Our Real Family Holiday - The Wells Family
Real Family Holidays offer a brilliant opportunity to get away from it all and get stuck into some fantastic quality time together.
Finding a holiday, an affordable holiday, during the school summer break, can feel like an impossible task for families. But with schools clamping down on term time absences, it’s a task that parents are having to undertake. With a six week summer stretch to fill and three active boys to keep occupied, Real Family Holidays came to my rescue. Crammed full of fun activities to encourage families into the great outdoors, and hosted in some of the prettiest countryside locations in the UK, Real Family Holidays offer a brilliant opportunity to get away from it all and get stuck into some fantastic quality time together. We chose to visit the Slapton Leys Centre in Devon – here’s how we got on:
With three impatient kids, Coby 11, Todd 10 and Dex 5, in the back we decided to break up our six hour journey with a wander around Dick Whittington county, Gloucester, so we didn’t arrive at the centre until late afternoon – just in time for tea! The Slapton Leys Centre is in an old, characterful, school house, and the bedroom accommodation is basic but comfortable. My family of five were in a three bunk bed room, and I’ll admit that sleeping in a bunk bed took some getting used to. When you consider that a Real Family Holiday can cost less than a campsite pitch though, it’s clear that the value for money is amazing – and there’s no cold nights, sweaty sleeping bags or trudging over a field for the bathroom!
Waking to the smell of a full English breakfast was fantastic (you don’t get that on a camping holiday!) and the food throughout our stay was amazing – and all included in the upfront price. The friendly cooks in the kitchen serve up a hot breakfast and a hot, two course dinner – we had fish and chips, chilli and nachos, lasagne and chicken pie followed by jam sponge and custard, crumbles, lemon tart and the most incredible cheesecake – all home made, fresh and using local produce. You could also help yourself to a table spread with everything you needed for a great picnic lunch and, at the end of a busy day exploring, would come back to an array of homebaked cakes and treats for afternoon tea. Suffice to say the diet was well and truly blown that week!
We eased ourselves in gently with a stroll down to the village (discovering a pub or two along the way) and on to the beach (about a 20 minutes walk from the centre). The shingle beach is very quiet and great for skimming stones or enjoying your pre-packed picnic. We also had a little wander onto the vast nature reserve, but a sudden heavy downpour saw us scuttling back to the centre. Unfortunately the rain also meant that the planned evening Bat Walk activity had to be cancelled, but that gave the kids chance to get to know new friends over board games in the common room. A refreshing change from Xbox’s and DVD’s!
Day 3 dawned bright and sunny – perfect weather for the planned Wilderness Walk activity onto the public part of the reserve and also onto parts only accessible with a nature ranger. It was a decent two hour walk and I was proud of my youngest boy Dex for making it round without complaint. If you do have a younger child in your party though, it’s worth asking how long and difficult the walk is going to be before you sign up – while it wasn’t a tricky walk for adults or older kids, and there were plenty of scenic stops along the way, there were parts of it that I wouldn’t have liked to do with a pre-schooler (especially one that’s begging to be carried!).
We spent the afternoon in the nearby town of Kingsbridge – great for crabbing and boat spotting – and found a great park for the kids to some run off more of their endless supply of energy. The daily ritual of a Devonshire or Cornish ice-cream was started (the honeycomb is amazing!) before returning to the centre for dinner. As the evening was fine, the kids had fun exploring the long garden, complete with low ropes obstacle course, hidden ‘secret’ garden and a shed full of outdoor toys and games.
The morning activity on day 4 was a beach adventure on nearby Strette Gate beach, another really pretty shingle beach. The tasks included building the perfect desert island and learning how to make fire. And our reward? Toasting marshmallows - yum! After our pirate adventure we headed in the opposite direction to Kingsbridge, into the pretty harbour town of Dartmouth where we took a boat to the castle and found a hidden cove to swim in. Plus, of course, our daily ice cream was indulged in – this time I tried the chocolate orange flavour, which was out of this world!
On day 5 we fancied a full day out so we skipped the morning activity, which was the low ropes challenge, and headed off to the Woodlands themepark (picnic all packed up, of course!). The park is a mix of themepark rides, farm attractions and adventure playgrounds, all under the cover of gorgeous woodland – a really good day out and only half an hour away from the centre. The five storey indoor play area was fantastic for when the odd shower threatened overhead too.
Back at the centre it was BBQ night, which was a real treat and, again, the food was just incredible. Anyone with a family knows how expensive eating out with the kids on holiday can be and we felt that the quality of food all week was just amazing for the price paid. Plus, I didn’t have to cook any of it, or do the washing up!
On day 6 it was time to explore the secret garden at the centre in an organised bug hunt. My boys especially loved the little gadget that allowed you to suck bugs up into a pot – gross but apparently cool. After capturing spiders and netting butterflies we headed off on one of the recommended nearby walks, to the lighthouse at Start Point, stopping along the way to have our picnic on the beach (and a little paddle). I’d really recommend this 2 mile walk as the views along the coastal path are stunning and, if you’re very lucky, you could see seals playing in the water below. Again, very little ones might struggle with the hilly parts, so just be aware of that when you’re planning your days.
This was our day to pack up and go home, after saying goodbye to the new friends we’d made at the centre (and filling up on sausages and beans, of course). We made two stops on the way back – one to climb the gorge, explore the caves and taste the cheese at Cheddar, and one at the nearby cathedral town of Wells where we accosted a passer by to take a photo of us all under the sign (it had to be done!). By this point, all of us were looking a lot browner and feeling a lot more tired, than at the start of our holiday.
I think that’s the crux with a Real Family Holiday. If a holiday to you means relaxing beside a pool then it won’t be your cup of tea. If, however, you’re ready and willing to get stuck in to fun activities with the kids, great walks and exploring the gorgeous natural surrounding then you’re guaranteed to have a brilliant, but tiring, time. Top tip – book an extra day off work to recover at home after your break!
Looking back on our holiday we all had a great time – and while limited TV, computer and WiFi facilities took some getting used to at first, it was actually nice to get away from those distractions (and get the kids off the iPads). The food was amazing, the activities were fun and the setting for the Slapton Centre (and the others) is incredible. All in all, we had a brilliant, if a little different to what we’re used to, holiday at peak time, at a price that’s affordable to everyone – and we’re looking forward to trying out a different centre next year!