We’ve just got back from a holiday in Wales, which I totally intend to blog about at some point. Although I’m quite tired so don’t be surprised if the holiday post goes something like “Wales, sea, fundayzzzzzzz…..”. But I’m determined to at least blog about the first day of our holiday, which wasn’t even in Wales. It was kind of in the right direction though and meant we got to hang out with the Hollies for the day. We’d decided to split the drive to Wales over two days, so had a hotel booked in Swindon for the night. Which left us freeish to explore during the day. We would have been freer if an M4 closure between Slough and Maidenhead hadn’t added some journey time on but M4 closures were a bit of a theme for our time away.
We stopped at Chieveley for coffee on the way down and, even though we’d got past the closed bit of the M4 by then, decided to eschew motorway driving for a more exciting cross-country route between Chieveley and Bowood House. And it definitely was exciting! We drove through the middle of the North Wessex Downs, which was very pretty, and past the grandeur of Marlborough College. Then we saw some properly impressive stuff – the monoliths of Avebury and the prehistoric mound of Silbury Hill -which I totally failed to get any photos of. Well, here’s a photo of a field to compensate:
All of this brought us to Bowood House by lunchtime, which was something of an achievement. We met the Hollies at the Treehouse Cafe for lunch, which is just outside the entrance of the house and grounds. The cafe selection wasn’t huge – and they’d run out of jacket potatoes – but the staff were lovely and made a salad especially for Holly. I had a vegan cheese toastie, which I’d mainly picked because it had pickled onion in it, and it wasn’t bad considering it was vegan. Even after ten years of eating mainly dairy substitutes, I still haven’t reconciled myself to vegan cheese.
Once we’d eaten, we went through the entrance gate. We’d booked online in advance, so it was pretty easy to get checked in. We assumed the various kids would head straight for the adventure playground but they got very distracted by various climbing trees along the way, one of which had a telegraph pole growing out of it:
Eventually we got to the adventure playground, which had even more opportunities for climbing and some scarily vertical slides. No wonder the playground says “At Your Own Risk”:
The scariest was under a roof so I didn’t even see how steep it was but the ones I could see were extreme enough:
There was play equipment for younger kids too – swings and a trampoline – but it was good to find a playground that was challenging enough for tweens. The full size pirate ship was ace:
And the boat swings were a bit hit too:
We were in the playground for over an hour and only lured them out by promising a trip to the caves. The kids had formed some kind of super-secret spy corps that I can’t tell you about but it did seem to involve ducking, rolling and hiding all the way through the ornamental gardens and the slope beyond:
It would have been nice to spend a bit more time looking at the ornamental gardens and a bit less time looking for the “stealthy” children but I did get a few photos on the way through. Like this very worried-looking lion:
And a fragile stag that the kids managed not to touch, after only a few warnings:
And a very scenic arch, with some kind of faerie thing hanging around underneath it:
On the other side of the gardens was the aforementioned rolling-down slope, a vast lake and some ha-has, which is where I presume the road in Woolwich gets its name. If, like me, you didn’t know what a ha-ha was, let me tell you. It’s a ditch with a sunken fence, which is supposed to prevent livestock wandering all over the lawn without spoiling the view from the house. So, now you know.
The house and grounds, with the lake and boathouse and tiny temple, reminded me a lot of Ashburnham, where we’ve spent many a chilly church weekend away. Turns out they had the same landscape gardener – Capability Brown – so it’s no wonder they’re so similar. I really am bringing on the facts today.
We kinda meandered round the lake until we found the promised caves. I wasn’t sure what to expect but there was a very dark and twisty passageway that went through the rock and the kids had a great time stumbling around in the dark. I refused to go through it on touch alone so used my phone torch to see what was around the corner. Apparently that’s no fun though. Then the kids packed themselves into another rocky nook to have a spy meeting and we enjoyed five minutes of childfree time gazing at the waterfall.
But then, they found us:
It really was very pretty and a bit like being on holiday somewhere that wasn’t Swindon. We spent a long time scrabbling up rocks and over stepping stones and visiting a little grotto with fossils in the ceiling:
All of which inevitably meant that Eva’s legs “turned to jelly” and she couldn’t possibly walk back to the car. I bribed her along, inch by inch, with some cookie dough bites that Nathan had bought for the tube journey home the previous day before he remembered how hard it was to eat on the tube with a mask on. At one point she attempted to roll down a slope but that was something she did even more slowly than walking. The rest of the kids shot off down the hill and back the other side before she’d rolled a metre.
Somehow, we got back to the playground and there we enjoyed some well-deserved ice creams from the kiosk:
And that gave Eva the strength to finally make it across the highest of high beams:
It was getting late and we still had a little way to drive before we found our bed for the night. We’d booked the Holiday Inn, near Junction 15 of the M4. It wasn’t anything fancy but I’d made the booking halfway through our stint of self-isolation in July and it had seemed the most exciting thing in the world then that we might possibly leave the house and go and stay in Swindon for the night. It even had a swimming pool! So we checked in around 5:30 and, happily, they had timeslots available for us to swim that evening at 7 and again in the morning at 9. It was lovely and refreshing after a warm day of walking around Bowood and the kids were excited, even if they were disappointed at the jacuzzi being over 16s only. You can’t have everything, kids.
Once we were dryish, we had a late (for us) dinner at the Spotted Cow, a few minutes down the road. My instinct was to walk it after so much driving but the walking route seemed to take us over a dual carriageway with no crossing so driving it was. We ordered through the app, which is one of the only good things to come out of the pandemic, and the food arrived very quickly. Cheap, fast and filling food was exactly what we needed and the Spotted Cow certainly delivered that. We were all exhausted by this point, in case you couldn’t guess.
Then we drove back to the hotel for a slightly restless night (I was sharing a room with Eva and her feet do not stay on her side of the room) and then a fairly cheap hotel breakfast. I’m a real tightass when it comes to paying for breakfast in hotels and hadn’t paid for it beforehand because it was £14 per head, which would have been £56 for all of us. But when we checked it, I was told it was £10 per head and kids eat free. On that basis, we were in:
And we fuelled up well for another swim (allowing time for breakfast to settle first, obviously) before setting off on our drive to actual holiday. But more on that later. Maybe. Wales, sea, fundayzzzzzzz…..