The week before Easter, we were lucky enough to be able to a book a last minute mid-week break at The Manor House Hotel in Devon. It was our first holiday of any kind since October, and our first trip as a family of five. I had booked it on a whim the week before, after the day to day grind had left me craving an escape and a bit of good old fashioned quality time as a family.
So Monday came and we had planned to take Mabel to her ballet class at 11.15, pop to Aldi to pick up some snacks for the journey and then head off just after mid day. Well, of course we were only half packed when we got up on Monday, so the morning passed in a blur of throwing clothes into suitcases and running through lists over and over, trying to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything essential. Not only that but Greta had woken up with an itchy rash all over her face and body which looked like a reaction to a cream I had put on for her eczema the night before. Oh and Mabel decided that she didn’t want to go to Ballet, she didn’t like ballet anymore and she was never going again (‘Oh I’m so glad I’ve just bought you a full dancing uniform with tap and ballet shoes then!’). I was trying to stay upbeat and positive, but I’m not going to pretend that there wasn’t a lot of moaning and snapping at each other going on, it took a very long time just to persuade the girls to get dressed for example, and by the time we loaded ourselves, and what felt like the entire contents of our house, into the car I think it’s safe to say we were all thoroughly stressed out. All of this only reinforced what I’d felt all along, we really need this break!
The journey was not the most fun 4 hours of my life, but we made it to Devon in one peace. Even driving past the beautiful rolling hills and seeing the little lambs frolicking in the fields had already started to ease my troubles, and stepping out of the car at the hotel, taking in the gorgeous view and breathing in the fresh air, I could feel myself start to relax, just a little bit. We found our way to reception (chasing after the excited, galloping kids), and then to our room. Our room was lovely and I was really impressed with how they’d managed to get a huge double bed (great for when all five of us inevitably end up in there, a single for Mabel, a shorter single for Greta and a cot for Ernie (yeah right he’s going to sleep in that, but the thought was appreciated), all in one room. There was a nice big TV mounted on the wall with the all important CBeebies on, invaluable for the mornings to keep the girls entertained while we all got up and dressed for breakfast. The bathroom was also lovely with a nice big bath and shower over. The bit that I liked best though was the ‘back door’ leading out to a little paved area with picnic bench, a field for the girls to run off their excess energy on, and behind that a stunning view. If it had been Summer, rather than early Spring, I could imagine sitting out on the bench with a cup of tea in the morning, watching the girls run around before I was awake enough to go to breakfast.
After a mini panic about Greta’s now very sore looking skin, it was already past the kids bedtime, so we quickly headed off to the dining room for dinner. Dinner was delicious, all the food was actually. The starter was serve yourself from a selection of cold meats and salad, soup, bread rolls and a hot dish that changed daily. I found this really helpful for the kids because it’s all the types of food that they normally love to snack on and I think they thought it was a treat to have it for dinner and I happy that they were filling their tummies! Greta was really fond of the boiled eggs, cucumber and cheese and Mabel really loved the ham and garlic mushrooms. There were a few choices for main course which we had to order from our waiter. Carl and the girls chose a fillet of beef in gravy on our first night and I chose a mushroom, walnut and blue cheese tart which was gorgeous. The mains were served with boiled and roast potatoes and a selection of veg (which was the girls favourite part). The girls favourite part of the whole meal by far were the puddings. There was a good selection to chose from each night, my favourite was the sticky toffee pudding. Mabel chose chocolate ice cream nearly every single night and was chuffed that it came with a wafer, Carl’s pick of the week was Creme brûlée and Greta loved the chocolate brownie.
I’ll be honest I was worried about the girls running riot in the dinning room, but they did very well for their age I think. It’s near enough impossible to expect a 3 year old and a 2 year old to sit quietly at a table for all three of their meals all week, especially dinner which went on for a lot longer than they are used to with it being three courses. They had their moments of course, Greta doing a forward roll in between the tables being one of them, but thankfully the staff and other diners just gave an understanding smile. Phew! One thing that was a bit tricky was that dinner didn’t start until 6.15pm and we normally aim to have the girls in bed by 7pm so we were pushing their bedtime before we even started. We could have ordered them a kids tea to eat at 5pm but then we’d still have to take them to the dinning room with us when we ate, and then expect them to sit and wait without anything to eat, which just wasn’t going to happen really.
Tuesday morning we got up and excitedly headed off to breakfast which again was very yummy with a really impressive selection and more than enough different options for the kids to say they want and then push aside after 2 mouthfuls as usual. After we’d eaten we went exploring and first of all found the sign up room. I loved this room, there was something satisfyingly retro about physically writing your name on a sign up sheet pinned to the wall. It felt a little bit like you’d stepped back in time, but in a good way. It made me feel like I was in Dirty Dancing, but I didn’t sign up to learn the salsa unfortunately and there was no talent show at the end of the week. We signed Carl and Mabel up for the water slides that evening, and we put our names down for our 90 minute hydro spa sessions on Thursday, making sure that they didn’t overlap, so that we could take it in turn to be with the kids.
As we came out and explored some more, we stumbled across the adventure golf and Mabel was desperate to have a go. We had a look to see if it was suitable for children and found that they even had mini putters, so we got stuck in. Both girls had a great time, mostly swinging and missing but Mabel did somehow manage a hole in one! It was a beautiful sunny day and I was having a great time watching and laughing as the girls messed around (and making sure we stayed out of the way of the more serious players).
After golf, Carl and Ernie went for a drive to find something for Greta’s poorly skin and me and the girls went on a mission to find the fun house (soft play). We didn’t get quite as far as the fun house because Greta spotted the indoor/outdoor play area on the way down and started shouting ‘GO IN THERE!!’ So we duly obliged. It was really nice to have an hour with just my two girls, it’s very rare that Ernie is away from me so it felt a bit strange, but also freeing to be able to run around and play with the girls (and snap lots of pictures of course) without having to worry about what Ernie was doing.
By the time the boys were on their way back, it was time for lunch so we met them back in the dining room. Lunch was great for kids because there was yet again another huge selection but this time of hot and cold food including salad and cold meats again, jacket potatoes, chips, beans, peas, and a hot buffet. This was heaven for the girls because they could have all their favourites on one plate and easy for us because we didn’t have a fight about what they were going to eat, I could just let them pick whatever they wanted. They ended up with peas, cucumber, chips, ham and cheese all on the same plate. Why not?
After lunch, we went off in search of the fun house and this time we actually made it there without getting distracted by something else that looked fun on the way down. The fun house was a surprisingly big room, with a huge play frame including all the soft play favourites and even a three lane bumpy slide. Not only that, but there was a peddle cart race track and separate area for tots so even Ernie could get involved in the soft play fun. Even more surprisingly, we had the whole place to ourselves for a while, which was amazing. Not for too long though because to Mabel’s delight, a couple of other families turned up after a while and she set to work making friends. Mabel makes friends by following other children and talking to them until they talk back. Luckily the other children at the hotel were also the friendly type. The fun house became a firm favourite hang out for the girls during the week and we went back at least once every day an usually saw the same families there every time!
We then made tracks to one of the swimming pools for a quick go on the sides before dinner. Ernie was due a nap, so we watched from the viewing room while Carl took Mabel and Greta in for some splashy fun. As well as the main swimming pool there were 2 smaller shallow pools to the side in a separate area with smaller slides for the little ones. These slides were the perfect height for Greta and Mabel and it was great to be able to let them have that independence to climb up the steps and slide down all by themselves with Carl nearby to step in when needed. Greta was not quite tall enough for the bigger slides, so she came out with me when they were opened so that Mabel and Daddy could go thrill seeking together. Mabel liked the slides but although she was tall enough for them, I think she’s a bit little still really, so she only had a few goes before getting dressed and coming to join the rest of us.
On Wednesday morning we had put Mabel and Greta’s names down for junior archery and we were all really excited to give it a go. We had thought about doing it at Centre Parcs in October, but Greta was a bit small for it then so we thought we’d wait until both girls were old enough to do it together. Well Greta had a couple of goes with Daddy helping, but she was still a bit little to do it properly. She soon resorted to running around waving a plastic arrow and spinning on the spot, a couple of times running in front of the other little archers and narrowly avoiding an arrow to the head! The guy leading the session was really nice and helped Mabel out when Ernie decided that he didn’t want to have his usual morning nap that day and I needed to pay him some attention. Mabel loved the session and even managed to get a few shots on target (and one on her friends target).
After lunch we decided to head into Oakhampton to get Greta to have a nap and look for a present for our nephew Tommy’s birthday. The town centre wasn’t very far away at all and had a good few little shops as well as a museum and a couple of small supermarkets. We found a little gift shop where Mabel wanted to buy all of the figurines on display and we chose an Old Macdonald dining and cutlery set for Tommy. Greta had a long sleep and Mabel didn’t sleep, instead she had a breakdown in the car about taking her socks off or something, by this point they were both thoroughly worn out from all the fun and excitement of being on holiday. I always lose in the holiday balancing act between wanting to have all the fun in the world and making sure that no one gets over tired and over stimulated.
When we got back to the hotel we all went for a swim, it was Ernie’s first time in a swimming pool! He didn’t like the baby pool, he liked to be in the big pool so that he could be fully submerged while I held him in close to me. The pool was nice and warm so we stayed in for a good half an hour. It was also very quiet, with only a few other children sharing the pool with us, so it was ideal for Ernie’s first swim. Mabel found some ‘big girls’ to play with and they had fun hanging out in the spa bath and she thought that she was just the coolest person ever. There was no family changing room so I took Ernie in with me and Carl took the girls with him. This worked fine, but the clip was broken on the baby changing table so I was glad I didn’t have another child with me because there was nowhere safe to leave Ernie.
In the early hours of Thursday morning I was woken by the sound of Carl being sick in the bathroom. He has really poorly bless him and spent the entire morning either being sick or in bed. I’m certain that it wasn’t the food because we both ate the same the night before and I’m not sure it was a bug either because none of the rest of us caught it. It will remain a mystery. Maybe it was ‘want-a-lie-in-itis’? I’m joking! (Doc Mcstuffins would agree with me!). Anyway that left me with the three children to cope with on my own. We did a flying visit to breakfast, where I basically gave them exactly what they wanted (fried egg and sausage for Greta, fried egg and a plate full of mushrooms for Mabel) and bounced Ernie around in the wrap to keep him quiet whilst shoving a croissant in my gob and yelling at encouraging the girls to sit down and eat. They were really good actually considering the situation, perhaps they sensed that Mummy was hanging on to her sanity by a thread and thought they’d give me a break for a change. We then hot footed it down to the haven of the fun house, where luckily all the other young families were also hanging out and I could let the girls loose on the play frame with their friends.
By lunchtime we managed to rouse Carl and tempt him back to life and we all headed down to the craft centre to do some bisque painting. Greta chose a tortoise to paint and Mabel chose a dog that she called Elsa. There wasn’t much instruction but it’s pretty self explanatory and we liked the freedom to just get on with it. You could come and go as you pleased to the bisque painting so if you had an older child they might like to buy a bigger piece and then come back to it several times over their holiday until it was finished. I think I would have loved that when I was a kid. There was lots of other craft activities that you could sign up to do including jewellery making that Mabel was interested in, but we didn’t really have time to do anything else and I would have had to ask if it would be suitable for her age before I signed us up because I wasn’t sure. The great thing is you only pay for materials and everything else is included. These little animals that the girls painted cost £7 for both of them, and that was actually all we spent in the hotel all holiday, well that and and £1.20 for a bottle of lucozade out of the vending machine when Carl was feeling poorly.
Thursday was also the day that we had signed up for the hydro spa so unfortunately because of Carl’s poorliness we had to miss our sessions which was a real shame because I was really looking forward to soaking all my stresses and strains away. Instead though we went back to our room before dinner and I had a bath with Ernie. Carl perched on the toilet for a chat and Ernie smiled and cooed at us as we remembered all the funny parts of our week. Greta came in and put her hands in the bath to splash Ernie and chat to him and then when Mabel realised what was going on her clothes were off and she jumped straight in quicker than I could say ‘just don’t get your hair wet!’. That little family moment was better than a whole day at a spa and after all, the whole reason that we had come away anyway.
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