It is hard to believe that a week ago today we had already hit the road on our first travels of 2017. This year looks set to be pretty packed with adventure and new places and where better to begin than the UK itself?
When Bluestone Wales invited us to check out their luxury resort with a midweek break at the end of January our first thought was, ‘Wales? In winter? But what if the weather is bad? What will we do?’
We’ll make it good regardless, that’s what.
We loaded up the minibus with ten children, lots of luggage and plenty of food and excitedly set off. Despite leaving our Kent home just before 9am we didn’t actually arrive at Bluestone in Pembrokeshire until just gone 4pm, joining onto the already relatively lengthy queue into the resort’s check-in. The timing worked out well as our lodge wouldn’t have been ready for us to settling into until 4.30pm anyway. We weren’t waiting in the queue for too long and were warmly welcomed with the key card, car hanger and directions to our lodge by the incredibly helpful staff.
Make sure you have all your booking details ready for check-in including booking references and any confirmations for additional activities or facilities you might have already booked. Bluestone offers a pre-registration option which they’ll email you a few days before your arrival which saves valuable time and, when you have a bunch of kids asking if you’re there yet and whether they can get out, every minute counts! Pre-registering before you arrive means you’ll be able to enter your party’s details at your leisure rather than whilst standing at the check-in kiosk, plus you can also add any additional options to your package, details of which will be covered a little later in the post.
If you do arrive earlier you can begin using Bluestone’s facilities from 11am but your lodge won’t be ready for you until later in the afternoon. If you do need to move your belongings in and get settled sooner rather than later you can pay extra as part of Bluestone’s Privilege and Executive options which allow you to check in from 1pm instead of 4.30pm.
Bluestone is a no-car site but they do allow you to drive in to unload your vehicle on arrival. Once unpacked you can leave your vehicle in the secure main arrivals car park which is a short walk from the main resort, although blue badge holders can park in designated areas within the resort. For those of you wanting to make the most of the car-free area and stunning scenery you can hire bikes available in a range of wheel sizes from 12″ to 26″. Trailers and tags are also available if you want to drag your children behind you as you ride which is great fun for them and a fantastic additional workout for those thighs! You are also able to bring your own bikes if you prefer, but Bluestone remind you that doing so is at your own risk and you are responsible for their security. For those of you wanting something a little more relaxing or unable to get around by bike or foot easily, Bluestone offers buggies for hire which can be used within the resort instead of cars.
Bluestone Wales is a luxury resort set within 500 acres of natural woodland within Britain’s only coastal national park. Visitors can book short breaks of 3, 4 or 7 night stays starting on either Monday or Friday, or alternatively their studio apartments that sleep 2 can be booked for one-night stays (though it should be noted that these do not have kitchens available within them). Apart from the studios, accommodation ranges from 1 and 2 bedroom cottages sleeping from 2 to 4 people, to lodges which sleep from 4 to 14. As we were travelling with ten of our children we were kindly provided the largest lodge, Dinah’s Bunkhouse Lodge.
Situated at the end of one of the areas opposite a fish’n’chip stall, I did wonder whether we would be at all disturbed by the foot, bike and buggy traffic of other visitors. I need not have worried at all as it turned out to be very peaceful indeed. In fact, once inside with the curtains closed you felt that you could have been isolated anywhere, cosily hibernating away with nature coddling you all around.
The lodge was incredibily spacious, more so than the photos would have you believe. Even though there were 12 of us staying in it, there was plenty of space for everyone and it didn’t feel at all cramped. More than once did Mike and I toy with the thoughts of selling up, buying a field and building a lodge of our own just like it. We were only joking. Or were we?
From the moment you walk in the attention to detail and quality is quickly noticable. With a standard of cleanliness that would outdo even Mary Poppins’ magic finger clicks, everything was pristine leaving us free to unpack and have fun. After having a look around first.
Dinah’s Bunkhouse Lodge has one twin room…
…as well as three good-sized bedrooms each containing two bunkbeds…
There is one family bathroom with a toilet and shower and two further separate toilets…
… as well as one shower room containing two separate showers and sinks. How absolutely perfect for large groups!
The kitchen was well equipped with all the utensils including large pans (ironically often overlooked even in accommodation housing large groups). Not one but two bottle openers were available, as well as two kettles which saves precious time waiting for much-needed
wine cups of tea.
Yeah, right. Tea. Who am I kidding? When a four and a half hour journey turns into more than seven hours with ten kids, the M25 and 423,672 cries of Are we there yet?, would tea even begin to cut it?
Not if it’s not brandy tea, no.
So yeah, wine*.
(Which look distinctly larger in that photo than they were in real life, I note).
*Followed by a hot chocolate.
There was adequate cooking space with six burners on the hob and a full-sized oven, as well as two fridges each with a small cool box freezer, plus a full sized dishwasher.
The only thing the kitchen was lacking was a washing machine which, for us, is usually a necessity. I would say that this was the one disadvantage to the resort, especially one which is based within such a natural setting. You don’t want to be precious about getting good and muddy but equally, have you any idea how much four days worth of laundry is for a family of 12 after they’ve been out and about in woods and beaches in the wet and wild month of January? It wouldn’t be such a disadvantage to go without in the actual accommodation if there were a central laundry facility somewhere within the resort but unfortunately this was not the case.
A small bar of soap and one toilet roll is provided in each toilet and bathroom and a brown paper bag comprising a basic cleaning kit for the kitchen is provided to get you started, containing a couple of dishwasher tablets, a small bottle of washing up liquid, a cloth and two recycling/bin bags. It’s not much but it is enough to get you started until you are able to get to the shop for supplies if you haven’t already brought your own.
The kitchen, dining and living area was one large open plan space which worked extremely well. Numerous windows allowed natural light to flood in even during the dull January days, and double doors opening out into a ‘garden area’ with patio tables would make this a lovely spot to sit at milder times of the year. There is a television with Freeview channels and a DVD player. Two large tables are put together in the dining area to create one long dining space that everyone can gather around and there is plenty of cutlery and crockery in two storage cupboards in the dining room.
There is basic wifi available in the accommodation but I had not realised just how basic it actually was. You do have an option of purchasing premium wifi but, by the time I had realised how painfully slow the available wifi indeed was, the limited availability of the premium service had sold out. If you can’t do without a decent wifi service or rely on it for work purposes, I would strongly recommend pre-booking the premium wifi before you go.
Despite the lack of laundry facilities, January weather would not hold us back at Bluestone! We came well prepared to enjoy nature and were soon donning layers of clothes, waterproof trousers and wellies to take a walk around some of the 500 acres there were to explore.
Waterproofs and wellies soon proved to be a necessity especially given the lack of laundry facilities on site, allowing us to fully enjoy our environment without worrying about getting cold, wet and dirty.
Bluestone offers a wide range of activities for all ages, some of which is free and others are charged extra for. We found the fees are quite considerable, especially when you have several children to pay for. A session on the climbing wall for one child is £13, for example. Activities also need to be pre-booked but this can be done online. Having said that, there is enough to be getting on with that won’t end up costing a small fortune including access to the Blue Lagoon, Bluestone’s water park. It should be noted that, like many public pools, there are certain restrictions for this activity. There is a minimum height restriction of 1.1 metres in order to be able to ride any of the flumes. Also, there must be one adult to one child aged 4 or under in the pool at all times, one adult to two children between the ages of 4 and 7 and an adult must be in the building of any child between 8 and 11 is using the facilities. Given that we have six children under the age of seven, this was an activity we chose to miss rather than spending a bulk of our time taking one or two children at a time back and forth.
Despite this, there was enough to keep us busy regardless. The outside playground was a first stop and there is an age limit for older children, enabling younger ones to play freely without being over-run by bigger kids.
We then decided to take a walk over to the lake…
…before heading off to the forest where two very large foxes clasping their instruments greeted us as we passed. If only Eddie had brought his ukulele.
We soon realised that either we had suddenly become very tiny…
…or everything around us had become very big…
Oversized bugs and plants surrounded us as we walked through the forest…
Until we came upon something that once again made us feel very, very big…
Hello, little fairy village!
Sssh! We’re sorry for disturbing you!
As we left the magical walk and headed on through the woods, we decided to return later that evening to see how different everything would look.
There is something terribly therapeutic about nature. I don’t know if it is the fresh air, the surroundings or the simple act of walking within it, but I find myself becoming less stressful after a walk through the country. As long as the kids have their waterproofs and wellies on, of course…
Returning to the walk after dusk was indeed magical and you can see why in our video at the end of this post.
On checking the forecast it seemed we had a small window of good weather left, so we decided to continue getting out and about whilst we could. Mike and I had not returned to Wales since visiting on a school trip quite a few years ago – more for him than for me, I might add – so we decided to take a drive around to see what there was in the area.
Unfortunately, a great many attractions and places to see were closed at this time of year and others were quite costly so we opted for sight seeing and free fun. Our first stop was finding Pentre Ifan…
Pentre Ifan is a monument in Nevern, about a 25 minute drive from Bluestone. As you drive along it is marked as Burial Chamber on brown tourist signs.
When you reach the sign directing you into a field it’s time to pull the vehicle to the side of the lane and take a short walk…
The Pentre Ifan monument is a collection of seven stones creating a megalithic tomb – a dolmen – which is the largest and best preserved in Wales. The capstone measures 5 metres in length and is thought to weigh a whopping 16 tonnes. There are many theories as to how it was created or what its use was, some stating they were placed to create a burial chamber (as it is signposted), although no bones were ever found within it, to alternative theories claiming otherwise. All we knew is that they provided a welcome shelter from the biting wind and cold when we visited, giving us enough time to take a photo or two.
One of the best parts of Wales has to be its beautiful coastline. Like the countryside, the sea is something that relaxes me. Simply watching the waves and listening to its rhythm soothes the soul.
And the kids quite enjoy it too.
After all, who says you can’t build sandcastles on a British beach in January?
If it does happen to be too cold and wet to enjoy the great outdoors, there is still plenty to do under cover at Bluestone instead.
The Activity Centre within the resort is a fabulous hive of activity where children can burn off their excess energy through climbing…
Extra paid and free activities are also available at certain times – you’ll be issued full details of times and costs when you book and also when you check in. Again, a quick reminder that you’ll need to pre-book sessions in advance to ensure you get a space, which I would imagine would fill up pretty quickly in the warmer seasons.
Before we knew it, it was time to pack up and return home once more. We were hugely impressed with the warm and comfortable lodge (I still want one!), the immediate grounds of the resort were well maintained and with and there was plenty to keep children of all ages entertained. A spa in the resort’s village provides adults with some valuable TLC (prices vary according to treatments) and there is a wide range of places to eat and drink to suit a variety of budgets. Overall, our time at Bluestone Wales was thoroughly enjoyed.
Before you go, watch our video and see our midweek break in action. You’ll also find out what happens in the forest at night!
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Want to know more about Bluestone Wales? Click over to their website here.
This post was featured on Monday Escapes at Extraordinary Chaos.