When my children started school I hoped they’d make some friends. What I didn’t expect was to form so many strong friendships myself with the other parents. My children attend a city school in a busy area – but there’s such a lovely sense of community and a real village feel about it. The parents I’ve met have become more than just people I see at the school gates.
So much so in fact that when the school gave us a wonderful gift of two teacher training days last Friday and Monday, eight families from my daughter’s year three class made the most of the long weekend and booked a huge house in South Devon.
Considering there were 32 of us (18 children aged 11 months to 11 years and 14 adults) it was amazingly chilled out and relaxed. But great fun too. We went to the forest, the beach, we had an impromptu walk up a big hill behind our house just as the sun was setting.
The children had sleepovers, with six or seven of them per room. They smuggled in treats for midnight feasts which we grown-ups pretended not to know about. They spent hours outdoors, finishing each day a grubby, muddy, sandy, sticky mess with clothes not salvageable for another day.
We clubbed together for a huge online grocery order for all our food for the weekend. We made meals together and barbecued in the early evening sun. We parents drank and laughed into the small hours.
Other than one day at the beach when we treated ourselves and bought lunch and ice creams we hardly spent any additional money, making the most of the local free attractions and taking packed lunches with us.
Three of the children had birthdays either while we were away or within a day or two of our holiday so we had a big tea party for them and shared their excitement as they opened cards and presents.
There was such a lovely sense of community to our trip with all hands on deck and everyone mucking in together and lightening the load as we prepared the food and cleared up afterwards. The bigger children loved helping to look after the younger children and it was beautiful to see those friendship bonds growing.
There were tears from some of the kids when it was time to come home because they’d had such a fun weekend. I felt pretty sad too when our holiday came to an end. I could have easily stayed another few days. Everything just felt so easy going and fun.
We got back on Monday evening and all the unpacking and washing is now done, grubby clothes and sandy beach towels restored to clean without all traces of the weekend gone. As I always say however, the dirt will fade but the memories won’t and this is one holiday none of us will forget about in a hurry.
Our trip in detail
I hadn’t planned on writing about our trip as it wasn’t work-related – but since I posted on Instagram and my personal Facebook page I’ve had quite a few people ask about where we stayed and what we did so here’s our itinerary.
The house in question was Blackadon Barns in the rural village of Ivybridge, South Devon. A converted old barn, it’s a charming collection of 4*AA holiday properties with one, two, three or 10 en-suite bedrooms, inside the Dartmoor National Park.
We hired the Buzzard Barn, which has 10 en-suite bedrooms on two floors, and the adjoining Heather Cottage which sleeps 6/7 with three twin bedrooms, two of which are en-suite. You could add on any additional properties to accommodate the number you need. It cost us less than £200 per family for three nights.
The huge dining area in the upstairs area of Buzzard Barn comfortably fitted all of us for group dining, and the kitchen was well equipped with two ovens, way more than enough crockery and cutlery, as well as two large fridges, a freezer, and a dishwasher. I didn’t take many photos because as I said I wasn’t planning on writing about it, but you can view the Blackadon Barns website here.
The grounds are lovely with a good sized outdoor seating area with picnic tables that easily fitted all of us, a barbecue area, and a chicken and a goat, which the children loved.
The owners live on site and so are around to help with any issues that arise or to offer advice on days out in the local area.
One slight downside is that the upper and lower levels of the barns are not connected internally but accessed by going outside into the courtyard. This wasn’t a problem for us as most of the children stayed up late and had sleepovers of six or seven to a room plus we made sure the youngest children were upstairs so that they could be put to bed while the grown-ups were in the living room area.
The downstairs area of the barn has its own living room and kitchen, so plenty of room for adults to socialise, but if you have lots of younger babies and children, it’s worth considering. We also found that sometimes the water pressure was a bit low when multiple showers and sinks were in use.
Ivybridge is around two hours and a half hours from Cardiff. We broke up the journey by stopping at Haldon Forest Woods in Exeter on the way there – two hours from Cardiff and around half hour to the barn. Entry is free and parking £5 all day. It’s a Forestry Commission site with various trails, a children’s play area, a cafe and picnic areas and toilets. We had great fun exploring and stayed for around three hours.
After our Friday evening meal we decided to explore the area surrounding the barn and found ourselves climbing up a huge hill.
The views were stunning, made all the more incredible by the light of the setting sun. There were huge rocks to climb on and crater-like dips the children thought looked like dinosaur nests.
On Saturday we headed to Hembury Woods in Buckfastleigh, 20 minutes from the accommodation.
It was a tougher walk than we realised, mostly uphill, but we found a lovely spot at the top, which was once an old Iron Age hill fort and a Norman motte (mound) and bailey (enclosure) castle, for a picnic. The River Dart passes through the bottom of the woods – some of the children went paddling in and one brave dad went for a full-on swim!
On Sunday we headed to Bantham Beach, a 40 minute drive away. Named by the Lonely Planet as one of Europe’s top 10 beaches in 2015 the views across Bigbury Bay and to Burgh island are picture perfect.
It’s a good choice for families with toilet facilities at the top of the car park area (it cost is £3.50 to park all day or £5 in full summer season) so a little walk from the beach itself; lots of rock pools for exploring; great waves for paddling, swimming and even body boarding and surfing. There was plenty of space for games of beach cricket, boules and football, and kite flying. For the more adventurous there are hills to climb and coastal path walks.
We decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the Gastrobus, which serves burgers, hot dogs and rolls. They were proper quality burgers, large in size and with brioche buns packed full of salad and relish. The burgers cost between £6 and £8 with child options also available. It wasn’t the best for vegetarians and vegans – I had a spinach and chick pea burger or there was a cheese roll for vegetarians.
The menu said they sold salad boxes but they didn’t have any of these available when we visited. We treated the children to ice creams which cost around £3 each so a little on the expensive side but it was rich and creamy locally produced ice cream rather than the processed cheap stuff.
On the Monday we all went our separate ways. Some families headed straight back to Cardiff. We went to Tyntesfield National Trust property in Bristol on the way home. One family went to the aquarium in Plymouth, another to Woodlands theme park, and another stopped at Weston-super-Mare for seaside fish and chips.
Other local attractions include Babbacombe Model Village, Paignton Zoo, Pennywell Farm Zoo and the South Devon Railway. Cathy of award-winning family travel blog Mummy Travels has written this brilliant guide to the best family attractions in Devon.
Have you been to South Devon? I’d love to hear your recommendations for places to visit and stay either in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page, or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummy
Thanks to the other parents on our trip for letting me use some of their photos (and for such a wonderful weekend away!).