When planning a holiday, I think it’s fair to say that everyone has a vision of what must be included for it to qualify as a holiday. The picture in your mind’s eye of what will make it the perfect escape from the reality of everyday life. I have no qualms in admitting that for me, this includes sunshine, sea and no housework. So our summer holiday this year was a serious risk. A holiday in England. In a caravan.
The sole aim of this holiday was pleasing our son. We have been able to holiday abroad every year since having him, but this year money was tight. Mainly because we had over indulged in a child free anniversary trip to NYC last year! Anyway, we felt like we owed it to our boy to make this holiday about him. So we decided to combine his dream of visiting Thomas Land with a family visit and a traditional seaside holiday.
We started our little trip with a drive up to Birmingham. We stopped overnight in Tamworth, where we got to have a little look around the castle and gardens. We had booked a Premier Inn and – as promised by Sir Henry – had a really good night’s sleep. It was also excellent value for money at only £45 for the three of us.
Next morning we awoke refreshed and headed to Drayton Manor, literally a ten minute drive away. We went directly into the park and as we arrived before the rides started, spent an hour in the zoo and dinosaur park, which easily kept our boy entertained until we could get onto the rides. We were blessed with lovely weather and relatively short queues. Which in Thomas Land is more than fortuitous, as the rides literally last about sixty seconds. I have to say that the thought of visiting in school holidays made me want to run for the hills. But off-peak, everything moved quickly and was accessible fairly quickly. Thomas Land itself was a veritable feast of cheesy tunes and giggle inducing rides. Thankfully nothing that made my toes clench too much. However my brave husband risked revisiting his lunch on a couple of the larger Drayton Manor rides. But it was seeing my son’s little face light up at all the characters, and then shy away in the face of the “real” Fat Controller, that was just joyous. His genuine happiness and excitement was infectious. Not infectious enough to keep us from grabbing a 20 minute break in the soft play zone (which was loads of fun, clean and monitored closely by staff). Just long enough for mummy and daddy to sit still and recharge!
The park closes at around 5pm by which point all of us were starting to wilt. We headed back to Drayton Manor Hotel where we had booked a Thomas themed room. Unfortunately we hadn’t thought the check in through particularly well, as the queue was hideous. So we decided to get some well-earned refreshments on the terrace while it subsided. It was a balmy evening, the food was really good and the terrace overlooked a huge open grassed area with playground, for the children. Such a brilliant idea because most parents looked ready to drop, whilst the kiddliwinks were still buzzing from their exciting day. When we finally got into the room, I was really pleasantly surprised. The themed room included a huge Thomas bunk bed, hand painted wall murals and a few other nice extras which really made a difference. In particular, the Thomas bubble bath was very well received by both mummy and son!
After a good sleep, we headed down for breakfast (which was standard hotel fayre) and then – as the weather was so good – we went out into the garden again to expand some energy, before the next leg of our journey. Onto Suffolk then, to visit my recently relocated in-laws. But not before I decided we should stop off for some lunch somewhere. I chose a little pub called The Wellington in Feltwell (actually Norfolk). You’ve gotta love a sat nav (or sat nag as it was later called by my father in law) that sends you to completely the wrong village! All part of the fun though and we got there in the end. This little village pub puts the “T” in traditional, with a lovely display of model planes and other aviation memorabilia. We were warmly welcomed by the owner, who it transpired was originally from the area of Kent we live in. Small world. The food was very really tasty and plentiful for the price. My homemade crab cakes felt like they might never end (which was no bad thing).
The Norfolk/Suffolk border really is a gorgeous part of the world, with incredible views and lots of exploration points. We enjoyed three nights staying with family in Fressingfield Eye, where the fabulous weather continued. Some of the highlights included:
- The pier and beach at Southwold. This enchanting coastal town has all the traditional charm of a British seaside including amazing fish and chips. Be warned though, we waited nearly 45 minutes for them. But I’d rate them as some of the best I’ve ever tasted, so it was well worth the wait.
- Cornucopia at the Corn Exchange in Harleston. This little Aladdin’s cave is a smorgasbord of vintage goods and antiquities. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure and all that, I found an incredible hand painted Japanese plate which I snatched up. It’s probably not worth a penny, but I loved the detail and colouring. There is also a traditional tea room, offering a wide array of homemade cakes plus traditional afternoon tea. Seemed rude not to….
- Shotford Hall Farm open day. I’m going to do a separate post on this, as it really was one of the best days of our holiday. Yes, I did just say that. A trip to a farm. A highlight. You’ll have to read about it.
- Sunday Dinner at The Swan in Fressingfield. It lived up to every roast dinner expectation you can possibly have. Plentiful, perfectly cooked meats with crispy spuds and tasty gravy. And not a soggy vegetable in sight. I hardly thought I’d have space and despite warnings about the size of the puds, I ordered the sticky toffee pudding. It’s a different belly for puds after all! Turns out it was the best decision of the holiday. That sticky toffee pudding was to die for. I literally could have dived in. It was soft, sticky and bloody delicious. I’m going to suggest it was probably my recommended calorie intake for the whole day in one bowl, but it was well worth it!
From Fressingfield it was roughly an hour onto Great Yarmouth, the last destination of our little adventure. I have to reiterate that until this point we really had been spoilt with the weather. But that all changed very quickly. The wind was freezing! Even the initial wow factor of our incredibly modern caravan was soon lost, when I found shattered glass on the floor of the bedroom. The out of hours serviceman was sympathetic but told us he didn’t have a hoover because he’s not a cleaner. He done a bit of everything, including “breaking up the fights”!
The rest of the holiday was pretty much a whir of activities, including a lot of time spent trying to stay warm. That east coast wind really bites. Some of the Great Yarmouth highlights included:
- Merrivale Model Village + Café. This was a huge hit with our son. Not really for the models, more the electric trains that run throughout the village, but he enjoyed it. The model scenes had plenty of comedic value for adults too, which was much needed given the bracing wind off of the coast. A lot of work goes into the keeping the grounds and I imagine it will look quite stunning in the height of summer. As it was, the models were fun and the whole thing was actually quite charming. Especially the attached arcade, which featured some of the very old and original penny machines. The Merrivale café displayed an awesome choice of cakes and pastries, which lured us in for some lunch. The food was great and service really friendly. Clearly they have a lot of regular or returning customers, which is always a good sign.
- Gorleston Beach. This beach has gorgeous golden sand for as far as your eye can see. And on a warm day would have easily rivaled the Mediterranean beaches.
- The Cliff Hotel in Gorleston. The garden terrace in this hotel is absolutely delightful. Set at the top of the cliff side, it is shielded from the sea breeze and you are able to enjoy the views, while tucking into some delicious food.
And then home. Now I’m back and have had time to reflect, I can really appreciate what a lovely time we had. This holiday was all about making our son happy and I feel sated in the knowledge that we accomplished this. However, I can also say with absolute clarity that this will not be the regular format for our future summer holidays. The reason being is that it didn’t much feel like a holiday. The constant packing, unpacking and unpredictable weather just didn’t work for me. I know the weather is all part of the deal when you holiday in the UK, but it’s not for me. Not as our main summer break anyway. I will happily return to Suffolk for a short break though. In fact we already have a date set.
As parents, spouses and professionals, we work hard all year, so my view is that our holiday has to feel like one for all of us. I still stand by my position that unless I board a plane and get off somewhere where it is at least five degrees hotter, it is not a holiday. Had the weather been better in Great Yarmouth, maybe I would have felt differently. As it is, I’ve come back happy and full of “joie de vivre”, from the change of scenery and seeing my boy so happy. But I know that neither my husband nor I feel refreshed. Which is ultimately quite high on my holiday requirements list. If that makes me selfish, then so be it. We planned this holiday to please our son. Tick. We chose everything we thought he would love, and he did. Huge tick. Interestingly when we totted it up, we probably spent as much on the whole holiday as we would have for an off-peak all-inclusive week in the Med. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change a thing. But I probably wouldn’t repeat it either. A staycation just isn’t for me.