Buxton’s historical Georgian centrepiece wows on a trip to the Peak District
The Buxton Crescent is a beautiful hotel in the heart of a Peak District town which for centuries has been famed for the healing properties of its spa waters.
This iconic, curved, Georgian building, started out as two grand hotels. And now, a 17-year project has restored it to this luxurious hotel and contemporary spa which sources the natural spring water from beneath it.
Visitors are travelling from all over to stay here, but is it suitable for children? We take our two, to find out what it can offer for youngsters.
Buxton Crescent Health Spa Hotel
Where is it?
It is in lovely Buxton in the Derbyshire Peak District, in a brilliant, central position opposite the Pavilion Gardens.
What is it
The Buxton Crescent is a five-star spa hotel which opened in 2020 following a £70 million restoration.
It has 81 rooms and a big thermal spa and is run by Ensana Hotels.
Buxton first became a spa resort when the Romans discovered warm, bubbling springs underneath what is now the hotel and settled in the area in around 78AD.
In 1789, the Crescent was built by the Fifth Duke of Devonshire to establish Buxton as a Georgian spa town.
It was originally two hotels, vsited by spa seekers who travelled from all over to bathe in Buxton’s thermal waters.
The building was later used for other purposes but by 1992 was derelict.
It was reborn following a huge renovation and the Buxton Crescent Health Spa Hotel opened in October, 2020.
The indoor to outdoor rooftop swimming pool.
Is it family friendly?
The hotel’s main market is adults including couples, older families and friends but it is surprisingly child-friendly and our two absolutely loved it.
They adored our suite (see accommodation below), the food and especially the indoor to outdoor rooftop swimming pool.
Plus, the location opposite the park was a huge bonus with its two play areas, boating lake, ice creams and mini train.
And there are so many amazing things to do in the surrounding area (more below).
We stayed in a junior suite which can hold two adults and two children. We parents slept in the main bedroom in a sumptuously comfortable four-poster bed beneath a magnificent chandelier.
Our bedroom in a junior suite
The children were in the lounge area where a sofa bed had been converted into a small double. They loved having their own room (and tv opposite the bed)!
The lounge became the children’s room
There was a separate bathroom with the biggest overhead shower head I’ve ever seen and a freestanding bath outside the bathroom within the area between the two bedrooms.
Food and drink
The restaurant is lovely, it’s elegant and serene so keep your fingers crossed for well-behaved children but it’s big enough to be able to relax.
There is a children’s menu with a great choice of food for younger diners. The pasta and meatballs went down well with our two as did waiter Joe’s napkin tricks.
Our meals were so tasty and there was a great choice of wine.
Breakfast was equally delicious, there was a good choice of cereals and lovely pastries, plus pancakes and cooked breakfasts.
There is also a Spa Cafe serving lighter meals and desserts with indoor and outdoor seating.
The main swimming pool
The rooftop swimming pool was the best I have ever been in, thanks to its warm temperature, which meant that for the first time ever I was able to get straight in instead of very slowly, while shivering. There was also the novelty of being able to swim from inside to outside and vice versa.
Children aren’t allowed in the spa or its two smaller pools but they are thankfully allowed in this one.
The drinking water
I know it’s just water, but the water here tastes so nice, we all drank a lot more than we usually would in the restaurant.
The town’s drinking well, St Ann’s Well, is opposite the hotel and you can fill up your own bottles here but the hotel is supplied directly.
Buxton Mineral Water is still bottled here and sold around the world.
Buxton is one of only two Roman spa towns in England – the other being Bath.
Famous faces who have travelled here include Mary Queen of Scots who came to ‘take the water’ in Buxton to treat her rheumatism.
Visitors to the hotel spa now find a relaxing, contemporary space where they can also bathe in the town’s water – it flows chemically untreated into a thermal pool surrounded by wall tiles dating back to 1924 and covered with a stained glass canopy.
Use of the spa is included with all stays and also includes a relaxation pool, spa baths, three saunas, two steam rooms, a gym, a salt cave, two relaxation pools and an ice fountain.
The spa is not for children so we parents took turns individually to enjoy it.
Treatments from the spa menu cost extra and include traditional beauty therapies along with wellness and holistic treatments.
The grade one-listed crescent-shaped building was designed by architect Sir John Carr.
Modelled on the Royal Crescent in Bath, this fine example of Georgian architecture feels wonderfully impressive as you arrive.
The staff were so friendly and helpful and went out of their way to assist and chat and make our stay extra special.
The Peak District is the country’s oldest National Park and there are loads of great family walks to enjoy among its rolling hills.
There are also lots of attractions that children will love. We visited:
*Poole’s Cavern and Buxton Country Park
A two million-year-old limestone cave with fabulous formations, read our review and guide to it here.
*Peak Wildlife Park
A lovely zoo where you can walk among some of the animals. It also has play areas, read our review and guide here.
Peak Wildlife Park
*We also climbed Shutlingsloe Hill, known as the Matterhorn of Cheshire.
The third highest peak in the county has a distinctive profile. It’s very steep and rocky towards the top.
Climbing Shutlingsloe Hill – the Matterhorn of Cheshire
We had an amazing time at the Buxton Crescent Hotel and we all would love to return, it’s a perfect destination for all ages to relax and enjoy the luxurious surroundings and beautiful Peak District.
We take our children to explore spectacular caves on a family day out in the Peak District
Poole’s Cavern & Buxton Country Park
What is it?
Poole’s Cavern is a two milion-year-old limestone cave. It is one of the best show caves in England – there are vast illuminated galleries to explore, filled with fantastic formations like crystal stalactites and stalagmites.
From the car park here is an entrance to Buxton Country Park – an uphill stroll though woodland to a hilltop viewpoint where you can look out across the Peak District.
Where is it?
It is on the edge of Buxton in the Peak District, in Derbyshire.
What did we think?
Poole’s Cavern is a fascinating all-weather attraction. The ancient, natural limestone caves are exciting with fascinating formations and an interesting history, which the guide explains. (All tours are guided).
Visitors explore the cavern (Credit: Visit Peak District & Derbyshire)
To be able to follow our time below ground with a walk high above in the country park, with great views, is brilliant.
*Austin, our fantastic guide around the caves, really kept the children (and us) interested with tales including what happened to the cavern’s biggest stalagmite and pointing out graffitti on a cave wall left by the Victorians. He also told us about the geology behind how the caves and formations were created.
*I had a secret chuckle at the prominent shape of the ‘poached egg’ stalagmites – you’ll see why when you get there!
*Solomon’s Temple – a tower at the top of the hill in Buxton Country Park – climb it to appreciate the Peak District views.
*The temperature in the cave is always 7C, so don’t forget jumpers or coats, especially in summer when you may not think to bring them.
*Guided tours are every 20 minutes and leave from the visitor centre exhibition area. Tours last around 50 minutes.
*The caves are lit but are still quite dark. At the end of the tour, the guide will turn all the lights off for a few seconds so you can imagine what exploring the cave by candlelight used to be like. You may want to hold your child’s hand for this bit. If one of you would not like this darkness, you can let the guide know beforehand.
*Buxton Country Park – we took the yellow route up to the to Solomon’s Temple and the green route back down again. It is quite steep.
*Also here is one of Go Ape’s highest adventure courses, with zip wires and aerial walkways. This needs to be booked separately.
Where did we stay?
We stayed at a beautiful five-star, spa hotel, the Buxton Crescent, read our full review of it next.
Poole’s Cavern and Buxton Country Park information
Facilities: There is a visitor centre which shows archaeology found in the cave and is interesting to look around while you are waiting for your tour.
There is also a shop selling rocks and minerals, toys, gifts and books.
And there are accessible toilets with baby changing facilities.
Food: There are two picnic areas plus a cafe selling drinks, snacks and light meals.
Opening hours: First tour at 10am, last tour at 4.30pm, every day.
Cost: Adults (aged over 16) are £12.50, children (aged five to 16) are £6, students and seniors with valid ID are £10 and a family ticket for two adults and two children is £32.
Best for: Ages six and above.
Time needed: The cavern tour takes around 50 minutes. The walk to the top of the hill in the adjoining country park and back can be done in an hour.
Access and restrictions: There are walkways and handrails. The first main chamber is 100 metres long and is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs. After that are 14 steps up and 14 back down again (you return the way you came).
Are dogs allowed at Poole’s Cavern? Dogs are allowed in the cafe and the visitor centre but not in the cavern, except for guide dogs.
Parking: There is a pay and display car park.
Address: Poole’s Cavern Visitor Centre, Green Lane, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 9DH.
We take our children on a family day out to Peak Wildlife Park
Peak Wildlife Park
What is it?
A small zoo with exotic and endangered animals from three continents including wallabies, lemurs and penguins.
It specialises in walk-through experiences.
Where is it?
Peak Wildlife Park is in Winkhill, Leek in the Staffordshire Peak District.
What did we think?
We had a lovely time here, it’s a nice size attraction to explore, not too big to tire out little legs.
Being able to walk among some of the animals, without enclosures, is fantastic.
You can walk among the lemurs, who entertained us with their playing and swinging, especially a cute baby lemur.
You’re allowed go gently stroke the wallabies, which resemble small kangaroos.
The penguins can be seen from three different vantage points, including through a window to watch them swim under water. You can also get right up close to them and they may even cross a path in front of you.
There are different play areas including an indoor soft play which is free to use. Outdoors is a bouncy castle, sandpit and more traditional play equipment.
An outdoor play area at Peak Wildlife Park
*Don’t miss any of the site
We thought we had explored everywhere but when we were near the exit, discovered an extra bit with more animals and play areas past the cafe.
You can pre-order food and drink from your smart phone and collect at a time that suits you by following this link.
We hadn’t done this so ordered, in person, a pizza to share and used the 20-minute wait time while it cooked to explore more. Staff give you a buzzer to carry which alerts you to when your food is ready if you don’t go too far out of range.
If you want go get even closer to the animals or it’s a special occasion, you can buy an Animal Experience.
Where did we stay?
We stayed at a beautiful five-star, spa hotel, the Buxton Crescent, read our full review of it next.
Peak Wildlife Park information
*The Courtyard Cafe serves stone baked pizzas, sandwiches, crisps, cakes and ice creams. There are gluten-free and vegan options.
*There are outside picnic areas and a family room you can eat in.
*Another area serves ice cream.
Opening hours: Peak Wildlife Park opens at 10am. It closes at 6pm in the Spring/Summer season and at 5pm in the Autumn/Winter season.
Cost: Adults aged 17 to 64 pay £12.95.
Children aged two to 16 are £10.95. Under-twos are free.
Concessions – senior citizens from aged 65 and students with valid card photo IDs pay £10.95.
Carers are free.
Annual pass: Peak Wildlife Park offers an annual pass which entitles you to visit as many times as you want for a year.
It costs £35.99 for adults (aged 17 to 64), £29.99 for children aged two to 16 and also for concessions (senior citizens from 65 and students with valid ID cards).
Best for: All ages who like animals but especially two to 10-year-olds.
Time needed: Two to four hours.
Access and restrictions: The park is fully accessible and wheelchairs are available to borrow for free. The paths are wide enough for mobility scooters.
There are disabled toilets.
Baby changing facilities: Baby change facilities are in the ladies toilets, disabled toilets and baby change rooms next to the family room.
Are dogs allowed?: No, dogs are not allowed at Peak Wildlife Park. Foxtwood Kennels, situated 10 minutes from the park, is happy to take dogs for the day, you can call them on 01538 266 667 to make a booking.
Address: Peak Wildlife Park, Winkhill, Leek, ST13 7QR.
The woodland adventure where adults can join in the fun as well as the children
What is it?
BeWILDerwood Cheshire is a family attraction based on the adventures of magical characters from children’s books written by Tom Blofeld.
BeWILDerwood author and creator Tom Blofeld
It’s all in a wood and includes treehouses, slides, den building, storytelling and zip wires.
Where is it?
It’s north of Whitchurch on the A49 in south west Cheshire near the border with Shropshire.
What did we think?
This is a lovely day out for families.
It’s a great size and laid out nicely in a circle so it’s easier to navigate.
The best bit for me was that adults are encouraged to join in all the fun!
Racing my daughter on the zip wire
*The zip wires: There are three sets of two zip wires with staff helping people on and off them. They are longer and faster than the ones you get at play parks and exhilarating to do together.
*The slides: You grab a little bag to sit in to ride the ‘slippery slopes’.
*Parents included: the fact that children and grown-ups are all allowed on everything together is really fun.
*Toddlers: There are smaller sized versions of the equipment for really little ones to go on.
*The mazes: The mazes are all created from wood and go up and down steps and over little bridges.
*Get there early: We were there at 10am when it opened on a Sunday and got straight on everything and nowhere was crowded. After lunch, we spotted queues for the zip wires.
*Times: Make a note of the times for any events like the storytelling (every hour from 12noon) and get there early to get a seat.
*Crafts: There is a craft activity on every day so remember to leave time for this.
My daugher wears her creation
*Clothes and shoes: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes such as trainers. If the weather is wet, you may need a change of clothes.
*Other BeWILDerwood sites: This is the second Bewilderwood, the first is in Norfolk.
*How to pronounce BeWILDerwood: the WILD is not pronounced wild but willed – I asked as I like to know these things.
Food: You can buy food and drink from two places – the Munch Bar and Cosy Cabin.
There are lots of places to eat a picnic.
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, last entry at 4pm.
Cost: Prices are based on height and everything is included in the cost. Under 92cm are free, 92cm to 105cm are £17.50, those over 105cm are £19.50. Adults 65 and over are £12.50. Wheelchair users are free. Parking is free.
Best for: Children aged 2 – 12 but adults will enjoy it too.
Time needed: We stayed for four hours but you could stay longer.
Access and restrictions: There’s a path around the site which slopes in places. There is no access on the equipment for wheelchairs or pushchairs/buggies/prams but they can be taken in to the park.
We take our children and dog to explore this once secret garden in Cornwall
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
What is it?
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are Europe’s largest garden restoration project.
This secret garden was lost for decades until a door to a walled garden was discovered in 1990.
After an award-winning restoration, there are now 200 acres of subtropical gardens, woodland and jungle to explore.
Where is it?
The gardens cover steep ground in Cornwall, near the town of Mevagissey, not far from St Austell. It is in quite a remote location with small lanes leading to the entrance.
What did we think?
This is a wonderful place for children with a huge playground, lots of space, a farm and a brilliant jungle area. It’s a lot of walking and some of it is steep so younger children may get tired.
A giant’s head
This is the best area, jungle plants in a valley with boardwalks to explore and a wobbly rope bridge to cross. This was the part which captured our children’s imaginations the most.
Crossing the rope bridge
*East Lawn playground
This large playground has a lot of modern equipment and plenty of space to run around. There are also great views and it is a good spot for children to let off some steam
A small farm with pigs, sheep, chickens and horses. Ideal for younger children to get up close with farm animals. It is also near toilets and food outlets.
A fun stroll through woodland you can do either at the start of end of your visit. There is a small play area called the Giant’s Adventure Trail and look out for the Mud Maid sculpture.
The Mud Maid
Our top tips
*Plan your route
There is a lot of walking involved so we suggest making your way to the furthest point of the site initially and working backwards towards the entrance. That way you will avoid the crowds and won’t be too tired when you are furthest away from the way out!
*It’s uphill on the way back
Take into account that all the routes back to the entrance are uphill. It is a very steep walk back, so plan your route accordingly.
*A manageable route
The simplest way for families to see the most child-friendly parts of the gardens is as follows: Go down the Woodland Walk and then head for The Jungle, go around that area and then visit the East Lawn playground, then you can use the toilets and facilities at the Steward’s House Cafe and enjoy the farm before making your way to the exit through the beautiful Flora’s Green.
*The rope bridge
The rope bridge in the jungle area is 100ft high and among the longest in Britain.
Crossing it is a wobbly, fantastic experience.
But dogs are not allowed across it and people with a fear of heights might not fancy it either.
Fear not, there are ways around it, then you may also be able to get a picture of family members crossing towards you.
There are only two areas with toilet and facilities – at the entrance and then near Home Farm. There are large parts of the gardens with no facilities.
Dogs are welcome on a lead and it is a great place for them to enjoy and explore. The Lost Valley is the quietest area and a good one for those coming with dogs who want a more strenuous walk.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan information
*Near the ticket office – Heligan Kitchen, Coffee Bar, Ice-cream Hut.
*In the Steward’s Garden near Home Farm – Steward’s House Cafe, BBQ Hut, Ice-cream Hut.
*Picnics are welcome and there are lots of benches to sit on.
Opening hours: Daily April to September 10am to 6pm, October to March 10am to 5pm.
Cost: Adults £17.50, children aged 5 to 15 £8.50, under 5s free. Family ticket £48. Book here.
Best for: Children aged 5-15, you do need some stamina to get around so younger ones may get tired.
Time needed: Minimum of 3 to 4 hours to explore the best parts of the site. You could easily spend a whole day here though.
Access and restrictions: Mostly accessible but some steep slopes to navigate. The Jungle and wider garden routes are not accessible and not open to wheelchairs. Accessible Maps available from the ticket office.
Address: The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan, St Austell, PL26 6EN.
We have a family holiday at a complex of luxury self-catering cottages in the middle of Cornwall
The Valley, Cornwall.
Where is it?
The Valley is in a fabulous location in the centre of Cornwall near to Truro and Falmouth – perfect for exploring in all directions.
What is it?
A 13-acre complex of 46 luxury self-catering cottages and exclusive leisure facilities including an indoor pool, outdoor pool and tennis court.
Cottages at The Valley
Is it family-friendly?
Yes, it feels safe and secure and there are facilities for children including an outdoor play area, games room and swimming pools.
The Valley provides lots for free including highchairs, stair gates, bed guards and travel cots. There are toys and books to borrow from a room next to the reception too.
Plus, babysitters can be arranged if needed.
The 5-star two and three-bedroom cottages are spaced out across the site.
There are six types, we stayed in a Villa Gallery and absolutely loved it – we felt at home straight away.
It was modern and clean and spread over three levels as it is set on a hill.
The kitchen/dining room was on a mezzanine floor overlooking the lounge, all under a high ceiling with beams.
Off the kitchen was a balcony overlooking the pool.
The beds were really comfortable – our double bedroom had a desk, television and en-suite. The children’s twin room also had a desk and there was a separate bathroom.
There was a warm laundry room with washing machine and a third toilet in a cloakroom next to the front door.
It all felt really fresh and clean, with loads of room and storage.
Food and drink
The cottages are self-catering and our kitchen was well-equipped with everything we needed.
The on-site restaurant, called Azura, opens from March 30 until October half-term. It was closed when we visited but serves children’s meals and has an area where you can sit with your dog.
There are also restaurants and takeaway options in nearby Truro and Falmouth.
The outdoor pool heated from mid-June to mid-September.
There is also a heated indoor pool, with a spa pool next to it.
There is a small fitness suite in a room next to the pool.
*Tennis and squash courts
You can borrow rackets and balls from reception to enjoy games of tennis or squash or teach your children to play.
The games room has a table tennis table, pool table and table football.
There is a lovely play park with equipment for different ages, including swings, slides and climbing walls.
Is it dog-friendly?
Yes, dogs are really welcome here, which we really appreciated, this being our first holiday with our puppy Charlie.
Dog walks around The Valley
Ours was one of several dog-friendly cottages. Charlie received his own welcome letter, box of luxury food, ball and dog basket. Our cottage was near to an entrance to a dog footpath.
Lots of attractions and beaches nearby are dog-friendly so we could take him with us everywhere. The Valley can provide details of dog sitters if needed.
As The Valley is in central Cornwall, it is easy to reach dozens of beaches, gardens, towns and attractions.
Both north and south coasts are easily accessible.
This huge tropical garden and massively popular tourist attraction has been recognised by the British Travel Awards as the best UK Leisure Attraction for five years’ running.
Beaches – we were blown away by the spectacular beaches and beautiful blue sea. We visited during the Easter holidays and they weren’t too busy.
Cartwheels on Holywell Bay, where Poldark was filmed
Nearby beaches include Perranporth on the North coast, Holywell Bay near Newquay (which features in Poldark), Gwithian near Hayle and Gyllyngvase (Gylly Beach) in Falmouth.
We also visited Carne Beach on the south coast and Porthmeor Beach in St Ives.
We caught the King Harry car ferry to visit this small, pretty fishing village on the south coast.
St Mawes Castle
Our children enjoyed exploring St Mawes Castle, one of Henry VIII’s coastal fortresses, now run by English Heritage.
This National Trust garden on its own peninsula has stunning views over the Fal estuary as well as woodland walks. There is also an art gallery, cafe and gift shop.
A few minutes’ drive away from The Valley is the cathedral city of Truro, with shops, restaurants, parks, streams, a theatre and museum.
The port of Falmouth is a 15-minute drive from The Valley.
There are walks you can take from and around The Valley – itineraries are available from reception.
Enjoying the view at Tintagel Castle
Further afield but worth the trip, we visited these ruins of a 13th century Cornish castle with links to the stories of King Arthur set high on the coast in north Cornwall with fabulous views, read about it here.
A tourist attraction for families with younger children – with visitors catching a steam train from the car park to the site, filled with outdoor play areas. Read our report on it here.
We stay in a beautiful cottage and explore the area and discover if Cornwall is dog-friendly as well as child-friendly
Our dog is barking furiously, drowning out the sound of waves washing the rocky Cornish shoreline below, as our daughter approaches a huge, sword-wielding man.
High on a rocky headland, peaceful family picnics are interrupted by what Charlie, our nine-month-old golden retriever, believes to be an urgent life-or-death situation.
Thankfully, the rest of us can see the the sword-wielding giant is only a statue – that of the warrior Gallos at Tintagel Castle.
It’s the first day of our dog-friendly family break to Cornwall and we’re exploring the dramatic castle, mythical home of King Arthur.
It’s a site which tests dog and human stamina. There are steep walks from the village to the castle and then down to the beach which houses Merlin’s Cave. It’s a challenging spot to visit but a worthwhile one, don’t miss our full review.
In fact, steep Cornish hills are quite a feature of our break, especially at our accommodation.
The aptly-named The Valley is in – yes – a valley, near the village of Carnon Downs just outside Truro.
It’s perfect for children and dogs. For the kids, there are indoor and outdoor pools, a tennis court, brand-new playground, games room and activities laid on during school holiday periods.
Swimmng pool and play area at The Valley, Truro, Cornwall
For the dogs there’s a range of walks on footpaths around the site, a cosy bed, welcome treats and his or her own comprehensive guide of dog-friendly activities, all waiting in our holiday cottage.
A walk near our cottage
The cottage, one of 46 on the site, is clean, fresh and very well equipped. Ours is a two-bedroom Villa Gallery over three levels.
There’s two bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor, then a lounge, toilet and utility room on the middle tier with a kitchen-diner on the top level complete with balcony overlooking the swimming pool and green fields.
Our cottage at The Valley
Read our full review of the accommodation for more details.
The staff are happy and efficient, their reception has a treasure trove of books, DVDs and games you can borrow. Every evening, a note drops through the door of our cottage with suggestions for activities around Cornwall.
We take Charlie to a range of dog-friendly attractions. As well as Tintagel Castle, we visited Lappa Valley to enjoy his first ride on a steam train and the Lost Gardens of Heligan where he could sniff out plants from around the globe.
But could he run free on the beaches? The answer is yes on most of them. Our handy cottage guide showed more than 60 beaches welcoming dogs across the county and we found some gems.
Charlie on Holywell Bay beach
Probably our favourite was Holywell Bay with huge sand dunes protecting a stunning beach framed by cliffs. Rock pools, caves and streams kept the children happy and there was space for Charlie to stretch his legs and chase balls – mainly those belonging to other dogs unfortunately.
Holywell Bay beach is where some of Poldark was filmed
Among the other sandy spots we loved were Carne beach on the Roseland Peninsula, Porthmeor at bustling St Ives and dramatic Gwithian with acres of wide-open space.
The Valley is centrally located in Cornwall meaning none of the county’s attractions – or its beaches – are that far away.
But one of the most spectacular sights is just a few miles from our cottage via ferry.
The King Harry car ferry gently delivers your vehicle across the River Fal on the way to the pretty village of St Mawes.
King Harry ferry
Once there, the stony shoreline, working harbour and gorgeous views lead up the St Mawes Castle, which overlooks the bay and has protected the area since it was built by Henry VIII.
There are benches in the grounds where we all sit and relax with the sun on our faces, Charlie gently snoozing at our feet, finally worn out by our Cornish adventures.
St Mawes Castle
We decide to let sleeping dogs lie and reflect on the truth that Cornwall is definitely dog and family friendly – unless you come face-to-face with an eight-foot high warrior statue.
We take our children and dog to explore the historical Tintagel Castle in north Cornwall
What is Tintagel Castle?
The ruins of a 13th century Cornish castle with links to the stories of King Arthur and Merlin the magician.
Where is Tintagel Castle?
This English heritage site is in north Cornwall (south-west England), set high on the coast next to the village of Tintagel with stunning views over the Atlantic.
It lies half on the mainland, half on a peninsula in the sea, known as Tintagel Island.
What did we think?
This was a memorable trip, the link to the myth of King Arthur captured the imagination of my son. He also enjoyed reading all the historical information dotted around.
But it is the stunning views from these clifftop ruins that will stay with me (along with the memory of all the steps)!
We all thought our picnic spot was our best ever – we found a little private bit away from the path with the most incredible views over the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Best picnic spot
Our children’s verdict: amazing.
Tintagel is thought to have been where Cornish kings lived between the 5th and 7th century.
Then the 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth named it in his History of the Kings of Britain as the place where King Arthur was conceived.
These legends are said to have inspired Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to build the castle here in the 1230s.
Tintagel Castle Bridge
This stunning footbridge, finished in August 2019, links the two halves of the castle for the first time in over 500 years since an original crossing was lost.
We cross the bridge
Before this, visitors had to climb steps and queue for a small bridge at the base of the cliff.
If you fear heights look away now – the bridge travels over a 58-metre drop.
Tintagel Castle bridge
This bronze statue of an ancient king stands high on the cliff – popular with photographers, not so much with our dog who didn’t know what to make of it!
The beach and Merlin’s Cave
Below the castle is a secluded beach known as Tintagel Haven with rocks and a waterfall.
Best of all, it is where you can explore Merlin’s Cave .
This large cave in the cliffs under the castle is said to have been home to Merlin, the wizard of Arthurian legend. (See our top tips for information about access to the beach).
Tintagel Castle top tips
Mobility and fear of height
This site is not suitable for anyone with mobility issues or a big fear of heights – there are steep paths and sheer drops.
When we went, a one-way system was in place due to Coronavirus restrictions and the route included a LOT of steep steps.
The path from the village to the castle and back is steep – so make use of the Land Rover service if you need to, particularly on the way back up. There is a small charge for people and dogs.
Check the tide times and visit when the tide is out. That way you can get to the beach and go into Merlin’s Cave.
The beach is accessed via steep steps and when we went, we also had to clamber over rocks.
Try to visit on a fine day – the ruins are all outdoors and the area is exposed.
The castle sometimes closes due to bad weather or high winds, so check before you travel, via the website, Facebook or by calling 01870 770328.
Dogs are welcome – we took ours – but they need to be kept on leads due to the steps, cliff edges and nesting birds. Water is available for dogs at the cafe.
Tintagel Castle information
Food: There is a cafe at the bottom of the hill (Castle Road) near to the beach. You can also take picnics.
Opening hours: From 10am to 4, 5 or 6pm, depending on the time of year.
Cost: English Heritage members are free. Adults are £15.70 (off-peak £14.50. Children are from £9.40 (£8.70 off-peak). Concessions are £14.10 (£13.10 off-peak)
A family of two adults and up to three children costs £40.80 (£37.70 off-peak) and a family of one adult and up to three children is £25.10 (£23.20 off-peak).
Best for: Children who can cope with the hilly site.
Time needed: We spent three hours here including the beach.
Toilets: At the bottom of Castle Road near to the beach are toilets. And there are others in the village.
Other facilities: A small shop and an exhibition exploring the stories linking Tintagel to King Arthur which includes a 3D model of the site showing how it has changed over the centuries.
Parking: There are pay and display car parks in Tintagel Village, 600 metres away from the site.
Access and restrictions: This site is set on a steep hill and there are uneven surfaces, drops and slopes. A Land Rover service is available along the road – Castle Road – down to the cafe and exhibition and back,. There is a charge and there may be queues. It doesn’t run during winter.
We take our children on a family trip to an award-winning Christmas light festival
Family festive opportunities are in short supply this year so our trip to Lightopia at Heaton Park in Manchester was eagerly awaited.
Organisers promise a safe and socially distanced event.
We took our children after school for a 5.20pm start, here is our full guide to the Christmas festival.
What is it
The Lightopia Festival – Christmas at Heaton Park – is an award-winning and socially-distanced lantern and light festival.
It takes place around a series of lit art installations and laser beams, which have been set up at the park in Manchester.
When it it
Lightopia at Heaton Park runs from November 20, 2020 to January 3, 2021.
The event is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, except during school holidays and closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Gates Open at 5pm, last entry is 8.30pm and it closes at 10pm.
How much are tickets
Tickets are booked in advance, they are £20 online for adults (or £22 on the day), £13 for children (or £15 on the day) and £60 for families of two adults and two children (£68 on the day). Children under three can go free.
Essential carers of disabled visitors can attend for free, the disabled visitor pays the normal admission fee.
*What we called the Rainbow Tree
Children stand on a circle and their moving feet sends different coloured lights shooting up the tree, creating a beautiful display.
*The laser show on the lake.
Visitors are directed to stand in socially distanced spaces to watch this lovely show towards the end of the trail.
*Food and drink
There are stalls and bars dotted around the trail selling food like hot dogs, carvery baps, chips, donuts, malled wine and hot chocolate.
*Prepare to queue at the start, entry is in 20-minute time slots and we did have to wait when we arrived, but it is organised very well so that you are spaced out from the groups in front and behind.
*It’s quite a spaced out route, you will walk a bit further than some other light shows, so take a buggy if you have young children.
*It is all outdoors so dress for the weather and ensure children are wrapped up warm and wearing sensible footwear. You will always be on a path but look out for the occasional bit of uneven ground as it is dark.
Is everything included in the price?
All the displays are included in the ticket price. There are stalls selling food, drink and those flashing hand-held contraptions that our daughter loves. It was card only for payment.
How long will it take?
It takes about an hour and a half but that depends on how fast you walk and whether you buy food and drink. Take your time walking around, to take it all in, you certainly don’t need to rush.
Where to park
There are car parks on site and it is best to book in advance, then follow the directions on your email confirmation.
Here are our pick of the best beaches in and around Dawlish.
This is a flat, sandy beach with shallow waters. It is very family-friendly with lifeguards keeping watch over the summer months.
It is a Blue Flag beach – awarded for high standards of cleanliness and safety.
The large car park is set behind a grassy area which you walk through to reach the beach.
The sand is separated into sections by rows of wooden groynes. There is a high, sloped wall above the sand so only walk down via the regular steps provided and hold on to younger children’s hands as you approach.
There can be big waves on a windy day which makes the beach good for bodyboards and surfing.
But when the weather is calm it is a safe bathing spot too.
Heading from the town to the beach you drive past a large funfair and there is an ice cream shop and cafe opposite.
If you fancy a good walk, the beach travels up to the mouth of the River Exe. It also backs on to a wildlife reserve.
Dogs are not allowed on Dawlish Warren beach.
Address: Dawlish Warren Beach, Beach Rd, Dawlish, EX7 0NF.
The town of Dawlish has a beach which is a short walk from the centre.
It’s quite pebbly and travels all the way to Red Rock at Dawlish Warren.
We went on a windy day and the sight of the big waves bashing the sea wall was spectacular. Although paddling/swimming in the sea was definitely off the agenda.
There’s a railway station next to the beach. The railway line runs alongside the beach and there’s a wide footpath between the line and the sand.
Dawlish is a small but pleasant place for a stroll and there is a car park and on-street parking.
The river runs through a park with ducks and swans. There is mini-golf in the park and plenty of cafes or ice cream shops.
We visited Gaye’s Creamery for their famous ice cream cone with clotted cream on top!
Dogs are allowed on part of the beach.
Address: Dawlish Town Beach, SW Coast Path, Dawlish, EX8 5BT.
We walked right alongside Dawlish beach and found:
This beach is about a 10-minute walk from the centre of Dawlish, if you start at the railway tunnel, you can follow the sea path round to the right (with the sea on your left).
Our childen had a great time here, it’s a sandy/stony beach with a sheltered spot/open cave, good for keeping warm unless there’s an easterly wind.
The curved bay is good for swimming and the dramatic red sandstone cliffs with the railway at the bottom forms a spectacular backdrop.
There are rock pools, a few colourful beach huts (some available for hire), a cafe with ice cream shop and occasional dolphin sightings.
The beach used to be known as Gentleman’s Beach, because in Victorian times only men were allowed to bathe there!
The nearest parking is on the street opposite the railway line. You can cross a footbridge from there to get to the beach or enjoy the view from the coastal path above. There is also a car park and on street parking in Dawlish town centre.
Dogs are not allowed on Coryton Cove beach from May 1 to September 30.
This is one for the adventurous families.
You park in Holcombe village and then walk down the steep Smuggler’s Lane to access the beach.
From there head under the railway line and up onto a sea wall path.
Keep a close eye on little ones as there are steep drops until you reach some steps down onto the beach. And the steps are narrow and open to the beach.
It is a sandy beach with good waves for bodyboarding.
You also get dramatic red sandstone cliffs at each end which you can imagine as ideal cover for smugglers who made use of this remote beach in years gone by.
There is a kiosk at the bottom of Smuggler’s Lane selling drinks and snacks.
This is also an excellent spot for train spotters as you can get really close to the trains heading in both directions along the line.
This narrow, isolated beach is used mainly by locals and there are no lifeguards.
Dogs are allowed on Holcombe beach.
Address: Holcombe Beach, Holcombe, Teignmouth, Devon, EX7 0JL.
We discover if Cofton Holidays is as good as it sounds for a break with children
Cofton Holiday Park/Cofton Holidays
Where is it?
Cofton is at Starcross near Dawlish in south east Devon, 20 minutes from the M5 and Exeter.
What is it?
It’s a five-star holiday park. The 80-acre site is family-run and has won multiple awards and we are very impressed, it’s one of the nicest holiday parks we’ve stayed at.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, very much so, there are lots of facilities for children – indoor and outdoor pools, an arcade and a woodland adventure area.
There are indoor and outdoor play areas for younger children and bookable activities.
It’s a great holiday park for children – our two love it as do we.
There are various options – from camping through to more luxurious options.
Luxury lodges at Coftons
You can take your own tent, caravan or motorhome.
There are static caravans, luxury holiday lodges with hot tubs and holiday cottages and apartments to choose from.
We stay in a static caravan in a great location, next to the centre where reception, the pools and restaurants are based.
Our static caravan
It is warm and cosy with two bedrooms and very comfy beds. The main bedroom has an en-suite, and there’s a separate bathroom with shower.
The double bedroom
The kitchen/diner/lounge is open plan.
The lounge area
It feels modern and clean, very comfortable with everything we need, except maybe a dishwasher!
The kitchen area
Food and drink
Two of the restaurants on site serve from the same good menu.
The Swan pub is on the ground floor and includes an outside patio.
Amelia’s upstairs is bigger and also includes outdoor seating overlooking the pool. There is a soft play area off this restaurant for under-eights.
Evening meals and Sunday carveries are also served in the Warren Retreat – an area which hosts children’s discos, live cabaret and other entertainment. This area is closed when we visit due to Covid restrictions.
There’s also a fish and chip takeaway and a small shop selling essentials including bread and milk.
There’s a lovely heated indoor swimming pool, which we use nearly every day. It is perfectly warm and a real hit with us all.
It is all one depth, there are splash taps and large, clean changing rooms.
There’s also a heated outdoor pool, open over the summer, great for warmer days.
There is an arcade with lots of games. It also has American pool tables and a mini tenpin bowling alley with four lanes.
*Woodland adventure area
At the top of the site and at the base of a forest Is a wooden adventure area complete with zip wire, assault course and climbing nets.
Woodland adventure play area
There is an outdoor play area with swings and climbing frames.
There’s a soft play area for younger children (closed when we were there due to Covid restrictions).
Anglers are well catered for here – there are well-stocked fishing lakes and fishing competitons. Assisted fishing is available for adults and children. All fish caught are put back into the water.
There are activities for children in the day – when we stay, youngsters can learn to fish or try pond dipping. At other times there are children’s discos in the evening and other entertainment.
Learning to fish
The nearest beach is the Blue Flag beach at Dawlish Warren. It’s a 35-minute walk or a seven-minute drive. There’s a big car park next to it which can get busy and a fun fair. Life guards are on duty during the summer months.
The town has a river, sea walk, crazy golf and places to eat plus Dawlish Town Beach.
*Haldon Forest Park
This is 3,500 acres of woodland with three walking trails and four cycling rails (bikes can be hired).
We take our children to Cofton Holiday Park and explore the surrounding beaches and attractions
“This is amazing,” says our son and we all feel the same.
The sheer joy of a family swim makes the months of lockdown seem a distant memory.
This perfectly warm indoor pool is just one of the excellent facilities at Cofton Holiday Park near Dawlish in Devon.
Swim sessions are pre-booked and limited to an hour to ensure the pool isn’t too crowded while Covid precautions are in place.
It is the same with Cofton’s large outdoor pool, which opens over the warmer months.
The pools are at the centre of the sprawling site along with restaurants and arcade and it’s all just a short walk from our static caravan.
We are in a Tamar model and it is a superb place to stay – modern, spotlessly clean, with two smart TVs, fast WiFi, two bathrooms, good kitchen facilities and plenty of space in the well laid out lounge/dining area.
Our static caravan
There are also luxury lodges with hot tubs, holiday cottages or you can bring your own tent, caravan or motorhome.
The lounge area
Children could spend their whole holiday at Cofton – there’s also a woodland adventure park with zip line, small playground, fishing lakes and woods to explore.
It would also be pretty easy to eat here every night with three restaurants (one closed during our visit), serving good family food and drinks at reasonable prices. There is also an excellent fish and chip shop and a small store on site selling essential food and drinks.
The outdoor pool and restaurants
Plus there are children’s activities run by the entertainment team with daily activities like pond dipping, fishing lessons and pirate adventures, when we visit.
With beautiful Devon on our doorsteps we have to get out and about too.
The beaches are our main aim and the nearest is Dawlish Warren. You can walk from the site – up steep woodland, along a footpath to a walk which takes about half an hour.
Alternatively it is a 10-minute drive from Cofton to the beach’s large car park, past a popular funfair.
This child-friendly flat beach stretches along a sand spit at the mouth of the Exe estuary.
It’s good for games and sandcastle building, there are lifeguards patrolling during the summer and a cafe and ice cream shop.
We also spend time at Coryton Cove near Dawlish, a sheltered partly sandy spot with a cafe.
For an adventurous trip out, try Holcombe Beach. You can’t park there but have to leave your car in the village and negotiate the steep Smuggler’s Lane.
Once you walk under the railway line, which hugs the shore, you come out on a high sea wall path (beware, there’s a sheer, high drop) with steep, narrow steps leading down to the sand.
The beach is good for bodyboarding and offers great views with dramatic red sandstone cliffs at both ends. If you love train-spotting then you can stand inches from the main railway line as services whizz past.
For a more sedate pace of life, try Dawlish town with its gentle river running though the park and traditional seaside appeal.
Devon clotted cream ice creams from Gaye’s Creamery, eaten beside the ducks floating along the weirs on the river makes for a relaxing afternoon.
You can also enjoy the crashing waves along the sea wall and games of mini-golf.
Cofton Holdays is only 20 minutes from Exeter and a similar drive to the hills of Dartmoor.
Haldon Forest Park with its range of bike and walking trails is another good option if you want to head inland.
Back at the park
After one hearty dinner at the park’s Amelia’s Cafe, as the evening sun shines over the rolling hills, we set out to explore the area on foot.
We look down to the holiday park laid out before us. “This is amazing,” I say.
We take a trip down memory lane in Exeter and find out if it is family-friendly and good for children
A tatty white door, three overflowing bins and a weed-covered driveway isn’t the normal tourist photo opportunity.
But it’s the outside of this terraced house in Exeter which has inspired our visit.
It’s where my husband lived when he was at university in Devon – and now he’s come back with a wife and two children in tow.
His time as a student hadn’t resulted in much knowledge of whether the city was child-friendly.
But on our short break we discover there is plenty – apart from taking a trip with dad down memory lane – to entertain the little ones.
This is the best place to start – the bustling waterfront has quirky shops, bars, restaurants and wide paths for cycling, scooting and strolling alongside the River Exe and Exeter Canal.
Saddles & Paddles
We take a different mode of transport by hopping into a canoe, hired from Saddles & Paddles on the Quayside. As the name suggests they hire bikes and boats from a waterside store.
After a cheery and comprehensive briefing, the four of us are paddling, occasionally even in unison, along the river and then canal.
Family canoe ride on the River Exe in Exeter
We work as a team to travel the two miles or so to the Double Locks pub where you can moor up and grab a drink in the large garden, which has a playground and plenty of space.
We then turn round and head back to the Quay, returning via a super low bridge which you have to duck under.
The canal is very safe as no motorboats are on it, just canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders. It is a peaceful and fun way to start our visit.
Where is child-friendly to eat in Exeter?
After working up an appetite, we tuck into giant pizzas at On The Waterfront, which is next to Saddles & Paddles. It has good outside seating and an atmospheric inside in an old customs house.
On the Waterfront restaurant
The children’s pizzas, only £6 each, disappear in a flash and even our large adult portions go down well. This is a good, friendly, relaxed family restaurant.
On the opposite side of the water, in a glass building, sits another excellent eatery.
Lobster at Rockfish
Rockfish is a chain with restaurants around the South West. It’s known for its fresh seafood and changes its dish of the day daily to reflect what’s come out of the waters around Devon.
I have a fabulous lobster and our children tuck into tasty fish and chips.
The children’s menu, well priced at £7.95, includes an ice cream dessert and a great pack of goodies to keep them entertained.
It has a puzzle book, dolphin jigsaw, card games and colouring pencils.
The activities all carry a message about protecting the maritime environment.
Once you’ve headed up the steep streets (Exeter is a fairly hilly city) into the city centre, the cathedral should be your first stop.
The Cathedral Green is a lovely space and inside the large cathedral (entrance £5 adults, children free) you can collect a free children’s activity booklet, guiding you around the building with questions and clues to answer about what’s inside. There is also brass rubbing sheets you can do at a cost of £2.
Exeter is an historic city with links to the Romans, Normans and more. You can wander past Sir Francis Drake’s favourite pub – the half timbered Ship Inn, as you walk from the cathedral to the castle.
It is more castle walls really than traditional fortress but most of the walls sit in Northernhay Gardens, the oldest public open space in Britain, which dates back to the 1600s.
Today the gardens are peaceful, picturesque and a good space for children to run around.
If you exit the gardens via the war memorial and turn left you come to Exeter’s most colourful street, Gandy Street, with coffee shops and bars lining the cobbles. It is a good spot to stop for snack or drink.
The RAMM and Underground Passages
Two of the city’s other top attractions are closed when we visit.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM) reveals the area’s rich history and global connections.
And we were sad to miss the city’s Underground Passages where guided tours have taken place since the 1930s. They were designed to bring clean drinking water from natural springs outside the walled city.
The Underground Passages (pic: Mike Alsford)
Haldon Forest Park
One place which wasn’t closed – and very much open to the elements as we discover on a wet walk – is Haldon Forest Park.
Haldon Forest Park
About four miles outside the city, this large woodland area is packed with walkers, cyclists and Segway riders.
There is a Go Ape course, cafe, playground and lots of different length trails to tackle. As it’s pouring, we take the simple green route, which is a 1.5 mile circular walk with spectacular views out towards the sea.
You could easily spend most of the day at this large park, especially if you brought bikes with you.
There are other attractions on the outskirts of Exeter like Crealy Theme Park and Darts Farm Shopping Village.
The city is only around half an hour from the seaside resorts of Exmouth and Dawlish, as well as the hills of Dartmoor.
If you wanted to you could base yourself in the city and explore all of those areas.
But our time in Exeter is up and we have created plenty of new family memories to add to the student stories from two decades ago.
Mattel Play! will not be reopening following coronavirus closure
It was popular with youngsters who loved children’s favourites Thomas & Friends, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder.
But now Mattel Play! on the Royal Albert Dock has closed for good.
The adventure play centre at the Albert Dock launched in 2016 and was the first of its kind in Europe.
It was split into three themed areas dedicated to the iconic characters.
The Heritage Great Britain attraction closed in March to prevent the spread of coronavirus but has now revealed that it will not reopen.
Harold the Helicopter’s ball pool
A spokesperson said: “Following five wonderful years at the Albert Dock, we have taken the difficult decision to close Mattel Play! Liverpool.
“As the focus of the Albert Dock continued to be more bars and restaurants, we have therefore, following a discussion with the landlord, agreed to exit our lease earlier than planned.
“We would have very much liked to have remained at the Albert Dock throughout the summer months but the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and the consequences which are likely to be felt for many months, made this ambition untenable.”
This website reviewed Mattel Play! and thought it was great for younger children who were fans of Fireman Sam, Bob the Builder and Thomas.
We share all the details of our 67 foot bond class Anglo Welsh barge
Boat hire company Anglo Welsh has more than 160 narrowboats at 11 bases across England and Wales.
We hired one from its Trevor Basin site in north Wales to take across the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal into Shropshire.
It was our first canal boat trip and we booked it through Drifters Waterway Holidays.
We had a great time (read our full review) Here we’ll look at the boat in more detail and explain how suitable it is for children.
We hired a 4-6 berth canal boat called Askrigg, a bond class narrowboat, which is one of the most luxurious that Anglo Welsh offers.
Bond class narrowboat, Askrigg
Let’s start with space and there was plenty of it. The length of the boat is 67 feet and it’s nearly 7 feet wide. It doesn’t even feel that narrow.
It’s quite dauntingly long when you take the helm for the first time but it is fabulous for the children to have so much room to move about and play.
Starting at the rear is a bedroom with two small single beds.
There are two small beds in one bedroom
A narrow corridor, which could be a squeeze for some, runs alongside the next three rooms.
There is a bathroom, a bedroom with a double bed followed by a second identical bathroom.
The other bedroom has a small double bed
It opens up into a galley area with kitchen and dining table with sofa-seating which converts into another bed if needed.
At the front of the boat are two leather chairs facing a TV and radio.
Inside the Anglo Welsh narrowboat Askrigg
It’s a great layout and worked well for us – having two bedrooms and two bathrooms is a real bonus.
There are places to sit outside at the front and rear of the boat.
Was it easy to helm?
It is straightforward, once you’ve grasped that turning the tiller right makes the boat go left and vice versa.
As you steer from the rear, take glasses if you need them!
It’s good fun, rewarding but never relaxing when you are at the helm. It’s definitely best to take it in turns if there are two of you, to give each of you a chance to fully enjoy the experience.
What about equipment?
The boat is very well equipped. We found plenty of crockery, pots and pans, cutlery and cooking utensils. It was all in an excellent condition, very clean, and most of it looked new.
There is a gas oven, grill and four-ring hob as well as a microwave (only use the microwave when the engine is running or it will sap all your power). A kettle to boil on the hob is provided as well as a fridge freezer.
Bedding and towels are provided, along with a hairdryer and a couple of folding chairs.
What about gadgets?
There is a small TV with signal dependent on your location – we didn’t get ours to work but it does take DVDs.
There is also a radio and CD player.
In the lounge area are two plug sockets and underneath the television is a cigarette lighter point.
Try to charge mobile phones and other devices while the boat is moving as electricity drops when the engine is turned off.
Is there space to shower?
The bathrooms are a fairly tight squeeze for an adult around the toilet and sink areas but the showers were large, powerful and warmed up instantly.
Don’t forget to pump out the shower using the button at the side of it where you are done. A new bar of soap is supplied in each bathroom.
The chemical toilets are flushed using a lever with your foot.
Canal boat toilets use a sealed holding tank on board which you empty at a pump-out point if and when you need to – we didn’t.
Is there enough water and can you drink it?
There is initially enough water onboard for at least a day.
You can stop at a water point (marked on the map and signposted) and access the tap using a key Anglo Welsh give you.
You connect one end of the boat’s hose pipe to the tap and insert the other end into the hole of the boat’s water tank.
It’s a really simple process once you’ve managed to moor up!
We were told that it’s best to fill up every day, but we were careful with our water usage and managed every other day.
You can apparently drink the water but we took bottled.
How does electricity work on an Anglo Welsh boat?
We never ran out of power. An inverter on the boat converts the power from the onboard batteries.
The amount of power available depends on how long the engine has been running so keep it running for a time when you are moored (but not after 8pm).
It’s recommended to charge mobiles and tablets etc when the engine is running so you don’t drain the batteries.
Was there heating on the boat?
All the company’s boats have gas central heating with radiators and ours was cosy and warm.
There’s also a multi-fuel stove, which we didn’t use.
Are there life jackets/buoyancy aids?
If you request them when you book, you can chose a life jacket to fit when you are at the boatyard before you depart. Both our children had one and were happy to wear them.
Are pets allowed?
Yes, up to two dogs are allowed, one is free to bring, a second costs £25 or £35 depending on the length of stay.
Are bikes allowed?
You can take one or two bikes but they have to be kept outside and you need to be careful when going under bridges or tunnels if you leave them on the roof.
Was it clean and Covid-compliant?
Canal boating is an excellent socially-distanced holiday option as you have self-contained accommodation and you are never too close to other people.
Our boat was very clean and had been thoroughly disinfected beforehand. Anti-bacterial spray and cleaning products were supplied on board.
Do they tell you how to use the boat?
Yes, the handover is very thorough. Ours took an hour as the Anglo Welsh staff member explained every aspect of the boat, how to helm it, all the safety precautions and more.
He also had plenty of time for questions and even headed out of the marina with us for the first few hundred yards of our journey to help with any teething problems and offer tips.
On arrival back, the staff turned our boat round for us and moored it.
We collected our boat from Trevor Basin in north Wales. There is free parking at the boatyard and we were able to park right next to the barge, which was great for loading and unloading.
A great space for children with everything you could need.
Our first boating holiday takes in the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
I have been in charge of an 18-tonne canal boat the length of a lorry for roughly a minute.
Concentrating hard, I navigate on to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the width of our craft Askrigg, trying to ignore the 40-metre sheer drop on one side into the River Dee.
The expert, who has just given us an hour’s worth of thorough instructions, steps off the barge and we are alone crossing the longest aqueduct in Britain and the highest in the world.
As introductions to canal life goes, there’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end as our two children enjoy the ride and my husband helps direct from the front – almost 70 feet away.
We are on a Drifters waterways holiday and our Anglo Welsh boat has just left Trevor basin near Llangollen in north east Wales.
About to depart from Trevor basin
Our four-day route is along the Llangollen Canal with overnight stops at the border village of Chirk and the Shropshire town of Ellesmere.
I quickly discover that canal boating is simultaneously very relaxing and stressful. Once we cross the aqueduct with its amazing views, there are other boats to dodge, tight turns to master and long tunnels to chug through.
There’s even a swing bridge to lift and our six-year-old gets out, armed with the windlass (the tool to lift canal locks and bridges) and starts helping turn the gauge to raise it high above the canal and allow us to pass through.
At first, bridges and locks may be daunting but they quickly become part of the fun, giving the children some activity and making them feel part of the team.
Luckily, every boater seems friendly and happy to help if you get in a fix.
Helming takes some practice, the boat is steered from the rear with a tiller. You may find yourself gently bumping the sides, glancing off low bridges or getting stuck in shallow water.
Coming out from a tunnel
It is all part of the adventure and steering quickly becomes second nature, even if you can never entirely relax at the helm.
We take it in turns so one of us can be with the children, prepare food or even relax, lazing at the front, enjoying the scenery.
There’s something pretty awesome about travelling along in a floating home but I recommend mooring up as often as possible to explore the towpath and surroundings.
We love stopping where we want, discovering walks through the countryside with just cows for company. This slow pace of travel needs to be embraced.
We also make planned stops at Chirk near to the famous castle, Ellesmere with its mere, playground, sculpture trail and quaint town centre, the small village of St Martin’s and also the base at Trevor, from where you can cross the famous aqueduct, a world heritage site, on foot.
As your confidence dealing with the boat increases, so does your speed carrying out its regular checks, filling with water and tying the ropes.
And the quality of our craft Askrigg really helps make the holiday (read our detailed review of the boat). It is one of Anglo Welsh’s Bond class boats and sleeps up to six (read our full review of it here).
Inside our boat Askrigg
There is lots of space inside, two bedrooms, two bathrooms with showers, a well-equipped kitchen, lounge/dining area, television, radio, central heating and WiFi. It is also extremely clean and Covid compliant.
By the end of our mini-break it has become a home from home so as we head back over the aqueduct four days later, the view was just as stunning but any novice nerves about taking a canal boat holiday have disappeared.
A new roller coaster aimed at pre-school children has opened at one of England’s most popular theme parks
The world’s first DUPLO rollercoaster has opened at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort.
The DUPLO Dino Coaster, for children aged around two to five, is part of the attraction’s bigger improved DUPLO Valley area.
The ride has dino-themed carriages which soar around supersized DUPLO dinosaur models, 18 times bigger than if you were to build them at home.
Legoland staff think it will be the perfect first rollercoaster experience for little ones, who need to be 0.9 metres or over to ride it.
The area has also has a new show and new supersized DUPLO models, great for family selfies, plus its own official character, Dexter the Dog.
Outdoor play area Brickville has become DUPLO Playtown with a new rocket play structure for budding astronauts and there is a new puppet show at the DUPLO Puppet Theatre.
DUPLO Valley Airport has a new look with with three coloured helicopters for little pilots to choose from.
Existing family rides at DUPLO Valley include the riverboat Fairy Tale Brook ride and the DUPLO train.
Duplo Valley, Legoland Windsor
The area also hosts the resort’s outdoor water play areas – Splash Safari and Drench Towers.
Meanwhile the park has launched a new adult and toddler annual pass to be used while older children are at school.
For £49, a toddler (classed as under 0.9 metres) and adult can visit the theme park as often as they like during term time (Monday to Friday), with 20 per cent off at restaurants and a 10 per cent discount in the shops.
Children under 0.9 metres get free entry anyway to the LEGOLAND Windsor Resort all year round.
Day tickets are from £29 per person when booked online in advance.
We take our children to the Hilton Bracknell after visiting Lapland UK
Hilton Bracknell, Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Where is it?
On the outskirts of Bracknell near the main A322 road, next to a Sainsbury’s supermarket and petrol station.
It’s just 10 minutes from Lapland UK (review here), around 15 minutes from Legoland Windsor (review here) and half an hour from Thorpe Park.
What is it?
A large hotel with a swimming pool and leisure centre. It has plenty of free parking on site.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, this is a popular family option in the area offering easy access to Windsor, Lapland UK and Ascot.
Children receive a welcome pack on arrival, breakfast caters for them well and there is a swimming pool to enjoy.
There were lots of children at the hotel when we stayed there and they are made to feel welcome.
We stayed in a two double bed deluxe and it was an excellent size for a family of four.
There were two comfy double beds, a large TV, good-sized bathroom with bath and shower, free bottles of water, a kettle and a useful mini-fridge. The room was spotlessly clean.
Food and drink
Breakfast was nearly all self-service with a good selection of six cereals, including cornflakes and coco pops.
There were lovely warm pastries plus all the usual hot options if you want a cooked breakfast.
Breakfast is served in a lovely, bright and spacious restaurant area. Even though the hotel was busy it was a pleasant environment to eat in. The staff were friendly and helpful throughout.
If you want to eat an evening meal then under-fives eat free with a paying adult. Children aged between six and 12 can dine from the children’s menu for £11.50. We ate elsewhere for dinner so can’t comment on how good it is!
*The swimming pool – a real bonus here are the leisure facilities. These are free for hotel users and the decent-sized pool is split into two halves with a rope. One half is for adult swimmers and the other for children and their families. It wasn’t too busy when we visited on a Saturday morning and really made our stay.
There is also a jacuzzi which children are allowed in, plus a steam room and sauna for adults.
You can collect fresh towels from the leisure centre and the changing facilities are good.
We also spotted a good-sized gym.
*Welcome pack – the small bag given to children at reception kept them entertained in our room. There were crayons, stickers to colour in, puzzles and a crossword.
Children’s welcome pack
*The staff – everyone we met from reception, housekeeping and at breakfast were very friendly. They went out of their way to help and make sure we had a pleasant stay.
*Parking – the hotel’s large car park is free and stretches around the front and side of the building. Even on a busy Friday evening there was space to park.
A busy dual carriageway is the main view from the hotel but it is handily placed next to a large Sainsbury’s supermarket and petrol station.
Coral Reef Waterworld, The Look Out Discovery Centre and Go Ape Bracknell are all less than a mile away.
There are lots of family favourites within a few miles including Lapland UK, Windsor Castle, Legoland Windsor and Thorpe Park.
The city of Winchester is known as England’s Christmas capital and its market was recently voted one of the best in Europe.
So we take a December trip to the home of Alfred the Great to find out what its Christmas appeal is for children, plus see our video below.
The Winchester Cathedral Christmas Markets
The centrepiece of the city’s festive fun is this beautiful market which runs for 34 days around Christmas.
There are 110 stalls around Cathedral Close. You enter via the side of the building through some arches and onto the market which has dozens of stalls selling Christmas gifts, arts and crafts.
The main food and drink section of the market is at the far side. There are the usual selection of German sausages, Gluhwein and more. Our two enjoyed testing the pancakes from an excellent crepes stall, which was reasonably priced and properly cooked by two ladies from France. There was also a man toasting marshmallows and another roasting nuts.
There is also a British Crafts Village section, which you enter via a small platform, with a nativity scene at the end.
The market is very popular with 350,000 visitors each year and it was busy when we went which means you need to keep a close eye on your children. Also, there are no toilets in the market itself, the nearest ones are at the Cathedral Visitors Centre.
The ice rink
In the centre of the markets is a covered ice rink. It offers one-hour skating slots through the day from 10am with the final one starting at 8pm.
The busiest times are in the late afternoon but numbers are limited so even in a full session the ice isn’t too busy.
A family skating ticket for two adults and two children costs £37.95. it also costs £5 to hire a Penguin skating aid, which is essential if your children are new to skating and makes for a more fun experience on the ice for beginners.
The rink has a large Christmas tree in the centre and viewing areas at either end for family and friends to watch.
You can collect your skates in the waiting area up to half a hour before your allocated time slot. All children’s sizes are catered for and there is a £1 charge to leave bags in a locker.
It is a great festive atmosphere with lights and music on the ice adding to the fun. There is also an ice bar and cafe next to the rink for hot and cold food.
Across the city
Winchester takes Christmas very seriously and even away from the cathedral there was a large market along the High Street when we visited. There were plenty of local stalls and food outlets at that market as well.
The two nearest Christmas activities near Winchester are at Marwell Zoo, which we reviewed earlier in the year, read about it here. The zoo has a special Christmas at Marwell experience which can be booked as either a daytime or evening visit. Only the daytime experience includes a visit to the zoo itself.
The Watercress Line has a Santa Special train running until December 24. Children receive an activity pack and gingerbread on board while adults can enjoy white wine and mince pies. Tickets are available by advanced booking only.
Also, in Winchester there is a Meet Father Christmas event running at the Great Hall. From December 21 to 23, you can meet Santa in one of the city’s grandest buildings. Tickets include that all-important meeting plus a festive gift and Christmas-themed crafts.
Where do I park?
Parking is difficult but there are three park and ride options. If you are coming from the East, you can use either Barfield or St Catherine’s Park & Ride. Visitors from the south can use South Winchester.
If you want to try and get closer to the city centre, then the Chesil multi-storey car park is your best bet. We parked here and it was about a 10-minute walk to the cathedral.
For more information go to visitwinchester.co.uk
(We were given free entry to the ice rink for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own).
We take our children to ‘Lapland’ in the UK for a full family festive experience
It is one of the country’s most popular Christmas days out for families who want to experience Lapland without the cost of travelling to Finland.
So here is all you need to know about Lapland UK, plus our top tips for visiting and please watch our video below!
What is it?
A full Christmas experience for children which tells the story of Father Christmas, complete with elves, snow, a personalized Santa visit, toy making, gingerbread decorating, ice skating and more.
Where is it?
In ‘Lapland’ accessed by magic from Lapland UK, in Whitmoor Forest near Ascot in Berkshire.
How it works
1. Children get a special invitation each to visit ‘Lapland’ through the post telling them they have been chosen to help Santa make toys. There is a special app you can use so that two of the elves you will meet, appear on your invitation through your phone to talk and build the excitement.
2. When you get there and check in, each child is given an Elf Passport to have stamped at various points. You can also buy Jingles here – elf money that the children can spend there – £1 is one Elf Jingle.
A pouch of Jingles
3. The tour starts in a round room where elves tell the Father Christmas story, teach elf rhymes and the elf wave and build up the excitement for the children (Little Folk) and adults (Big Folk) until finally opening the doors to ‘Lapland’.
The doors to Lapland
4. You walk past snow-topped cabins to the toy workshop. Here, as in other places around the site, children have the option of entering through much smaller doors than the adults, which is a nice touch.
5. Inside the workshop, they are entertained by more elves and then each child helps to make a toy (a soft snowman our year, which they stuffed and added buttons to and a nose and scarf etc), which they hand over to be wrapped for Santa to deliver to children on Christmas Eve.
6. Then it’s through one of several magical tree tunnels to the next area, a kitchen where Mother Christmas is waiting, she talks to the children, they decorate gingerbread biscuits then listen to a story.
Mother Christmas tells a story
7. After that it is on to the Elf Village where you have an hour-and-a-half free time to ice skate on the outdoor rink, visit husky dogs and spend your Jingles in the toy and sweet shops, food and drink outlets. There is even a special post office where children can write a letter to Santa, have it sealed and post it themselves.
8. Then it’s on to the main event – visiting Father Christmas. You walk through a magical forest, past elf homes and past the reindeer to a waiting area.
Elves come and out and call each family group through using just the children’s names. Then you are taken down a winding path to visit Santa in a log cabin, who amazes the children by knowing special details about them. He gives them a present (soft husky toy dogs when we went) and they find their names in his good book. They have a photograph taken by an elf.
Are they in his good book?
9. In the next area, you collect your free photograph and are slipped a toy like the one your child made earlier so that Santa can deliver it on Christmas Eve. Then it’s out through a gift shop where there are lots of accessories you can buy for your husky! And then it’s out the door and back into the car park in ‘England’.
What is included in the price at Lapland UK?
*An elf passport.
*Making a toy activity.
*A version of the toy they made in the toy factory to take away secretly to give them on Christmas day.
*The gingerbread that the children decorate.
*Ice skating and hire of skates.
*Meeting Father Christmas.
*A gift from Santa – soft toy husky dogs our year.
*A printed family picture from the Santa visit.
What costs extra at Lapland UK?
*Food and drink.
*Extra pictures from the Santa visit.
What did we think?
This is a magical Christmas day out for young children and very well organized. The staff are all fantastic, taking on the role of elves and reindeer and the children loved it. It is a fabulous four hours of festive entertainment.
Is Lapland UK worth the cost?
This is a staggeringly expensive Christmas experience. It is a shame this costs so much money as it just isn’t possible for many people, particularly bigger families.
For the four of us it was over £450 on a weekday – which works out at over £100 an hour. We were lucky enough to be treated to it for a special family birthday. I don’t think we would be able to justify doing it again another year.
If you can afford it and want to splash out, make sure your children are the right ages to appreciate it, I would say, no younger than three and of an age where they still believe in the magic of Christmas.
Top tips for Lapland UK
*Do take advantage of the app to make your child’s invitation come to life, it is a magical start to the experience.
*Get there half an hour before your time slot to park, walk to the start, check in etc. You can not start the experience until your time slot so there is no point getting there any earlier.
*Buy Jingles at the start – £1 is 1 Elf Jingle, they come in a red velvet pouch. Children can use them to pay for things in the Elf Village and you can cash in those you don’t use at the end. We bought ours £5 worth each and it was enough (a lead for the toy husky from Santa was just £3 in the gift shop at the end, but beware there are lots of toys which cost a lot more)!
*Personalise your visit online. Make sure Santa has all the details he needs to show your child that he knows all about them. But don’t worry if you don’t get chance to do this as you can tell them at the desk when you are waiting to see the Big Man (just make sure little ears can’t hear you)!
*Ice rink – children can have skates which go over their shoes and are easier to balance on instead of proper ones. There are also support penguins for young children to hold on to or stand on.
*Consider taking a change of clothes in case children fall over on the ice rink. It was raining when we went and there is no cover so the surface was wet even though staff were frantically trying to keep the water off it.
*You could spend a lot of money in the Elfen Village if you aren’t careful as a lot of it is shops and food and drink outlets so take your time doing the ice rink and the Santa letter writing!
Our five-year-old’s verdict
“We saw Father Christmas and he gave us some huskies. And we went in the Enchanted Forest. It was fantastic! I liked seeing Santa Claus best.”