Beaches and castles – a family holiday reviewed

We are back from a nearly week away. It’s been our first holiday as a family at all and S and mine first holiday for three years. We’ve had long weekends at parent’s houses but this was a little different. So I thought I’d review it for you.

Accommodation: We were house sitting for my sister as she was in Menorca for a week. House sitting, especially in a house that has a toddler, is essentially like a holiday cottage but with the added benefits of having food cupboards to raid, nail varnish to try out, a vast DVD collection to get through and clothes to borrow when you realise you’ve woefully underpacked. I recommend it. In theory it means you don’t have to take as much away as there is already a cot, high chair, toys and so on provided. In practice, we still managed to fill the car. Lucky we didn’t have to take the cot or we’d have been in a right pickle. S did manage to crack his head on a towel rail and E did eat cat food but apart from that, it was all very comfy and convenient.

Catering: My mum lives round the corner from my sister and wanted to spend as much time as she could with E so she had planned us a lot of meals which she also mainly cooked. (Thanks Mum) These were very tasty. On Tuesday we also went to a fish and chip shop in Hastings that we’ve been to as a family for at least 25 years. It didn’t let us down – nice light batter and freshly cooked fish. As it was E’s first authentic fish and chips I insisted on us sitting by the beach and not in the restaurant for the full experience. Luckily we didn’t get attacked by gulls, though they were interested… S and I also went out to dinner at The Horseshoes in East Farleigh on Thursday night for my birthday eve. (The joys of babysitters) The food was ok, the service was very slow.

Outings: S’s work benefits include free entry for us to National Trust properties which is great if you’re the kind of person who likes going round old places (I am. And I’m looking forward to boring the pants off E with these things as she gets older.) We started at Sissinghurst Castle, which I have decided to buy and then live at, mainly as I like the tower room library with big desk and open fireplace.  Sissinghurst is famous for Vita Sackville West’s garden skills and the gardens are still lovely and well laid out. If it hadn’t been pouring with rain I could quite see myself cavorting round them in a bohemian kind of way. Pushchairs are banned from the gardens as the paths are quite narrow and previous pushchair access had resulted in the hedges and plants getting damaged. E was happy to walk round quite a lot though Grandma took her to the shop while S and I climbed the tower. We tried out the tea rooms (all in the name of research you understand) – three choices for children, pasta, sausages or fish fingers. The children’s pasta took a long time to come and then was exceedingly hot. This of course made E yell while she waited for food and then yell as some of it hadn’t cooled down enough. Oh dear.

Our other plan for the week was the seaside. I get sad when I don’t see the sea much – who knows why I choose to live in Britain’s most landlocked city… I have lovely memories of going to Hastings and it didn’t disappoint this week. It was the best weather of the week too which helped. We took Mum and E on their first funicular railway trip up the cliffs and when we got back down, the three of us posed behind a beach cut out for photos – S makes a fetching mermaid. The old town part of Hastings is slowly being regenerated and has a lovely new seafront section with children’s rides, play area and a new crazy golf course as well as the Jerwood Gallery (I would have liked to look in here but it charged £8 entrance each adult – sign of the times, sigh.)

We went back to the sea on Wednesday. Joss Bay this time, where I have many fond memories of exploring the rock pools as a child. It’s now marketed as Kent’s premier surfing beach and it’s a good one for it. (There were a few hardy souls in the sea) We had bought a new rock pooling guidebook for the trip so wrapped up against the wind and ventured out. E clung to me to start with but adjusted eventually to the buffeting wind and took some steps out onto the rocks (I have visions of us appearing on the ‘Worst parents ever’ version of You’ve Been Framed now – “This mother took her one year old daughter out on to slippery rocks when the child cannot walk unaided!”) Anyway, she enjoyed looking at the gulls and S identified all sorts of things in his book. We lunched in Broadstairs where, it turns out, Dickens wrote several books. At least half of the shops are therefore named after characters, which I rather liked. Rochester used to be like that before the shops all shut. Broadstairs is rather sad and needs some love but has a nice beach so E and I went for a walk barefoot in the sand. If sandcastles are your thing, Broadstairs is fine. There were a few arcades and a few shops but it was mainly rather downtrodden. It was only on the way home that I remembered that Oliver Postgate was from there and we could have gone to see the Clangers mosaic memorial to him. Damn damn damn. They should put that on the signposts – I reckon there’d be loads of visitors who’d like to see that as much as Dickens’s rooms.

We finished the week with another castle, Bodiam this time, which I haven’t been to since primary school. E enjoyed this as she clambered in the window ledges to look through arrow holes so she could see the ducks on the moat. The staff were lovely here though the car parking could have done with some discipline. We had a cream tea here (well, E had macaroni cheese – better than Monday’s pasta effort) but the tea room was laid out very badly so I’d already dithered over a couple of possible other things for her before I saw the actual menu. On the way home, we stopped off at Merriments, a lovely garden and garden centre on the way home. It’s been featured on Gardener’s World and has a recreation of Monet’s garden at Giverny as well as lots of other lovely planting – really beautiful work which must have taken years to get just right.

Evening entertainment: My sister has Apple TV and a vast film selection to choose from so we had a different film each night which caught us up nicely with a few we missed at the cinema in the last year or so. I think S may have only taken me out for dinner on Thursday to avoid having to watch Die Hard 5. Still we did watch:

Looper – S’s choice – which is terrible. I had to have the basic plot explained to me twice and still couldn’t tell you what it was about. The main problem is, I think, because it basically combined two plots and introduced the second as a twist or some kind of development sci-fi mashup nonsense halfway through. And I get unnerved with anything with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in it – still see him as the kid from Third Rock from the Sun.

My Week with Marilyn (my choice) which I really enjoyed. I thought Kenneth Branagh was excellent and Michelle Williams too, of course. The sort of film the British do well.

Django Unchained. (S’s choice) I enjoyed it, bits were funny, bits were unpleasant and much of it was just plain daft (I don’t find the highly stylised violence offensive, just amusing. Who knows what this says about me) and loved the soundtrack (as you do with Tarantino) but I think my favourite of his is still Kill Bill(s).

So that was our week! Pretty family friendly I think. We finished off by seeing a couple of friends and feeding them birthday cake before a terrible trip home. But it was a nice relaxing time and I’m glad E got to spend some time with Grandma, even if she did cry on her for an hour when we went out to dinner…

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