Archive for the ‘Been there’ Category

  • Isle of Wight – culture, yachting and lots more

    Date: 2011.09.15 | Category: Been there | Response: 0

    The Isle of Wight, on the English south coast, is a great family holiday destination offering a safe, clean and friendly environment, with sandy beaches and seaside towns.

    A small island in the English Channel – it measures just 23 miles across – the Isle of Wight first came to prominence in the Victorian era when it was popular with leading names of the times such as Dickens, Tennyson and even Royalty.

    Prince Albert, along with his designer Thomas Cubitt, built Osborne House at East Cowes in the late 1840’s. Although it has many formal rooms for the visiting dignitaries, Albert was keen to develop it as comfortable family home and so much of the “non official” house feels more like holiday apartments. The Royal family stayed at Osborne House regularly and after Albert’s death, Queen Victoria made it her permanent residence.

    Since her death in 1901 the house has remained unchanged, as she wished, but Osborne House is now open to the public and is well worth a family visit. You can explore the grounds including the Royal children’s Swiss Tree House, gardens and the house and get a real feel for Victorian family and royal life.

    As an island, it is not surprising that the Isle of Wight has a close affinity with the sea and over the years it has become the focal for much of the UK’s yachting and sailing fraternity with the World famous Cowes Week being staged first week of August each year.

    Cowes Week is an exciting time to visit the island as you can watch the racing and enjoy the great party atmosphere that descends upon the town. There are lots of entertainments events organised during the week including a big firework display on the Friday.

    It is worth noting that around Cowes Week accommodation gets very booked up so it is worth considering staying in Southampton and travelling across on the ferries – there are also late night ferries home. You will find a number of good Hotels in Southampton.

    Although Cowes Week takes place during the first week of August you will find it remains a lively area for yachting and sailing throughout the summer holidays and definitely worth a visit.

  • Family fun at the National Stud, Newmarket, Suffolk, East Anglia

    Date: 2011.02.26 | Category: Been there, Cottages, Family Man, Holiday Parks, holidays, Latest News, Review 5 star | Response: 0

    Whilst holidaying in East Anglia we were looking for something to do on a family day out and we came across the National Stud at Newmarket… what a great find it was for all the family!

    The National Stud is, not surprisingly, to be found just outside the town of Newmarket in Suffolk – the home of horse racing in the UK. It is easily reached by car with plenty of parking but don’t be fooled by the automatic electronic gates which are closed until you approach by car – we almost turned away thinking it was closed.  And, according to several of our tourist leaflets, the tours weren’t available until mid March when we arrived in February, so we were pleased to find that they were very much open.

    Set in acres upon acres of land (over 500 acres), the National Stud is big business with some of the resident stallions being worth over £10 million and owners paying anything from £10,000 to £60,000 to bring their mares for a visit.  On the tour, which is about 75 minuntes, you get to see the Stallion Unit which included Bahamian Bounty and Cockney Rebel, seen from a respectful distance as they are not keen on people. You also see the Foaling Unit and get to see lots of mares and foals up close in the Nursery Yards and paddocks. And, it’s not often your children can say they have stroked a Grand National winner… the 2004 winner Amberleigh House is a very friendly horse that the family will love meeting.

    The tour is one of the most informative and interesting we have been on, giving you a fascinating insight in to the world of racing and breeding and was thoroughly enjoyed by all the family. The price was £20 for a family ticket which was excellent value. It was a relatively sunny February day when we were there and, as much of it is outside, we would recommend going on a day when it is not raining.  Find out more about the Tour>

    Staying in self catering in East England > Suffolk > Newmarket

    Staying in lodges in East England > Suffolk >

    Holiday parks in East England > Suffolk >

  • 5 star entertainment at Puy de Fou, Vendee, France

    Date: 2010.10.11 | Category: Been there, Places to go, Review 5 star | Response: 0

    With over 1.3 million visitors, the Puy de Fou is the 4th biggest theme park in France and is a great fun family day out.  Situated in the Vendee region of France, the park is a French favourite but it does cater well for its big number of foreign visitors each year.

    Puy de Fou offers the visitors fun packed live entertainment shows  including Gladiators in a colleseum, Vikings battle over a village, the Musketeer spectacular, the knights on horse back  jousting and a birds of prey display.  Doing all of the shows will take most of your day as you rush from one to the next and they are all great value.  If you do not speak French do not worry, you can get MP3 style players with headphones at the entrance that translates all the important bits.

    All of the shows are well put together and above all fun. We thoroughly enjoyed the Gladiators and the Vikings shows but have to say that the Musketeer show is truly spectacular and the top must see show.  From start to finish the Musketeer show was full of delightful surprises from villains appearing from chandaliers above the audience to the superb horse and light display as the arena filled with water… truly fantastic.

    In addition to the shows you can explore the Medieval City, the 18th Century village, Town Square and the Forest.  There is plenty to see and do and of course you will find characters in traditional dress.

    Through out Puy de Fou you will find places to get snacks and drinks and some fast food restaurants. Although there are picnic areas so it is worth taking some bits along with you to keep the costs down.

    Some practical advice is that if its going to be a warm day don’t forget your hats and sunscreen – a lot of the shows are in the open and so there is not a lot of shelter when the sun is at its hottest.  Similarly, if rain is possibility, don’t forget your raincoat to keep you dry through the shows… we watched some of the shows through a downpour, they never stopped and we never minded – it just made it all the more authentic.

    Puy de Fou also has two evening shows that make the most of fantastic castle and lake as backdrop to the evening entertainment.  The nights include, horse displays, fountains, fireworks and music.  If you are looking to do these shows you may want to buy a ticket for more than one day as we were so exhausted after doing the park we didnt have the energy to day for the night shows.

    So will this apply to families of all ages?  Simply, yes.  Our children, one of who was in a pushchair the first time we went, absolutely loved it with so much happening all around them.  The shows are superb but the whole park is just great to explore. We have been to the Puy de Fou 3 times in recent years and have enjoyed it every time – it’s 5 star entertainment.

    Accommodation near Puy de Fou

  • Fun family day out at ZSL London Zoo, Regents Park, London

    Date: 2010.10.06 | Category: Been there, Places to go, Review 4 star | Response: 0

    If the last time you visited the London Zoo was on a school trip many a year ago, then like me you may not have high expectations of a family trip to  the ZSL London Zoo just off Regents Park in the capital.  However, be prepared for a surprisingly enjoyable time as the zoo has cetainly come a long way since my last visit as a school kid!

    OK, my school memories of the smelly elephants aside, the ZSL London Zoo now has over 720 different species of animaland spread over 36 acres… so what better way to immerse your family and you into the animal kingdom. And much effort has been made to make the zoo more interactive and less of the viewing animals through bars of the zoos of the past.

    In recent years new exhibits, such as Animal Adventure (the new children’s zoo), Giants of the Galapagos, Butterfly Paradise, Meet the Monkeys, Rainforest Life, Gorilla Kingdom and the Blackburn Pavilion, create realistic environments housing some of the world’s most impressive and inspiring animals.  You can also visit the amphitheatre and be prepared for action as flying, leaping and climbing animals show off their skills.

    And, of course, the children loved the non-stop feeding time where they could get up close and personal with some of the animals.  However, there is no doubt that the penguins remained the star of the show for our children.

    The Zoo, is easy to find as it located in the north east corner of London’s Regent’s Park (open every day of the year except Christmas Day) and so it is very reasy to get a tube train to close by.

    As you would expect from a central London attraction it is not the cheapest family day out with adult tickets around £18 in peak season and children tickets at £15.  It is a little cheaper out of peak season and it is definitely worth a late Autum and winter visit when the crowds will be a lot less.  Another great tip is to buy your tickets online which will save you 10% on each ticket.

    Food is available at the café and kiosks, it is prepared with ethically-sourced ingredients and not bad for a tourist attraction but again not the cheapest.  We grabbed something to eat on the way to the zoo to savesome pennies although there were places to sit andeat sandwiches if you were more organised.

    Where to stay


    • Value for money: 4 star
    • Facilities: 4 star
    • All family entertainment: 5 star
    • Overall: 4 star
  • Beautiful Boscastle and Harbour, Cornwall, South West England

    Date: 2010.09.28 | Category: Been there, Places to go, Review 4 star | Response: 0

    When travelling around Cornwall you can become slightly accustomed to the spectacular views and pretty villages but one place well worth a visit is Boscastle. Situated a few miles from popular tourist attraction, Tintagel, Boscombe lies with in a narrow ravine that has been created by the rivers Jordan and Valency.

    You can drive to Boscastle, reaching the bottom of the ravine via some windy roads.  Conveniently a the bottom is a large car park which has public toilets. From the car park you can walk through the village and alongside the river towards the harbour entrance.  There are paths streching either side of the water that give you some spectacular views and a very pleasant circular walk.

    Not only is Boscastle pretty, it is also has some modern history that makes it a fascinatingplace to visit.  In 2004 Boscastle was devastated by a flash flood which destroyed many of the buildings along the riverside.  If you head in to the cafe on the riverside which has since been rebuilt you can see pictures of the devastation and the rebuilding – which included building the roof at an angle to keep with the original look!  Incidentally, the cafe also does a great cream team which was quite simply delicious while eating near the river.

    When you had back to the car park it is also worth checking out the Tourist Information board that provides lots of information on all the work being done to prevent another flash flood.

    Of course this is Thomas Hardy country and if you are interested in finding out more head to the Old Rectory on the road to St Juliot where you can stay in the authors bedroom and roam its extensive grounds.

    Where to stay?

    * Self catering and cottages in Boscastle, Cornwall, South West England
    * Holiday parks in Cornwall, South West England
    * Lodges in Tintagel, Cornwall, South West England
    * B&B’s in Padstow, Cornwall, South West England
    * Hotels in Padstow, Cornwall, South West England


    Boscastle was an enjoyable afternoon, even the children enjoyed the time exploring the harbour area!

    • Suitable for Family: 4 stars
    • Public facilities (toilets): 3 stars
    • Cafe/food: 4 stars
  • Polzeath Beach, Cornwall, South West England

    Date: 2010.09.13 | Category: Been there, Places to go, Review 4 star | Response: 0

    If you are looking for a good beach to learn to surf, improve your skills or to bodyboard and mess around in the waves then why not try out Polzeath Beach in Cornwall. Situated on the Padstow Bay, Polzeath gets good quality and consistent waves making this one of the best surfing beaches in Cornwall.

    We arrived there on a blustery August day and because we arrived later in the day we managed to get parked at the beaches main car park.  However, there are other car parks close by so if you can not get in to this relatively small car park you will not be too far away.

    The beach itself is wide and sandy andwhen the tide is out it is a long way down to the water – so plenty of room for everyone.  During the summer months there are RNLI Lifeguards on duty making it a safe place to be out on the water for all the family.  There are toilets in the car park area but there is not really much in the way of shower facilities like you find at somewhere like Fistral Beach.

    If you are looking for surfing lessons, with equipment and wetsuits included then head straight to the beach car park, where you will find a couple of good BSA approved surf schools.  We took our own bodyboards and summer wetsuits and boarded for a couple of hours quite happily in the patrolled areas.  We were there on a windy day though and the openess of the beach doesn’t provide a great deal of shelter – even our beach tent was struggling to cope – and in that sort of weather , even with the sun out, it was worth wearing your own wetsuit or hiring one.

    There are a few shops relatively close to the beach in Polzeath – including a Spar mini supermarket, a cafe, some stalls and a pub.  So you can grab the odd thing to eat or drink but if you are mkaing a day of it, it’s worth taking a picnic with you.  There was also an ice cream van on the beach – which saved a walk!

    Within walking distance from Polzeath are some other magnificent places to visit including Rock, Daymer Bay, Pentire Point, St Minver and Trebetherick.  All can be reached by the local coastal paths that offer spectacular views over looking Cornwall‘s rugged coast line and out to the Atlantic Ocean.

    Where to stay?


    • Suitable for Family: 4 stars
    • Beach and surf: 5 stars
    • Beach facilities (toilets/showers): 3 stars
    • Cafe/food: 3 stars
    • Safety: 5 stars (RNLI Lifeguards during season)
  • Fistral Beach, Newquay, Cornwall, South West England

    Date: 2010.08.24 | Category: Been there, Places to go, Review 5 star | Response: 0

    One word comes to mind when thinking of Fistral Beach in Newquay, Cornwall… surfing.  Fistral Beach is the home of British surfing, with the British Surfing Association based there, and so is a must for surfers of all experiences and levels.

    Before I go any further, if surfing conjures up images of Hawaii and young athletic people riding the waves… don’t be put off.  Fistral, particularly during the summer months, is the haven of the family amateur surfer, body boarder and the swimmer.  In fact with the RNLI Lifeguards present throught the summer months, keeping order and keeping you safe, Fistral Beach is a great place to take the family for safe water fun.

    Fistral Beach has a car park above it, but you will need to get there early or be lucky to find a space.  If not, there are a plenty of car parks in the town which are not too long a  walk away.  However, we always tried the car park first, if we were not lucky with a space then we dropped all our stuff and the passengers off and then went to park the car.

    Fistral itself is a large, generally flat, sandy beach.  It will get busy in the summer holidays when the sun is out but you can usually find yourself somewhere to sit.  We found our beach tent invaluable in securing a little bit of space and, more importantly, to help us find our way back to our stuff after being in the sea!

    The facilities at Fistral are very good, there are toilets and showers (50p token required) as well as a cafe and shops over looking the beach.  The food is not the cheapest – £2 for chips – but all in all, the facilities make it far easier to spend the day at the beach.

    So the surfing and bodyboarding.  Well the summer swells are not the best time of year for the serious surfer – it is much better in the Autumn – but it is a good time for beginner as there are usually good waves to learn and practice on.  As you would imagine there are a number of BSA approved surf schools that operate on Fistral Beach and lessons for a half day tend to be around £30.  It is well worth having a lesson at the beginning of your holiday to teach you the techniques and the safety basics nad then you can spend the rest of the holiday refining your technique. Surf lessons are appropriate for people of all ages – from 8 to 78, so there are no excuses not to give it a go!

    Your surf school will provide everything you need for your lesson – including boards and wetsuits – you just need to remember your swimming costume, a towel and the sunscreen (even on cloudy days)!  If you don’t want the lesson but don’t have the equipment, there are plenty of places on the beach or nearby that you can hire surf equipment including the wetsuits.

    Whether you are swimming, surfing or bodyboarding, there are specific areas for you to be in on the sea and the RNLI Lifeguards keep it well organised, meaning you can feel safe whatever you are doing.

    Newquay town centre is only a short walk from the beach and so at the end of the day it is easy to head for a bar or pub for a drink to celebrate your success!

    Where to stay?


    • Suitable for Family: 5 stars
    • Beach and surf: 5 stars
    • Beach facilities (toilets/showers): 4 stars
    • Cafe/food: 4 stars
    • Safety: 5 stars (RNLI Lifeguards during season)
  • Compton Acres, Bournemouth, Dorset, South West England

    Date: 2010.08.23 | Category: Been there, Latest News, Places to go, Review 4 star | Response: 0

    As a family that has spent so much time holidaying in the Bournemouth area of Dorset it is amazing that it has taken us so long to do one of its largest attractions. Our hesitancy has always been along the familiar lines of… “it will be a nice garden but will we enjoy it while tugging the kids along behind us!”

    This August we finally bit the bullet, bought the £17 family ticket and headed in.

    Compton Acres is one of the finest privately owned gardens in the South of England with a unique series of stunning gardens and a spectacular view of Poole Harbour, Brownsea Iasland and the Purbeck Hills beyond.

    Once inside you follow a circular path route that takes you through the various gardens, from the splendid formal Italian  Gardens, through the sub Tropical link to the wooded pine valley, rock and water gardens and much more.  As you would imagine the gardens are all pretty, well maintained and very peaceful.

    Our favourite was the Japanses garden, which is recognised as one of the best in Britain, with its Tea House draped in Japanese wisteria and the thatched summer house.

    As for the children, well their highlights were the activity area which allowed them to climb and run around a bit – without disturbing other visitors – and the Bog Garden which was a great place to spot wildlife including butterflies, toads and many many dragonflies.  Compton Acres during the summer holidays had also put on a clue trail for the children to follow, which kept them occupied, if only for the promised sweet reward at the end.

    Compton Acres is pathed all the way around and so is accessible for pushchairs and the disabled.

    Most surprising moment was the fantastic view across the harbour from the cafe – up to that point you feel in an enclosed garden and then you suddenly look up and see across the Harbour to Brownsea Island and beyond.  The cafe had a good selection of sandwiches and cakes to accompany tea, but we just sat and appreciated the view.

    We visited Compton Acres in the summer holidays but it is open all year round with colour and scent throughout and regular events held so check the website for more information.

    There is also a Model Railway Exhibition that includes 1000 foot of scenic track attached to Compton Acres, although this does require extra admission (£1.50 for adults, £1 for children).

    Location and accommodation

    Compton Acres is close to Sandbanks, set between Bournemouth and Poole in Dorset.


    • Family fun: 4 stars
    • Lenth of visit: Allow 2 hours

    Find out more

    Visit the Compton Acres website to find out more.

  • Eden Project, St Austell, Cornwall

    Date: 2010.08.16 | Category: Been there, Features, Places to go, Review 5 star | Response: 0

    One of the UK’s premier holiday attractions, the Eden Project is a fascinating and fun,
    5 STAR family day out in Cornwall.

    So what exactly is the Eden Project?

    First and foremost, it’s a garden – an amazing, incredible garden.  Discover plants that have helped humanity since the dawn of time explained in fun and engaging ways.

    Trek through steamy jungles, past shacks, waterfalls, and plantations – including the largest rainforest in captivity with a tree canopy 50 meters high.

    Travel to the Mediterranean without leaving the UK – perfumed citrus orchards and olive groves, all enclosed in a second Biome, transport you to warmer climes.

    Then you can marvel at the cutting-edge architecture and art.  Such as the world-famous Biomes which include the largest  greenhouse in the World. Explore the Core, a stimulating education centre, with a roof built the same way plants are.  See World-class art installations right across the site making Eden a huge gallery.

    And, of course, it’s a living example of regeneration and sustainable living – learn how they turned a clay pit in to a paradise.

    Fun for all the family?

    Whatever your age you will find plenty to entertain you at Eden.  During the School summer holidays the Eden team run lots of kids entertainment, which while we were there included building a den from items such as poles, ropes, canvas, tarpaulin, material and whatever else you could scavenge!  Also water challenges – including pumping water along family made river valleys.  The children had great fun at these and then sat down and watched and took part in the fire starting demonstrations for over 45 minutes.


    You can eat at the restaurants at Eden which are reasonable value for a major attraction.  However, if you are there after 4.30 in the summer you can also enjoy a barbecue which is superb value and well worth doing.  There was also a band playing to entertain you.

    Plan your day

    Before you visit Eden it is worth checking the website to see what is going on to make the most of your day.  It is well worth knowing that after 3.30pm there are reduced rates for adults and children go free – this made a saving of £30 for our party of 5! Not only did it save money, parking and wandering around the attraction was so much easier later in the day.

    Couple of other tips.

    • Don’t forget the sun lotion as it can be a major sun trap.
    • Its a long walk back to the car once inside, so make sure you take everything you need when setting off.


    St Austell, Cornwall, South West England

    Where to stay

    Caravan and holiday parks close to Eden: St Austell, Cornwall, South West England

    Self catering and cottages close to Eden:  St Austell, Cornwall, South West England

    Lodges close to Eden: Cornwall, South West England


    • Value for money: 5 star – especially after 3.30pm
    • All family entertainment: 5 star
    • Parking: 5 star
    • Overall: 5 star
  • New Perran Holiday Park, Cornwall

    Date: 2010.08.14 | Category: Been there, Review 3 star | Response: 0

    New Perran Holiday Park is on the north coast of Cornwall close to the popular beaches of Newquay and Perranporth.

    The first thing you will notice about this park is the view.  Situated in an elevated position you have a terrific view of un-spoilt countryside in all directions.  In fact it is so completely  surrounded by countryside and farm land, that New Perran has no traffic or car noise near by so you can really feel away from it all.

    Of course an elevated position does mean that you notice the windy days more but most of the site is bordered by hedges which provide some protection.  We would still recommend that you take along a wind break or two to give yourself some extra sun trap areas.

    New Perran has caravan accommodation as well as touring and camping pitches.


    New Perran is ideally placed for Newquay, with the popular surfing and body boarding locations of Fistral Beach and Watergate Bay just 5-6 miles away.  Even closer is the beach at Perranporth which is just 4 miles from the site entrance.

    Touring caravans, motor homes and camping pitches

    The pitches are large and well spaced around green central areas meaning that the park feels open and spacious.  We visited this park in the school summer holidays and the site was busy but did not feel crowded and was not noisy.

    The are a number of toilet blocks that have showers, washbasins and toilets. These are  cleaned daily and during our stay were clean – although after everyone gets back from the beach they can get a bit sandy.  There are also family rooms that include a baby bath.

    Washing up facilities were located in the same blocks and these were adequate.


    There is a good sized ‘heated’ swimming pool on the park but during our stay the children found the pool very cold – although this was not helped by the wind.

    There is a shop on site for your basic needs but this is open between 8am to 11am and 4pm-7pm so you need to be organised to be there before lunchtime.

    There is a also a Cottage Inn on site but on our 2010 summer stay this remained closed.  So it is worth checking before you book if you were expecting to have this bar facility.

    For children there is a good adventure playground in the middle of the park that our children spent quite a lot of time on.  There is also a toddlers play area and games/TV room.

    For those traveling with pets their are large dog exercise areas at each end of the park.

    Caravan accommodation

    The park has a number of luxury holiday caravans catering for 4 to 8 people. Each comes with a shower, toilet, hot and cold water, tv, full sized cooker, microwave oven, fridges, gas fires and electric heaters. Some also come with central heating.

    For more information about the accommodation>

    Review scores

    • Pitch sizes: 4 stars
    • Washing and toilet facilities: 3 stars
    • Entertainment facilities: 2 stars
    • Swimming pool: 3 stars
    • Overall score: 3 stars

Recent Posts

"Been there, Done that" Reviews

Holiday reading

Holidays and Accommodation