Both of my children are asleep. They’re asleep upstairs and not on my lap, and they were asleep by 8:30. It’s some kind of miracle, so despite not really being in the mood for it I’m going to blog.
It’s the third year in a row that we’ve spent the last week of the summer holidays in a tent under a rain cloud in beautiful North Wales. Search ‘camping’ in my search bar, and you’ll see that this was also our third camping trip this year. I really don’t think you can beat it for a family get away. There’s nothing quite like ‘unplugging’ your kids for a while and seeing them roam among the trees and play with nature rather than toys and electronics!
We originally went to Beddgelert in 2014 because Trevor had such fond memories of camping holidays there as a kid. It’s like a trip down memory lane for him every year, in a good way I think. Although he has muttered ‘oh wow I think I have become my dad’ several times this holiday! Mostly when he was bumping his head on the lamp.
There’s no way we could currently afford a holiday and for the dog to stay in kennels for a week, so camping is ideal for us. It wouldn’t be a family holiday without stinky Seb anyway. He’s like one of the kids. We forked out for a cattery for Margot and Galahad and that cost a small fortune. Luckily Batpig went to stay with a guinea pig loving friend and got so much attention he looked quite glum about coming home.
Of course it rained. It always rains.
To be fair, it rains almost non-stop in North Wales whether we’re there or not. It does feel like the rain clouds follow us a little bit though. It’s like the mountains of Snowdonia have a climate of their own. I keep my iPhone weather app set to show me the weather in Blaenau Ffestiniog all year round, and even when the sun is shining brightly everywhere else, it’s still raining there. We do virtually the same stuff every year. This year we vowed to slow down a little, do a bit less. I think we achieved it. We didn’t leave camp until lunchtime any of the days, which meant we had time for breakfast, a shower, and for the big kids to wander off to the play area for a while. It was nice. It took the pressure off.
We always have to visit at least one castle (last year we visited what felt like about 400 castles) and this year we managed two. My favourite two.
Dolbadarn is my favourite by far. It’s not even a castle as such. Just the ruins of one tower, high in a hill over Llanberis. Trevor and the kids always insist on having a sword battle on the steps, complete with chain mail costumes and wooden swords. You used to be able to go halfway up the spiral staircase in the tower, so it was a surprise to find out that you can now go all the way up to the top. Although this discovery did almost cause Trevor to die of shock, when the biggest kid climbed right up there and shouted “I’ve climbed right to the top!”. His “get down right now!” squeal gave away how frightened he was. He thought she’d jumped the barrier and was walking around the top of the walls! Actually you come out of the top of the staircase in a safety cage so you can’t fall off. It’s a pretty amazing view!
Actually, as much as I like Dolbadarn, I like Llanberis for the park and the lake. We started our visit in Pete’s Eats, a pretty famous climber cafe near the start of the Snowdon path. It does pretty standard fried breakfast type food, but the kids love it there. It was slightly less fun this year as we were constantly bothered by wasps! Then we head to the lake. Seb is first to jump in, but Iris is quick to strip off and jump right in behind him. She started off paddling in pants and shirt, but it was only moment before she fell right in! It was absolutely freezing, but she doesn’t seem to feel it! After the dog and the kids had a paddle, we stopped by the play area for a while before hiring a row boat. I volunteered to look after Seb on the bank (which was a pretty easy job because he swam out and followed the boat around!) so that I could enjoy some rare sunshine while Astrid snoozed on me. Iris was chuffed to bits with her bright orange life jacket, but didn’t last long in the boat before they had to row back in and drop her off. Iris put on a performance of ‘acrobats’ in the bandstand to finish off a nice trip.
My second favourite castle is Harlech, and I’ve never even been inside.
This is because the dog isn’t allowed in, and somebody has to sit outside on the grass drinking takeaway coffee in the sun using the snoozing dog as a pillow. Without any kids. That somebody is me. Poor me. My short break outside Harlech castle was spoiled a bit this year by a loud and angry man who sat by me and shouted at somebody on the phone. Trevor and all four kids were having a great time inside though. Trevor was wearing Astrid in a sling, which meant Iris had to walk around and she handled it pretty well with a bit of help on the narrow spiral staircases. We followed up the castle visit with ice creams with flags in the top.
The other thing we really love to do while we’re in North Wales is to travel around by steam train. Camping in the Forest is a great campsite for this, as it actually has a steam train station in the campsite! Our pitch was right by the station this year, which meant we had an excellent view of passing trains and we spent rather a lot of time waving at strangers as the trains chugged by. We caught the train from our tent to Beddgelert one afternoon, then visited Gelert’s Grave and had dinner in the Saracen’s Head before walking back in the dark. Iris rode on Trevor’s shoulders and decided that wearing a torch on your head is the most exciting thing ever for a two year old.
I highly recommend the Saracen’s Head if you’re ever in the area. It’s hard to find somewhere that is accepting of toddlers, babies, noisy children and a wet muddy dog. The food is excellent too. I could eat the veggie burger every day and not get bored. The kid’s menu is great, and the desserts are just delicious.
Our other favourite place to eat is Tan y Bwlch train station. We drove to Blaenau Ffestiniog, where Iris got upset and could only be cheered up by spending her pocket money on a wooden cat called Gringo in a lovely shop called This and That. We had a long wait for the train so got cakes and milkshakes for the kids in a cafe, before strolling over to the station and finding a carriage. This is our third year, yet Seb’s still not keen on the trains. He settles once he’s on, but he stays under the seat and won’t look out of the window. Iris is the opposite, and it’s a big job just to make sure she keeps her hands and head inside the window! As well as great food, Tan y Bwlch station has a little train themed play area. Although they’ve enjoyed it in previous years, the novelty of it is wearing off for the bigger two. Which is a shame in a way as Iris has just reached an age where she really appreciates a good play area. Once we’ve eaten and had a play, we like to head down the hill to the lake. Another lake! Guess what Iris wanted to do?
The biggest kid insisted on actually changing into a bikini and getting in. Why don’t kids feel the cold? A little while later we had a bunch of wet shivery kids and only a few minutes to get back for the last train! We’re that sort of family. The kind that leaves everything to the last minute, but it’s usually because we’re too busy having fun.
We made a decision to use our last whole day as a campsite day. We’d have to walk the dog but we wouldn’t take the van anywhere or go anywhere specific. It was lucky we hadn’t planned much because the rain was absolutely torrential. It had kept us awake all night and it was relentless until mid afternoon, when it finally eased up. Everything was drenched. We hung out in the tent quite a bit, but the rain was so loud we could barely hear each other, and we were a bit worried it’d continue into the next day and we’d have to pack the tent away in it! We finally decided we’d just have to face it, so we all put our waterproofs on. We were one pair of trousers short, so poor Trevor had to brave the downpour in his jeans. We took the long forest walk and ended up walking all the way into Beddgelert. I had Iris in my back in a carrier. She was wrapped up really warm and in waterproofs, and she slept for most of the walk. In Beddgelert the kids spent the last of their holiday pocket money in a gift shop, and then we headed back the short way. On arrival back at the campsite, most of our waterproof gear had failed and we were all drenched through. Iris was still in my back but was looking pale and was shivering! I thought we’d made her poorly with our daft walk in the rain and I felt so guilty. I took her straight to the shower block, stripped her off and put her under the warm water. Iris has only just got over her fear of showers, but she would not be convinced to get out and get dressed! She just kept pressing the shower button again and again while I waited. Not long after she returned to her usual colour, she decided to get out. Immediately she began to shiver again, so I wrapped her up and we snuggled under the covers in bed for a while. She was fine once she warmed through, although both her and Astrid developed a cold the next morning! And that was that. One last meal at the Saracen’s Head, one last night, and one more breakfast in the forest. Time to pack up. We were all a bit gutted. Actually, we’ve been back over a week and I’m still gutted. I’d been anxious about taking Iris away when she’d just decided she doesn’t wear nappies anymore. She had quite a lot of accidents because she didn’t really know where she was or where she could go to the loo. We carried a potty everywhere with us and she did use it a lot. However, it turned out to be a very good time and place for her to learn. Her accidents all happened outdoors, mostly on the forest floor! I’m already looking forward to next year. It’ll be the best one yet, I reckon! Astrid will most likely be walking, and Iris will be three! It’ll be the week before she starts at school, and the week before the biggest kid moves to high school. How exciting!