After owning a VW and a caravan, we’ve come full circle this year and returned to tent camping. We had an amazing weekend at Embers camping earlier this year, and totally loved the Millet’s blogger camp last weekend (pictured above) and I can’t wait to share that next week. Before I do, I thought I would start with some camping must haves as we have been sent quite a few gadgets and products to test this summer and have now picked out our favourites.
Stories of car journeys are legendary in my family and my brother and I still love to relive our memories: toddler me sheltering him from a spider when he was a baby in a car seat; listening to the Pet Shop Boys with one headphone each of a dying Walkman and sibling arguments that reached their crescendo at major European roundabouts. My Dad even referred to one car journey in his speech at my wedding.
We spend a lot of time in the car, more now that our daily school run depends on the car too. We even keep a spare toothbrush for the youngest in our car. Our move meant we became a two car family once more and so I finally have my own car again. Time to kit it out just how I want it, just in time for summer holidays too. I’ve also been busy putting together a piece for John Lewis’s blog about car travel, which was the perfect excuse to test out some great kit. I won’t reproduce the whole article here, but I thought I would let my blog readers in on a few products that stood the test of time on our recent car journey to Boggle Hole Youth Hostel.
Oh the memories I have of coach trips, on the back seat singing Belinda Carlise’s Circle In the Sand full pelt while travelling to Wales with my primary school class; ferrying weary and tipsy guests back to their hotel after our wedding do; watching the snow fall and the elves leap from behind the trees in Lapland, and snuggling up to my Grandma, trying to stay awake as we sailed under the Blackpool illuminations. The great thing about hiring a coach or minibus is you create an instant sense of community and camaraderie.
As a driver it is easy to default to planning our family holidays around getting in our car and going. Coach trips are easily relegated to something we did in school. But minibus and coach hire opens up all kinds of possibilities, for a more relaxed and fun day or weekend out, allowing more room for friends and family. More recently, going on press trips has reminded me how much fun having a mini bus or coach full of like minded people and a new place to explore can be. When you have kids not having to think about where next can be a marvellous gift.
Boggle Hole YHA is an absolute dream of a find for a family getaway. Set in it’s own smuggler’s cove, just 3/4 mile from Robin Hood’s Bay over the cliffs, or across the sands at low tide, and fresh from a 1.2 million pound sea themed renovation, it’s somewhere you will feel incredibly smug you discovered. (Excuse the pun).
I can’t claim responsibility for this one, one of my best university friends chose Boggle Hole YHA as the location for her 40th celebrations and managed to book enough rooms for 21 of us. I can’t claim responsibility for this next photo either, one of the party took it, but I asked to share it because it really captures the setting. The hostel is the only building nestled in the cove and is reached by a bridge; it really is quite magical. In local folklore Boggles were believed to be little people that inhabited many of the caves running along the coast, lots of fun can be had looking for them.
My lovely cousin and family are visiting this week from France on a grand tour of the UK, and it’s filled me with nostalgia for our French holiday two years ago. We’re starting to think about where to go on holiday ourselves this summer, very last minute, but we have been too busy enjoying life in our new home to plan that far in advance, not that we ever do plan that far in advance if I am honest. I like to go wherever my head feels it needs to go. I had my heart set on Wales again this summer, as always, it’s my place to go and have a digital detox, and completely disappear, but then Mr A started looking at places in France and I remembered all the reasons I love France.
Last night I forgot to close the blind on the skylight above my bed. It’s one of my favourite things about our new house, the huge skylight, you can just see it in the picture above. Although I have to dip my head to get out of bed without hitting the sloped roof, the views over the surrounding countryside are amazing.
I woke up in the middle of the night and there was The Plough, shining down on me so brightly. When I woke up I wondered if I had dreamt it at first, the sparkling points of the saucepan shape were so vivid.
We had the most incredible encounter with nature recently, and I have been so excited to share this. You might remember a while ago we donated to my Dad’s local branch of the RSPB who were crowdfunding for bird boxes. Barn Owls are very special to me and so I decided we would donate enough for a barn owl box. We were really lucky to be able to go and help finish making the box, and put it up with the Macclesfield RSPB local group.
Over the last few months Dad has called me to mention sightings at the Cheshire Wildlife Trust site, first of a tawny owl, then a barn owl. Just before we moved house he called me to let me know there were definitely chicks in there. It’s really lucky to have an owl move in so quickly after setting up a box, sometimes you wait years. We were thrilled.
Then we received a very special invite, to go along and watch when the birds were ringed. I’d simply hoped we might glimpse them from afar one day, I couldn’t quite fathom that I would actually get to see the beautiful creatures who had moved into the home we helped provide for them close up.
Ringing is a way of monitoring the health and survival of a species and involves putting a unique numbered metal ring on the bird’s leg. This identifies the bird as an individual and provides information on where it goes to once it has flown the nest, how long it lives, along with other data relating to the breeding success of the particular species.
The Barn Owls were ringed by specially trained volunteers from the South Manchester Ringing Group, who are licenced by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the organisation who manage and monitor bird ringing in the UK.
We had to be oh so quiet as the rather sleepy owls were handled and ringed. Then data such as sex, (female Barn Owls have fine dark spots on their plumage,) body weight, which provides information on the bird’s health, and specific wing feather length, which helps age the birds to within a couple of days, was then recorded. All this information is sent to the BTO by the licenced ringers.
We didn’t even know if we would get to meet any of Barn Owls, as according to the RSPB, a staggering 75% of Barn Owls die in their first year. They are especially vulnerable in the early days if food is scarce.
We waited nervously in a clearing while the experts went to check the box.
When the birds are carefully lifted out of the bird box they are placed gently in cloth bags to help them feel safe and secure. We waited, incredibly anxious and hopeful. Then my daughter L said she could see the team coming back carrying bags through the undergrowth. We all began to feel incredibly excited.
Barn Owl chicks are very calm and docile, I expected them to be flapping and clawing, but they were like newborn babies in many ways. An adult bird will be quite different and so it needs a trained expert with special equipment to approach a nest without injury.
We had no idea how many to expect, but there were three of them and they were utterly spellbinding. I had tears in my eyes they were so beautiful and I felt so lucky to see them so close.
I’ve photographed Barn Owls before, rescued owls in a farm park, but there was something very different about seeing owl babies in the wild.
Barn owls are a protected species, according to the RSPB they suffered declines through the 20th century and are thought to have been adversely affected by pesticides such as DDT in the 1950s and ’60s. According to the ringers we met, barn owls seem to be on the increase in this area of Cheshire, and hopefully providing them with more nest boxes has helped.
Thanks to all the organisations involved for their time, patience and for kindly allowing us to come along. The Macclesfield Big Bird Box Build project is run by Macclesfield RSPB Wildlife Explorers and The Macclesfield RSPB Local Group. The box is situated on a Cheshire Wildlife Trust site and South Manchester Ringing Group carried out the ringing. Disturbing barn owls recklessly is against the law and carries a heavy fine, only licensed organisations can take birds out the nest like this.
I also made a video of this encounter, watching the young birds’ feathers waving on the breeze still gives me goosebumps. You will need sound to make sense of it:
As my kids and my parenting skills grow up and their personalities truly begin to crystallise in my mind, I find myself wishing I could revisit a couple of things and do them a little differently. At the same time I love looking back at how our love of travel has blossomed together.
Our first proper family city break was to Bologna. It was slightly ambitious and in partnership with the amazing Bologna Welcome, who were keen to show us absolutely everything. I totally overestimated what my then 4yo was capable of and ended up in tears when I had to take my youngest child, in complete overwhelmed melt down, out of a personal museum tour, leaving my Dad and daughter to finish off with the shell shocked guide.
My Dad had taken one look at the itinerary the night before we left, and told me to reorganise the museum tour, how I wish I had listened, brilliant though Museo della Storia di Bologna (Museum of the History of Bologna) is. Looking back it was no wonder the poor child lost it, after a journey kids need to let of steam and relax. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing.
I am quite good at dramatic holiday endings. Recently journalist, Jen from Jenography, told me three makes a story, which I think means it is time to share three ways to ruin a holiday, and what each of these dramatic incidents has taught me.
Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, my Grandma let me have a cushion of hers. It was purple and soft as clouds and I used to love snuggling up to it in her house, so when she let me take it home I remember being over the moon and I promptly fell fast asleep against it on the car journey home.
It was one of a pair however, and it didn’t take me long to work out that Grandma had given me the slightly less fluffy of the two. I was undeterred however, and I decided to return with my cushion next visiting time, and while my unsuspecting Grandmother’s back was turned, I swapped the two cushions.