Busy doing nothing

It’s been a tough few days. We’ve been very busy enjoying the view…

The little white hut is a glamping pod on the lake. It’s tethered on a long rope so when you want to go to bed you have to find it and then row there. Very cool and good entertainment.

Between swimming, napping, trampolining and spending time at the kids club it’s been hard to fit in much else.

The swimming pool is the local municipal pool adjacent to the campsite. You get free entry but, boy, does everything about it scream municipal pool. It’s a bare, square, industrial joyless affair. No sun loungers, no umbrellas, no ice cream stall….

SC, with her slavish devotion to all things waterbased still thinks it’s amazing. We arrived on the first morning to find it’s compulsory for men to wear the teeny tiny Speedos that the French are so fond of. Scott, more of a board shorts man, left muttering regretful noises clearly delighted at the prospect of a coffee and his book by the lake.

It’s also pretty nippy. After 30 min of SC barking out orders (“catch me”, “carry me”, “push me” etc) I felt more like I’d had a stint in a 1950s Swiss therapy pool having rehabilitation for TB than a relaxing dip.

I digress, pool aside, the campsite is awesome and the village is only about 200m walk through a beautifully maintained park for croissants and essentials.

We’ve planned to take the train to Orleans tomorrow. Will we get there or will the power of doing nothing keep up sat by the lake?  We’ll see…..

Going Dutch at Camping Grande Sologne

One of my good friends is Dutch and is keen for her kids to speak the language. For Dutch tuition you could do worse than to stay at Camping Grande Sologne. I reckon 80% of the people here are Dutch as are the songs at the kids mini disco at 7pm every night. You know that song you sang when you were in the girl guides, in English the lyrics went “a Pizza Hut, a Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut”? I’ve had the Dutch version of that circling my head for nearly 48hrs and we only arrived two days ago…..

After an uneventful drive down the campsite is absolutely splendid. Even I liked it straight away so it must be good…! We smiled sweetly at the lovely reception staff and they  kindly (albeit slightly exasperatedly) let us switch from our nice-but-nothing-special pitch to a fab spot overlooking the lake.

Spot the Bongo

The facilities are good without being scary, in-your-face holiday campish. There’s a shop, a little snack bar open in the evening, mini golf, ping pong and activities for kids (in Dutch) throughout the day 😀

The mini golf has seen better days with twigs, sticks and uneven paving causing your ball to ping off at all angles. I did wonder if it would be less painful to club myself in the head at one point as SC insisted on completing every obstacle…..

10 days here will be just the job, more to follow…..

Giving up in epic Epping

At 6000 acres Epping Forest is the largest open space in the London area. Once a royal hunting ground it is now managed by the Corporation of London despite being 20km from the city (and only 15 miles from our house).

It was the last day of term and we picked up a jubilant SC replete with face paint (and a massive stack of school work which we will lovingly…..recycle) flung her bike into Bernice and headed straight off to Debden House campsite. The traffic was, as always, awful but at least it was only a 50 minute schlep rather than a couple of hours.

Debden House is a really big site. It’s hard to believe you’re inside the M25 (just) and still on the central line as it feels so quiet and rural. There’s more than 300 pitches over seven fields. There’s electric hook up, play equipment and, best of all, you’re allowed campfires in fields 2,5,6 and 7. There’s an eclectic patchwork of pitches of varying sizes, ours was pretty snug with a tight width restriction in the form of two trees at the entrance. Good thing we didn’t bring the Coleman Event Shelter….*

Before long we were all set up with a lovely fire going.

It’s hard to explain why but the site, although has much to commend it, feels a bit rough round the edges. The pitches are close together and it’s noisy in the day time. The facilities are really basic and functional (although the washing up water is hot enough to strip the skin from your hands at first contact…) and there never seemed to be quite enough of them. I think we’d been ruined by the amazing spa toilets at Whitlingham Broad….. such middle class Cool Camping softies.

The rain battered down all night but the morning emerged in that post rain way, all drippy and dazzling. More rain was forecast so we headed to the forest for the classic “lovely family walk”. The campsite couldn’t provide any guidance for where to go (surely they must get that query 10 times a day??!) so we headed off following our noses and stumbled onto a path at the end of the field 2.

SC insisted on bringing her bike despite dire warnings that we WERE NOT going to carry it. It will astonish you to know that a monumentally heavy £29.99 Argos bike decorated with purple hearts and flowers did not cope well with the forest floor after heavy rain. Of course, we ended up carrying it which did not add to the progress of the walk. About an hour later we were back at Bernice having spent 20 mins of that playing on a rope swing.

After a bit more bike riding, Junior Monopoly and I-Spy camping (it’s strangely addictive, try it!) the rain set in again with a vengeance. We planned to go to Waltham Abbey but took the easy small-child owner option and headed to Ashlyns Farm in Epping instead. I have to say we made the right choice, the food in the lovely, cosy cafe at Ashlyns was absolutely splendid. It takes quite a salad to tempt me away from a jacket potato (or a massive plate of chips) but their super food salad with grilled chicken was (almost) Instagrammable.

Oh, alright, here it is….

The weather meant the farm was pretty much out of bounds so, with a grim sense of rainy day inevitability, we headed to the soft play. It was pretty standard stuff, ball pit, slides, smell of dirty nappies but it did have surprisingly good quality of hot beverages. SC found a new friend to tear about with and I had a book and a decent hot chocolate, not so bleak. The complex also has a giant farm shop, a beauty salon (spa camping!) and water park. Definitely one to return to on a sunnier day.

The rain beat down mercilessly and was forecast the same until 1am. Having a camper van is so much easier than a tent in many ways, with passing showers you can shut the door, pop the kettle on and crack open the Snap. Constant heavy rain for prolonged period with a six year old is another matter. With a quarter of a mile trek to the loo up a muddy track and only 15 miles from home we threw in the towel and, with a quick stop for sausages, headed home.

This is not the view I am expecting on our summer hols which is only ONE WEEK AWAY! Ten days at the Camping la Grande Sologne, the countdown starts now!

* the Coleman Event Shelter is a giant gazebo that I bought jointly on a whim with a friend. It’s big enough to host an international scouting jamboree (joke credit to her) and we’ve never camped anywhere roomy enough to take it yet but there’s time….

Camping with kid(s)

I came across a nice little article in the Telegraph about camping with kids here. I like the way it didn’t over romanticise it, kids or not, we’ve all been in a camping situation where we wondered if we actually got a wink of real sleep in between the brief surreal dreams and misbehaving sleeping bags trying to strangle us.

It bought our first camping trip with SC to mind when we were still using Quentin (the tent-in). We camped at Debden House Campsite in Epping Forest in June 2013. It was generally a disaster with SC falling off the same chair twice, burning her hand on the stove and forgetting a range of slightly essential equipment including the tin opener. It didn’t put us off though and here we are four years later 😀.

Teeny weeny SC camping with Quentin in the background

I am not even slightly a parenting blogger, a parenting expert (sounds of laughter) or a camping expert but here are my top tips for camping with kid (I can’t really comment on the plural….).

  •  Let them pack a bag of their own stuff to take away even if it means arriving with a single duplo block, a headless Barbie and a felt tip pen with the lid left off
  • Allow all rules and routines to slide, this includes bed times, nutritional content of meals and the need for washing (obviously, its camping).
  • Encourage gangs. Never mind family time, your aim is for your kid to run barefoot and feral with their new pals while you read your book in the sun and sip a G&T regardless of the time of day.
  • Don’t be too precious about screens. Yes, you want lovely, wholesome quality time enjoying the great outdoors, playing board games and bonding as a family but if two episodes of Dora the Explorer on the iPad gets you a mini lie in then do yourself a favour.
  • Don’t try and do too much in the day. One organised activity per day is ample allowing time for general “sitting”, “watching the world go by”, admiring other Bongos, talking to your neighbours and having a beer or two.

Hope this helps! Coincidentally we’re heading back to Debden House a week on Friday for the weekend so expect an update soon.

Have a great week.

A spin round a Great Broad

I’ve singularly failed to put together my final Highlights of the Isle of Wight blog post and for that I apologise. I’m sure it’ll pop up at some point (gotta wait for the muse, man….).

I can tell you about the great stay we had at Whitlingham Broad Campsite this weekend instead. With our usual forward planning and attention to detail we booked up last Wednesday. The staff kindly agreed we could arrive at 8.30pm, an hour after the normal check in time but traffic out of London so bad it was a nerve shredding schlep (with a record breaking speed toilet stop) to get there with only minutes to spare. Fergus on the reception desk was lovely and welcoming however and whizzed us through the check in, the facilities and the fire policy.

The campsite is easy enough to find and astonishingly close to Norwich city centre for such a peaceful site. It’s within the Whitlingham Broad Country Park and is just over the road from the Broad itself, woodland, a ruined manor house, an outdoor adventure centre and play area.

The Saturday dawned bright and breezy and we headed to the Flint Barn visitors centre (pictured) to enquire about a wildlife boat trip on the Broad. Unfortunately the boat, which is solar powered, was awaiting a part and not running. It’s a 50 min trip which might be a bit long for short campers but the lady in the Tourist Information Centre was super friendly and helpful so we left full of ideas for things to do.

Bernice on a bright and breezy morning on Whitlingham Broad (Flint Barn over the road)

We decided to walk the path all the way round Whitlingham Great Broad (there’s a Little Broad as well). It’s 2.3 miles, a bit borderline for SC and her short legs so we devised a scavenger hunt of things to find and see to keep her occupied and minimise complaining of the “are we nearly there?” variety. It is a pretty walk but the view of the water is mainly obscured by trees so, in some ways, you could be anywhere.

Stroll around the Great Broad with scavenger hunt

Constitutional complete and many treasures later (although I’m still slightly sceptical of SC’s claim that she saw a frog on a lily pad…) we arrived back in the blazing sun. The cafe at the visitors centre looked very tempting but we headed back to Bernice for lunch.

The site has been recently refurbished and it shows. It’s beautifully kept with a great little shop and good waste recycling. The toilets are super swish, you feel like you’re in a spa with wooden doors, square sinks and posh hand wash (for the record I am NOT complaining!). Watch out for the light sensors in the toilet at night though, they turn off after about twelve and a half seconds if you’re in the shower and leave you bumbling around in the dark. The site also has a range of glamping accommodation if you don’t have a Bongo in your life…..

We had a range of ambitious plans for the afternoon including walking into Trowse, going to the pub, exploring the woods and the low ropes play area. In the end we plumped for doing…..nothing. It was very hot, SC picked up some pals staying in the Toyota Regis opposite, we played junior Monopoly and naps were taken. But there is loads to do without needing to drive if the weather’s not so good or you’re more actively inclined.

I’m a big fan of doing not much however and camping is ideal for that. There’s a limit to the chores you can do in a Mazda Bongo and the internet reception is normally bugger all. We whiled away the afternoon then ordered pizza from the visiting chefs (get in quick, they only make 30!). The evening featured a short walk to the ruined manor house in the woods, chat with the neighbours and more….not much.

The building was inhabited in the 18th century by an eccentric named William Money, best known for his experimental but ultimately unsuccessful hot air balloon travel 🎈 

Norfolk never lets us down!

New Bongo buddies!

On our Isle of Wight holiday we met, not one, but two sets of people on their first overnighter in their Bongo. This reminded me of our first trip in Bernice to Northmoor Lock in June 2014 with a weeny SC. It’s a beautiful site in Oxfordshire where you can swim in the river, have campfires and canoe to the pub.

It was exciting to meet Lisa and Gail at Grange Farm on their first overnighter with their fabulous new Betty Bongo.

They were accompanied by their 5 yr old grandson T. The kids became best buddies and tore around together playing footie, scooting and poking around the Bongos. I love the transient mini communities that pop up when camping, ours also included Maisie, Asher and Boo the poodle in the VW on the other side.

It was lovely to have some camping buddies and we spent most of Thursday on the beach trying out Lisa’s amazing inflable sofa type thing until it got a puncture and gracefully deflated. Despite having the whole beach at their disposal the kids were obsessed with a small pool of water with a splinter inducing wooden bridge.

There was sun (lots of sun!) and buckets and rock pooling and a boat and so the day passed in a happy, slightly sunburnt, haze.

Just as we were steeling ourselves to get up, pack up and drive to Cowes for the ferry on Saturday we spied a welcome distraction of another Bongo + owner. Jem bought his Bongo as a retirement present and had a busy schedule of trips planned.

I would never describe myself as a expert but I am definitely a Bongo geek and it’s always fun nosing in others vans, sharing your top storage tips and swapping camping stories, successful and otherwise. The people are one of the main reasons I love camping. You’d never have enough in common to get chatting with loads of people in an all inclusive hotel but I’ve had the best tips for days out in the washing up room and the chip van queue.

Here’s to Bongo friends, old, new and not met yet! The last instalment of highlights of the Isle of Wight is coming….

Highlights of the Island – part 1

I recently became aware of a well known abbreviation relating to text on the internet. TL;DR means “too long; didn’t read”. Whilst I could apply this liberally to my work email and almost everything sent to me by the Labour Party I don’t want it to be used in relation to my blog. In light of this I have tried to spread out the highlights of our trip to the Isle of Wight into two (or maybe three) posts so bear with me.

One of our highlights was definitely the campsite. We stayed at Grange Farm which is in Brighstone on the south west of the island. It’s a lovely non-commercial site perched on the cliff and only 100 yards to the beach.

Gorgeous view of the sea (and a fellow Bongo!)

It has all the usual facilities you’d expect, showers, washing up, playground etc but it is also working farm with goats, donkeys, alpacas, chickens, bunnies and turkeys. There’s an Aladdin’s cave of a shop selling all kind of things you didn’t know you needed plus the most amazing croissants and baguettes which are baked on site.

There’s also an iron and ironing board available which was a great relief to me. Got to keep one’s standards up when camping 😂

It’s a short, steep walk to the beach but definitely worth it. This is about as busy as it got….

After our gloomy start the weather picked up and stayed glorious for the rest of our stay. Following her fall on the ferry SC had stoically sat through having her various cuts and scrapes inexpertly examined, dabbed, poked, washed and redressed so, as a treat, we decided that our first day out would be to Robin Hill Country Park in Newport which looked to be chock full of 5yr old girl pleasing things.

And so it was. Highlights included:

  • Owl show – lots of swooping owls close to your head and comedy commentary. Did you know that the “wise old owl” is in fact a myth? Most of their heads are taken up with their eyes and their brains are very small…..
  •  Toboggan run – there’s a quarter mile toboggan run which is great fun. Given the ruinous entry fee to the park it’s a bit a nerve that you have to pay separately for this however (£1.50 for adults, 50p age 3-7)
  • 4D cinema – this was awesome. 3D glasses plus the seats tilt in all directions plus a smoke machine! I felt like I was actually on the moon. When is all cinema going to be 4D?
  • Pirate ship ride – you know when your child goes back to school you want them to talk about all the enriching and educational activities they did over the holidays? I think that having three goes in a row on the pirate ship will probably feature more heavily in SC’s account. I swear because there was no queue the bloke just let it swing on for ages – SC was absolutely delighted, I needed an ice cream to recover.

As well as the big stuff there is beautiful wooded grounds, roman remains, a sculpture trail, falconry and tonnes of play areas. A great day out was had by all and I highly recommend it.

Is there anything nicer than getting back to your campsite on a lovely sunny evening with nothing to worry about except what to have for tea and whether to play Guess Who or Uno? In fact, at Grange Farm, you never have to worry about going hungry, they have a full programme of visiting food vans – curry, wood fired pizza, fish & chips in rotation!

On returning we spied the arrival of a new Bongo and speculated in whispers about whether we should go over and give a big Bongo welcome. We did and you can read more about that to follow….. 🚐🚐