This time more than 10 days and more than 1 destination – but without a doubt, the best bits of a summer spent celebrating family and making memories.
With Christmas now just 6 weeks away – eek, where has this year gone?! – it’s hard to believe that I still haven’t finished telling the tales of our busy summer. You’d have thought our fairly last-minute plans to fly out to Canada for 2 weeks would have been more than enough to keep us all occupied, but we had even more adventures squeezed in to the final 10 days of the summer holidays before school started back.
We had the return journey from hell with a disrupted flight thanks to a group of rowdy French exchange students, who got into arguments and near fist fights with both the airline crew and other passengers, just rows away from the seats we were sitting in. I have never been so upset on a flight and am just grateful that the children were more entertained by the films they chose to watch, than scared by the events going on around them. This behaviour continued in the Dublin airport terminal and didn’t help the stress of a delayed flight back, which meant we missed our onward flight home by mere minutes. Mike and I were tired, grumpy and so fed up by all we experienced, that we complained long and hard, which fortunately secured us a later flight home, though it was 12 hours later than originally planned, and a hotel room for the day, which gave us the chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep, something that had been impossible on the plane.
We were both back at work the following day, whilst G and M went to my Mum’s for the last 2 days of the week. We rushed through the washing and then found ourselves packing once again for a weekend in Liverpool to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition that we had missed when we visited back in April and what was, perhaps, the highlight of M’s summer holiday – a week at Over The Wall. Our weekend in Liverpool was a great success, especially as we managed a return trip to both of the fabulous freefrom restaurants we had discovered on our previous visit, something both children were desperate to do. The morning spent at the World Museum was well worth it and we all enjoyed seeing the amazing Terracotta Warriors that were on display. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 17 years since Mike and I first saw them in Xi’an, China and fantastic to introduce G and M to this incredible ancient tribute to China’s first emperor. They also insisted we explored every other part of the museum we could and given the rather miserable weather, it was a great way to entertain them whilst away from home.
From Liverpool, we headed back South, dropping M off at the Midlands OTW Health Challenges camp for what we had no doubt would be an amazing week for him again. I cannot begin to describe the incredible benefits that M gets from OTW and why this charity deserves all the support and praise we can possibly give it. Once again the camp chefs outdid our expectations and created meals for M that went beyond our wildest dreams – and yet again apparently put my attempts to shame. This year, however, I can take great solace in the fact that M shared with the chef that I put my recipes on this blog and he not only took a look at them, but also used them to help cook treats for M whilst he was at camp. Just as with his stay at the South HC camp 2 years ago, M was exhausted after a week of unbelievable fun and challenge and just about managed to survive the very final bit of our seemingly endless summer adventures.
OTW’s Midlands camp is based just minutes away from the National Memorial Arboretum near Lichfield, Staffordshire and it seemed a shame to be so close and not stop there for a relatively quick visit. The NMA is somewhere I’ve long considered visiting and we chose a beautiful day to make the trip. Both children were about studying the World Wars at school and with 2018 marking the centenary of the Armistice, it seemed fitting to spend some time walking the grounds and exploring the many memorials that are found here. It was a remarkable and moving place to visit and I’m glad we made the effort to, despite M’s reluctance and overwhelming tiredness from a week away from home.
With our brief stint in Liverpool having come to an end, we set off to more Northern climes, planning to cross the border at where else but the infamous Gretna. Before setting off from our Liverpool base, we nipped into the local M&S to pick up a selection from their incredible GF/DF range as well as some other bits and pieces for us to enjoy as a packed lunch whilst we were en route. There was just one more place for us to visit before our journey could properly begin as I insisted on a detour to Crosby Beach, home to Antony Gormley’s incredible art installation, Another Place. Mike and I had visited it during our previous trip, on a grey, wet and fairly miserable December afternoon and the weather wasn’t really all that difference on our second visit this March. The children found the statues themselves quite disconcerting and M wasn’t keen to get too up close and personal with any of them after he’d examined the first one. Whilst Mike and G wandered towards the shoreline to see the furthest one that was still accessible on foot, M and I instead stood back on the boardwalk to see how many we could spot out in the depths of the River Mersey. It is an impressive sight and was a detour I was glad we had taken.
Unfortunately, the delays from both the shopping trip and our visit to the beach plus a late morning start meant that we hit traffic as we joined the M6 Northbound and we quickly found ourselves in the hell of bank holiday traffic and lengthy queues. Thankfully M slept his way through the worst of them and by the time he woke up, we had headed off-piste and were relying on my map-reading skills and the GPS on Mike’s phone to find short-cuts along A roads and through small towns to try to circumvent the M6 nightmare. We eventually found ourselves heading towards the Scottish border with a fast-approaching teatime and decided to stop in Gretna to have some food before continuing our journey to the next planned stop on our travels, Glasgow.
We spotted the ever allergy-friendly Pizza Express at the Gretna outlet village and instantly decided it was the easiest place to stop as we know they can cater well for both children. The one thing that made me chuckle when choosing my dinner was spotting the Irn-bru – often described as Scotland’s second national drink – available on the drinks menu. As I said to Mike, “You know you’re in Scotland when…!” After an enjoyable and much-needed meal, during which I had explained the historical relevance of Gretna Green for young English couples looking to elope, we set off once again to complete the 90 miles or so remaining to reach our final destination. We arrived at our hotel on the banks of the River Clyde in the dark and were just about able to make our weary way to our room before bedding down for the night. It seems that endless queues of traffic can really take it out of you!
As I promised in my last blog post about our short visit to Liverpool, it’s time to reveal the wonderful places we found to eat safely whilst we were there. I’ve said it before, and no doubt will again, but whenever we travel on holiday, be it home or abroad, we always relax the restrictions on M’s diet a little to allow him to enjoy some more “normal” meals with the rest of the family. M has now reached an age where we allow him to make more of the decisions about what he will and won’t eat on any given day and he understands the direct link between that choice and any fallout he might experience in the hours or days that follow.
There were 2 restaurants that we found that were absolutely brilliant in accommodating our allergy needs and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either of them. M and G absolutely loved the meals that they had here and were desperate to find an opportunity to visit either one of them again, but most especially the first.
Ed’s Easy Diner – This is actually part of a national chain, but not one that we had ever heard of before, though as their website reveals, there are a number of locations across the length and breadth of the UK. There’s even one not too far from us, though I haven’t yet revealed that particular fact to M! G and M were thrilled to discover a lengthy gluten-free menu for them to pore over and whilst G was disappointed that she couldn’t select from their breakfast/brunch options, she quickly decided what her choice would be for our late lunch. We continue to encourage both children to order for themselves and to make their allergy needs known to the servers, only stepping in when it looks like the message might be misunderstood or they haven’t quite made themselves clear.
G settled on “Big Bubba’s Bacon ‘n’ Cheese” burger with gluten-free fries and without the cheese. M was desperate to have a gluten-free burger bun, so he asked for the “BBQ Chicken ‘n’ Bacon” burger – without any of the constituent ingredients apart from the grilled chicken breast, streaky bacon and the bread roll. He shared a handful of G’s gluten-free fries and enthusiastically savoured every single mouthful. Mike and I were a little disappointed that they had run out of hot dogs by the time we got to the diner for lunch, but instead shared a caesar salad, onion rings and sweet potato fries as well as a burger. All in all, this was a fantastic find and I wouldn’t hesitate to eat here again.
Marks: G – 8.5/10 M – 9/10
Chung Ku – G and M absolutely love Chinese food, so I was delighted to find this much-lauded Liverpudlian restaurant during my quick internet search. With a menu catering specifically for those with coeliac disease, there was much excitement with my discerning duo as they pondered their choices for dinner. They eventually settled on Jasmine rice, Aromatic crispy duck served with lettuce instead of pancakes, Salt and Pepper chicken fillet and, especially chosen by M, King Prawns in rice paper. Mike and I were still full after our late lunch at Ed’s Easy Diner, so we agreed to share a platter of dim sum, supplemented by a bowl of chicken and sweetcorn soup for me, with full knowledge that we’d be able to pick at any leftovers once the children had eaten their fill of their choices.
The food was absolutely fantastic, but sadly the service at the restaurant very much let it down. Our dim sum platter arrived first, only beaten to the table by the prawn crackers that had been delivered with our drinks. We tried to take our time in eating our food, painfully aware that the children were just sitting there watching, but at the same time, we didn’t want to let it go cold and we were waiting a long time for the other dishes to appear. M’s King prawns were the next to arrive, eventually followed by the Salt and pepper chicken and Jasmine rice. G picked at some of the rice and chicken, patiently waiting the arrival of the Aromatic duck, which is her all-time favourite Chinese dish. By the time it reached the table, there wasn’t much left for the rest of us and unbelievably we then had to chase down the lettuce leaves – they delivered normal pancakes by accident – and my bowl of soup. Everything did eventually arrive and the food was absolutely delicious. The poor service we experienced was a huge disappointment that spoiled what was otherwise a memorable dinner and would certainly make Mike and me think twice about visiting another time.
Marks: G – 9/10 M – 8/10
In planning our Easter adventure around Scotland, we quickly realised that our desire to visit all the places we were hoping to go would create what can only be described as a whistle-stop tour of the country. We could easily have chosen a half-dozen more places that one of the other of us, or perhaps even both, wanted to see and I can already foresee more visits North being squeezed into our future travel plans. For each location we settled on, we decided to stay just 2 night only, giving us one full day to explore where we were and so asked G and M to do a little research about different museums they wanted to visit or landmarks they’d like to see. There were no promises that we’d manage to do any or all of these, but I was keen for them to be as excited about our travels as we were.
The first leg of our journey took us to Liverpool, famously home to The Beatles as well as Premier League football clubs, the Grand National and the White Star Shipping Line, owners of the ill-fated Titanic. Mike and I spent a long weekend in the city for our 15th wedding anniversary a couple of years ago and so had already determined that we wanted to take the children to “The Beatles Story” exhibition at Albert Dock. A lengthy Google search by G and M led to the discovery of “Western Approaches”, a museum delving into Liverpool’s role during WW2. As both children have been studying aspects of the First and Second World Wars at school, they quickly decided that this was somewhere they absolutely wanted to go and Mike and I were more than happy to agree.
After a quick breakfast in our hotel room, something we usually choose to do as it ensures we have safe cereal and milk for both children whilst we’re away from home, we headed off on foot to our first destination, “The Beatles Story” exhibition. This marvellous museum is based at the iconic Albert Dock and charts the history of The Beatles, starting with childhood stories and finishing with all that the individual members of the band have gone on in their solo careers. As always, we all opted for the audio guides, something that M loves to do as he listens to the stories unfold as he traipses round the exhibits and touring at our own paces, moved from room to room. I’ll be honest and say that M didn’t manage to stay engaged for the entire exhibit, but he did reasonably well and by the time he’d had enough, I was ready to remove my headphones and wander the remaining spaces with him. Both children enjoyed the museum, especially the areas displaying memorabilia and costumes and picked up some interesting facts about one of our favourite bands. They also loved walking around Albert Dock and exploring the multitude of small shops that are there.
From Albert Dock, we walked back to Liverpool One, where we found a fantastic allergy-friendly diner for lunch. I will leave reviewing our dining choices until my next blog, but I will tease you with the tidbit that this lunch-time destination was easily one of the best we went to and M was desperate to go back again if only time had allowed. After a late lunch, it was time to go on to the children’s choice of the Western Approaches War museum. Hidden in a fairly unprepossessing building, I cannot begin to tell you just how fantastic this small museum turned out to be. Based in the wartime bunker beneath Derby House, Western Approaches takes you on a journey explaining just how the Battle of the Atlantic was won by the Allied Forces. The staff were incredibly knowledgable and helpful and took a keen interest in explaining what we were going to see to both children before we entered. G had just been learning about the Battle of the Atlantic at school and so it seemed a particularly apt museum choice, especially when she was told that young women, not much older than her, would have been working down there during the war years.
What particularly appealed to M whilst we were here was the Treasure Hunt that saw him toting a gas mask case filled with instructions, code-breaking equipment, notepads and a mini UV light around with him. Some of the clues were easier to crack than others and both children had a great time trying to find where they were hidden and working out where they needed to look next. Most of the exhibits were hands on, which is great for children of all ages and both M and G quickly spotted the link to Bletchley Park and the code-breaking work that went on there during WW2. My favourite bit came right at the end of our visit, when we reached the street scene set up, including unexploded bomb and the tiny canteen asking for 2d for a cup of tea or coffee. I happily paid my 2p over, plus a little bit more to support their cause, and sat down to enjoy it whilst we all played one of the period board games that was available. It was a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours on a fairly grey and miserable afternoon and I would highly recommend this museum to anyone who’s looking for something to do in Liverpool.
The only disappointment with our visit was that we hadn’t realised that the Terracotta Warriors are currently on display at the World Museum, something that Mike and I would both love to take the children to see. We were lucky enough to see them in-situ in Xian when we visited China back in 2001 and want to take advantage of this opportunity to share this fascinating exhibit with G and M. Our plan is to book tickets for a visit there over the summer and have another long weekend in Liverpool, perhaps experiencing some of the other things we didn’t manage to do on this trip.
There’s only one thing that beats going on holiday for me and that’s planning for the next one…or two…or several. After our hugely successful Greek jaunt last summer, our attentions had naturally turned to our travels for 2018 and beyond: or perhaps, more honest, my attention was drawn to the “beyond”, whilst Mike and the kids were happy to just think about the next 12 months! With G heading into the start of 2 years studying for her GCSEs, which will kick off our family’s long haul navigation through the wonderful world of exams for both children, our holiday choices will need to accommodate school deadlines and revision demands as well as giving them, and us, the chance to kick back and relax away from it all.
We have long been considering a much overdue trip back to Canada to visit our family and friends, and have decided that 2018 is the year to do it. We are still ironing out the finer details for the trip – including which time of year is going to work best for us to go allowing for term dates, weather and flight availability – but with that big holiday tentatively pencilled into our calendars, our attention turned to fitting on some other smaller adventures throughout the rest of the year. Our starting point was a holiday in Scotland, somewhere neither child had been to before as well as a place we knew we’d be able to cater for M with relative ease and minimum stress. Having heard that G didn’t have a place on this year’s South Siblings OTW camp, we decided on 10 days during the Easter holiday and set to planning with relish once Christmas was out of the way.
Unfortunately, the bout of Aussie ‘flu that hit Mike and M in January combined with the tough couple of months that followed, meant that March rolled around with, much to my discomfort, nothing booked and only a very basic sketch of our proposed route through the North of England and Scotland. We decided to involve G and M in as much as the planning as they wanted and had been informed that the key places to visit on our approximately 1,800 miles car trip included Liverpool, Glasgow, Inverness, Edinburgh and Scarborough (don’t ask!). Armed with our calendar, a list of activities in each location, a reliable internet connection to facilitate mileage, travel time and hotel bookings in each of our destinations and a glass or two of wine, Mike and I sat down one night and booked what rapidly became known as our “Premier Inn” tour of Scotland.
As ever with our family, our plans to set off early to our first stop of Liverpool didn’t quite go according to plan, when Mike managed to enthusiastically floss a filling out of one of M’s baby teeth the weekend before our start date. It was only once the emergency appointment at our dentist was complete that we finally found ourselves on our way. Despite the late start, the Wednesday afternoon traffic wasn’t too bad, albeit the week before the Easter weekend, and we arrived in Liverpool by dinner time, ready to immerse ourselves in all things Beatles before carrying on in a more Northerly direction.
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