Holiday – Caister-on-Sea

We’ve been on Holiday!

It’s been quite a while since the last blog post, mainly because we’ve been on holiday!
We went to Caister-on-Sea in Norfolk (Just north of Great Yarmouth) to stay at a Haven caravan park.
This is about the 6th time we have been to Norfolk, but we usually stay further north at Hunstanton, or near Sheringham, but this time we fancied a change, and liked the idea of Haven, because we have stayed at a Haven in Weymouth before, and they are brilliant for the kids, which in turn means they are excellent for the adults as well!

We arrived at the park on Friday afternoon after a looooong (just under 4 hours) drive from Nottingham, and got into our caravan a little bit before the official check in time of 3pm.

Before we set off I made the big mistake of having a look at Trip Advisor, which only ever seems to give 1 or 5 star reviews. Most of the 1 star reviews followed the same pattern.
“Got there, wasn’t allowed into my caravan until midnight, then it had cockroaches/smoke damage/bodily fluid stains everywhere. Staff were unhelpful. Bar was too busy… etc… Will not be coming back, unless I get a discount (please!)”

So when we found our caravan, and looked inside, we were all very pleasantly surprised, it was spotlessly clean, well equipped and would do us perfectly for the week.

Having unpacked (or maybe having shoved our suitcases under the beds!) we went for an explore round the park, and found the shop, the arcade, the restaurant and both of the bars. We then took the shopping back to the caravan, had some tea and went looking for the beach, which was only a couple of minutes walk away! On that first visit we were rewarded with an encounter with a beautiful seal, that kept a very close eye on us from a safe distance. I also got a life list tick when a couple of sandwich terns flew past!

Friendly Seal

 

Sandwich Terns

That night we made the first of many visits to “Seagulls” bar where they did nightly bingo, followed by Kids games and meeting various fluffy and cuddly members of the Seaside Squad (Joseph loved this!) I know this is meant to be a primarily a nature blog, but here a very minor quibble with holiday park entertainment managers.

Why have the prize bingo immediately before the kids club entertainment? When the bingo is on we are told to keep the kids off the dance floor, and keep them quiet, and if they are not quiet, could they be taken outside to the arcade area?

You have a load of kids, who are excited to meet Anxious the Elephant, and they are happily dancing (or in Joseph’s case running in circles round the dance floor) and then you tell them all to sit down and be quiet for half an hour, then when it’s done they are allowed to be switched on again.

Kids don’t work like that, you wind them up and let them go until they decide to (a) collapse in a sweaty mess, or (b) have a huge over-tired tantrum. Haven take note – put the prize bingo after the kids have been worn out, it makes life a lot easier for everyone!
Also – another very minor note, have more people staffing the bar when people need to buy bingo tickets and drinks, 15 minute wait for drinks is pushing the limit after a long day!

One of the best things about Haven, is that if you didn’t want to leave the site you would not have got bored at all, there is so much to keep you occupied. The kids grew gills in the week, because almost every day they made it into the pool. Joseph loved the shallow end, the girls loved the slides and swimming with us in the deeper end. Joseph did aqua-paddlers, which is a hand driven paddle boat, and the girls did kayaking, pool party (Giant inflatable obstacle course) and AquaJets (which are James Bond style motors that drag you round the pool). We all played crazy golf, and Jo and the girls drove a pedal car round the park for an hour whilst Joseph and I went swimming. There were loads of other stuff that we didn’t do as well, archery, target shooting, zip wire, climbing wall, etc… And there are arcades with 2p push machines, which we spent a lot of time on, winning coins and tickets that we redeemed at the end of the holiday for a PacMan key ring and a few lollies!

All that, and we were a stone’s throw away from the beach!

We did a have a few trips out of park too, we went to Great Yarmouth, RSPB Minsmere and Norwich.

Great Yarmouth

We went to Great Yarmouth for two reasons, the first is that it is holiday law that we have to visit an Aquarium of some sort, and the second was as members of the National Trust we have to squeeze every last ounce of value of it, so we wanted to visit the “Elizabethan House” in the Heritage Quarter.
We went to the Aquarium first and started off with a cake and coffee from the cafe, which were superb, Jo and Abbie shared a pastry, Esme had a brownie and Joseph and me shared a sausage roll. In the end everyone had a bit of everything and we were all pleasantly revived and full. The aquarium was really good, like most Sealife centres, and had sharks and a giant turtle. Only the penguins looked mildly miserable, probably dreaming of the faraway Antarctic oceans…

We used the Cadbury grab bags offer, which was 2-for-1, which was the cheapest off the three offers we had to hand, 33% by booking through Haven, or another 33% off voucher, which a nice lady gave to us outside the aquarium.

After the aquarium we let Abbie guide us the to the Elizabethan House using Google maps on my phone, a route which took us through the less salubrious parts of Yarmouth, and I think Heritage Quarter might not pass the trades description act. Maybe we just went the wrong way, but the heritage quarter appears to be a quarter of a mile, surrounded by 1970’s flats low-rise concrete flats and a dockyard…

Having flashed our NT cards in the entrance we were met by a parliamentarian from the English Civil war (clearly not Elizabethan, but let’s run with it) who gave us an in-depth and interesting talk on being a soldier in the Civil war. He was really good, let the kids dress up and kept everyone entertained for a while. The house’s connection with this period of history is that Cromwell visited here a few times. After the talk we looked round the house, which had been restored to be a Victorian house. All done and dusted in another 10-15 minutes. I’m still not sure why there was nothing really to do with the Elizabethans there, but it was alright. I would have been disappointed if the Civil War bloke hadn’t been there, and if we actually had to pay to get in.

We got fish and chips from the onsite chippy when we got back and saw a seagull scaring Harris Hawk patrolling the park with it’s handler.

RSPB Minsmere

On Tuesday we (I) decided we all (I) wanted to go to RSPB Minsmere, home of SpringWatch and mecca for birders. I was hoping to boost my year and life lists here!
It took just over an hour to get there (going through Lowestoft) and I lost count of how many times the phrase “How can 30 miles take over an hour” was uttered during the journey, but eventually we arrived.

We paid the £23 to get in for a family of five which I thought was not bad and armed with a map we set off on a two mile round trip that took us out to the beach and back again via quite a few hides. We saw a Reed Warbler in the reed beds and a juvenile Stonechat in a thorny bush near the beach. I got these IDs from the SpoJo members after I had identified them as a Wren, and some kind of Pipit… We also saw hundreds of Bar-tailed, and Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlins, Golden Plovers, Avocets and other
assorted Waterfowl.

Godwits!
Avocet

We got back to the cafe about 30 seconds before the heavens opened and the torrential rain came. We all had scones (Cheesy and Fruit) and made a dash for the car after Abbie had got a couple of RSPB pin badges. The drive back to the park was more exciting than the outbound journey as we had to drive through floods and the pouring rain.

We had a delicious home made curry in the caravan in the evening, before  the girls went pool kayaking.

I know I shouldn’t compare it on one visit, but with only two species added to the life list, it didn’t quite live up to my big expectations, and failed to make it into my top 3 favourite reserves. Titchwell Marsh and Old Moor are still the top two, closely followed by Attenborough.

Norwich

The next day the rain stayed with us all day, so we went to meet the Norfolk branch of the family in Norwich.

We took the Park and Ride, to save the stress of looking for a roofbox friendly car park in the centre of town, and because we all wanted a ride on a double-decker bus! It was £7 for an all day return for 5 of us. (Joseph got in free as he was under 5)

We started off in the Castle Museum, which was good fun, and has loads of kids activities on for the holidays: Joseph made a Plasticine sea monster, dressed as a pirate, made a sparkly pirate’s hat and spent a good while looking down a huge well!

Top of the well!

We had dinner at Pizza Express, thanks to saving up our Natwest vouchers and getting £15 off, for a £10 voucher! It was the second Pizza Express we tried, this one was in the BBC and Library building, and was very good.
At the first one we tried, we were met by a manager who told us there was a 30 minute wait for a table, and when we took a moment to decide whether we wanted to wait, she made up our minds for us, by ignoring us completely and was suddenly more interested in her phone…

After the Pizza we braved the rain for a quick look round the shops.

Which only left Thursday as the last full day, where we managed to fit in Soft Play, Mammoth lunch from the on-site pub “Mash ‘n Barrel”, the girls did Turbo Gliders (James Bond style pull=-you-along in the water thingies), then Pedal cars, and swimming, beach and bar in the evening (where we pushed the boat out and ordered a pizza to share!)
By now I think we were all starting to lag a bit, especially Joseph, who towards the end of the evening was finding the smallest of things to have a tantrum about.

Including having his favourite Haven FunStar (Charlie) replaced by another one, and finding the ham in the pizza was the fancy pulled ham hock variety, which he decided was tuna and therefore evil on pizza…

On Friday we checked out, and after an even longer drive home (The SatNav decided to take us via Peterborough) we arrived home to happily find the house was still there and the pond had not sprung a leak in our absence.

Goodbye Caister!

In summary the holiday was completely brilliant, and we are already looking forward to next year, where we might venture to another Haven on the South Coast, depending on how much Haven want to discount returning customers! (Haven are you reading this??? 😉 )

Here is a link to our holiday video!

Cheers
Dan

 

 

 

 

 

Calke Abbey

Blog 4
Calke Abbey

As I said in my previous post, we are now members of the National Trust!
So this weekend I printed out our temporary membership cards and Jo printed off a walking map with a suggested route round the grounds (2.5 miles, 1.5 hours and graded as easy).

We made some cobs (tuna and jam – not in the same cobs though, that would be weird!), packed up crisps and sausage rolls and headed off. (for anyone not from round these parts, a cob is a roll, bap or bun)

Although we’d been there before a few years ago, I forgot how near it actually it was, and in about 20 minutes we were there, quick enough for no-one to get car sick, or get bored.

First things first, we headed to the cafe for a pre-walk drink and cake. We shared two scones and a flapjack, all freshly baked, Jo had a latte and I had a double espresso, which was as good as I had tasted in quite a while. Full of sugar and caffeine, we went to the reception and booked a time-slot for the house (1pm – 1.15pm) which would give us enough time for a walk and a picnic.

Coffee!

We set off from the back of the car park down around the lake, going clockwise towards the fenced off deer park and wood. In the wood we saw a huge buzzard, which kept landing and flying off in front of us quickly enough to avoid any pictures, but giving us enough time for a collective woooooow.

View of the lake

At some point in the walk through the woods Joseph decided he was too tired to walk any further, and devoted his energies into whinging and asking to be carried, so he ended up on my shoulders for the rest of the journey. We came to a fork in the path and we didn’t listen to Abbie (in charge of the map) and accidentally cut the walk quite short and walked back up to the car-park just before lunch. Joseph miraculously recovered after seeing the kids play area and I went an hid in the bird hide for a bit. The hide does not look much, it’s basically a shed in the corner of the car-park, but looks can be deceiving – it gives close-up views of some brilliant birds.

It is one of my two favourite hides, the other being the garden hide at Old Moor. The thing I most like about both of these hides, is that they allow you to get really close to the birds, so you don’t need a massive lens, scope or binoculars to see some great birds up close.

The feeders are close to the hide, and the birds stack up on the surrounding trees waiting for a slot on the feeders. I saw Great Tits, Blue Tits, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Collared Doves, Jackdaws and a Rat snuffling around for the leftover seeds on the floor. The bloke sat next to me had just seen a great spotted woodpecker, and there are nuthatches around as well, but my stomach was growling at me, so it was time to meet back at the car for lunch.

Fully occupied bird feeder

After a car picnic (carnic ?) we went to look round the house, which was another pleasant surprise. When we last went (in 2010, or 11) it had been deliberately preserved in the state that it was handed over to the NT in 1984, and only one room had been restored to it’s former glory. This time a lot more rooms had been restored, and fewer had been left in a state of disrepair. I can’t help wondering if was due to funding (or lack of it) that last time it was left as-is from 1984, and it was just a bit of spin to say it was done deliberately…

The house was a good mix of upstairs and downstairs, which a few rooms stuffed full of (precious) junk which didn’t fit anywhere else.
Jo, who is much more knowledgeable about history stuff than me, told me the house and estate went to wrack and ruin, because the lord of the manor preferred going round the country shooting birds to looking after the estate, and that seems to be evident in the vast amount of stuffed birds in glass cases in almost every room.

Another big attraction for the kids was the amount of tunnels there were. It seems the past owners of the house were absolutely obsessed with keeping the servants hidden via a network of tunnels, which while making the servants life a lot less pleasant, made the kids visit much more exciting!

Ghostly figures

After the house we looked through the gardens, but we were all starting to feel the effects of the morning’s walk. We walked across to the Grotto, up to the church grounds, and then along the tunnel back to the walled gardens, but after that everyone’s legs were beginning to give in, so we didn’t see the ice-house and instead walked back to car.

Both the car park and the church grounds offered some excellent views of the Deer park (Roe deer, I think) and they seemed very relaxed when posing for photos!

Roe Deer
Stag

But that is the great thing about being members and having beautiful places so close by, next time we will take a picnic and sit and relax in the gardens and look at the things we missed and re-visit the things we enjoyed, because it won’t cost us anything more!

Summer Flowers

When we got home, and after a reviving cup of coffee, I checked the pitfall trap in the garden with Joseph. He was disappointed to only find ants in it and no Stag Beetle, which is at the top of his “most wanted” list (I want to get a devil’s coach horse beetle!). So we re-stocked it with an apple core and left it again. <Update from this morning – still only ants, we are going to try some other old fruit tonight!>

We are already thinking about next weekend, and a trip to another local NT location, but before that the car has to go in for it’s MOT, so please keep your fingers crossed for it on Wednesday! It’s also payday this week, so if the MOT goes well, the next stage of the wildlife pond could get the green light!

I will see you all again in the next blog.
Cheers
Dan

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