Holidays in the UK are seriously underrated. I used to think that taking a break in your home country was the vacation equivalent of getting your hairdresser to put in ‘silvery’ highlights so that you don’t notice that you are actually going grey, or getting a people carrier, or wearing Crocs. Essentially, it meant that you had given up your joie da vivre and settled for physical comfort and borderline-adequate aesthetics.
It isn’t the first time I’ve been proven wrong (although, of course, it will be the last).
The UK is awesome. Especially when you live there, and feel obliged to take your offspring to reside in another venue for a couple of weeks in order to tick off the ‘annual holiday’ box on the Adequate Middle Class Parent checklist that you got on the way out of the maternity ward. Exploring the UK means that you can predict the weather (rain in Winter, slightly lighter and less cold rain in Summer), you can drive on the same side of the road and if it all goes wrong, you can be home within a few hours, CBeebies on the TV and a bottle of Prosecco lubricating your insides.
Last year we took one of our first English holidays and did some ‘glamping’, staying in tipis on a luxury family campsite in the beautiful Sussex countryside near Eastbourne. It was lovely and we were blessed with great weather, so we were able to make the most of the surrounding area. Here are the child friendly activities that we got up to whilst on holiday:
- A Child Friendly Afternoon Tea at The Orangery, Ashburnham.
A ten-minute drive through the English countryside brought us to Ashburnham, a gorgeous and sprawling manor house with manicured grounds and a large lake. We initially drove past it and thought it might be a Scientology centre, so naturally we turned around and drove all the way up to the house to see what kind of benefits we could get if we decided to convert. To be fair, I might have signed up as it was totally beautiful and stunningly peaceful. Thankfully for everyone, it happens to be a place where anyone can go for a retreat or conference- and, most importantly, a fabulous family afternoon tea. The cakes were fantastic, there was a good selection of fine tea and best of all there was a small but well-equipped play area in the cafe complete with faux grass and small climbing frame. I actually managed to drink my tea hot, as opposed to chugging the tepid twice-microwaved stuff on my way out of the door.
Another secret treasure hidden among the green fields and rolling hills of Sussex, Herstmonceux Castle was a top find. Although the actual castle isn’t open to day visitors (it is used as an international study centre and wedding venue), its presence complements the exceptionally well-kept 300 acre estate. We loved the ‘butterfly garden’, where the owners had thoughtfully planted flowers that attract all kinds of butterflies. There is a small tearoom if you are up for yet another slice of cake and a cuppa (and who isn’t, I would like to know?) and plenty of room for kids to run and wear themselves out before bedtime (yes, that is *always* a factor in where we choose to visit!). If you are interested in the history of the place, it won’t disappoint, as the castle was one of the first red-brick buildings ever to be built in England and the estate’s heritage is recorded as far back as the 12th century!
We were surprised to find a science museum and observatory down the road from our campsite, and even more surprised at how much there was to do! There is loads of hands-on equipment for children to experiment with; from making water wheels to testing out how much they can tolerate from a little electric shock machine! There is also an incredible array of telescopes including one of the largest in Britain. We sat through an informative talk about the history of astronomy, which was fascinating for LTF Dad and I, but perhaps less so for our toddler:
4. Eastbourne Beach
We had great weather during our week in Eastbourne, so a trip to the beach was a must. It’s pebbly, (great for teaching the kids how to skim!) and right next to a long strip of places to eat. After a ramble along the coast we stopped for ice cream in an old-fashioned parlour, the name of which I have unfortunately forgotten, but the huge globular scoops were fantastic and happily too big for the kids to finish. I did The Right Thing and dutifully helped them after I had devoured my own cone. The trials of parenthood…
5. Fall in a lake at Ashburnham Place
Yes, indeed. #5 would have probably been ‘take a leisurely stroll around the lake’ or ‘enjoy a chlorophyll-rich ramble through the leafy woods surrounding the estate’, but our eldest daughter found a new way to get close to nature. I had left her with LTF Dad and the toddler in order to search for permission to swim in the lake (which was not forthcoming, darn it), and upon my return found her attired in my dear husband’s oversized jumper, somewhat damp. A lot of parents can probably relate. We spend 24/7 keeping the kids alive, healthy and away from huge expanses of water, and within 5 minutes of our beloved spouse taking the reigns, the toddlers are taking their very own free diving course, in England, in September.
“She just… we were sitting… it just…”
We bundled the kids up and into the car and returned to our tipi. The worst bit was that we missed our daily afternoon tea from the Orangery, and I do believe that Red Velvet was on the menu. Harrumph.
Eastbourne is a brilliant place to take a family holiday, with loads of activities that are both child friendly and interesting for adults. For those who are used to going abroad for a holiday, I would definitely recommend it as a great place for your first stay-cation!
Travel journalists, home educating our lovely brood of 3 girls. Planning a year-long RTW trip late Summer 2017.