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Live webchat with travel writer Will Gray on Friday 12 June, 1-2pm

(68 Posts)
GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 08-Jun-09 15:47:01

In July 2008, Will Gray came and talked travel with children.

Now he's got a new book coming out, Britain with Kids, so if you want to quiz him about the ins and outs of family-friendly holidays in the UK, please join us this Friday.

As usual, if you can't make the chat on the day but have a question you're burning to ask, then please post here.

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:03:21

Hello Unicornvomit! I love your nickname – conjures up many a long car journey with our children when they were babies….

Now, how can I convince your DH that camping in the UK would be lots of fun…
Here goes….. It doesn’t really matter whether you go posh at a Feather Down Farm or pitch your own tent in a damp, slightly sloping field somewhere in Wales. Any form of camping is an essential family holiday experience! Everyone mucks in to make things happen, whether it’s inflating airbeds or collecting eggs from the local farm. Few other types of holiday have such a bonding effect on families. You may even find that Nintendos, and the like lie forgotten in the car as your children rediscover simpler pleasures, like flying a kite, building a den or organising a picnic.

Just make sure you are properly kitted out and try a dummy run in the back garden before setting off on something more epic. As a general rule of thumb, buy a tent that’s at least one size up from the one you think you’ll need – the extra space will always come in handy for storage – or somewhere for your DH to sulk when it’s been raining 48 hours solid….

Remember: the worse the family camping experience the better the dinner-party stories in years to come!!

Now – family-friendly campsites. There are loads to choose from, but if I had to select seven of my favourites (where children can run free and safe) they would be:
1.Bracelands, Forest of Dean
2. Ty’n yr Onnen, Snowdonia
3. Compton Farm, Isle of Wight
4. South Penquite Farm, Bodmin
5. Low Wray, Lake District
6. Pencarnan Farm, Pembrokeshire
7. Wapsbourne Manor Farm, Sussex

There are hundreds of recommended family-friendly campsites in my book, Britain with Kids, all tried and tested last summer.

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:03:41

Thanks for the offer fruitshootsandheaves, but I can only just about cope with my own wild bunch. Our twins began their travelling lives when they were toddlers and I was researching an article on Northumberland. We checked into our hotel, Joe immediately felled a standard lamp and then ate two sachets of Nescafe off the tea tray while Ellie helpfully scattered jars of Moroccan chicken baby food across the bedroom floor – one of which sent me cartwheeling into the ensuite… Travelling with kids HAS got easier since then (I think)…

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:04:03

Hi NappyValley, that’s a really good point and one that I often take for granted since our children are twins and have always had a play partner in each other. If you’re camping look out for sites that provide good, centrally located play areas where kids from different families can meet up. Holiday parks have stacks of activities laid on, including children’s clubs. Why not enrol in a surfing or sailing club for a few days – that’s a great way to hook up with like-minded children.

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:04:41

Aha! TotalChaos, do I detect an allergy to soggy flysheets, temperamental gas stoves and hygienically-challenged toilet blocks…?!?! I have just the thing for you: youth hostels. Don’t laugh, I’m quite serious. Forget musty old buildings with dingy dorms and a shared bathroom at one end of the corridor. The Youth Hostel Association is an altogether different beast to the one of twenty or thirty years ago. Opened in 2007, YHA National Forest in the Midlands ( has ensuite family bedrooms with a restaurant/bar, lounge and self-catering kitchen opening onto a terrace surrounded by lawns and newly-planted trees. It recycles rainwater for flushing toilets, has a bio-fuel boiler using wood chips sourced sustainably from the forest and supplements this with solar power. There’s even a touch-screen monitor in reception where you can find out about local attractions that include the brilliant Conkers adventure centre. And all this for just £15.95/adult, £11.95/child per night.

By the way, if the National Forest appeals (and I think it makes a great, quirky short break) you can read more about it in my book, Britain with Kids on pages 168-173.

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:05:05

Hi yellowbrickroad, sounds like you need to get hold of my new book, Britain with Kids! Horribly blatant plug, I know, but while we were researching it last year, we came across some fantastic spots in the UK that easily rival the beaches and attractions of Cornwall (and like you, Cornwall is our favourite place to holiday in Britain).

Let’s forget Devon (after all you might as well carry on to Cornwall?) and go for somewhere completely different – the Gower Peninsula near Swansea is an absolute gem (even Katherine Jenkins has sung its praises!). Gorgeous beaches, great surf and adventure activities for your boys, wet-weather stuff to do in Swansea (they have an indoor surf pool there!), some excellent campsites and it’s all quite compact and easy to get to.

Still in Wales, try Snowdonia but stay on the west side of the mountains where you can easily combine mountain activities with beach outings to the Llyn Peninsula (Whistling Sands at the tip is a real beauty).

Northumberland is another fantastic and under-rated beach destination in Britain – miles of sand and the added bonus of some great castles to explore, including Alnwick (a must if your boys are Harry Potter fans).

Further afield, and a really cracking family adventure, the Isle of Mull has beautiful beaches and exciting wildlife safaris in search of eagles, otters, whales and basking sharks.

Hope that helps!?

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:05:26

Hi popmum

Here are three games for long car journeys that don’t involve a Nintendo DS:

Car bingo: Give players a sheet of paper and ask them to write down 25 different numbers between one and 99. The person in the front passenger seat calls out the last one or two digits from the licence plates of passing cars. The winner is the first to cross off all their numbers and shout “Bingo!”

Licence to thrill: Make up phrases based on the letters of licence plates. For example, 234 IFS 00 could be ‘Ice-cream for Sally’, ‘Ian fancies Susan’ or ‘I feel sick!”

Buzz words: Pick a word, then turn on the radio or play a story CD and try to be the first to shout “buzz” when the word is mentioned.

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:05:51

Hi carriemumsnet – you’re right, there’s a huge choice! I haven’t checked availability in early August for any of the following, but they tick some of your boxes:
• Flying Boat Club, Tresco (Isles of Scilly) Ultra-posh, but what a location!
• Moonfleet Manor, Fleet, Dorset – one of the members of the exclusive Luxury Family Hotels group.
• Easwell Farm Holiday Park, North Devon (the quietest of the Woolacombe Bay Parcs, with luxury cottages for rent and access to all the activities at the other livelier parks)
• The Rosevine, Portscatho, Cornwall – classy coastal retreat with self-catering as an option. 12 apartments in a Georgian house.
• Farsyde Farm Cottages – A 10-minute walk from Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Yorkshire coast, the largest of these self-catering cottages has an indoor pool and they all have footpath access to Boggle Hole beach – a favourite spot for a swim.

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:06:15

Hi belgo, thanks for your message. If you’re worried about the potential stress of independent camping with three young children, you could consider a tipi or yurt holiday. The tents are already up for you, and kitted out with beds and most, if not all, of the gear you need. Kids love the added adventure of staying in a tipi/yurt and several sites are well geared to young families. Take Woodland Tipis and Yurts for example. Located in Herefordshire’s Wye Valley it’s the kind of place where your littl’uns can run wild with the fairies – building them miniature wigwams of sticks and leaves decorated with petals and feathers. There’s a fenced, six-acre woodland that’s perfect for den-building, playing hide and seek or collecting firewood for the traditional clay pizza oven. Also try Cornish Tipi Holidays and the Really Green Holiday Company on the Isle of Wight – we’ve stayed at both and can thoroughly recommend them.

Have fun!

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:06:38

Hello again belgo. If your Belgian friends turn left at Folkestone it’s not a huge drive to reach the lovely Sussex coast (and they can also get to know Britain’s newest national park – The South Downs).

Good places to visit:
Seven Sisters Country Park – great family-friendly walking and cycling.
Wittering Sands – one of the best beaches.
Bracklesham Bay – go fossil hunting for sharks’ teeth.
Brighton – Sea Life centre and pier.
Ashdown Forest – a must for fans of Winnie-the-Pooh.
Bluebell Railway between Sheffield Park and Kingscote – quintessential England!
Arundel – superb Wildfowl and Wetland Centre
Drusillas Park – a must-visit, probably Britain’s best small zoo and perfect for Primary age kids.

Good places to stay:
Butlins are opening their smart new Ocean Hotel in Bognor this August. If that’s noot for them, Seattle Hotel in Brighton is contemporary, vibrant and welcome kids. For budget travel, the youth hostels in Littlehampton, Alfriston and Arundel are good. Cottages are available from Best of Brighton and Sussex Cottages.

There’s a whole chapter on Sussex in Britain with Kids…

yellowbrickroad Fri 12-Jun-09 13:06:41

Hi Will and welcome back!
That's great! Thanks for your help.

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:07:00

Hi Starbear. Have you tried the South Hams in Devon? If you like your beaches big and sandy like those in Croyde, you’ll find Bantham and Bigbury-on-Sea just as impressive. And there’s nothing ‘50s or dated-looking about nearby holiday centres like Salcombe.

At the tip of Cornwall, Sennen Cove is one of our all-time favourite spots. The beach is stunning (great surf and two miles of sand) and there’s a trendy beach café/restaurant right behind it. There’s plenty of rental accommodation in the area, or you camp at Trevedra Farm which has a footpath down to Gwenver Sands at the far end of Sennen Cove’s Whitesand Bay.

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:07:32

Hello again yellowbrickroad. One of the big things in my book, Britain with Kids is that you can have some brilliant days out without spending anything at all! Throughout the book you’ll find ‘fun and free’ sections with details on everything from where to fly a kite, go rock-pooling, hunt for fossils…

These are my top 10 free days out:

Beechenhurst Lodge, Forest of Dean (page 158)
Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth, Devon (page 76)
Highland Folk Museum, Scotland (page 290)
Lake District Visitor Centre (page 218)
The Moors Centre, Yorkshire (page 199)
National Railway Museum, York (page 198)
Natural History Museum, London (page 32)
Ranworth Broad, Norfolk (page 177)
Welsh Wildlife Centre (page 245)
Wembury Marine Centre, Devon (page 90)

Another thing worth considering is getting family membership of either the National Trust or English Heritage. It costs around £80/year, but entitles you to free entry to some fantastic places around Britain (castles, gardens, historic homes etc) many with children’s activities, adventure playgrounds, quiz trails etc. If you had to pay individually for family entry to some of these, you’d very quickly be spending over £100 on just a few days out…

Hope that helps! Have a great week away this summer.

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:07:58

Hi CMOTdibbler – a couple of good festivals for families are Camp Bestival (Lulworth Castle, Dorset, mid-July) and Shambala (Northmaptonshire, August). Both have plenty to keep you and your three-year-old happy.

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:08:21

Hello scrappydappydoo. Hmmm, motorway services with playgrounds for kids – now there’s a good idea! Unfortunately, the only decent motorway stop we came across all last summer during our research for Britain with Kids was just as you approach the Cairngorms in Scotland where there’s a brilliant little roadside visitor centre, café, playground, picnic areas and even a nature trail. Not much use to you on the A303, I know, but the simple fact is you’re probably better off planning a slightly more convoluted route away from the really popular, really busy ones. That way, you can stop in villages etc and use public playgrounds etc

wannabesurfchick Fri 12-Jun-09 13:10:28

My kids have got quite a big age gap, how can I keep them both entertained during a day out / holiday? Is there anywhere you've come across that caters just as well for toddlers as for 8 /9 year olds - as that's our main problem with places like centre parcs.

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:10:55

That's a pleasure yellowbrickroad; have a great holiday.

CMOTdibbler Fri 12-Jun-09 13:12:03

Thanks Will, but those are a bit much in size to deal with on my own with a toddler - just the walk from the car to the campsite would be a nightmare.

I was thinking more about somewhere that was nice for preschoolers to visit as a location, where there might also be something going on of interest.

Camping is an option, but only if quiet, and I can drive pretty much to the site.

Not picky me, no grin

belgo Fri 12-Jun-09 13:12:29

Thank you that's greatsmile

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:15:58

Hi wannabesurfchick.
Don’t know if holiday parks are your thing, but we found Woolacombe Bay Parcs in North Devon had activities that pretty much covered the entire age range. With cash to splash, some of the dedicated family hotels (like those in the Luxury Family Hotel group – Moonfleet Manor, Fowey Hall etc) and some of the upmarket hotels like Bedruthan Steps in Cornwall, also lay on plenty for toddlers, kids and teenagers.

wannabesurfchick Fri 12-Jun-09 13:17:33

How about if we have less cash?!

JackBauermustlive Fri 12-Jun-09 13:20:43

My family and I are actually pretty bummed that we can't go abroad this year. We've never camped and have this perception that UK holidays are littered with crowded amusement parks and cold beaches! Do you really think the UK can offer us sceptics up a good family hol?

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:26:24

Hi JackBauermustlive. Of course!
This is the year that will completely change your perception of holidays in the UK. Trust me!! Forget those images of cold beaches and crowded amusement parks. Try Pembrokeshire’s coast – it’s got some of the highest concentrations of Blue Flag beach awards in Europe. Get some wetsuits for the kids and you won’t be able to get them out of the surf. The whole coastline is a national park, so not much in the way of amusement parks! Great coastal walks, an excellent choice of campsites (try Caerfai Bay or Pencarnan Farm)

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:28:50

Hi again Wannabesurfchick

Keep an eye on the websites of the big holiday park operators (Hoseasons, Haven, Woolacombe Bay, Pontins etc) as they often have online deals (kids go free etc). I still reckon these are your best option for lots of things going on for a wide age range.

I'll keep thinking though... watch this space!

JackBauermustlive Fri 12-Jun-09 13:30:06

That does sound idyllic. All we need now is the sunshine!

WillGray Fri 12-Jun-09 13:32:13

Fingers crossed JackBauermustlive!!! Although, when we were camping most of the summer hols last year the rain didn't really spoil it for us. I think when you're under canvas, living outdoors, you just make the most of every scrap of dry weather and sunshine!! And the kids don't seem to be mind whatever the weather...

Roll on barbecue summer...!

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