Perhaps now, when Brits are still sodden and weary from another terrible winter, is not the best time to be extolling the virtues of a staycation. But we have to believe the weather will get better and that another scorching is summer just round the corner. And when that sun shines, Britain is up there with the best of them, offering everything you could want from a family holiday.
Because you can’t guarantee a heatwave, your accommodation choice on a UK break can make the difference between a miserable and an amazing holiday. In a nutshell, you want somewhere really comfortable that has plenty to occupy your kids on site, so you’re not continually forced out into your car, looking for distraction. I’ve written about a few gems here on the Trunki Files before; but, following a long winter of research, here are the 5 places at the top of my list for a visit in 2014.
1. Manor Farm and Scallop Shell Cottage, Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is exciting. Full stop. It’s the ferry bit that does it. That little 30 minute crossing (apparently the most expensive stretch of water in the world) introduces an element of adventure that jaunts to Cornwall or Dorset simply can’t equal. Plus the place has been geared up for tourism for years (just ask the Victorians), so it has one of the highest densities of attractions in the country. Beaches, steam trains, royal palaces, coloured sands, a chairlift (yes!), various ‘chines’, adventure parks and even its own little commuter railway complete with ex-London Underground trains – no child will leave disappointed.
Manor Farm and Scallor Shell Cottages are perfect bases for taking the island in. Done out in Cath Kidston style, they are cute and supremely comfy. Both offer lovely gardens with trampolines, slides and play equipment, meaning you don’t have to go far if you don’t want to. Manor Farm cottage also has its own playroom. Every conceivable baby/toddler piece of kit is on hand and both cottages and within walking distance of civilization. Perfect.
2. Retreat to Fowey, Fowey
I’ve not been to Fowey but its high on my list. Situated on an estuary in southern Cornwall, it has everything I want from an English summer holiday: lovely views of rolling hills and coastal walks (it’s in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty); sandy beaches; a harbour for boat-watching and trips across the river to Polruan; and an annual regatta in August with crab-catching competitions, a carnival and a giant pasty procession!
When I go, I want to stay at Retreat to Fowey. Comprising two apartments, this place has an unusual set-up in that you get access to the facilities of the nearby, super-pricey Fowey Hall Hotel. Not only does this mean an indoor swimming pool and spa; but also the chance to use their kids’ club, offering you a couple of hours rest to read the paper and soak up the stunning views. The apartment themselves are high spec, with everything you could conceivably desire: wi-fi, Playstations; iPod dock; plus copious baby and toddler paraphenelia. The one downside is that you’re upstairs and can’t just fling the doors open onto a garden. That said, the apartments do share one for sitting out and BBQs. Plus there’s dedicated parking, which should sell it to the Dads out there.
3. St Brelade’s Bay Hotel, Jersey
I’ve been to Jersey twice in the summer and both times, the weather has been glorious. I am now convinced that it has it’s own microclimate, independent of the meteorological misery that blights the rest of the UK. It must be something about boarding an aeroplane to get there… (although you can of course catch the ferry as well). I am desperate to take my own children there one summer, to enjoy the fabulous beaches and bask in the time-warp innocence of the place. And when I do, I’ll be heading straight for St Brelade’s Bay, the best beach on the island.
The St Brelade’s Bay Hotel has a superlative location, overlooking this wonder of white sand and azure sea; and for this alone, you’ll pay a premium (a room in August will set you back £240 a night). But it has to be worth it: there’s a heated outdoor swimming pool which looks like it could be in the Med – plus a new indoor one for insurance. There’s also a toddler’s playroom and TV room with pool table for older kids. If you’re on half board, a complimentary children’s tea is served every day at 5.15pm, enabling you to take advantage of the baby-listening service over a relaxing dinner. And with that beach just across the road, I don’t think you’d need ever leave.
4. Cranmer Cottages, Norfolk
There’s a barely a box this cluster of cottages don’t tick. Indoor swimming pool for rainy days? Yup, plus there’s swimming lessons if you want them. Tennis courts for Murray-wannabes (both adult and child). Sure, 2. All-weather of course. Massive green space for crazy kids to run about manically without killing themselves? Of course! In fact, there’s a whole fenced paddock with a timber playhouse and outdoor play equipment…
Set in 175 acres of farmland, a short drive from the gloriousness that is the North Norfolk coast, these eight 4 and 5 star cottages are seriously stylish and kitted out with families in mind. The owners have thought of everything to ensure you have the most relaxing holiday: a meal-ordering service, bike hire (and lock-up if you bring your own); a games room with table tennis and pool should the weather turn grim; a baby-sitting service. The list goes on. Plus, you’re in one of the best areas in the country for a family holiday. The beach at Holkham will blow you away (in both sense of the word); kids will love the little steam train that takes you from nearby Walsingham to the lovely quay-side town of Wells. There’s crabbing, seal-trips, fish’n’chips and farm parks. And in this part of the world, with no motorways, home feels refreshingly far away.
5. Wild Luxury, Norfolk
Whilst I’m waxing lyrical about Norfolk, here’s another option that’s high up on my to-do list. Not a happy camper, I am rather taken by the idea of glamping. Camping-fanatics shoot me now but I don’t actually want to erect anything in the rain and heat a tin of beans on camping gaz for my dinner. But pitching up en famille at a huge safari tent that has already made-up beds, a flushing toilet and shower (with hot water!), discernable living, sleeping and cooking areas and a roaring woodburner in the middle has serious appeal. The only thing you are without, apparently, is electricity – which I am not even sure I’d notice basking in the glow of the fire and contemplating a night under that fluffy duvet.
Yes, this is camping for wussies and it’s the only way my family are going to experience it (not that they’re complaining). Wild Luxury have two locations in North Norfolk but I am most taken with Thornham Bay. The tents are set on an apple farm which houses a bistro (should cooking just overwhelm you) plus a farm shop. From the site, you can walk on one direction through the dunes to the stunning sandy beach. In the other, you’ve got Thornham village itself, with three pubs and a deli. I love that you can just park up and forget all about your car. Best of all, short breaks are on offer, so you don’t have to commit to a whole week. 3 nights will do nicely.
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