2019 was the first full year that we were bound by school holidays. Gone were the days where we could nip off somewhere at any time of year and avoid the crowds. We had to plan our summer holiday carefully and well in advance to make sure there was availability (something we’re not quite used to – I find it hard to make my brain work that far ahead!) and weeks of school holiday were thrown in where we wouldn’t normally have taken time off. Childcare became extremely logistically tricky for us and I ended up leaving my job to go freelance in a bid to deal with this and take care of the little’uns. Our main holiday abroad was a mammoth road trip to France and Spain, and for the rest of the year we planned adventures, weeks away and days out in the UK – here are our best family adventures of 2019.
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Bath skyline walk in the snow
In February it snowed heavily and unexpectedly (as at the time, the snow had massively depleted in Bristol) we discovered the perfect sledging ground on the spectacularly pretty Bath Skyline walk. Thick, deep, crunchy powder, glorious sunshine and far-reaching views over the picturesque city made for one of the prettiest snowy scenes I’ve ever seen. *Worth noting quickly that I haven’t dyed my daughter’s hair in this photo, she was going through a phase of wearing a highly impractical, massive pink wig…
Days out at Brunel’s SS Great Britain, Bristol
This iconic Bristol attraction has been the highlight of several days out this year. Ratty-themed adventures saw us scuttling around the ship in search of squeaky stowaways and settling down for furry rodent-related stories as part of their half-term activities. Then, one balmy July eve, I had the chance to paddleboard with SUP Bristol around the Harbourside, right up to the bow of this magnificent ship as part of Visit Bristol’s #SummerInBristol campaign (highly recommend!), before being invited to watch the heart-stopping Invisible Circus shenanigans that took Brunel’s ship by storm in the summer. We watched in awe as performers carried out spectacular stunts, aerial displays and hurled themselves from the rigging (which I’m 99.9% sure Brunel did not ever imagine in all his visions for this vessel).
Dreamy landscapes and adventures in Snowdonia
After driving through the most beautiful countryside from Bristol to an idyllic little spot in Snowdonia National Park, we arrived to an amazing sunset out of the back door of our rented holiday cottage, Y Felin – the perfect start to an epic few days in the most photogenic location. The impossibly high mountains were aglow in the evening sun, the air was filled with the sound of the stream rushing past the house and everything smelt fresh and mossy.
I’d never been to this part of Wales before and it is really quite glorious, especially as the weather was so warm for February. We explored the rugged and breathtaking Snowdonia National Park from our cosy cottage, including a steam train ride through the most picturesque terrain, visited playgrounds, paddled in waterfalls, threw stones into the sea, scrambled through mud, lunched in pubs, walked barefoot on the beach (leaving soaked and covered in sand) and took strolls in the mountains with mind-blowing 360 degree views over a once-glacial valley. I’m already planning to return to this area of Wales as a long weekend here is definitely not long enough to fit in all the lovely activities! There are still castles I want to see, underground boats in caverns I want to ride, trails I’d like to hike, beaches and historic villages to explore, restaurants I want to eat at, and views I’d like to gaze at just a little bit longer.
A solo trip to Paris, France
In March I spent a couple of days in Paris – toute seule! I was there for work, waxing lyrical about Bristol and Bath to various journalists at TravMedia for Visit Bristol and Visit Bath. In the past I’ve spent work trips in a soulless exhibition centre miles out of the city, catching a glimpse of the Sacre Coeur from the taxi on the return journey to the airport. So imagine my delight when I rocked up to the two-day networking event in a hotel (Pullman) slap bang next to the Eiffel Tower! The top floor was utterly mesmerising, with views for miles over the city and that incredible beast of a tower soaring into the sky just metres away. It had been years since I visited Paris and this short trip to one of the most iconic French spots made me fall in love with France all over again.
After I’d finished my work duties I managed to squeeze in a little stroll around a few Parisian landmarks on a beautiful sunny morning. I was in an excellent location and round every corner there was something eye-poppingly WOW to discover. While I missed my two little ladies terribly and longed for them to be with me, it was also quite soul-conserving to have a couple of days of just looking after me (i.e wake up, sort own self out, leave the building without arguing about every event 15 times over).
Venturing INSIDE the Clifton Suspension Bridge
Ever wondered what’s inside the brick abutments that help keep Clifton Suspension Bridge all sturdy and stuff? (Yes that’s a professional engineering term), well in 2019, I found out! Huge chambers with noodle-like stalactites – who knew? Well, nobody until 2002. Before then, they’d tried drilling holes down to no avail and had no luck with fancier technology as Brunel built the walls of the bridge so thick, but some lucky ducks came across the abutments when redoing the paving slabs on the Leigh Woods side of the bridge. The fact-filled tour takes you down into the abutments of one of our fave Brizzle landmarks and teaches you tons about the city, Mr Isambard and the history of the bridge itself. I thought I was a Brunel geek before, but now I’m positively a whizz.
Soaking up the sunshine at Tyntesfield
The National Trust never disappoints and with sunshine beaming down, flower dresses on, a herd of baby cows to gawp at and Tyntesfield just doing its spring thing, we had several gorgeous day trips out to this Victorian mansion house near Bristol. A flower-lovers’ dream in spring and summer, a leaf-peeper’s fantasy in autumn and a festive fan’s wonderland come Christmas, it’s a joy to visit in every season.
A week in Kingswear, Devon
Every April we head to Kingswear in Devon, where my parents have a timeshare and it’s one of my most favourite times of the year. It’s such a beautiful spot, with tons of family activities and even the odd April heatwave! To my delight, this year was no exception. During our stay, we set about doing all our favourite activities – hiking to Dittisham for scrumptious seafood at The Anchor, wandering the age-old streets of Dartmouth, marvelling at Coleton Fishacre’s pretty spring flowers and beautiful sea views, getting around by ferry and rockpooling on the beach. For our Christmas present, my parents had also bought us a gin school experience at Salcombe Gin Distillery, so we spent a very lovely adult afternoon at this fabulous seaside town, concocting our very own GinnyMcGinface gin while the kids were looked after by their grandparents on a nearby beach.
Exploring Poole, Dorset
It’s hard to fathom right now as January rain lashes outside my window, but we arrived in Poole for Easter 2019, to a delicious Bank Holiday heatwave. Cue a jaw-dropping sunset across the water and a very happy sun-worshipping me. Because we were on holiday my kids decided to treat us to bed-hopping and 5am wake up calls so that we became grumpy shadows of our former selves, but at least we were in a pretty place to offset it! The lifestyle in Poole is pretty infectious, it seems there’s always some running, cycling or paddleboarding, kitesurfing, playground-playing, scooting, boating, beach-basking or something outdoorsy to be doing.
My parents-in-law have a flat in Poole, so we were lucky enough to return for May half-term too. We managed to squeeze in a visit to nearby Peppa Pig World, Bournemouth Aquarium, the spectacular Shell Bay and finally made it over to the incredibly beautiful Brownsea Island, where we got the chance to spot wildlife (including deer, peacocks, chicken and a very tame duck, but no red squirrels unfortunately) and explore an unspoilt patch of land – how I imagine England used to look thousands of years ago. I’ll definitely be putting a blog together on Poole and the surrounding area in the very near future!
A glamping weekend at Andrewshayes Holiday Park, Devon
Camping is in my bones. I spent many summers being loaded up into a car, wedged in amongst French beer with my two brothers, every conceivable piece of camping equipment in tow. The freedom, the outdoor lifestyle and even the shower block etiquette are all ingrained somewhere in my soul and it’s something I am keen for my own children to experience. When I was offered the chance for a free stay in one of Andrewshayes Holiday Park’s hobbit-esque glamping pods in exchange for a review (which you can read here), I leapt at the chance – it seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience camping, with a bit of extra comfort and just enough rustic panache to get our heads around living in a confined space with our kiddos for a few days ahead of our big summer camping trip.
Andreshayes campsite overlooks emerald green rolling hills and munching cows and is just a few minutes drive to the coast. We set about exploring the local area with brunch on Seaton seafront, a ride through the beautiful Axe Valley on the old-fashioned Seaton tramway, froze our nadgers off on Lyme Regis, toasted marshmallows and chomped on fish and chips. After initial trepidation about camping with young kids…OUR young kids, the camping bug truly started to settle in…
Pizza on the beach at Ogmore by Sea, Wales
I’m getting much better at being a beach parent. On our visit to Ogmore by Sea in Wales I actually remembered to take something to sit on, spades and buckets, a towel, snacks, a thermos of tea (what a revelation!) and swimming costumes. Winning! This may be one of the first times I have achieved bringing 95% of everything I need since I first started out as a responsible adult with dependents 5 and a half years ago. Of course it’s doable without, but wow is it easier when you’ve got the right items. This was our first time on Ogmore by Sea beach (just an hour from Bristol) and we loved it. A big stretch of golden sand, dunes to explore, rock pools, soft mermaid rocks and perhaps best of all, Dusty Knuckle selling pizza-ovened pizzas right next to the beach! Beats sandy sandwiches any day.
Whirling in the water at Weymouth Caravan Park
In May, my cousin got married near Weymouth and 8 members of my family (2 x parents, 1 x brother and his girlfriend, 2 x daughters, me + Doug) piled into a mobile caravan on Weymouth Bay Holiday Park for the weekend. As well as being just a scenic stroll away from the beach (where you’ll find a resident gin bar), one of the campsite’s biggest hits with our girls was the Lazy River swimming pool, which whirled us round the pool complex and gave them endless hours of amusement.
Daytripping in the Welsh Valleys
One of my resolutions in 2019 was to visit Wales more often, given how close it is to Bristol. I didn’t do too badly – I managed four trips there in total! One of those visits included a visit to Cyfarthfa Castle in the Welsh Valleys (gifted entry by Visit Merthyr). It was the perfect day for it – summer was showing its colours for the first time in a while, all emerald green hillsides, bushy trees and blue skies. Unfortunately the splash pad and mini train don’t run on weekdays, so we missed out on those two big kid-entertaining elements.
A weekend on the water, Cornwall
After posting photos of our weekend on the Helford Passage in Cornwall in June on my Instagram stories, I had people asking me if we were in the Caribbean. It’s not hard to see why they’d think that with colours like these! Cornwall never fails to pull out the stops on a sunny weekend, let alone a scorching hot one. We spent most of it on, in or by the water with friends – totally worth the M5 Friday night traffic and projectile vomiting toddler on the way down from Bristol.
Frolicking in the trees at Westonbirt
One of the best things about living in Bristol is it’s proximity to glorious countryside. Westonbirt Arboretum in the Cotswolds is just half an hour away by car and makes a breathtakingly beautiful, nature-filled day out, especially on a blue-sky day. Home to one of the finest collections of trees and shrubs in the world, it’s a great one with kids as there are Gruffalos to hunt, natural wood play areas, sculptures to seek and a spectacular treetop walkway that lets you meander through the tree canopy.
It’s not less magical come winter and we eagerly snapped up press tickets to their Enchanted Christmas event – one of the most magical nights on the West Country festive calendar. We’ve been a couple of times before, but 2019’s event twas a collaboration with a new company and it definitely had a different flavour. Round every twist and turn, rainbow colours illuminated the woodland, creating dazzling scenes, glittering topiary and an entrancing wander through a fairytale world of light with real-life twinkling fairies, talking trees, Christmas-tune-crooning firs and Father Christmas himself. It’s safe to say our kiddos’ minds were suitably blown by what they encountered! They didn’t even ask to be carried once (a first!).
On safari at Longleat
I’ve been to Longleat’s Festival of Light before (epic), but never to the safari park – Doug, my husband, has always refused to go with me as he broke up with not one, but two ex-girlfriends after visiting and didn’t want to curse us. Just me and the girls visited in 2019 though, so hopefully we’re good? Only 30 miles from Bristol, it’s a full family day out with tons of wildlife to see including the famous safari drive, sea lion and hippo-filled lake, farm animals, brand new Koala Creek (the only place to see koalas in England) and plenty of animal encounters. There’s also a HUGE adventure playground, giant maze and beautiful gardens to explore.
Sunbathing in Lincolnshire
I spent my teens living near the pretty market town of Stamford, Lincolnshire and my parents still live there so we often pop back. In 2019, we spent the first week of the summer holidays there and basked in a heatwave for a full week (which one of my all-time favourite things to do in life). Due to the heat, we spent most of our time in paddling pools, at Bourne’s outdoor swimming pool and at Burghley House’s Garden of Surprises, whose many water fountains were the perfect place to (marginally) cool off. With its stunning rows of lavender, it felt like the south of France! It also happened to be hosting an outdoor film festival (the surprise favourite film being Hotel Transylvania 3) so we rinsed our membership and popped in more than once!
A summer camping in France
In the summer, we booked an overnight ferry to France and spent three weeks road-tripping and camping in France and Northern Spain. Our mega family adventure included a stopover in the magical chateau-topped of Saumur, a week on the beach and paddleboarding on the lake in Hourtin Plage, time in the eye-poppingly beautiful Dordogne, a week in San Sebastian’s foodie heaven, and a short stay in Bilbao before boarding the 24-hour ferry home (check out our full itinerary here).
All in all, we totalled 21 days away, drove 1300 miles, sailed some 651 miles, paddleboarded 6 miles, stayed in 3 campsites, spent 400* hours outdoors, explored 2 countries, consumed 900* baguettes, enforced 0 kids’ bedtimes, imbibed 98* bottles of rosé, and had countless new experiences with our two twirly girlies. I know camping isn’t for everyone, but for me, you just can’t beat it with young kiddos. They adored being outside all the time (as did I) and never ever EVER have they ever slept so well, which I TOTALLY wasn’t expecting. I loved our mix of coast, inland river and laid-back city break and the holiday felt like it went on forever. We loved it and road trips and camping are definitely on our future family holiday agenda.
*figures may not be exact.
Going on a bear hunt at Wild Place Project, Bristol
In September we were invited to go on a bear hunt at Wild Place Project’s enormous new exhibit, Bear Wood! We got so close to brown bears as they clambered up trees and trotted through the forest. It’s crazy to think that these creatures roamed in U.K. woodland hundreds of years ago, along with lynx, wolves and wolverines, which Wild Place have also homed here. Visitors can walk through the exhibit on a raised walkway through the trees, while floor-to-ceiling glass viewing areas and ‘dens’ give wildlife-loving punters an up-close view of the animals and their former British inhabitants.
Chilling out at Bedruthan Hotel, Cornwall
We don’t have a huge amount of childcare available to us, our families live far away or are permanently on holiday, so for our anniversary weekend in October we took the kids with us to Cornwall to celebrate at family-friendly hotel, Bedruthan (read my review here). How is that in ANY way relaxing you might ask? Well Bedruthan has managed to pull off the luxury/family-friendly combo that results in ACTUAL relaxation for parents. As well as two hours inclusive childcare per day you stay, and a babysitting/listening service, there are a ton of kids facilities, plus a spa, roaring fires and some blinking good Cornish views for adults to indulge in while the little chinchillas are entertained! It was bliss.
Family adventures in London
We headed to the Big Smoke after school on a Friday to catch up with and stay with friends one weekend in October and finally made it to London Science Museum, which was just a short drive away from our chums’ house. I’ve wanted to take the kids for sooo long and it did not disappoint! The bubble show, fart chair, psychedelic dance room and Planet science blew the little’uns minds. It’s one heck of a lot of free fun in one building.
Welly walks in the Forest of Dean
When Autumn finally got its shit together we went exploring an area unfamiliar to us, but SO close to Bristol (45 mins in the car), I can’t believe we haven’t been there before – Westbury Court Garden and The Forest of Dean Sculpture Garden. It’s amazing what a few sculptures dotted about the woods and a spot of chestnut foraging can do for the walking capabilities of a normally reluctant 3 year old. Our favourite was this glorious stained glass window hanging mystically in the trees like the centrepiece of some invisible church.
Christmas lights at Belton House, Grantham
Ohhhhweee I love a festive light extravaganza! For Christmas 2019, we spent the most magical festive night at The National Trust’s Belton House, which was full of singing trees, gleaming foliage and a flickering fire garden complete with marshmallow toasting fire pit (if anyone knows where I can get gingerbread marshmallows let me know ASAP!), laser lights, mulled wine, fairground rides and a tunnel made for Instawangers like me! It was the first time the National Trust House has put on the festive light show and they nailed it for twinkly festive loveliness.
What family adventures have we got planned for 2020?
We’ve got a few trips planned for 2020 so far – in March we’re heading to Disneyland Paris with the girls – I can’t wait to see their little faces! We’re also returning to Kingswear for our usual week there and have plans afoot for a trip to the Scilly Isles in May! My feet are still itching for a few more family adventures – watch this space…