In March 2020, the world was was hit by a pandemic that devastated society as we know it. It made our normally care free lives stand still. Everything, including holidays and how we spend our free time, changed.
A vaccine programme was beginning to roll out by the middle of 2021 and we started to see a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.
For the first time in a year, we let ourselves begin to think of normality: friends, celebrations, and dare I say it?! Holidays! But, what would they look like with ever changing travel restrictions and ongoing fears of the virus?
The British Isles rallied together and grew strong, publicising the beauty we hold within our tiny little island, and low and behold, the ‘staycation’ was reborn!
Yes, the ‘day trip’ held strong too, as they have in the past, but people wanted actual week-long holidays away from the stress this year had brought them.
The modern holiday-goer is now more demanding
This generation of holiday-goers, however, would not accept the rusting 1970s caravans of our parents’ generation.
When we go on holiday, we want to use our hard-earned money to feel as if we’re in an oasis from the stresses of the world.
They were replaced by Glamping, Yurts, and the like, as new socially distanced activities popped up in tourist destinations.
Bournemouth has built unique Beach Lodges which allow guests to sleep next to the sand. They are NOT beach huts, you have a kitchen, bathroom, TV and even access to electric BBQ’s!
It’s a luxury ticket item and you will join the high-end staycation tourists in the quieter area of Boscombe Beach.
The kids will never forget the time they got to “sleep at the beach.”
Fast forward a year later to today, May 2022, and the staycation seems as if it’s here to stay!
It seems we’ve been re-awakened to the beauty we have in our own backyard and are wondering why did we ever spend extortionate amounts of money to fly abroad, when driving an hour is so much easier, better for our crumbling environment and makes just as many amazing memories.
We were invited by Visit Bournemouth to come and experience this new British holiday, which seemed to be miles from cheesy, evening entertainment and outdated floral sofas of the holiday parks many of us were dragged to as kids.
Bournemouth has changed…for the better
When I first moved here I was introduced to Bournemouth as my husband, who went to university there.
Back then, the town was famous for clubbing and night life, with streams of Stag and Hen Do;s stumbling down the streets. And although, it is still very much a great party town, today Bournemouth seems to have also matured into a town full of culture, art and top dining when we were too busy having babies to notice.
On our return, we found that street art has taken over, not as the graffiti that shamefully tagged the backs of building with “Kevin is a ____ (insert choice of expletive here)” but as one of a kind works of art that symbolise a spirit of a city unique to any other.
A small community of restauranteurs seem to be making their homes in Bournemouth as well, leaving the typical fish and chips to the hungover stag and hen dos – and, phenomenal meals out for those of us foodies who appreciate classy food.
No lie, the avocado on sourdough at Urban Reef, may actually be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Ever.
Even their ice-cream game has stepped up a notch. You can still get your Mr Whippy, if you wish, but why would you when almost every stand has 20+ flavours of New Forest ice cream that are served in delightfully larger than necessary scoops?
We decided to share some panini’s and go right for the double scoops each. Holiday calories don’t count right?!
Seaside entertainment has changed
Even the attractions have stepped up their game. Sure, penny slots are always fun, but you know what’s even more fun than that?! A zip wire the glides over the actual ocean! Even our very lightweight 8 year old Sammy was able to hitch on a weight vest and jump off the top of the pier and glide down.
And, that’s not including all the other games. Ocean sports seem to have taken way with kayaks and paddle boards taking over the seas, in the most picturesque way.
Beryl Bikes and scooters are an easy to use bike share scheme available to use throughout the city, meaning a dreamy cruise down the beach is only a contactless phone touch away for you.
The culture was a hidden gem we were able to spend some time appreciating this trip too. In our party days we must have stumbled past the Russell Cotes Museum numerous times – and used its gates to prop up a friend or two on a long walk home. But, just beyond that gate is the most beautiful secret garden and old fashioned house with unique and exquisite art work and fancy dress for the kids.
Somehow Bournemouth has managed to keep all our favourite, cheesy, seaside family holiday activities like mini-golf, funfair rides and sand castles. But now you get to throw in more than we never knew we were missing like amazing dinners, biking and ziplining.
Sure, we walk to after school activities, from our car into work, to the park occasionally and, on a few bleary eyed Monday mornings you may have even spotted us running to the school gates, but in general we live in a stunning part of the country with beautiful fields, woods and hills just minutes from our doorstep.
We seem too caught up in our day to day hustle and bustle to take a minute and appreciate the beauty all around us.
With this in mind we took a short weekend trip to one of our favourite pockets of the world: the Brecon Beacons in Wales.
Three days of beauty, nature and quality family time with no screens. Yes, you read that right. No screens – I even surprise myself writing that!
Have a watch of our video (below) and check out our full itinerary on this page. We’ve included links to maps – and other stuff – for you to click on.
Day One: Henrhyd Waterfalls
1mile – 20mins there, 20mins back
Our trip started out with a quick 2.5 hour drive to our hotel in Ebbw Vale in South Wales.
The kids slept most of the drive and we didn’t even need to resort to ear splitting car songs to pass the time.
The highlight of this road trip is the beautiful Severn Bridge separating Wales from England – it’s a visual marker that you’re going from one world to another.
We stayed at a modest Premier Inn, which you always know is clean, reliable and well priced, but the best part about this particular Premier Inn is that directly next to it is a Brewers Fayre pub – more on why this is important later.
We made a quick stop at the Festival Park retail outlet, a three minute drive from our hotel, for a quick lunch and some new walking boots (did I mention we don’t do much walking?!)
Plus, I wasn’t going to argue with David when he told me I needed a new pair of boots. “Yes dear, if you say so,” I replied with a wry smile.
So, once we looked the part we headed off to our first stop, Henrhyd Waterfalls, which was about 40 mins away.
How to get a 6-year-old adventurer up for his first hike? Inform him the Batcave (yep, the actual one from The Dark Knight Rises) is just beyond those trees…and watch him go!
We decided to save the mountain for the next day, just in case we realised we were out of our depth early on.
The waterfall trek was a great starter hike and a magnificent adventure in its’ own right. A gorgeous, winding and moderately steep path guides you over wooden bridges and bubbling brooks to a stunning waterfall within 20 minutes.
Be warned: it was definitely not buggy friendly but with a firm grip on both of the children’s hands we all walked there without any meltdowns or accidents.
Your first view of Henrhyd Falls feels as though you’ve hit the jackpot but being able to cross behind the actual waterfall was an extra special memory that we’ll never forget.
The deafening noise of the waterfall made it feel as though we were in a blockbuster ourselves!!
The only thing I would have done differently here is bring a picnic as it was much more scenic to eat here rather than at an outlet shopping centre!
Tired and happy from a great first day we went for an early dinner at the pub next to our hotel.
Now, this pub may seem like any ordinary chain pub with decent food and affordable prices but with one big difference to anyone who’s ever dined with children: THERE IS A SOFT PLAY INSIDE THE PUB!!!
This meant that we were able to eat in peace and actually have a conversation without the need to hire a babysitter.
The quiet meal, after a long walk, was probably one of the best parts of the trip – I’m not even joking!!
Day 2: Pen-y-Fan
4 miles – Two hours there, One hour back
After munching down an all-you-can-eat breakfast, we now had the energy to tackle the biggest mountain in the south of the UK.
Pen-y-Fan rises 2,907 feet (886m) into the sky but it’s very much a “beginners” climb during the spring/summer.
I froze a large bladder of water (camelbak) that attaches to a big straw which pokes out of your rucksack. This meant we were able to sip cold water during the hike. We may have shared some germs but it beat carrying a bunch of water bottles.
It took around 50mins to drive to the base of Pen-y-Fan but it didn’t feel like that as there’s some stunning scenery to enjoy.
We easily found parking and filmed our “before” shots (watch the video for THE best intro to one of our vlogs ever).
The excitement of starting up the mountain made the early part of the climb easy but after encouraging breaks, snacks and lunch, Samantha was “done” after one hour – and one mile!
She got onto David’s back and Dylan was on foot, with mummy’s burden being to keep the inspiration and hydration flowing freely for all.
Half way up the mountain David’s back was still holding strong but Dylan started to flag.
Going into it we told ourselves we had no problem making it halfway and turning around – it was meant to be fun after all – but while taking a break we saw a lovely group of people trudge past us literally carrying a man in a wheelchair.
It was one of his goals to make it to the top, and his friends and family were determined to make that happen for him.
We all looked at each other and even Dylan thought if he can do it so can we!!! Shout out to that guy – what an inspiration?!
Part of the way up Dylan hit another wall when we saw an obelisk dedicated to a little boy named Tommy Jones just one year older then Dylan, who got lost on the mountain and lost his life there. Pen Y Fan is beautiful and manageable but not to be underrated. We also found that the SAS use trails along the mountain on its hottest days weighed down with all their gear as a training exercise. This inspired Dylan once again and after 10 minutes of convincing and almost quitting he declared “come on then. Let’s just do it!” And off he went ahead of us!!!
It was a sweet sweet victory when we made it to the top and got our picture at the peak. We made it! An out of shape family with two little kids made it to the top of a mountain as a team. What an accomplishment!
As excited as we were to make it to the top we had totally underestimated the journey back down. What must go up must come down. And our four year old little trooper was not impressed with this inevitability. With lots of breaks and promises of a hot dog and ice cream at the bottom we made it!
Our pack mule Daddy made it in good spirits surprisingly until he realised that when Sammy said she “needed a wee” it meant she’d already done one… all down his back. His positively seemed to fly away in the wind after this point as well. We made it back to the bottom and got our promises hot dogs and ice creams and had a lovely wade in the ice cold streams. You may even find our carrier still sat there if you choose to go yourselves! *face palm emoji* Please can we all take a moment of silence here. RIP trusty carrier. You served us well.
Exhausted and hungry we headed back to the hotel for showers and a lovely long meal and run around in the soft play until we crashed in our bed. With kids being kids they somehow still had energy to play for hours happily in the soft play while David and I had a proper date night and a 3 course meal with drinks at a great price. As the hotel and activities we chose were so cheap we didn’t mind treating ourselves to whatever we wanted on the menu, after all, we earned it.
Day 3: Super-tubing
After our big adventures and a drive awaiting us we knew we needed something a bit lower key to fill our day. We found a place that did tubing, like a big slide on an inner tube down a hill, minutes from our hotel at the same Festival Park Retail Outlet. We were able to all have a go for a reasonable price but often there are Groupons available so be sure to check this out first. Although our legs were tired from the days before we had a great time taking turns speeding and spinning down the mountain before our drive home.
We managed to get away with a memorable weekend trip for the 4 of us with meals, hotels and activities for under £300. Not even including the priceless memories and relaxing quality time spent together far away from the normal stressors of everyday life. What started off as a daunting feet I wasn’t sure we would complete because a proud achievement we accomplished as a family. This little trip is one of my favourite hidden gems of England and Wales and if you have a few days to replicate it yourselves we’d love to see your pictures and hear your stories. You may even see us there as I’m inspired to try it again, this time with three kids in tow!
When you think about exploring rugged coastal landscapes your mind automatically goes to Big Sur in California, Atlantic Drive in Ireland and, closer to home, maybe the wild west of Wales. I never realised we had a mini version a couple of hours from us, in Dorset!
I went to uni in Bournemouth and heard lots about the so-called Jurassic Coast that was nearby – mainly because the original films had just come out and it sounded cool – but in reality I was too busy eating £1 microwave meals from Asda and partying studying to even think about visiting a World Heritage Site that was just 40 mins away!
We did Big Sur last year (full itinerary and video coming very soon!) and we’ve also done Ireland and Wales a few times, so Dorset always felt a bit too close – and easy – for a trip.
We finally got there last weekend though, when we visited the region for my sister’s 40th birthday.
As you’ll find out below, we didn’t expect it to have such amazing views – or to stumble across the filming location of a big ITV drama – so we didn’t record any video. Don’t worry, we’ve learned our lesson.
Here’s what we did. Let us know what you think, if you go!
Day 1 – Weymouth
Weymouth 2016 wahoo!
A trip to the seaside is a great place to start any trip with kids. Weymouth has a wide and sandy beach. It has all of the nostalgic attractions on the seafront that will remind you of your childhood: donkey rides, swing boats and random fairground rides with Ronan Keating painted on them.
The buildings are all Georgian, which adds some grandeur, and is very apt because King George III (you know the one who had to deal with those unruly Americans on July 4th) first visited the town in 1789 and came along for his summer holidays every year until he got too old.
You’ll see a huge painted statue in his honour, which you can’t miss, and the replica of his bathing machine, which you might!
Fun walks along the promenade at Weymouth
There are lots of tea houses/coffee shops and cheesy souvenir shops, which even sell Fish & Chip flavour rock, on the sea-front. You could easily spend the day at the beach and have lunch in one of these places.
We parked up in the Pavilion car park and paid £6 for the whole day, because it’s free after 6pm!
If the weather’s not great, you could visit the Northe Fort which has protected the British Isles from invasion for centuries. The Sea Life Adventure Park, with access to the spinning viewing tower on the harbour, would be a great day out for young ones. You could even watch a show at the Pavilion theatre.
These all cost money – and we’re tight – so we just enjoyed walking around, watching the kids dig in the sand, dawdling around the shops and looking at the brilliant sand sculptures which Weymouth is famous for. We did a Treasure Trail with the whole family, which gave us a fun hour of learning a bit more about our surroundings.
The Old Harbour in Weymouth is a great place to wander around. Photo: Amy Kartar
There are some nice views and places to eat around the old harbour. It makes you want to imagine how busy it must’ve been a few hundred years ago. This is a rubbish analogy but…it reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland where you get an idea of what a busy old harbour would have been like.
The view from the top of the ‘Broadchurch’ cliff overlooking West Bay
The following day we decided to travel to the west of Weymouth.
West Bay is a quaint fishing village. It’s really small actually, but it’s everything you’d want from this kind of town.
We parked in the old station car park which was only £2 for the day and it was also home to – believe it or not – an old railway station. This thing looks like a toy station that I had with my Hornby Railway when I was a kid.
The original track is still next to the platform so you can get some great photos. Railway enthusiasts will love it even more.
The old Railway Station at West Bay looks like a train set building
The station is now a cafe, so you could enjoy a cream tea here. There’s much more to see in West Bay, though.
The beach has unique sandstone cliffs, which are imposing, and the views from the top are breathtaking. It’s probably the reason that ITV Drama producers decided to make it the fictional home of Broadchurch.
The harbour village plays such a big part in the crime series that it feels like its one of the main characters. This is also backed up by the creator who says he wrote it as a love letter to the Jurassic Coast.
We have to confess, we only started watching Broadchurch two days before our trip so we can’t tell you where many of the key sets are but, even with our limited knowledge, we recognised the cliffs, the harbour and the modern flats, which double as the police station. I’m sure bigger fans will recognise much more – if not, here’s a list of filming locations.
It was an unsettled day when were there, so some of the family stayed in the aptly named ‘Windy Corner Cafe’ (real name) while we went for a walk to the top of the hill on the west side of the harbour.
West Bay Harbour
It looked like it might be a hike, but it was quite a gentle walk. There were some good view of the land below. We would have continued along the path but the rain clouds weren’t looking good in the distance and we made it down to the cafe just in time before a huge downpour.
After a coffee, we planned to try to get up the famous ‘Broadchurch cliffs’ which the opening murder scene is set around. It looked pretty steep from the bottom so Dylan and I left Alicia and Samantha in the cafe.
The famous Broadchurch cliffs at West Bay in Dorset
The rain had stopped for about an hour but the steep grassy bank was still quite slippery. It was a case of finding somewhere to safely put your foot and keep on going without looking down. I did look down at one point – and regretted it – but we were soon safely at the summit.
At the top, you get a beautiful panoramic view of the coastline and West Bay. For some reason, the wind wasn’t too bad up there. There’s no fence at the cliff-edge, so I held Dylan very tightly the whole time and gave him a health and safety briefing, which started and ended in: “you will DIE if you let go of my hand and get too close to the edge.”
I might have made something up about four boys plunging to their untimely deaths in the past week, but I can’t remember! 😉
We walked to the end of the cliff-top path but it continued for quite a while after a dip, so we took some photos – and the selfie below – and headed back to the steep bank to make our descent.
Dylan and David at the top of the Broadchurch cliff
Gripping each others’ hands, Dylan and I took one step at a time to quickly (and safely) made it to the bottom without even a stumble.
I wouldn’t take any children under five up there, even with them on my back, as it was quite steep.
Another walk around some other parts of the village and it was time for us to go and get some dinner.
The view from the top of the ‘Broadchurch’ cliff
We could have stayed in West Bay, as there are loads of pubs to eat in, but we fancied exploring Dorchester.
We’d planned to walk around the town before we ate, but we were all so hungry from all of our climbing and walking, that we went straight into a restaurant and went back to the hotel for a few drinks after.
Day 3 – Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door
Lulworth Cove in Dorset
I studied GCSE and A-Level Geography, so I’d heard of both of these places but had never actually visited them.
Lulworth Cove is about half an hour east of Weymouth.
We parked in the official car park, which was £4 for four hours. That was just about enough. You can use the same ticket to park in the Durdle Door car park, but I’d recommend leaving the car here and walking to Durdle’s famous arch.
Lulworth is another picture postcard coastal village but very small. There are two or three thatched cottages, a couple of cafes and a visitors’ centre. It makes it very safe to walk around and it was nice and compact.
Panoramic view of Lulworth Cove
We ventured out to the cove. The view is quite amazing from the shingle beach. It’s a perfectly formed circle which has been carved out by the waves over thousands of years. It’s a small, natural harbour. The blue sea and white stone makes it look really special.
David and Samantha exploring Lulworth Cove
It all feels as though it could be the setting for an Enid Blyton novel.
After yesterday’s Broadchurch cliffs, I didn’t fancy taking Dylan or Samantha on the walk to the top of the cove. It was pretty safe, and there were some steps this time, so it was a shame we didn’t get to all experience the beautiful views from the top, together.
There’s a small walk around the top of the coastal path which then descends into the village again. There are a couple of stunning views of waves crashing against crazy rock formations – and some very rugged ‘Big Sur’ landscapes just in this small walk, so give it a go as a family.
The landscape looks more like Big Sur than Dorset
I didn’t take the kids on the three mile round-trip to Durdle Door. This was a tough walk with some long stretches uphill and steep stoney slopes going down.
It was also a very satisfying hike, when you look back to see how high you are, or get your first view of the amazing archway. It’s a real sense of achievement when you make it down the steep and winding stairs down to the beach. You really do deserve your selfie at the bottom.
It would have made an amazing family photo but, again, I don’t think Dylan (at 4) would have been able to walk the route himself – and buggies are out of the question.
The amazing view of Durdle Door from the beach
I could have probably made it with Samantha in a baby carrier, but it wouldn’t have been easy. This would be a great jaunt for anyone with kids over seven, though.
After the one hour walk, we we needed some water, rest…and a cream tea!
There’s a cafe at the bottom of the hill into Lulworth which ticks every box. They’re also very generous with their double scone, double teapot combo, which helped the clotted cream and jam go down reeeeally well!!
A cream tea is the ONLY way to finish a hike in England!
While I was trekking to Durdle Door, Alicia and the kids were walking around the cove looking for fossils and interestingly shaped stones. It was a great little history lesson and he loved hearing about how there could’ve been dinosaurs on the beach a few thousand years ago!
The wind was quite unforgiving, so we called it a day at around 4pm, so we could get home at a reasonable time.
We all really enjoyed the trip back to the Jurassic Period – I definitely know Dylan did because I found half of the rocks from Lulworth Cove were hidden in his coat pockets!
I promise to no longer turn my nose up at places that are too close to home – as I’ve just found out that there’s still lots to discover in your back yard! I also promise to bring my video camera next time and make a video.
It sounds like a pretty good reason to go back and do it all over again, don’t ya think?!