Sharing is caring!Facebook0Twitter0Google+0Pinterest0 Newquay, Cornwall No one told me you needed core muscles worthy of a yoga-master to surf (though...
No one told me you needed core muscles worthy of a yoga-master to surf (though our instructor Dale’s six-pack should have given me a clue). That deft movement from lying plank-like on your board to leaping into a graceful standing position looked so easy when he demonstrated it.
And just 20 minutes into our family surfing lesson in Newquay, on the wild Atlantic coast of Cornwall, my son Joe, six, was “popping up”, as the surfing jargon goes. I, on the other hand, found it impossible.
Time and again, I toppled into the churning froth, collecting a mouthful of sea water for my trouble (though in a testament to Dale’s enthusiasm, I finished the day convinced that one more lesson would nail it).
Newquay is the centre of Britain’s surfing scene and we were there in August during the Boardmasters festival: five days of professional surfing at Fistral Beach, combined with a world-class music festival up the hill at Watergate Bay.
The idea was that the long weekend would provide something for all : daytime beach activities for the children and music for the adults as the sun went down. This isn’t one of those “family-friendly” festivals where you trip over Cath Kidston picnic rugs on the way to the bar.
Here you’ll definitely be outnumbered by teenagers, though the atmosphere is friendly and lately the festival has started to attract an older audience, too. That may be something to do with the top-notch line-up: we saw The Vaccines, Tom Odell and Basement Jaxx, among many others.
Next morning we were up with the lark (most of the teenagers had only just found their tents and crashed out) for the free bus into Newquay and a family “coasteering” session.
Coasteering is essentially rockpooling with attitude. Led by local expert Karl Fice-Thomson and kitted out in wetsuits, rubber shoes, helmets and buoyancy aids, we crawled through caves, delved in rock pools, held up shore crabs, learned their Latin names (Carcinus maenas, since you ask) and clambered up cliffs.
It was an unforgettable day – the children were chanting those Latin names weeks later – and a session with Karl should be on the National Curriculum.
Arriving back at the festival on the rickety old double-decker, we settled in for another night of music. Suddenly the teenagers around us gasped and whipped out their smartphones.
A rock star ? No, a show-stopping Cornish sunset, the orange sun washing the Atlantic horizon. Some things are to everyone’s taste.
In case you didn’t know, it’s called Le Grand Départ. Towns and villages across Yorkshire are already festooned with yellow flags and banners as they count down the days, hours and minutes until the Tour de France sets off in the north of England next month.
Whether you’re thinking of following Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and the rest of the peloton in the world’s most famous cycle race, or you fancy taking in some of the scenery as you bike the route yourself, this is definitely the place to be.
We stayed just outside the tiny village of Gargrave, near Skipton, where stage one of the tour will pass on July 5. Newton Grange is a perfectly peaceful rural retreat but le tour fever had reached even here.
And when we headed over to York, Bettys Tea Rooms was offering a selection of cycling-themed biscuits and treats. After a few of those, we felt we’d better get on our bikes. The York Sport Cycle Circuit is a new facility that anyone from young children to competitive racers can enjoy.
Andrew Johnson, Cycling Development Manager at York Sport Village, says: “Roads today are so busy that it’s hard to let kids out on them to practise. Here they can build up their confidence, become proficient and who knows? They might even discover they have a passion for cycling.”
All the gear was provided, so we didn’t need to bring anything but ourselves and we could just enjoy biking around the purpose-built, one-kilometre circuit while diggers in the background worked away on phase two of the development – the velodrome.
If you get saddle-sore, this part of the world has plenty more diversions to offer. We visited Skipton’s picture-perfect medieval castle then made our children’s day with a trip on the Embsay & Bolton Abbey steam railway.
Personally, I was tempted by York’s Chocolate Story, an attraction that looks at the city’s history via the famous confectionery families – the Terrys and Rowntrees – who made their fortunes there and gives you ample opportunity for tasting.
But instead we decided to tackle the first stage of Le Tour. My triathlete husband had biked the route before (“Hawes to the Buttertubs Pass is tough”) – and as hard-core cyclists like to say, no hills, no thrills. With Tom, seven, and Rose, six, in tow, we chose to experience our thrills from the comfort of the car, but the Buttertubs Pass didn’t disappoint.
As it winds its way north from Simonstone towards Thwaite and Muker, the road passes breathtakingly close to the cliff edge (the children threw their weight the other way) and we felt we’d definitely earned our delicious home-made cake at the lovely tea shop in Muker.
OK Bradley, you can do the rest.
Sandy Balls, New Forest
We saw them first as we rumbled over a cattle grid: a group of six, up ahead, sauntering down the road. This being the New Forest, and these being the area’s famous wild ponies, that meant driving at walking pace while these beautiful but unpredictable beasts did their thing.
Much to the delight of our daughter Ezmé (aged nine and mad about horses) who got the chance to admire them close up. Almost too close, in fact, as one tried to poke its nose through the window.
On arrival at the intriguingly named Sandy Balls Holiday Village, my partner Nancy, Ezmé and I were met by a member of the friendly staff and directed to our home for the next four nights – a woodland lodge (like a luxury log cabin, though if you prefer you can camp, caravan or opt for a new “camping pod”).
Our accommodation proved to be spotless and well equipped so after the long drive, we decided to cook and relax on our own private deck for the rest of the day. But Sandy Balls is all about activity – whether you like walking, riding, kayaking, fishing, swimming, going to the gym or just enjoying some me-time in the spa – so next morning we were up bright and early and ready to go.
Voting to explore the surrounding New Forest on two wheels, we headed for the on-site cycle centre to collect our rides for the day. Ten minutes later, Ezmé’s grumbles about aching legs were forgotten as we encountered another group of ponies.
Photo opportunity over, we spent the morning tootling about in this lovely unspoiled heathland, and somehow we just happened to pass an excellent country pub at lunchtime.
You can self-cater at Sandy Balls but you don’t have to, and that evening we rewarded ourselves for our cycling efforts at one of the on-site restaurants, the aptly named Pizza in the Piazza (posher fare is offered at the Woodside Inn).
The following day, we planned to stay on site, as we had booked some activities for Ezmé. First came tie-dyeing, and she now has the funkiest PE bag in school. But the one she’d really been looking forward to was kids’ jet-skiing – a mini, battery-powered version of the real thing, on which she zipped about the outdoor pool.
Next morning we took a short stroll down to the Avon, which flows past the village. This gave Ezmé the perfect chance to complete her summer-holiday homework, which was all about rivers (assignments were never this much fun when Mum and Dad were at school).
As a beautiful day turned into a balmy evening, we made use of our barbecue (each of the lodges has one) and watched the sun go down as we ate alfresco. Next morning it was time to check out, but before we left there was one question I just had to ask (and no doubt you’ve been wondering too).
How on earth did they come up with that name ? Well now I know – but if you want to find out, you’ll just have to go. And we may see you there, because we’ve already booked our return trip.
As a regular visitor to Liverpool, I’m fully aware of its cultural delights, so we decided to go down the more decadent route of a weekend of partying and pampering.
My partner Emma and I arrived at the luxurious Malmaison hotel on Friday night, with a celebration of its brand-new bar in full swing until the early hours. We felt it would be rude not to enter into the party spirit. The morning after, we were feeling a little delicate.
Emma reckoned we were in need of a detox and spa session, so we took the short walk to the Harvey Nichols Beauty Bazaar. Part of the enormous Liverpool One shopping centre, it’s the only Harvey Nicks dedicated to all things beautifying in the uK, and offers three floors and just about any treatment or product you can think of.
As someone whose beauty regime usually extends no further than a once-over with the hair-clipper, I expected to find the whole experience rather intimidating. But the friendly staff put us at ease and I was soon settling down for a relaxing Oxygen Facial at the KaridisMediSpa, while Emma had the Hydra Facial (local WAG Alex Gerrard’s favourite).
I can honestly say that it’s an experience I’d love to repeat – our skin felt and looked great for weeks afterwards (the complimentary champagne from the cocktail bar didn’t go amiss either).
We had arrived too late for dinner the night before, so we availed ourselves of the hotel brasserie that evening. The menu is all about classics with a twist, and we particularly enjoyed the rack of lamb and Thai chicken lollipops.
The Malmaison is ideally placed for the cultural delights of Liverpool – it sidles up to the city’s Three Graces – the Royal Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings that form part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. By Sunday, pampered up and partied out, we decided to follow the museum trail.
The Museum of Liverpool, Merseyside Maritime Museum and International Slavery Museum have much to recommend but, as a Beatlemaniac in my teenage years, I have a particular soft spot for the memorabilia-packed Beatles Story.
We boarded the Magical Mystery Tour coach outside the museum for a fascinating journey round the most prominent places associated with the Fab Four, including photo opportunities at places such as Strawberry Field and Penny Lane.
You also get the chance to take in some of the city’s other highlights en route, including the imposing Anglican cathedral (the fifth largest in the world) and its stunningly modern Catholic counterpart.
The tour ends at the Cavern Club – a re-creation of the legendary venue in which it all began for the band, where tribute acts and tipsy tourists give you an inkling of the original atmosphere.
We ended our break with another nod to pop culture – by taking a ferry across the Mersey. As well as inevitably putting a certain song in your head, this offers incredible views of Liverpool – a city that’s up there with the best for a British break.
Isle of Mull
“It’s a dreich old day,” remarked our guide, Arthur, using a Scottish word that neatly describes the blend of dull, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather that hardly provides ideal conditions for wildlife spotting.
Yet two minutes later, he was calling me over to his telescope. There in the viewfinder was not one but two white-tailed eagles, the largest bird of prey on our shores and once extinct in the UK but now thriving again on the Isle of Mull.
Sustained by flasks of soup and stacks of sandwiches (courtesy of Arthur’s wife Pam) my husband Alex and I waited out the weather. But even through the mizzle, there was plenty to see – an otter catching fish, seals playing in the murky waters and deer running through the mossy woods.
By 4pm, the clouds finally lifted and the island’s feathered population came out in force – including greenshanks, goosanders, whimbrels and eider ducks. The bird-of-prey count was shooting up too.
As well as our two-for-one on white-tails, a pair of golden eagles soared above us, and a sparrowhawk, kestrel and a buzzard all took to the skies (yes, I admit it – I kept a list).
We were staying on the north of the island at Penmore Mill, a 19th-century stone building converted into a holiday let. It proved to be perfectly placed for exploring the island’s beaches and forest, and is just a short walk from the divine Am Birlinn restaurant for those nights when you don’t feel like cooking.
If wildlife and wilderness aren’t your thing, Mull’s main town Tobermory has plenty to offer. Its brightly coloured harbour front is famous for its role in the children’s TV show Balamory while for those with more adult tastes, the town’s historic whisky distillery is well worth a visit.
Then pull up a lobster creel on the pier and tuck into a portion of succulent scallops from the chip van. With a prestigious Les Routiers award, this is the closest deep-fried food gets to haute cuisine.
My only regret about our long weekend on Mull is that the weather was too rough to take a boat out puffin-spotting with the owners of Penmore Mill. But that could be the perfect excuse for a return to this most captivating island.