As well as our travels to the Lake District this summer, we also enjoyed theatre trips, filming, beach visits, hair-cuts, boules and a journey to the moon:
When I said that the second half of our week’s holiday was just as busy as the first in last week’s blog, I wasn’t joking. Everyday saw us exploring a new corner of the Lake District in a myriad of different ways:
Borrowdale Valley: Our walk here was inspired by an article I had read about the so-called “Borrowdale Banksy” and a desire to see if we could find one of these stunning pieces of art whilst we walked the hills. Sadly we didn’t manage to uncover the location, which is a something of a secret, but we did find some stunning views and had the chance to climb the most spectacular hill of slate to look out over Derwentwater. It was a challenging walk, but we had a glorious day for our trek around the loop.
West Lake Adventures: During our visit to Lake Windermere, G and M spotted several people paddle-boarding and kayaking on the lake and asked if we could squeeze a similar excursion into our week for them. We hadn’t previously booked it, so were a little sceptical about what we might find, but were lucky to come across West Lake Adventures who offered a 2-3 hour kayaking session on the much quieter Wastwater. Wastwater can be found at the foot of Scafell Pike, which meant some absolutely amazing photos of both children and Mike kayaking with a simply jaw-dropping backdrop.
Whinlatter Forest: When G said she’d love to horse-ride whilst we were away, M made it equally clear that that wasn’t something he wanted to do and so we looked for an alternative adventure for him for a different day. The answer was a forest segway trail with Go Ape at Whinlatter Forest. Whilst the boys tackled the trail, G and I headed off on a search for the Gruffalo, which led us to a most perfectly positioned picnic area looking out over Derwentwater, somewhere we returned to with Mike and M to enjoy our lunch. We were very impressed by the cafe here too as it served the most amazing allergy-friendly sandwiches and ice-creams, something that came in very handy when we realised that Mike had left the children’s packed lunch in the fridge back at Brockwood Hall.
Morecambe Bay: Our final stop as we began our homeward journey, and one I insisted on, was at the delightful seaside town of Morecambe Bay. Of course best known for it’s iconic statue of classic British comedian Eric Morecambe, Morecambe Bay is more than just this depiction of its most famous son. We had perhaps the best weather of our whole trip as we strolled along the prom and walked out along the stone jetty to gaze back at the peaks that had been our home for the last week. Charming in every regard and the perfect ending to a truly stupendous holiday.
The one thing we made really clear to G and M when we booked our week away in the Lake District was that it was not going to be a “lie on the beach or in the hot tub” type holiday, but rather one involving lots of exercise, especially walking. M has recently been confirmed as having hypermobility and so has been having physiotherapy to work on the strength needed to support his hips and knees as his intense growth spurt over the last 18 months has had a knock-on effect on those. I was a little concerned that he may struggle whilst we were walking and climbing far more than normal, but thankfully his joints held up well to all the challenges presented.
Black Combe – the first walk we tackled was just a 10- minute drive from our home-base at Brockwood Hall and an ambitious one for our first full day in Cumbria. We didn’t make it all the way to the very top, but got high enough to enjoy some spectacular views, albeit we weren’t quite able to see all the way to Scotland, Ireland and Wales as the very best days allow. After so many months of staying so very close to home, it was simply glorious to be out in the fresh air and feasting our eyes on a completely different part of the country.
Cumbrian Heavy Horses – G has been a fairly keen horse rider over the years, though it has been a while since she last rode. Mike found the opportunity for her to ride whilst we were in the Lake District at this centre a mere stone’s throw from where we were staying and booked her in for a 2 hour ride on the Sunday morning. Despite it being the wettest day of our entire week, G absolutely loved the ride and came back with a beaming smile. Mike joined her for the ride and managed to get some great photos of it all.
Silecroft & Haverrig beaches – wanting to get out of our lodge for some fresh air and a stretch of our legs, I suggested we headed to nearby Silecroft beach for a somewhat blustery walk. It was undeniably cold, grey and windy, although spotting a seal swimming and popping its’ head out of the water was a definite highlight for us all. A mere 45 minutes or so later, we finally gave into the moans emanating from both children and climbed back into the car. Much to their disgust, I convinced Mike to drive a little further around the coast so we could walk the sandy beach at Haverrig as well. Much to all our delight, it was as if we had entered an entirely different climate and instead of the grey blusteriness of Silecroft, we basked in glorious sunshine, whilst G and M clambered up and over the dunes.
Lake Windermere – no visit to the Lake District would be complete without a day trip to one of the Lakes and so we headed to Lake Windermere for almost a full day. We parked a little outside of the town of Bowness-on-Windermere and stumbled across a beautiful lakeside path as we strolled towards the centre of the town. The plan was for a lakeside cruise with Windermere Lake Cruises and we picked one which would take us on a circular route starting and ending in Bowness. It then turned into a busy day as we squeezed in a quick visit to the World of Beatrix Potter -another of my holiday picks – although we’d have been hard-pressed to spend much more than the 30 minutes we did spend there. Our evening finished with a fish supper courtesy of the wonderful Vinegar Jones that I mentioned in my last post.
The second half of our week was just as busy as the first, but you’ll have to tune back in to Part 2 to find out what else we did!
I have to confess that I didn’t do as much research into allergy-friendly restaurants for our stay in the Lake District as I would normally do when we travel. Part of that was that I wasn’t really sure how comfortable I would be in eating out during the week as the COVID restrictions have lifted and knew that we could take advantage of our self-catering lodge for our meals if we wanted, albeit that would mean not as much of a holiday as I would perhaps have liked. However, despite my unusual lack of planning in advance, we found some wonderful places to eat that were more than able to accommodate the various dietary requirements for us all:
Bentley’s Fish and Chips, Blackpool: I mentioned this wonderful chip shop in last week’s blog, but absolutely felt it needed including in my round-up of our allergy-friendly eateries. They boasted a dedicated gluten-free fryer for the fish and chips and the portions were more than large enough to satisfy the appetite of the teenage M for at least an hour or so! I enjoyed the scampi, whilst Mike added battered haggis to his order, and although neither of these were gluten-free, they were delicious.
The Punch Bowl Inn, Millom: This was an unexpected find less than 10 minutes away from our base for the week and we were so impressed by their offerings on the Saturday night, that we booked to go again the following Wednesday. They change their menu on a weekly basis, always making sure to include some new allergy-friendly options alongside the regular gammon and steak offerings. G and M chose the gammon and chips, which again were generously portioned and a big hit with both children. Mike tried their allergy-friendly king prawn curry on the Wednesday, which also got a good review.
Vinegar Jones, Bowness-on-Windermere: There’s nothing better than spotting a place that’s keen to advertise their allergy-friendly options and Vinegar Jones’ large window display stating that they serve gluten-free fish and chips daily absolutely did that. Obviously a popular destination in Bowness-on-Windermere, we joined the lengthy line that was queuing along the pavement and kept our fingers crossed that it could meet the requirements of my discerning duo. Given it’s presence on this list, it’s perhaps needless to state that it was another resounding success and somewhere I’d be more than happy to recommend to anyone visiting the area.
The Flying Pig Pub, Bowness-on-Windermere: This was an unexpected late addition and not somewhere we had planned to eat at all. M had spotted swordfish on the menu at the nearby Hyltons restaurant whilst we were waiting for our food to be cooked at Vinegar Jones and asked if we could pop back on another evening. We hadn’t really expected to have the time, but a quicker than anticipated visit to Keswick meant that we had time to head back to Bowness, only to find the restaurant in question closed for the evening. Instead, we found the Flying Pig Pub, which proved to be a reasonable replacement, although they didn’t offer swordfish much to M’s disappointment. G once again plumped for the gammon and chips, whilst M tried the chargrilled steak burger without the cheese. Both were happy with their meals and I certainly enjoyed the moules marinière with fresh bread.
It’s been a long time coming, but finally, 20 months after our last trip to New York, we managed to get away and enjoyed a week in the Lake District for our summer hols. I have been looking forward and counting down to our break, not least because I was excited to have a chance to look at a different set of 4 walls for a few hours – 20 months of lockdown and shielding will do that to a girl! We had planned the trip months ago, and with the huge increase in the number of UK holidays being booked as well as climbing prices, I’m really glad we did so as it was break away from home that we all needed.
As we have done so many times in the past, we decided to stop off on our way there to not just break the tedium of the lengthy car journey up, but also to take G and M somewhere they hadn’t been before. In this instance, Blackpool seemed an obvious choice, not least because neither Mike or I had been there either. After an early start, we reached Blackpool in time for a late lunch and it seemed the perfect opportunity to find gluten-free fish and chips for us all to enjoy. As always I did as much research as possible before we arrived and found what looked to be a good contender with consistently positive reviews and talk of a dedicated gluten-free fryer.
The weather was glorious as we strolled along the prom towards Bentley’s Fish and Chip shop and by the time we reached the shop we were all more than ready for our lunch. Tucked away from the main stretch of Blackpool, we decided to sit at one of the picnic tables outside the shop and enjoy the August sun alongside our fish and chips. The portions were plentiful and received rave reviews from us all. Lunch finished, we headed to the Adventure Golf course near Blackpool Pleasure Beach to play a quick round of mini golf before resuming our journey to the Lakes. The weather was brilliant and it was a super start to our family holiday and I even managed an elusive hole-in-one nearing the end of the course!
It was then back to the car and onwards to our final destination, which was a lodge at the beautiful Brockwood Hall near Millom. I had found it thanks to a recommendation from a friend and it was a wonderful base for our week away, albeit perhaps a little more remote than we had originally thought. We particularly enjoyed the peacocks roaming the site, even though they were extremely noisy in the evenings, and G was delighted to count 9 of them one morning just a stone’s throw from our lodge.
…and what a year it has been.
G started her A-levels in the sixth form at our local school after 6 months of practically no school whatsoever following the outbreak of the COVID pandemic and ensuing lockdown in the UK. It has not been the easiest year for her whole cohort as they’ve struggled to get back to learning with not only the added challenges of online schooling and social bubbles within school, but also that monumental shift into further education. It has quickly become apparent that traditional A-levels do not suit G’s learning style or allow for her exam nerves, and so she has bravely made the decision to move to a local college and study BTEC courses instead. It feels like a very grown-up choice for her to have made, not least as she will be catching the train to college each day, but with her 18th birthday approaching far too quickly, it is unquestionably the right time for her to make this change.
M, on the other hand, has, for the most part, embraced the challenge of his GCSEs and has shown a definite flair for both the artistic (photography and performing arts) and the scientific (Computing and Science) in his Year 10 mock exams. His cardiology appointment in May revealed that he grew an incredible 12cms and gained 15kg in 15 months, more than he’s ever managed before and he continues to grow like a weed and is fast catching up on me! I’m not sure it would be fair to say that he’s looking forward to moving into Year 11 in September, but he is beginning to think about what he wants to study next and G’s move to another college has helped broaden his outlook on where he might go.
Our summer plans are fairly quiet, though we are hoping to squeeze in a week away at some point, COVID allowing. G is helping out with the Stagecoach summer school for 2 weeks and M has volunteered to help with the sound at a couple of the summer camp family days that our church is running. They both have some school work to complete too, but the rest of this week is mostly going to be occupied with lots of sleep and an outside performance of Macbeth (one of M’s GCSE texts!) to enjoy, our first trip to the Theatre for an awfully long time…and I simply can’t wait!
The glorious weather that we’ve seen over the summer months made a welcome reappearance for the last weekend of September, so we decided on one last hurrah and headed for a family day trip out. Our destination was the beautiful organic gardens of Yeo Valley in Somerset, tucked away in the peaceful countryside near Blagdon Lake. Mike had stumbled across the gardens when he was searching for a location we could visit safely without travelling too far and this seemed to be the perfect place to enjoy the late summer sun.
As with so many other places, Yeo Valley was operating a restricted visitors rule and required us to book our tickets and time-slot before we went. Our entry once we arrived was easy and the gardens large enough that we rarely came across the other visitors there. We weren’t sure whether our 2-hour time-slot would be enough to explore the gardens in full, but they aren’t extensive and we found ourselves at the end with about 20 minutes to spare. It’s hard to decide which was my favourite bit, though G and M certainly enjoyed the rope swing over the stream, the rather rickety lookout point and racing around the teepee.
Our afternoon visit complete, it was a quick hop over to Chew Stoke for a fish and chip supper courtesy of the wonderful Salt & Malt. I’d read some great reviews about their allergy-friendly offerings online and the food did not disappoint, with generous portions that both children wolfed down with the food barely touching the sides. G chose the gluten-free cod and chips, whilst both Mike and M opted for gluten-free haddock and chips and I settled for some scampi. With glorious views across Chew Lake, we decided to eat in the warmth of our car, although they also have a small restaurant on-site which can be pre-booked.
All in all a great day out, and one I would thoroughly recommend.
After more days off school than we ever dreamed was likely, G and M have returned to school this week. As if the move to A-levels and GCSEs was not enough, they’ve also gone back with face masks, social distancing and a very different looking timetable as their new norm. Our annual first day of school photo showed other changes that have happened in the last 6 months – a growth spurt for M, a dramatic hair-cut for G and a mop of lockdown hair that has caused much debate in the household. With less than half an inch in it, G is adamant she is still the taller and only M hitting 5’6″ will convince her otherwise.
Exams aren’t easy at the best of times and there can be no question that this year has posed the current cohort of exam students challenges that no-one could have even imagined when planning for the GCSEs and A-levels to be taken this summer. G has been working hard for her GCSEs over the last 2 years and, since the true extent of her anxieties became clear, having additional tuition and learning mindfulness techniques to help her manage the exam sittings as best she could with increased confidence in her own abilities.
Add in the stress following the fiasco with the A-level results day this time last week and it is easy to see why it hasn’t been an easy week at home. G has obviously been massively impacted by the confusion over how her final GCSE grades would be calculated and the huge sigh she gave after the latest government u-turn was announced on Monday evening showed just how heavy that burden has been. She and I have spent a lot of time talking about her results and what they will mean for this next step in her life journey. G knows what A-levels she wants to study and is fortunate to have 2 offers on the table from our local secondary schools, but still has to make up her mind as to where she wants to go for the next 2 years. It is nothing short of a miracle that I have not turned more extensively to alcohol and chocolate to see me through, although there’s still time before we’ve finished ploughing our way through the chaos and reached final decisions!
In many ways the decision to use the centre assessed grades (CAGs) is good news for G as she hasn’t had to undergo the stress of the exams, but this is a concern in itself as she will have no direct experience of how to sit an exam when it comes time for her A-levels. However, we have time to work on managing those anxieties and will continue to work with her tutor to make sure she has the opportunity to experience timed assessments to mimic the pressure of an actual exam.
More importantly, G knows how proud Mike and I are of the hard work she has put in, including her decision to continue following her GCSE revision plan during the first few weeks of lockdown without any prompting from either of us. We hope that her results will reflect her efforts, but G knows that as always we have got her back and are prepared to fight her corner if needed to make sure her next adventure starts as she wants it to.
2020 will always be the year when the exams weren’t sat, but that shouldn’t distract from the hard work and effort put in by all these young people throughout their school careers and the hellish void of information that they’ve been living with since March. No matter what their results are, they all should be commended for their fortitude and determination to succeed in the most extraordinary of circumstances.