Holiday Review: Center Parcs Longleat Forest

CentreParcs sign

Center Parcs have long been one of my family’s go to destinations for active holidays. Although in the past we have stayed at the Sherwood Forest (Nottinghamshire) and Whinfell Forest (Cumbria) sites, Longleat Forest (Wiltshire) remains our favourite. Not only do we enjoy its layout and facilities, the location is a 45 minute drive from home meaning we can gain full value from each day of our stay there.

Last week we returned for our first family holiday since Covid restrictions were introduced. Friends who have holidayed under this regime had warned us of the changes and we had delayed booking in the hope they would be removed. Sadly, it seems these have now become a permanent feature. The main change is the need to book a limited time slot (3 hours) in order to access the swimming area before 6pm. Each lodge is offered a fixed number of these – our midweek break granted us 4 over the course of our 5 day stay. The effect is to somewhat regiment daily activities.

Our friend had also recommended pre-booking any restaurants we wished to eat at well in advance. This proved good advice. Due to staff shortages not all venues could open each evening. Those that could were running on reduced capacity.

With swimming slots and dinner tables booked we travelled to Longleat Forest with some trepidation that it would be a good use of valued annual leave.

Husband and younger son drove down in the morning as they were eager to enjoy some racquet sports before our planned late lunch together at the Sports Bar. Daughter and I joined them for this meal, arriving later as she had just come off a series of night shifts. We arrived at peak time (2.30pm) and crawled along in a queue to enter the site that backed up along the entrance driveway almost to the highway. Husband reported he had been able to drive in with no delay (11am).

Once through check-in, parking was busy but straightforward. The rubber bracelets we were each given on arrival granted entry to the lodge we stayed in and also enabled us to secure a locker in the pool area.

CenterParcs sports bar lunch

Food and drinks at the Sports Bar (and, as it turned out, the Pancake House) were ordered via a phone app. This worked well, although may prove daunting for a guest less confident with such technology. We enjoyed our lunch, eaten in the sunshine at an outside table. The weather throughout our stay was amazing – warm sunshine each day with only a light breeze.

Accommodation may be accessed from 4pm on arrival day. We had booked a Woodland Lodge in the Fir area of the site – the cheapest available. Being allocated one that backed onto a pond brightened my mornings due to the wildlife it attracted. Despite the peace and quiet, I didn’t sleep well as the bed was smaller and softer than I am used to and the bedding was so starched it crackled. Everything provided was clean if basic. Towels are provided for use in the lodge but no other toiletries other than loo paper. Only the later lodge access time had changed since we last visited so all was as expected.

Having unpacked and returned the car to the parking area we went for our first swimming session. As it was now after 6pm there had been no need to book this, thereby saving our allocated slots for subsequent days. The slides, rapids and waves were enjoyed as much as ever and we stayed until closing time (9pm).

I started Day 2 with a morning run that proved challenging due to the many hills on site and the crowded walkways linking various areas. It was lovely to run around the main lake but I then chose to head towards the car park and main driveways to avoid the many bicycles and buggy pushers on narrower pathways. I managed 5 miles of loops, exploring the site thoroughly, before re-joining my family.

CenterParcs pedalo

With the sunny weather we decided to spend some time before our daily swimming slot on the lake. We hired a pedalo in which husband and younger son had fun trying to go faster than the electric versions most people seemed to have selected. Tired from such exertions we returned to the Sports Bar for liquid refreshment.

Swimming slots had been booked each day for mid afternoon, enabling us to continue into the ‘free’ evening session and then go straight to dinner, shortly after 7pm. Apparently earlier sessions are time controlled using coloured bracelets. We were not required to wear these.

Over the course of the week we ate at Los Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge, enjoying decent food and good service at each. Elder son, who had opted not to join us for the holiday due to a shoulder injury and busy work schedule, made a late decision to come down for dinner one evening – another benefit of being a reasonably short drive away. He was added to our table reservation without complaint. Both he and daughter’s boyfriend were on our original 3 bedroom lodge booking so could come and go at will.

Mobile signal across the site is patchy so communicating with the outside world caused some issues. Guest WiFi is available in most areas so those willing to use messenger services such as WhatsApp can do so more easily.

The earlier part of Days 3 and 5 were spent at the sports complex where we played badminton, squash and table tennis. We bring our own equipment for these activities but racquets, balls and shuttlecocks can be collected on site if necessary. On Day 4 we had great fun doing a round of crazy golf by the lake followed by another visit to the Sports Bar. In between these activities we walked around the site or relaxed at our lodge. The days felt full but never too busy. Taking a midweek break out of school holiday time meant many of the other families were dealing with young children.

We had no problem booking everything we did – bar the swimming and dinner – at the last minute via the phone app. This flexibility meant we could do what we felt like each day without too much time pressure. The app itself is somewhat slow and clunky but useable. Husband preferred this system to that offered on previous visits.

There are, of course, many activities available that we did not take part in. The zip wire over the lake appeared popular. Groups of Segway riders were spotted on walkways. Paddle boarders were being given instruction on the lake. In the past my children have enjoyed taking part in tree trekking and other high level adventures. They have tried archery and quad biking. The indoor climbing wall has been well used. Younger visitors are also well catered for with numerous play areas, outside and in. It is not a cheap holiday by any means but can be highly enjoyable for those willing to make use of the offered facilities.

Day 5 was departure day so the lodge needed to be cleared by 10am. Having stayed at Center Parcs many times before we have this down to a fine art and were out and ready for the day’s activities from 9.30am. After a morning of racquet sports we had booked lunch at the Pancake House – always a treat.

Our final swim session was curtailed at around 6pm when the indoor pool and slides were closed unexpectedly – we were not sure if this was due to the regularly used excuses of a child soiling the water or staff shortages. It did not spoil what had turned out to be a lovely stay. We headed home tired but in agreement that Center Parcs was still worth visiting despite the new restrictions.

Hotel Review: Talland Bay Hotel, Cornwall

Talland Bay sign

At the end of last month husband and I travelled to Cornwall to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We stayed for three nights at Talland Bay Hotel on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis. The hotel is situated above the titular bay and offers uninterrupted views of the nearby coastline. At the time of booking all sea view bedrooms were already taken so we were allocated one with a country view. This looked out over the carpark and access lane but was still lovely – spacious, clean, an interesting decor, and with pleasing extras such as a variety of loose leaf teas and freshly baked cookies that were replenished daily.

The hotel has recently been refurbished and we appreciated its many fresh and quirky features. It is proudly dog friendly and several guests had brought their canine friends. All were as well behaved as the ones we encountered in our bedroom and the various public areas.

One of the reasons we chose this hotel was for the food, which has won several prestigious accolades. We were not disappointed, dinner each evening proving a highlight of the day. It was also pleasing to find that, wherever possible, both food and drink are sourced locally.

Our short break was booked direct with the hotel and the package included some generous extras. On the first evening we enjoyed a complementary gin, distilled just down the road and using ingredients grown in the hotel gardens. We also ordered wine from a local vineyard. Both were so much enjoyed we had them again the following evening.

The hotel gardens look out over the bay and also contain many singular installations. The weather was not warm enough to sit outside but we spent a pleasant half hour seeking out just some of the entertaining artworks that created a curious and fun ambience. 

We noted the existence of beach huts in the grounds, and a shuttered kiosk. I suspect when warmer weather arrives these will also be brought into play. 

The bay itself is just a short walk down a steep lane. From here there is access to coastal paths that offer those willing to tackle many ascents and descents, as we were, scenic walks to Polperro (west) and Looe (east) – both of which are well worth exploring.

Within the hotel, residents, may look out for both amusing and tasteful details in what is a truly individual establishment.

As I mentioned above, we were celebrating our wedding anniversary so, on the actual day, wanted to toast the occasion with some fizz. Having enjoyed the locally produced wine we were happy to accept a recommendation from the sommelier and ordered the local vineyard’s version of champagne. As promised, it was lighter, fresher, and slipped down remarkably easily.

On our final day, having built up an appetite with a longer walk from the hotel – taking in lanes, woodland, river and coast – we sat down to the final item on our holiday package, an indulgent and delicious afternoon tea.

Service throughout our stay was both friendly and efficient. When we mentioned we would be unable to get to breakfast on our first morning – due to our participation in the Eden Project Parkrun and subsequent exploration of the place – a takeaway breakfast was offered that proved most welcome.

Our package included complementary tickets to the Lost Gardens of Heligan – well worth taking the time to visit. Touches such as these make a place more memorable, tempting a return visit. 

Access to the hotel is via a narrow and winding lane but there is ample parking in the grounds and the location is gloriously peaceful. All of this contributed to what was a delight filled few days of fine living with plenty of options for walking and sightseeing locally.

It is well known that Cornwall is a beautiful county to visit. For those planning to do so, I have no hesitation in recommending Talland Bay Hotel.

Random Musings: Wanders in Wales

There won’t be the usual number of book reviews on my blog in the second half of this month as I have several trips away from home planned. This weekend I am heading north, to Appleby for some walking and then on to Edinburgh to clear elder son’s uni accommodation for the summer. Earlier this week I was on an unexpected short break. Husband is between contracts and my head has been all over the place so I was grateful when he whisked me away to Wales. I was kept so busy, in the best possible way, that I didn’t find time to read even a single page of the books I had brought. Thus I am behind on my reading but feeling much more settled in myself.

Wales was quite the adventure. Wall to wall sunshine meant we could plan long walks involving many ascents – exercise is my way of finding balance when life proves wobbly. Here are just a few of the more memorable moments from the trip, along with some pictures from what turned out to be rather special accommodation.

Day 1

After a challenging climb to a summit – worth it for the views – we set off for our hotel. We do not own a Sat Nav so use Google Maps for real time directions. Reasons unknown, the app decided we were not staying in a hotel but rather on a working farm, accessed by the sort of narrow tracks where you can only hope you don’t meet another vehicle. We were travelling in my husbands shiny two-seater which he enjoyed driving along the many winding Welsh roads. It is not so much fun when sent off piste. When we eventually drove past the farm entrance, Google advised a 3-point turn before the track became footpath. We spotted a gate and hoped for sufficient traction from the packed mud entrance.

Day 2

After the previous day’s navigation debacle we set off on foot from our hotel. Following a footpath through numerous fields we encountered a ruin that husband paused to photograph. I noticed a group of mixed cattle eyeing us. I am very afraid of cattle – the bane of many walks. A few of the youngsters started to move in our direction. Others followed. The whole herd then started to stampede towards the open gate that separated their field from ours. Now moving swiftly we passed through the gate into the next field on our route. The herd paused, watching, and then continued at speed along the boundary. I had no idea if they knew of a way through but it was clear they wished to reach us. I covered three fields of steep ascent at an impressive rate.

On reaching the boundary of farmland and moor we spotted the monument marking the start of the trail we planned to walk. There was a sign on the other side of the gate informing us that this area is an artillery training ground and entry is strictly forbidden without permission. The sign informed us that military debris, if touched, may explode and kill you. We heard firing in the distance.

While I balanced the dangers in my head – trampled by cattle if we turned back or risk of death by exploding military debris if we continued – husband contemplated different words on the sign: ‘without permission’. He phoned the MOD. Having given our location and proposed route we were assured the live firing was not in our area and we could safely proceed. We walked a pleasant, scenic trail along moorland ridge to the soundtrack of bleating sheep and exploding shells.

Day 3

After the previous day’s encounter with cattle we planned a route that took us up onto the moor via tracks and hedged in footpaths, returning via tracks and quiet lanes. The moor, however, proved more challenging to navigate. Each marker we aimed for – a trig point, lake, stream to descend by – was criss-crossed by sheep tracks rather than obvious paths. Being moorland, sections were boggy and impassable.

We took several wrong turns and had to climb up to find the correct direction. Wiltshire, where I normally walk, did not provide the training for these repeated ascents. When we eventually found our way off the moor it was with a grand sense of achievement – just what my head needed.

R&R

I mentioned our special accommodation. Husband found Lake Country House Hotel via a last minute offer on Secret Escapes. After a day’s walking it was lovely to relax with a stroll through the extensive grounds abutting river and woodland before a cooling swim in the pool. Refreshing drinks were imbibed followed by dinners as good as we’ve eaten anywhere. It is a place we hope to return to one day.

 

We were in a Lodge Suite, located in a separate building beside the main hotel. Our room was enormous – far bigger than we needed given the fine weather. Little touches such as fresh fruit, shortbread rounds and a good variety of teas were appreciated.

   

 

There were also books for those who forget to pack any. I wished I had thought to bring some titles I have finished with to add to this collection.

Memorable adventures require moments of crisis to add interest to recollections. I could have done without the encounter with stampeding cattle but the rest of our trip was a blast; thankfully not literally.

If interested in further photos (I know, but someone may), check out my Instagram here: neverimitate.

Random Musings: A weekend in Brighton

Last weekend I was in Brighton. This is not the easiest place to get to from Wiltshire by public transport, requiring:

  • a walk
  • a bus journey
  • three different train journeys
  • another walk.

This took around five hours and wore out one of the wheels on my pull along suitcase.

It was, however, worthwhile.

As I was there with my husband to celebrate his birthday, we were booked into a rather fine hotel – the Jury’s Inn on the waterfront. We had asked for a sea view room and it looked out over the promenade and Palace Pier – delightful despite the noise from the nightclub crowd as they congregated and dispersed in the wee small hours of the morning.

Having settled in and briefly explored the locality, especially enjoying the warren of lanes behind our hotel, on the first night we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Il Bistro.

The next day and the day after our daughter travelled down from London to join us which added greatly to the pleasure of our stay. Together we: visited the Royal Pavilion; walked the promenade as far as Hove in one direction and along the Undercliffs in the other; visited the museum and art gallery.

We breakfasted at Cafe Rouge and The Breakfast Club; ate dinner at Browns. On Sunday we indulged in a sumptuous afternoon tea at Malmaison on the Marina.

On our final morning my husband and I opted for a ‘Spoons breakfast at the Post & Telegraph. Having attempted to walk this off on the promenade, we set out on the return leg of our lengthy journey home.

The Royal Pavilion is splendid if somewhat outrageous in extravagance of design and colour. I loved the many dragons – appropriate as the place was built for a King George. Adding to the fun was the Stephen Jones hats exhibition, liberally and effectively displayed in many of the rooms. I had no idea millinery could be so entertaining.

A highlight of the museum was the archeology gallery. In our troubled times it is good to put man’s short and foolish history on this planet into wider perspective, and to be reminded that climate change is a natural, if often deadly, occurrence (albeit affected at times by various outside influences).

I will also mention my experience at the exhibitions: Museum of Transology, and Queer Looks.

The former wouldn’t have warranted a particular mention had it not been for a lady herding small children around the museum as we were browsing. One of her charges entered this space and was quickly detoured. I wondered what the woman feared would happen if the child viewed the exhibits. The displays may have prompted questions but isn’t that the point of a museum – to educate and encourage thinking? I hope that she had better reasons than the obvious – I try so hard not to judge what I cannot know.

The latter exhibition disappointed because, for all the variety of choice and challenge to heteronormativity in choice and design of dress, the displays were all aimed at slim shaped people – a standard definition of beauty. In my experience LGBTQ+ people come in many sizes of body. I found it distracting to consider that fatphobia may exist in the trans and queer community who, of all people, must be aware of the importance of acceptance.

This article from Culture Trip states:

“The fabric of Brighton is woven with inclusivity, equality and tolerance – creating a strong sense of community. It’s part of what makes the city so special and open to all.”

I enjoyed my few days in this small city. Walking ten or more miles a day will have helped my body deal with the effects of the delicious food consumed. It is the sights and their impact that will linger.

(For further, in depth discussion on inclusivity, equality and acceptance, listen to Episode 1 of the Comma Press podcast)

St Peter Port, Guernsey, staying at The Duke of Richmond Hotel

Last weekend my husband and I visited Guernsey. We flew the short hop from Bristol and arrived in glorious sunshine, sharing a taxi from the airport to our hotel with a friendly young local woman returning from a business trip. This theme of friendliness was a constant throughout our stay.

We spent three nights at Duke of Richmond Hotel in St Peter Port, an easy walk from the harbour, castle and several interesting museums. The superior king room granted us space and comfort, a worthwhile investment given the unfortunate weather that was to plague our short break.

   

 

On arrival we were eager to explore so, after checking in, walked down the hill into and then around the small harbour town. It is a pretty place, not too busy, and with plenty to reflect on and admire.

Although we planned on trying several local eateries, for ease we chose the Leopard Restaurant at our hotel on the first night. It was a good choice.

Having slept off our delicious meal in the large and comfortable bed we awoke to rain. This continued for the next two days of our stay.

We donned raincoats and visited the Guernsey Museum at Candie, just a few hundred yards from our hotel. It is set in beautiful flower gardens and offers a key to enable visitors to climb the nearby Victoria Tower. Naturally we availed ourselves of this and took in the somewhat murky views from a wind blown summit.

The small museum includes a series of art galleries and I particularly enjoyed the work of Peter Le Vasseur. I was disappointed to discover that the neighbouring Priaulx Library remained closed while we were there.

  

A break in the clouds encouraged us to walk back into town and around the harbour to visit La Valette Underground Military Museum which contains many artifacts from the Second World War German occupation.

Returning through town, trying to decide where to eat that evening, we were caught in a torrential downpour so retreated back to the comfort of our hotel. After a warming bath I was grateful for the complimentary fluffy bathrobe and slippers, snuggling into a chair in our room for a couple of hours with my books.

Unwilling to risk further inclement weather we opted for another dinner in the Leopard restaurant. It was delicious.

The next day saw a repeat of the weather. We toured Castle Cornet, enjoying the spectacle of the firing of the midday cannon, but were once again soaked through by the rain. The afternoon was spent reading back at the hotel.

   

Due to the weather we were unable to use the swimming pool, or enjoy the extensive terraces, but we did enjoy the eclectic decor and comfort of The Duke of Richmond.

   

    

As is so often the way with these things, on the morning of our departure the sun returned. We enjoyed a final tasty breakfast and flew home over the small island, now glittering in the rays we had hoped to bask in ourselves.

We last visited Guernsey for our honeymoon and returned last weekend for our Silver Wedding Anniversary. Having informed the hotel of this before we arrived I had expected some mention of our celebration. None was made, and I offered no reminder. What this does show is that every guest receives the genuine warmth and welcome shown to us by each member of staff we encountered. The weather may have dampened our enjoyment of Guernsey, but the hotel was, throughout, a comforting pleasure.

Review of The Haven Hotel, Sandbanks

My husband and I discovered the The Haven Hotel at Sandbanks when he was working for a prolonged period of time in nearby Poole and it was suggested that this would be a convenient place for him to stay. The recommendation proved fortuitous at the time, the location being a short drive or cycle ride from the centre of the town where his temporary office was situated. It has since offered us a tranquil and luxurious setting for several short breaks as a couple, as well as when accompanied by our teenage sons.

Last week we enjoyed a two night stay in a Harbour View room, with dinner in the La Roche Restaurant on the first evening. Our two sons had a basic room on the floor below, which suited their needs well. This was our fourth visit to the hotel in just over two years, from which you may rightly deduce that we enjoy the time we spend here.

We arrived early afternoon and, after an efficient and friendly check-in, were told that our room would be available in a quarter of an hour. We opted to wait in one of several, comfortable lounges overlooking the sea. The sun was out and, after the busy drive down, it was good to be able to unwind.

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Our room was as cleanly presented and well equipped as ever. Little touches such as padded as well as wooden coat-hangers in the wardrobe; a small box containing a nail file, cotton buds and cotton balls amongst the supplied toiletries; bottles of water as well as the generously stocked hospitality tray, pleased me

I was less pleased to find a set of scales in the spacious bathroom. Of course I could and did choose not to use them, but they reminded me that I should not be indulging in the delicious food on offer with quite my usual abandon.

The Harbour View rooms overlook the Sandbanks Chain Ferry and offer impressive views of the coastline as it enters Poole Harbour. On previous visits we have enjoyed watching the many boats as they sail in and out. On this occasion the water was perhaps a little choppy and sea traffic was minimal.

On one previous visit we upgraded to a Sea View room which offers, as the name suggests, a more encompassing  view of the English Channel. As a writer I value the chance to bathe in visual stimulation and would therefore recommend this upgrade in warmer weather. Last week it was rather too cold to spend long on our balcony and the Harbour View room sufficed.

The boys’ basic room lacked a balcony and looked out over the car park. It was, however, clean, bright and spacious with a well equipped bathroom, the same hospitality tray and a small fridge. Their television did not appear to be working when we arrived, but this was quickly sorted by a member of staff as soon as we reported it to reception. All of the staff that we encountered during our visit were unfailingly polite, friendly and helpful. My boys particularly appreciated the free WiFi that is available in all rooms.

Having settled in and enjoyed the provided refreshments (my younger son particularly appreciated the hot chocolate and selection of delicious biscuits) we ventured out to explore the surrounding area. The location of the hotel is a definite draw. It has direct access to a sandy beach, which can be followed all the way to Bournemouth and beyond. For those willing to get in the car it is a short drive to many places of interest, such as Corfe Castle which we have visited in the past. On this occasion we preferred to explore on foot.

On the first evening of our stay my husband and elder son made use of the well equipped hotel gym while I accompanied my younger son to the swimming pool. Despite the incoming rain he enjoyed a good number of lengths of the outdoor pool before retreating to warm up inside. These facilities are all part of the Harmony Spa that hotel guests may use.

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Having worked up an appetite we tidied ourselves before making our way down to the restaurant for dinner. The quality of the food is another aspect of The Haven that tempts us to return time and again.

My husband and elder son started their meal with mussels, a rare treat as I have an intolerance for shellfish so do not offer such delicacies at home. They declared them delicious, perfectly prepared. My younger son started with a tasty soup and I with the pate. I found my choice rather bland but acceptable.

For main course my husband and elder son chose the sea bass, my younger son had duck and I ordered the beef. Although the others were effusive in their praise of the various dishes offered (there was much sharing and tasting going on) I did not fare so well. Portions of the beef were served rare which I cannot stomach. My family polished off my meal for me and scoffed at my inability to appreciate such a perfectly presented treat.

For dessert my husband and elder son had a sticky date pudding which they both enjoyed. My younger son ordered cheese, which he shared, and I chose the chocolate torte. Had I read the description more carefully I would have realised that this was a creamy concoction, not what I had in mind. I gave it to my boys and it was appreciated as intended.

Most dishes on offer are freshly prepared and menus change regularly. I cannot fault the quality of the food, the service or the ambiance of the restaurant. My family enjoyed their meal and it is nobody’s fault but my own that I had made too many poor choices given my personal preferences. I did not raise any issues with the staff at the time and would continue to recommend La Roche even if I did not enjoy my eating experience on this occasion as much as on previous visits.

After a good night’s sleep in the spacious and comfortable bed I awoke ready for my breakfast. This is mainly self service from a wide selection of fruit, cereal, yoghurt, cheese, sliced meat, fish and pastries, along with the usual variety of hot offerings. Staff will also take orders for freshly prepared kippers, smoked haddock and poached eggs. We all found plenty to suit our individual preferences and left replete.

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After a day spent hiking along the coast we ate at a local restaurant on the harbour before returning to the hotel for our second and final night. Although the hotel was busy there was little noise apparent when in the rooms.

We had until 11am the next day to pack up, and could have continued to use the hotel facilities had we wished. However, the sun was shining so we opted to enjoy another local walk before bidding a reluctant farewell.

I hope that we will have the opportunity to return again soon. My younger son is determined that we should go back in the summer, that he may walk from his room to swim in the sea.

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Sun, sea and sand

It was lovely to get away for a few days this week, to enjoy a change of scenery and some down time with my boys. It was also lovely to come home afterwards for a rest. Holidays are fun but exhausting, does that make me sound ungrateful? I am not, I enjoyed our time away immensely. Now though I need to catch up on sleep and on thinking time.

Whilst away I did not manage to read or write, what I got instead was activity and conversation. We made the most of spending time together without our usual distractions. I need to mentally process all of this as I resume the rhythm of my everyday life. My batteries have been successfully recharged, it is now time to move forward.

Booking a few days on the coast in February was always going to be risky weather wise. After the storms and floods of recent weeks I did wonder how we would cope if we were confined to our hotel by the elements. In the event we were lucky and spent much of our time away walking and enjoying the long, sandy beaches and promenades in glorious sunshine.

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The south coast of England is a popular place for retirees as well as holidaymakers. As I do not like crowds I tend to avoid the more built up areas. On one of our walks this week we ended up in Bournemouth and I was reminded why. It was my husband who accurately noted that the irritations of walking through noisy, crowded streets filled with slow moving pedestrians left us feeling more drained than the five mile walk to get there. We were happy to return to the tranquility of the peninsula where our hotel was located.

My daughter had chosen to stay at home so I had my three boys for company. They made good use of the hotel facilities with my elder son joining my husband in the gym while my younger son braved the cold to swim outside despite the wind and evening rain.

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It was accepted that I wished to relax at times, even though I could not find sufficient time to write coherently. I have come home with a notebook filled with words which I hope I will be able to use in subsequent posts. I have so many plans and ideas swirling around in my head. I feel mentally replenished.

I also feel physically over fed. The food was delicious and plentiful, there seemed little point in not indulging while I had the opportunity. My husband and elder son were particularly appreciative of the various chefs’ skills and I will review our restaurant experiences in other posts. Suffice to say here that these were highlights of the trip.

How different this was to previous experiences of eating out when my children were younger. I wonder if my own lack of imagination and skill in the kitchen at home has resulted in a family who can value variety of taste and presentation when it is offered. Even my younger son was willing to try new dishes on this trip. Our evening’s out were enjoyed by all.

We returned home to a daughter who had made good use of having a house to herself. Friends had been round, food of choice cooked, but she had not forgotten to care for our hens or carry out the other few tasks I had left for her. I missed her company but am happy to see her cope responsibly with independence.

I now have a weekend to get the house in order, deal with laundry and indulge my own needs. We also have the third season of Game of Thrones to finish. If we have time this evening then we will watch the final two episodes. I have been warned about the Red Wedding already.