And just like that, we’re home from our summer holiday. Since I’m part happily satisfied, part bitterly grumpy that a weeks’ worth of fun has disappeared faster than wine down my throat, I thought I’d try something a little different to normal and relive the fun with a holiday round-up blog post. I know you’ll miss my anxious ramblings, but don’t worry – they’ll be back.
So, I’ll put my hands up and say we haven’t yet taken our kids (4 and 2) on a holiday abroad. Partly due to my husband and I’s massive anxiety (see, I told you it wouldn’t be far away…!) making the idea far too horrifying. Partly due to finances, with us being a single income family since our children were born. And partly because I didn’t come from an ‘abroad holiday’ kind of family. I have really fond memories of UK holidays with my parents, in Cornwall, Devon or Norfolk, and it’s helped to shape some of my ideals and priorities as a Mother.
For me it’s all about family time, nature, imagination and exploration. Last summer, we stayed in a Forest Holidays cabin in The Forest of Dean and absolutely loved it. The location was great, the boys found it so exciting – and there was a hot tub. Need I say more. So this year, we decided to try another of their locations, this time Thorpe Forest, Norfolk.
Thorpe Forest is a central location and a great base to venture out from to visit a wealth of Norfolk’s main sites and attractions. We went for a Golden Oak cabin for that extra touch of luxury and, despite a couple of little hiccups, it didn’t disappoint. By night, our boys made themselves at home in their shared bedroom – aka cheeky den of no sleep – and my husband and I familiarised ourselves with the hot tub.
And by day, we had some amazing adventures. Here’s what we got up to:
ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure
From the Neanderthal Walk to the Lost World maze, ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure is a dinosaur-lovers heaven. My two-year old was wary at first of the animatronic dinosaurs that moved their heads and roared, they definitely gave him a fright – but once he’d stroked the triceratops and given him a quick kiss, all seemed to be forgiven.
The dinosaur trail through the forest was great and the boys loved exploring all the nooks and crannies, pretending to be scared as they discovered a new species of dinosaur lurking in the trees around every corner. The attention to detail was brilliant with the little extras like the hunter’s cabin – complete with old radio comms systems and (fake, obviously) guns in the lockbox on the wall – a really fun touch.
It was beautiful weather on the day we visited so we didn’t bother with the Dinomite indoor play area (although it looked fab, as far as soft play goes!), and instead took advantage of Dippy’s Splash Zone, an outdoor wet play area complete with water sprays, slide and huge bucket that repeatedly fills with water and crashingly empties over the heads of gleeful children and adults alike.
I was really proud of our 4 year old who took to the skies and bravely explored the Predator High Ropes with his Daddy, and even flew down the zip line solo! (If you do pay a visit, just don’t forget to wear closed shoes – we ended up having to fork out an extra £8 on the shoes they sell on-site to replace little ones sandals, rookie mistake).
We had a really great day and were some of the last people to leave at closing time. Our sons proudly wore the medals they collected for finding the dinosaur clues and we all talked excitedly about our favourite parts of the day on the drive back to our cabin. Hopefully we’ll get to visit again soon!
Boating on the Broads
My husband suggested boating completely out of the blue and it was lovely, as often I’m the one that takes charge of researching and organising family outings. We hired a boat from Richardson’s boating holidays, who were friendly and professional and helped us out with some ideas of where to head and timings.
Since I was fairly sure I’d sink the boat and kill us all, I left the driving to my husband and after a few hairy minutes getting out of the marina, he quickly got the hang of it. Eldest immediately appointed himself Co-Captain and sat up front with Daddy, whilst youngest alternated between asking me for snacks and running up to the dashboard to turn on the windscreen wipers and honk at passing boats. Naturally, I took the opportunity to recline at the back, pop open a bottle of prosecco and fantasise about owning a boat.
The broads were beautiful – quiet, lush with nature and you always got a jaunty wave from fellow sailors. I was amazed at the communities built around them – pubs you can pull your boat up to and stop for a pint; homes with boathouses instead of garages; we even saw a floating ice cream man! And there’s so much to explore! As long as you’re not on private land, you can stop nearly anywhere, jump off and have an on-land adventure before returning to the serenity of your boat.
Halfway through our cruise, husband spotted some ruins and, appreciating my love for castles, abbeys, priories and ancient buildings of any kind, suggested we moor up and take a look. All I can say is – I hope no one was watching. It was like a Carry-On sketch as we suddenly realised we had no idea how to moor up a boat, and tried to suppress the swears that were rising up within us as we also realised we didn’t know a single knot.
Never one to be defeated though, I hitched up my floral maxi dress and leapt from the boat, threw 2 year old over my left hip, pulled in the rope one handed and managed to wrap it around the mooring post. Later, my husband said it was a bit of a sexy sight – perhaps it was the exact right combination of skilled, independent woman and nurturing mother?!
We had the boat for 4 hours and enjoyed it so much, we talked about hiring one for a weekend, or even a weeks holiday! Although this could be put down to afternoon drinking and a touch of sunstroke.
Based on the children’s books written by Norfolk-based author Tom Blofeld, BeWILDerwood is a fairy tale forest filled with tree houses, wobbly wires and slippery slopes, as well as the Crocklebogs, Twiggles and Boggles featured in the stories on which the magical world is based.
At around £50 entry cost for myself, husband and eldest (youngest was free), it’s not ‘cheap’ for a day out in the woods. However for me, it’s all about prioritising where – and how – you want to spend your money. Instead of burning through cash in an arcade, at a holiday camp or fairground, I would much rather immerse my children in experiences. At BeWILDerwood, you can get involved in story-telling, den building, various arts and crafts, cook in the mud kitchen, have your face painted and discover hidden villages in which the magical creatures live. This is all on top of the huge array of treetop play areas and mazes.
The boys loved exploring and learning all about BeWILDerwood’s magical inhabitants, especially Mildred the Crocklebog who wears a tiara and carries a gold handbag. Mildred may just be my spirit animal.
As a parent of 4 and 2 year olds, I often find that eldest is old enough to go on certain rides or have a go at particular activities, and youngest is not, which always ends up in one drama or another. What was brilliant about BeWILDerwood is that attention seemed to have been paid to this kind of common parenting problem. There were ziplines with a caged seat (you know, like the baby swings at the park) for little ones to enjoy the same experience as their older siblings, and the tree houses were not guarded by overzealous staff ensuring no little people clambered on. Instead, you could explore safely with your younger ones to the extent you all felt personally comfortable. This kind of thing makes a big difference to tired and stressed out parents doing their best to please everyone.
Like ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure, we stayed the entire day until we could barely walk another step – we caught the BeWILDerboat back to the exit and the boys were asleep before we left the car park. I wasn’t far behind them.
Norfolk boasts some fantastic, and often underrated, beaches all around its coastline. But for me, I always find myself going back to Holkham. The beach is part of a beautiful nature reserve, and the golden sand stretches for miles. My parents took me as a child and my silly sentimental side just loves making new memories in the same place with my own children.
For eldest, it was his first time on the beach that he could remember, and for youngest his first time on the beach full stop. Whilst eldest ran around, collecting shells, splashing in the waves and mainly being hysterically joyous, youngest wanted to put sand into his bucket and decided he would not be engaging in any other beach activities whatsoever…. Fair enough, you can’t please everyone.
You can’t stay in a forest without going on a forest walk. There were a number of mapped walks of varying lengths heading out from the Forest Holidays site, making it super easy and convenient, especially with children.
On one of the walks designed for families, they had installed some of that outdoor gym equipment like monkey, workout and exercise bars, which of course you must be Arnold Schwarzenegger to use properly, but we loved making up our own Anxious Life family Olympics with our own special rules.
We’re a big walking family anyway – I’m always amazed at how grounded and peaceful I feel surrounded by nature and breathing in fresh air, and I think it’s important to pass that feeling on to our children too. We spotted butterflies and wildflowers, and our soft fruit loving 4 year old particularly enjoyed scavenging in hedgerows for any ripe raspberries that were slightly ahead of their time!
It’s great to take kids out to attractions, but you can’t beat teaching them about the beauty of nature.
What do you think of our adventures? Is there anything we missed! Let me know in the comments!