing it all again in Germany. I’d love to hear about your favourite holidays.

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Disclosure.  I have not received anything for this post.  All opinions are my own.

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Home Exchange including giveaway worth £100

So what do you usually do for holidays? Hands up who has ever tried a house swap. Here’s son1 outside one of the lovely homes we swapped to.

House swap

We had a couple of fantastic holidays via this method four years ago before son1 was diagnosed with leukaemia. He has now just finished chemotherapy last month, and hopefully by next year, will have completed other associated medical interventions. So I have my fingers crossed that we may be able to arrange a similar type holiday again next summer. We didn’t feel we could do one whilst he was on chemo, as if he ended up in hospital, it wouldn’t have just been our holiday at risk of cancellation, but potentially another family’s too which just wouldn’t be fair.

Therefore it felt a very good omen when HomeExchange.com contacted me offering a year’s free membership. And an even better bonus when they kindly suggested deferring the membership to next year.

HomeExchange.com is a global community of 65,000 like-minded people around the world across 150 countries. Members’ homes come in all shapes and sizes, from cosy apartments to sprawling estates and everything in between.

It means that other than the cost of getting there, a holiday anywhere in the world doesn’t have to cost anymore than staying at home, and the benefits of exchanging with a family are numerous.

It’s incredibly fun and cheap and means you can go anywhere, live like a local, and stay for free. Over half of the homes on HomeExchange.com are also family friendly, so there’s plenty to choose from and nearly 90% say they will accept children. Plus plenty of the listings have baby items available too.

Let me share 10 of the top benefits for families we discovered when we did house swaps.

PACKING IS EASIER as there will be linen, lots of toys and equipment waiting for you, so you don’t have to take it all with you.

AVOID LAST MINUTE WORRIES as everything is in one place and ready for you; the same as when you visit the grandparents.

ENJOY YOUR HOLIDAY and stay for free knowing you can keep to your family’s usual routine, just the same as if you were at home.

SLEEP WELL AND RELAX without the concerns of staying in a hotel where your loud and boisterous children may annoy other guests.

GET MORE SPACE as children and parents have their own rooms; no more stays in a cramped hotel room.

AVOID TIME PRESSURES as there’s no need to rush downstairs to catch the hotel breakfast.

HAVE A WELL-DESERVED BREAK and enjoy meeting new friends by venturing beyond your neighbourhood, your exchange partner may even introduce you to their own friends with kids.

SHOP AHEAD by organising an online grocery shop to be delivered on arrival.

GET INSIDER TIPS from your exchange partner on the best child friendly activities and venues.

PEACE OF MIND knowing your own home should be more secure since it is occupied whilst you are away.

home exchange.com

And I’m hosting a rafflecopter competition to giveaway a year’s membership to HomeExchange.com worth £100 for free holidays to 1 lucky winner. Open worldwide.

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a Rafflecopter giveaway – Please click on the link to enter.

And you may see my other giveaways here.

I’d love to hear about your ideal holiday.

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Disclosure. This post mentions a membership I will receive for free next year. All opinions are my own.

Teddy Bear Passports

Now everyone knows how special the bond is between a child and their favourite cuddly toy, who will always accompany them on holiday. So I was interested to hear about the new Teddy Bear Passport App. This app was inspired when an airport passport officer asked the developer’s daughter if she had a passport for her teddy bear that he could stamp (which she didn’t at the time).

Teddy Bear Passport
Son2 is loving this app that he is trying out for free. It creates a personalised teddy identity page with passport information based on info that you provide such as name of teddy, date of birth and country of birth, plus a unique passport number. Then wherever you go with teddy, you just tap the screen to get the passport stamped with location and date. We did find that even if you’re outdoors with no GPS or wifi, you can still get a stamp, but it will say none for the location.
Teddy Bear Passport

A stamp for Derby Day.

But there is one big limitation with this app currently. You can only create a passport for one cuddly toy. Once son2 had tried it out for his favourite teddy, he wanted to create passports for lots more of his bears. And poor old son1 was very disappointed to not be able to get a passport at all. In response, Jan-Erik, the developer has said that it will be rather complicated to create functionality for selecting multiple teddies within the app. That is, at least till he sees the app selling a few more copies and then can justify further efforts on the app.

Also a warning for those of you who are as silly as me. You need to hold your phone horizontally for this app to work.

This app from E-creation is currently priced at a very reasonable £1.49 and in my opinion is great for households with just one child. But unless the functionality is enhanced to encompass multiple teddies or you possess sufficient compatible devices to install it on, enough for one per child, then it might possibly cause arguments between siblings. The only other potential workaround that I can think of is a group photo of all teddies, so they share one passport.

You can download this app via iTunes here. It requires iOS 9.3 or later and is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

Teddy Bear Passport

Teddy Bear Passport

And I’m hosting a rafflecopter competition to giveaway a copy of the Teddy Bear Passport app to 2 lucky winners. Open worldwide.

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a Rafflecopter giveaway – Please click on the link to enter.

And you may see my other giveaways here.

I’d love to hear where your own bear or your child’s bear has travelled.

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Family Fever

Disclosure. This post includes a review of an app I tried for free. All opinions are my own.

A magical fairy garden walk

This post has been pending since when we were on holiday last summer. We stayed on a static caravan site in Devon and when we went for a woodland walk on the site, we discovered something rather magical and unexpected. The boys were not interested but I loved these miniature fairy doors at the bottom of tall trees.

fairy doors

It was a trail. Here is one of the signs. I love how it asks are you a fairy or elf.

The Council of Five

There were lots of things to discover hanging in the trees too, but unfortunately they didn’t show up on the photos I took, but look at the fabulous toadstools. Not quite enough for a full fairy ring though.

Toadstools

So what have you discovered on a walk that you weren’t expecting?

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(originally linked up with Mammasaurus HDYGG, which is no longer active)

A visit to Corfe Castle Model Village

Son2 and I took a fairly brief visit to Corfe Castle Model Village on our recent weekend in Dorset. We would have liked to have spent longer there, but I was conscious of the fact that my other half and son1 were waiting for us. We liked it there and I’m sure son1 would have enjoyed it too, but he was far too tired to come on the visit. Having visited Bekonscot Model Village earlier this year, this was on a much smaller scale, but just as nice. Also a much more modest entry price, plus we were told that our tickets were valid for 7 days if we wished to come back. Corfe Castle model village The garden was divided into several areas. Naturally there were the models of Corfe Castle and the other buildings in the village. These were in the second part of the garden and son2 marched puposefully through the first section of the garden unti we reached this part. He immediately spotted that there was even Doctor Who’s Tardis at the Castle. There were two talking life-size soldiers guarding the castle. Plus working stocks and pillories. We didn’t try them out, as son2 had already been put in the stocks the previous day at the real castle. And we could hear music from the church. Corfe Castle model village We then carried on to the rear which was a wildlife garden with a pond and teepee and a bird hide window. Plenty of giant garden games here although we didn’t stop for a play. Then moving onto the side was the enchanted fairy garden. Son2 wasn’t as impressed here, moving swiftly past the fairies. Even Winnie the Pooh was here. Corfe Castle model village We then returned to the first part of the garden where there were more giant garden games. Whilst son2 built a tower, I went into the potting shed. This had been converted into a mini museum. I learnt that all the models apart from the castle had been built in the potting shed. The castle was built in situ on the mound. Corfe Castle model village There was also a cafe and gift-shop. And we had the place almost to ourselves, apart from one family sitting in the garden and a group breakfasting on the cafe terrace. A lovely place to visit if you’re in Dorset. I’d love to hear about your favourite places to visit. And watch out for another post coming soon about the rest of our weekend.

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(originally linked up with Mammasaurus HDYGG, which is no longer active)

A Visit to Bateman’s – Rudyard Kipling’s home

We spent our October half term holiday in a static caravan in Sussex. Apart from one day, the weather was fantastic, so we got out for plenty of trips. One day we visited Bateman’s, the former home of Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, now owned by The National Trust.

The gardens were full of beautiful Autumn colour and the boys enjoyed taking part in the spooky Halloween trail. My best bit of Autumn is going for lovely Autumnal walks and seeing the trees in their colourful Autumn glory. Even the flowers were still colourful to add to my pleasure, as captured in my photograph.

Bateman's

Beautiful Autumn colours

The spooky trail was well thought out. When you found each clue, there were different challenges for older and younger children as to what to draw on their spooky picture. So son1 did the older version whilst son2 did the younger version. And great for learning map reading skills too. They both got a medal at the end of the trail.Bateman's

We also did a whistlestop tour round the inside of the house and mill. Had to be quick as son1 refused to go inside.  No I don’t know why he wouldn’t. And the weather was glorious – end of October and we were able to sit outside the tearoom for lunch. A nice browse round the shop too and I couldn’t resist buying some cheap pear windfalls, which I stewed for dessert that evening. A very basic pudding but tasty as I hadn’t bothered equipping the caravan kitchen with anything like flour. Pear trees weren’t the only crop as I spotted some chillis in a greenhouse.

And I loved how each bench outside had a pocket at each end containing a different laminated fact sheet. From one I rediscovered a poem of Kipling’s that I probably hadn’t heard since I was a child and read it to my boys. This was “I keep six honest serving men”and you may read it here.

I would love to hear what is your best bit of Autumn?

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(originally linked up with Mammasaurus HDYGG, which is no longer active)

What’s in my Suitcase?

The Bloggers’ Lounge are running a competition with European breakdown cover specialists Eurobreakdown.com for bloggers to tell about the items we couldn’t go on a trip without.

I would not be happy if I forgot to pack something I really wanted. So a few years ago I created a holiday check list spreadsheet encompassing packing and pre-holiday action list. It has gradually improved as I use the previous holiday’s packing list as the starting point for the next holiday. Rather than delete anything, I hide the rows that are irrelevant. For instance our most recent holiday was to Norfolk last month. So we didn’t need our passports, winter gloves and scarf or a french phrase book. Likewise, I clear out numbers of items and start afresh filling them in again as you obviously need a lot more for a fortnight away than an overnight trip. Then there is a column per family member and a general column. I colour code the spreadsheet as I pack, so it is easy to see what is still outstanding and I can prioritise other actions, like what needs to be washed or ironed first in order to be packed.

suitcase

A quick peek in my suitcase

suitcase

Son1 sits on the case, to keep it closed whilst I zip it up

So some of the essentials on my packing list besides the obvious clothes are the boys’ favourite cuddly toys for bedtime, son1’s medicines and medical notes, chargers, anti-bacterial surface wipes and ginger biscuits. Why ginger biscuits in particular? Not only are they a tasty snack if you get stuck in a traffic jam, but ginger is renowned for anti-sickness properties and son1 is prone to travel sickness.

And I’ve added a new item to my packing list for the next self-catering holiday. A pair of oven gloves! There weren’t any in the cottage we stayed in and we ended up binning a pizza as it fell on the floor, due to getting burnt whilst trying to get it out of the oven. Not to mention the mess that had to be cleared up.

Disclosure. I’m entering this post to the The Bloggers’ Lounge competition.

Our Norfolk holiday

UKbreakaways have challenged bloggers to share their passion for the UK destination of their choice. I was already planning to tell you about our great holiday in Norfolk. And I’ve also included a couple of my holiday tips as holiday autos have asked bloggers to share their holiday hacks.

Son1 has been remarkably well during the maintenance phase of his chemotherapy, so we felt confident enough to book a holiday in advance rather than leaving it to the last minute. We booked a cottage in Norfolk, an area of the country I have not visited before in memory. Although my mum told me I had been to Cromer aged 3.

We stayed in Snettisham in the north of Norfolk and from there visited nearby places and attractions including Hunstanton, Sandringham, Kings Lynn and Wells-next-the-Sea. Our favourite beach was at Holme, sandy rather than stony. Being more remote, it was quieter than most. We discovered that beach by following a previous guest’s recommendation in the visitor’s book at our cottage. One of my top travel tips is to research your holiday locality by checking out the leaflets at the tourist information and I always read visitors books for ideas.

tourist leaflets

Fun on Holme beach

Fun on Holme beach

We were staying within walking distance of Snettisham Nature Reserve. It was lovely wandering round the lake, seeing the geese and wild plants. Although the anglers and bird watchers may have preferred it without our two loud boys’ presence. And the boys enjoyed having a few early blackberries as we walked.

Snettisham Nature Reserve

Snettisham Nature Reserve

Our favourite attraction in Kings Lynn was Lynn Museum. There was lots to occupy the boys giving us time to properly read about the exhibits. I found it fascinating to find out all about Seahenge there.

Horse ride at Lynn Museum

Horse ride at Lynn Museum

At Wells-next-the-Sea we walked from the town to the beach. And afterwards whilst I walked back, the boys loved riding back on the miniature railway. They also enjoyed eating pancakes on board an old sailing boat, The Albatros which has been converted into a restaurant.

Harbour Railway, Wells-Next-The-Sea

Harbour Railway, Wells-Next-The-Sea

Our cottage was small and cosy, but well equipped with plenty of games and toys to entertain the boys, and lots of books for me. We didn’t know that in advance, so I had followed my other usual travel tip of packing small things like balloons, bubbles, beach balls, colouring for the boys. There was no WiFi at the cottage, so it was great to spend less time online.

The boys had great fun on the beaches, paddling, building sandcastles and collecting shells. And when we got torrential rain, there were indoor play areas, museum, ten pin bowling, swimming pool and arcades.

Son1 was overjoyed to win a toy at kids Bingo at one of the nearby caravan sites.

And it was a delight to see the ducks and chickens wandering round outside from the small-holding behind the cottage. There were even alpacas.

I’ve written a separate blog post on the wonderful lavender farm at Heacham also encompassing Farmer Fred’s Play Barn, a favourite of the boys. I also intend to blog about our lovely day at Sandringham , so watch out for that.

Norfolk fun

Norfolk was wonderful. I certainly want to go again. Where do you love visiting most in the UK?

Disclosure. I’m entering this post to the Ukbreakaways travel competition and to the holiday autos travel hack competition.

Norfolk Lavender

On our recent holiday to Norfolk, we visited Norfolk Lavender in Heacham. I love lavender but I was amazed to discover that there are over 100 different varieties of lavender. It was glorious wandering around the lavender, herbs and gardens. Unfortunately I missed the guided tour of how the lavender distillery operates. The boys had fun too at Farmer Fred’s Play Barn which was on the same site.

norfolk lavender

norfolk lavender

Norfolk lavender

I tried a lavender ice-cream there and bought a lavender cake and other tasty goodies from the farm shop to take home. I also bought some lavender syrup for my mum from the gift shop.

Lady's Mantle

It was really interesting to read about each herb. I loved the fact about Lady’s Mantle that in the 18th century, women applied the leaves to their breasts to make them recover their shape after breast feeding.

I’d love to hear any other unusual herb facts.

lavender distillery

The lavender distillery

Norfolk lavender

A couple of unusual items for sale

Norfolk lavender

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(originally linked up with Mammasaurus HDYGG, which is no longer active)