Yes, I know those places aren’t anywhere near each other but they alliterate and we’ve been to both this week. Well kinda. It was actually the next bay over from West Bay. But again, see the alliteration! We’ve spent hours in the car this week playing Harry Potter alphabet games, so you really start to appreciate a bit of alliteration after a while. What would Godric Gryffindor do?
So, not-quite-West Bay. I think it was actually called Hive Beach and we chose there because it had a cafe and toilets and a National Trust car park that we could use for free because Holly and Chris are NT members. It had that same, orange-cliff Broadchurchy look as West Bay, which feels a bit sinister if you’ve watched the show. But what could be sinister on a day when the sky is a deep blue, the sun is shining and there are an abundance of adorable doggies on the beach? Nothing, that’s what.
The waves were a little terrifying though. I’ve been a bit wary of the sea and kids ever since Eva nearly drowned herself at Frinton two years ago, so she and I just stayed at the very edge of the surf and let our toes, ankles and occasionally knees get wet. It’s hard to describe what exactly it was about the sea that made me think it wasn’t a safe day, but the point at which the waves were most swollen was just past the shore edge and it looked like it got very deep very suddenly. There were quite a few young teenage kids in there, who seemed to be enjoying it, but one especially kept making me worried when he seemed to go further and further out to sea and not get himself back. I definitely wasn’t going to chuck my little non-swimmer in there when even swimmers were struggling.
(He was fine last I saw him by the way. I probably didn’t need to panic)
Apart from the paranoia-inducing waves, it was idyllic. There were rocks for the kids to climb on, a grassy area to sit on by the ice cream hut and the smell of fish’n’chips in the air. Obviously Eva dropped her ice cream on the path cause she was arsing about, but we picked it back up again and it was mostly OK. I had the salted caramel flavour and it was pretty amazing. She had the Strawberry and Path Grit and didn’t complain too much. We were sad to leave but we had a long way to go before bed so had to get on the road.
Because bed was, as you might have discerned by now, in Windsor. Which is 3 hours’ drive from the Dorset coast but not as far as driving all the way home. We had family to meet in Windsor the next day so it did all make sense, promise. It just seemed a little illogical at the time.
We got there just before bedtime, after a stop at a services somewhere near Southampton for a McDonalds and a raid of the shop for breakfast items. I was pretty successful and emerged with a variety pack of cereals for only £2.79 – given that a packet of digestives cost about the same, I think I did pretty well. Eva had ordered milk with her Happy Meal so that would do for breakfast too. Sorted.
We even managed to follow Google Maps’ insanely complicated instructions, which involved joining the M25 at J12, coming straight back off it at J13, doing a U-turn around a roundabout, driving back the way we’d come alongside the M25 and then doing a mad loop-de-loop before being spat out into the middle of the most immensely confusing roundabout this side of Slough. Luckily, we got it all right first time and there were no other cars trying to do anything that might have got in our way so I had enough time on the long straight road that followed to take some photos of the glorious sunset:
I’d impulse-bought the hotel stay at the De Vere Beaumont Estate on Booking.com and the reviews had been mixed. The photos looked amazing but the bargain price suggested the only amazing thing would be the level of disappointment we experienced. As it was, both were kinda true. It was a beautiful house from the front, with equally beautiful grounds. We would be staying in the not-so-beautiful part at the back, which was partway through being renovated. But we’re very used to that kind of set up through our years of church weekends away at Ashburnham Place and we’re not at all fussy.
The room was clean and fairly simply decorated and the beds were big and comfortable. That’s all we ask for at the end of a long drive. We’d booked a family room, which meant two beds – one double bed and one double sofa bed. Reuben was not at all keen to share the sofa bed with Eva, so we used the big square sofa cushions to make him a bed on the floor and he was perfectly comfortable. Reception also provided kids’ activity packs when we checked in, so that helped to sweeten the general mood. We also had extremely detailed instructions on how to use a bathmat, which was most educational:
The kids were up early the next morning, so I cracked out the service station cereal, along with the McDonalds milk that had been chilling on the windowsill next to the open window. Served in hotel mugs, with a side of Tunnocks caramel wafers and grapes, all procured from WHSmith in Rownhams Services. Yes, I am too tight to pay for hotel breakfast. Once we’d all got up and been fed, we went for a swim at the hotel leisure club which was a total luxury. They even provided towels, which was lucky because I hadn’t packed any. Well, it had all been a bit impulsive. There was a box of swim noodles at the side of the pool, which meant that Eva could swim all by herself and even Nathan could float a bit better than usual with one. It was a lovely way to start what was sure to be a fun-packed day in Windsor.
We weren’t meeting the family till 3ish, so had some time to kill. The swim had made me starving and a cup of cereal-tinged tea and another wafer in the hotel room didn’t really take the edge off. Lucky that we had a table booked for brunch at the local Harvester, which was about 3 minutes’ drive away. It wasn’t our usual pre-Legoland stop off (the Windsor Lad), although we would later drive past that one around five times. It was called the Bells of Ouzeley and had a riverside view, including the exciting spotting of a paddle steamer, which I’d never seen in real life before. And no, of course I didn’t get a picture. Do you think I’m made of foresight?
Of course, before any brunching could be done, we needed to extract the kids from the hotel and the climbing frame they’d found out the back, just next to the giant war memorial and the Wicker Man-esque Parliament of Hares.
Yes, we were late for our booking. We made it by 10:45 and breakfast officially finishes at 11:30 so I can’t say we got the absolute best out of the unlimited cooked breakfast options but we made plenty of trips to the breakfast bar before it was swapped out for salad, and Eva made a bowl of cereal last so long that we were still sitting there well past midday. No one chucked us out tho, and we paid the bill via the app so didn’t have anyone hovering anxiously over us waiting to see if we were able to pay for that mountain of meat that Reuben had consumed. Although we did have the source of the meat looking at us with extreme judgement in his eyes:
Eventually, we did leave and went off to see what Windsor had to offer. We parked in the car park at the Riverside station, purely on the basis that it used the kind of parking app that Nathan already had downloaded onto his phone and neither of us could be bothered to download a new one. It was a fiver for the day, which seems pretty minimal by London standards but I understand some people might balk at that.
I recognised the Cote brasserie across the river as one we’d been to for a wedding reception around nine years ago. So with a misguided sense of purpose we set off across the bridge to see what that bit of the town was like. On the way, we spotted several ceramic lions who formed a “Lions of Windsor” trail. I tried to access the trail map on my phone but the rain was playing havoc with it so I couldn’t but isn’t it more fun just to discover them as you go? Even in the rain?
Possibly, possibly not. The road we were wandering down seemed a bit short on lions and generally a bit short on anything that the kids might find entertaining. There were gentlemen’s outfitters, flower shops, one antique bookshop, a few restaurants…but nothing we could hang around in for long. I was longing to find a WHSmith or similar, where they could at least shelter from the rain and browse the latest David Walliams book. But no. A barber with a giant sparkly Bowie portrait in it provided a few seconds’ entertainment but in general, this summed up the mood:
Then we found Eton College. Lots of bits of it. A Natural History Museum that would have been open to the public on a different day. A library that wouldn’t be open for another hour. A gold painted phone box lined with bookshelves that I, for a mad moment, considered sheltering inside and reading for a bit. Would all four of us fit in and have space to move our elbows? It seemed unlikely.
I thought again. It was probably time to check the map and see where all the shops of Windsor had got to. I swore I’d seen something about a play cafe somewhere. And a Lush. It didn’t look like they were on this road. My phone still wasn’t responding well to the rain, so we huddled under a tree, restarted it and checked the map.
Ahhhh, we were in Eton. No wonder we hadn’t found the rest of Windsor yet. We’d gone wrong as soon as we set foot on that bridge over the river. If we just turned back the way we came, there would be all manner of delights awaiting us. Of course, we first tried to keep going the way we were walking but that led us down a single track road with no pavement, so turning back eventually seemed the best course of action.
Almost as soon as we got back across the river, things looked brighter. Here were some public loos, with pictures of women in beautiful dresses that Eva yuvved! And a Warhammer shop! More lions! And, hallelujah, a WHSmith.
I’m aware that this post seems to have been sponsored by WHSmith. I assure you that it isn’t. I just like to practise extreme expectation management and it was everything I was hoping for. An “Eva section”, filled with sparkly and fluffy stationery, the world’s biggest Sharpie collection and an illustrated copy of “Prisoner of Azkaban”. It was the point at which we felt like we were showing the children a good time. See, expectation management.
From there on in, it was all good. We browsed a sweet shop that had a whole Harry Potter section and then found a department store called Daniel that had a whole Harry Potter section. As you might be able to tell, HP is quite the flavour of the month round here. Eva declared that she wanted to buy everything in the whole of the shop and I felt mildly embarrassed that I was carrying her Hermione wand around, which made it look like we’d just shoplifted it. I promise we didn’t. I just didn’t expect to be somewhere that stocked Harry Potter wands that day.
When my sister messaged to say they were ready to meet us, we had to drag the kids away. We never did find that play cafe but it’s obvious that Windsor offered more than you’d think at first glance. They even have a Smiggle! That’s like a whole shop of “Eva section”. The central area was all based around the Windsor and Eton Central station (nb NOT the station we were parked at), so once you find that you’re sorted. And the station itself even has a few things to look at. Like the royal train:
A lion that Eva can camouflage herself against:
And a lifesize portrait of Harry and Meghan, made out of Lego. How VERY Windsor.
So, if you’re ever in the same situation as we were just remember to keep an eye on the map. Eton might be full of history but it’s not the best for keeping kids amused. Head for Daniel and the delights of Windsor Central… Oh, and if you’d like to see all the lions we collected…here you go:
If you’d like to do the same and have a phone that functions in all weathers, find the map here. Enjoy!