Our Short Essex Family Break in August 2017

Short Essex Family Break Woodpecker Yurt, Essex
Last weekend we had a few days off work and holiday club, so headed away for a few days. We had a short Essex family break – getting away from it all.

A short Essex family break isn’t the first thing you’d think of when planning a few days away. Initially we were looking around Europe for something within the £500 range, but soon gave up.

Hands up, who has never been to Essex properly ever? Me. I don’t know why. There are lots of places in this country I have never visited properly, and Essex is one. It’s also one of the closest to where we live, M25 traffic permitting.

To celebrate Shaun’s birthday (as his is two days before H’s), we headed to Mount Hall Woodpecker Yurt as a little getaway for the three of us. After our previous brilliant but noisy Yurt experience, I was hoping for something a little more quieter and we got it.

Short Essex Family Break Woodpecker Yurt, Essex

Mount Hall is just outside Colchester, again another place I had never visited. I mean, without knowing anything, the name Colchester doesn’t sound like somewhere you would actively visit, right? But oh, so wrong. The history!

H’s first topic in Year 4 is the romans, and as we couldn’t make it back to York, Colchester is as good a place for some proper Roman history. Colchester Castle is really interesting and worth visiting too.

Fancy a half hour drive? Then you have Clacton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze, both have piers you can walk along. The Walton Pier is massive, and a quite decent long walk out to sea whereas Clacton’s Pier is full of amusements. Both are good places to use up your spare 2p’s on the machines in the arcades.

clacton on sea wind farm

Out to sea is a windfarm which covers the skyline. I think we’ve seen it when coming in on flights as you line up with the Thames Estuary – you can’t miss it.

Walton-on-the-Naze has an entire hill full of beach huts all beautifully coloured which you can see from the pier.

Beach huts at walton on the naze

The best part of our short Essex family break was the location. You’re not far from the A12, there are shops nearby for supplies but it’s still quiet. You are under the Stansted flight path which doesn’t make it completely quiet, but it’s still quieter than our previous stay.

Short Essex Family Break Woodpecker Yurt shower block and kitchen

Woodpecker Yurt has its own shower and kitchen block, as well as games for the private garden area. We could also borrow cycles. H enjoyed having a go on an adult bike while I fear she’ll need another bike already as it only felt like yesterday that she got her last one… she grows too quickly.

bike riding Woodpecker Yurt, Essex

Around the Woodpecker yurt are apple and pear trees, with grapes growing on a side wall. We didn’t hear the woodpecker, but could still hear the chickens and horses just over the wall. H’s new found love of animals since she went to Coombe Mill meant she went to feed the horses some grass every day we were there.

Short Essex Family Break H feeding horses at Mount Hall, Essex

Every night we had a BBQ. It’s quick and easy, in fact, the most difficult thing was finding somewhere that had vegetarian food. The local Co-Op had run out so we had to drive to a Tesco in Colchester. The joys of arriving on a Sunday when the shops had closed. On the second night we toasted marshmallows at the fire pit.

Toasting Marshmallows on an open fire

It was a lovely relaxing stay, and I feel like I want to discover more of Essex. I don’t know why we’ve never ventured out there. It’s so pretty!

Mount Hall Apple tree

I found our yurt for our short Essex family break via Canopy and Stars.

Of course, what this now means is we’re going to look into getting camping gear, and get into the camping lark properly while the weather is still good. This may be a bonkers idea, but right now it feels like a REALLY good idea!

We’re linking up to Country Kids this week, it has been a while – it seems only fair as H and Shaun are in the Coombe Mill blog this week!

Country Kids

Can You Pledge One Hour?

A typical working week in this house involves me leaving around 7.20 and Shaun arriving home around 6.40. This isn’t a unique situation we’re in, and is the norm for most people living in London. Add your commute of up to an hour each way and being at work eats into your day. Andy Stephenson from Weekend Box commissioned a survey recently, and based on the results created Pledge One Hour.

pledge one hour

Pledge One Hour works on the idea that you make sure for one hour a day you spend some quality family time together – and with that is a website with suggestions for activities you can do together.

This all came about as after a survey by Fly Research asked 1,100 parents how much time they spent with their children.

* 40% of parents get less than 1 hour per day of quality time with their children

* 83% want to spend more time with their children and 95% felt that doing activities together made them feel closer as a family.

* 73% cited not having easy access to activities and resources as the biggest barrier to spending more time with their children.

Which is where Pledge One Hour comes in. We’ve reviewed Weekend Box earlier this year and found them great fun. Using everyday objects it did a lot of the thinking for us, and everything is still being played with now. We’re also working through the 50 Things National Trust activity suggestions when we can, so imagine something that covers both?

There are three sections on the website – Explore the Great Outdoors, Indoor Arts & Crafts and Child-Friendly Recipes. They’re all based around things which you should already have – be it sitting outside listening to birds, baking some Popcorn Cupcakes (oh yes!) or just making a miniature kite from an old plastic bag (a Weekend Box activity we’re still getting a lot of play from!) – there’s a lot of choice and it doesn’t cost a lot of money to do it.

As Andy says, “I don’t want to live in a world where parents and children face greater detachment due to the pressures of daily life, where children are left to entertain themselves with solitary screen time or mindless toys that fall short of adding any sensory value to their development. We can’t change the world overnight, but lots of little steps will help to break down those barriers.”

David Bond, Film-maker of Project Wild Thing said: “Our kids are spending almost a third of their waking hours staring at screens and the evidence is clear that this has a serious impact on their health and wellbeing.”

So can you do it? Can you Pledge One Hour? Come and join in – use the hashtag #pledgeonehour and share what you’re doing – with this beautiful weather right now it’s the perfect time to get outdoors and do something fun!

Making Homes for Wildlife – a National Trust Event

There’s a lovely National Trust event to help build homes for our feathered garden friends, making homes for wildlife!

Making Homes For Wildlife

The National Trust on the Surrey Hills are celebrating National Nest Box week (14 – 21 February). As spring seems to have sprung along the North Downs, National Trust Ranger Rob Hewer and his team of woodworkers have decided to host a nest box making event.

Anyone can join this fun woodworking event on Friday 21 February from 10am until 1pm at Westcott near Dorking. Tickets cost £15 per person and include all materials, a cup of tea and of course your beautiful new des res for your feathered garden friends.

Ranger Rob says “as spring seems to be a little early this year, it’s even more important that we help our garden birds. February is a time that they will be prospecting for nest sites; somewhere safe, dry and away from drafts and strong winds is what they’re after”. Rob continues; “all the wood that we use has been felled on the Surrey Hills, meaning that the boxes you make are made from the best local produce”.

Booking is essential for the event and reservations can be made by calling 01372 220644


A Waterproof Weekend

So last week I bought H an all in one waterproof in Debenhams which was documented over at the other place. I think I can safely say it was to benefit me as well as H – she hates getting muddy and I hate having to deal with it. It’s a win-win situation for us – a simple all in one which goes over her warm clothes and coat, and comes off easily too.

best monster face

We didn’t get a chance to try it on Saturday. We put off going to the coast on New Years Day as is our tradition, and instead went to Brighton when it was gloriously sunny and eight degrees. Walking around there was a cold air which hit us from time to time, but the sun tamed it so we didn’t freeze. Fortunately Brighton also has a Lego shop which we had to pay a visit.


A brisk walk along the seafront and H got to have a scoot about, before we headed to Brighton Pier for some lunch (Fish and chips of course, although vegetarian options weren’t great for me), tricked H into thinking she wasn’t tall enough for the rides (she was fine but we didn’t have any money with us), before scooting back along the seafront, watching the sunset and driving back to London, making it home before 7.

brighton sunset

Today was a bit colder, windier, rainier so the waterproof made its debut. As well as this, I’d picked up some wellies in the Disney Store featuring Sulley from Monsters Inc (for a bargain – £6!) which go perfectly with the waterproof. This was from the boys section of course as apparently girls only like princesses and babies in the Disney Store… ahem. We decided to go for a walk in Banstead Woods.


Banstead Woods is local place where people tend to walk their dogs. It’s where there’s a weekly parkrun. It’s also a great place to wander around the woods when you need fresh air and don’t want to travel too far. Hills, tracks, wood, trees, the sound of guns firing off in the distance as someone has some random shoot in the country (hm), bluebells from May! But fresh air, a new waterproof suit and new wellies meant that H had a new freedom – she didn’t want to hold our hands all the time in case she fell over and wanted to tell us where to go through the woods (using her National Trust compass of course).

banstead woods sign

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get her a waterproof, but this new level of freedom has entered our lives – she’s not worried about falling in the mud (we’ve still got waterproof gloves and a hat that fits to buy), and I’m not worried about dirty clothes being ruined. Silly things that shouldn’t matter that don’t any more. How weird a piece of clothing can do that?

banstead woods hut

It was a good weekend – one of those ones where we didn’t spend much money at all, which is a good thing, and still had a great time.

Mayfield Lavender Festival Coming This Weekend!

Weekend WeatherSee that there? Saturday and Sunday are going to be W-A-R-M! Hot! Sun! (Friday too, but I’m at work so I kind of pretend it isn’t there really). If you’re near here then this weekend is the Mayfield Lavender Festival – and it’s free! It runs from 10am to 6pm.

We love Mayfield Lavender as it’s fields of the stuff – you can wander around and I’d like to think the aroma has a calming effect – then spend a bit of money on some bunches to take home and make your home smell good too, and I’m tempted to try a bit of baking with some this year.

This area of Surrey used to be the main place lavender grew when it was first introduced to the UK way back in time –  you only have to drive through Wallington at Christmas to see the lights – lavender shaped ones of course!

Mayfield Lavender Festival

There’s loads of parking, though it can often get full in nice weather – so bear it in mind, and there’s not a lot of shelter if the sun is really intense so take water (though there is a cafe area – and the Oaks Park is over the road which has some shelter too)

Coming up at the end of the month is the Stanley Park Allotments pick your own Annual Harvest weekend too.

Dads Go Free at Painshill on Father’s Day

We made our annual Father’s Day trip to Painshill Park today, where dads go free – which works out (as of June 2013) at £6.50 for one mum, one dad and one three and three quarter year old.

Painshill ParkWe didn’t brave a picnic as it was raining so had waterproofs and umbrellas – although the sun came out mid-way round and it became way too hot to walk up the hill to the Turkish Tent.

Nonetheless, we walked, saw The Grotto and how the restoration is going (it should be open for a few hours every weekend in two weeks) and got around a lot of the park, including the two new bridges. Things are changing at Painshill and in a good way – they’ve received money to do essential restoration work, and the next plan is a proper boat shed for their barge (which lives at the side of the main lake and has been known to sink).

Painshill Park

We love Painshill – it’s somewhere we can go back to many times and spot something we’ve not seen before – plus there’s several long walks you can do there, and several good places you could stop for a picnic (we had picnic envy when a large group of friends with kids walked past with their various supplies).

If you got the Gardeners World 2 for 1 coupon you can get to Painshill Park using that card, otherwise it’s £6.50 per adult.

My Best Mothers’ Day Present

Painshill Park in Cobham are yet again doing their excellent mums-go-free deal (if you take your child) this Mothers’ day, 2013. The information is here – and if the weather is good (which it generally is) then you’ve plenty of grounds to wander around.

If your little one is still in a buggy don’t worry, as it’s generally all accessible – though could be muddy in parts.

We LOVE Painshill (we’ve been the last two years to see Santa there and often do these deals)

There’s plenty of activities to do there too, leading up to the big day – check out the What’s On section of their website.

Painshill Park