Pen y Fan is Wales’ second largest mountain and the highest mountain in southern Britain, standing at 886m above sea level. It’s a popular National Trust location, with over 250,000 people tramping up to the peak each year. At the top you are rewarded with dramatic steep slopes and valley scenery and with the right conditions, you can see right across the four counties of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Glamorgan and Somerset. We chose to climb Pen y Fan with our toddler and preschooler as part of our four-month challenge. Here’s how we go on.
The art of adventuring successfully with children old and young is being able to balance what you want to get out of the trip with what is going to satisfy the younger members of the party. These worldwide hiking routes manage to do that. Outstanding views, some challenging sections, and a little off the beaten track for the adults, but safe, well-marked trails that can be tackled in small sections, with features that kids will appreciate too like huge trees, ancient volcanoes and warm hostel stays.
What a weekend. I feel like I’ve just come back from a week abroad. We took a spontaneous trip over to the Isle of Wight on Bank Holiday Saturday as the weather was so perfect. We found the perfect Isle of Wight campsite, went orienteering (aka ‘mountain climbing’ according to my son), splashed at the beach, ate ice cream, and went for a bike ride in the New Forest on the way home. I am now completely in love with the Isle of Wight. Why haven’t I been before?
Part of why I set up The Smaller Explorer was to connect with like-minded families. There’s nothing like chatting with others who have managed to do something amazing after having children. It’s so inspiring, and also gives me loads of ideas of what I could do in the future too, and how to do it.
This series hopes to inspire other families who want to get back out there after parenthood, but don’t quite know where to start, or if it’s possible. There was only one lady I could start with – Catherine Edsell. Catherine is an adventurer, expedition leader, PADI divemaster, Reef Check trainer, yoga teacher, FRGS, TED talker, podcaster and mother of two daughters. Phew.
Finding UK adventures and having a go at different challenges when you have young children is not just achievable, it’s great fun and a good bonding experience too.
The March hare is hopping mad right about now, as it’s breeding season. You might be lucky enough to see them boxing too. This is actually the females fending off unwanted male advances.
Hares are larger and rangier than rabbits, and can be found in open fields or flat grassland in early mornings or at dusk. They are super fast, so you may need some binocular practice beforehand.
Frogs and toads come out of hibernation in spring to lay frogspawn, so March is a good month to spot them (with April being the best time to hunt for tadpoles).
Greenwich Ecology Peninsula Park hold an annual frogs day every March (20th March in 2018), where families can get up close to frogspawn, have a go at pond dipping, see some newts and get all crafty making amphibian-related pictures and paintings.
Don’t foget to tick off a #50things if you see frogspawn, as it is on the National Trust’s list of 50 things kids should do before they are 11 3/4. The National Trust also list many places where you may be able to see frogspawn.
One of our favourite birds, the comical puffin arrives back at breeding colonies from March, until mid August. Puffins are actually teeny tiny at under 30cm long, but they are super hardy seabirds.
Most puffins breed on islands –
1 Hermaness and Sumburgh Head, Shetland
2 Lunga, off Isle of Mull
3 Fowlsheugh RSPB, Aberdeenshire
4 Isle of May and Craigleith Island, Fife
5 Farne Islands, Northumberland
6 Bempton Cliffs RSPB, Yorkshire
7 South Stack Cliffs RSPB, Anglesey
8 Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire
9 Rathlin Island, County Antrim
10 Great Saltee, County Wexford
Going on a boat trip to see pint-sized puffins is an adventure in itself, though Bullers of Buchan north of Aberdeen and Bempton cliffs in Yorkshire are two mainland places where you may see them too.
On 3rd March, it’s World Wildlife Day, held to celebrate the world’s plants and animals. This year the theme is ‘big cats- predators under threat. Unless you are lucky enough to live in Africa or Asia, you’ll only see them at safari parks. Much as we’d rather just see big cats in the wild, the parks listed below are all fantastic ambassadors for conservation, and many also have successful breeding programmes. We think anything that gets younger explorers interested in wildlife conservation is a good thing.
If you don’t want to go to a themed place to see wildlife, we’ve also rounded up some of the best places to see UK wildlife in their natural habitat too.
Poor, old February. Often thought of as the month of despair. However, there are a surprising number of treats to look out for and enjoy even in these dark, dreary days of winter. Scratch beneath the surface and there is life everywhere. Days are lengthening and there is a smell of spring and new beginnings in the air, so dig out the wellies and thermals and go on a new walk. Find a cracking pub at the end. Happy days.
Our round up of all the things to do on a rainy day for children. We’ve focused on West Kent and East Surrey, but the ideas can be applied to wherever you live in the world.
Dubai’s the winter destination of choice for families desperate for a glimpse of sunlight to warm their weary bodies and minds. It’s safe, warm and convenient but does this actually translate into boring, artificial and sterile? We took our very young children there in early November to see what we thought.
‘It’s not the first place on my bucket list’, admitted my husband. ‘But then watching Mr Tumble never used to be my TV programme of choice either.’ Life changes when you become parents, and somewhat lacking in sleep and gaining in dark circles under the eyes, we just wanted a holiday break that was straightforward and gave us a bit of sunshine. Our expectations were low. We thought Dubai would be, whisper it, a little classless and brash, but we needed some respite, and fast. So, like nearly 15 million other tourists, we chose Dubai.
Dubai’s fortunes have grown quickly, and exponentially. In 1966 oil was discovered, which set the path for rapid commercial growth. 12 lane roads sit adjacent to sky-high mega buildings. Billboard adverts litter the sidewalks. Impossibly glamorous Arabian and ex pat women exchange credit cards for glossy carrier bags filled with expensive goods. Everywhere shouts materialism. Dubai is obsessed with style and product and is not ashamed to shout about it from the rooftop. Building construction has been somewhat uncontrollable. Dubai does not do small. It has the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, and the world’s largest shopping mall, naturally.
We took a taxi (cheap compared to how much other things cost in Dubai) from the Palm, where we were based, to downtown Dubai to visit the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. Every day from 6pm until 11pm a fountain display (world’s largest of course) can be seen in front of the Khalifa. Our children were enthralled by this five minute display. They also loved just absorbing the sights in the Mall. Like the U.K, but bigger, and better. Shinier. Cleaner. Friendlier. Noses pressed flat on the glass wall entrance of the Aquarium watching the sand tiger sharks and stingrays (also, one of the largest in the world and housed in the Mall). For older children, there’s plenty more to keep them entertained. An Olympic-size ice rink, a 22-screen cinema. Theme parks, waterparks, Legoland, Kidzania.
Yet, Dubai is not all fashion and themeparks. If you are feeling active Kite Beach is a great spot for both children and adults. Skating, trampolines, playgrounds and unsurprisingly kite surfing are on offer here. There’s also the option to escape the glitz and glamour and head out into the desert to rough it under the stars in the Hajar mountains, ride camels and sandboard down orange-gold dunes.
Satisfied we had seen the main tourist attraction, we retreated to our resort for the rest of our holiday, and made the most of the weather, the surroundings and the outstanding service. Dubai knows how to do resorts. Our resort was Asian in style and architecture, with a sublime spa and a choice of accommodation from cosy whitewashed poolside cabins to 2-bedroom suites with spectacular views of the Dubai skyline.
We had a range of quality restaurants with different world cuisines from Mediterranean to Chinese to choose from, though we stuck to the all-you-can eat buffet. The kids could choose what they wanted, they could get up and down numerous times without impatient sighs coming from other tables, and best of all, there was a kid’s club on site. It meant my husband and I could relax and look forward to eating great food without rushing or worrying that our children were causing havoc. That alone was worth paying for. Service was brilliant, with waiters refreshing our drinks regularly, and clearing up endless piles of mess made by children.
Young children are easily amused, and so lazy days were spent by the huge lagoon-shaped poolside (shallow with sand brought in and palm trees to create shade) or in the kid’s club. My children adored the staff and activities here. The staff were amazing with children and genuinely seemed enthusiastic about their jobs. Under 4s have to be accompanied by an adult but once they reach four you can leave them with staff for a few hours, which I would definitely be happy to do, given the quality of care given. Come sunset, we would all meander a few metres to the beach, order a cocktail and watch the red liquid sun set under the calm waters of the Arabian gulf.
Dubai is one massive theme park/shopping mall with a sprinkling of beach. It’s materialistic, upfront and artificial and there is no escaping this. Yet, this is also what makes it a rather fascinating place to visit as there is nowhere else like it. We were surprisingly charmed by Dubai’s unabashed need to do everything on a large scale and we had a fantastic time because of the level of care we received and the genuine friendliness we felt from people we met. In fact the biggest thing really about Dubai is its heart. If you embrace the country for what it is you can expect a warm welcome from your Dubai hosts.
When to go
November to March is considered the best time to go as the weather is warm but not uncomfortably so.
Where to stay
Take your pick from budget to luxury. We stayed on The Palm at the child-friendly Anantara Resort, from £225pn.
Flight time from London airports takes between 7-8 hours, which just about manageable for young children, particularly if they have the treat of on flight entertainment.
Dubai is 4 hours ahead of GMT, which means some jet lag is inevitable but not excessive.
Currency is the Dirham. Rates are 4.82AED to 1GBP (November 2017). A pint of beer typically costs 40AED.