School’s out and the pressures already on for entertainment during the holidays! Sarah shares how she and her friends pooled their resources, despite the ages of their children, to organize a budget-friendly mums and kids only holiday – where the sense of community and organisation made their trip a brilliant success.
October half term was rapidly approaching and there was a “grit your teeth and get on with it” feeling emanating from more than one of my school-mum friends. It was less the sense of dread that some parents might feel at the prospect of a week spent with children; more a feeling of “didn’t we just get back into a routine?!” after the long summer holidays, coupled with the prospect of less outdoor-friendly weather and the fact that, with so many partners having taken time off over the summer, we were going to be doing this one solo.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then mothers are the inventors of non-necessary but completely brilliant ideas – so, after a few rushed school-gate conversations, a bit of Googling and a couple of hastily-dashed off emails, four of us booked accommodation on the Gower, compiled a online grocery shopping list to be delivered on the night of our arrival and set off with no fewer than eleven children, ranging in age from 2 to 12, in tow.
The bunkhouse we’d found online was basic but ideal for our means – a converted barn in the grounds of a farm owned by the loveliest Welsh farming couple imaginable, it housed 4 bedrooms, a large communal kitchen, and a simply furnished living area. Although we’d spoken briefly about screen-time expectations before setting off, just to make sure that we were all on the same page about what we’d allow our kids to have, such conversations turned out to be superfluous: there was no television and no WiFi. We expected moaning: instead, we got children who played endless games of football in the surrounding grounds, huddled behind curtains on deep window sills to play card games, and invented dance competitions and indoor penalty shoot-outs.
Obviously the area we’d chosen for our “sisters are doing it for themselves” getaway had a lot to do with its success: the Gower’s landscape, which first attracted me via images I’d seen on Instagram, is nothing short of spectacular, with endless beaches, jagged coastline, vast skies and panoramic cliff walks. Devices, what devices?! The children thoroughly relished each day’s outings, whether a long stomp from Llangennith to Rhossili, with its perfect lines of waves below, the lure of the Worm’s Head (“can we cross the rocks?!”) and the pleasant anticipation of cafe treats at Bay Bistro, or a mooch around jumbly, colourful, low-tide Mumbles, culminating in ice-cream from local Italian icon Verdi’s.
A long amble across the silvery, reflective sands of Oxwich Bay drew us inexorably towards Three Cliffs Bay, one of its serrated headlands a siren song that never seemed to get closer, until suddenly, suddenly it loomed above us, just begging to be climbed: no easy feat with so many ill-shod youngsters, but one that left everyone feeling euphoric on the long torchlit walk back to to our Oxwich start point. And even though we’d half expected everyone to flop around exhaustedly bewailing the lack of a television on our return to the bunkhouse, they were straight back outside with the farm dogs and a football.
Our hosts, Allison and Andrew – and their dogs – were also a huge part of holiday’s success: on several occasions, the children were invited to participate in farming life, so there were tractor rides to enjoy, cows to feed and visits from the vet to observe. Mild weather also helped – only on one occasion did we have a day with rain so torrential that inside activity was necessitated; a need that the waterpark at LC Swansea more than adequately answered, although with hindsight we would probably have preferred the Gower Heritage Centre.
But the other factor that contributed massively to what a brilliant time was had by all? It was, quite simply, the ease with which we four women pooled resources and worked together, the instinctive warp and weft of our relationships in terms of activities, ideas, responsibility and guardianship. If one or two of us wanted time out or to go for a run, the others would step in to look after the children. While two cooked, others set the table or hung damp clothes in the drying room. Where one had remembered to bring board games, another had remembered a football, or craft activities.
When the inevitable (and, fortunately, temporary) factions arose between the children, there were hands enough on deck to separate, occupy and placate disgruntled groups until peace was restored. When the children were settled at night, there was wine cracked open (an essential part of the online grocery shopping; we women are nothing if not well-prepared) and long hours of enjoyable, companionable chatter, amidst wishful talk of communes and non-warlike Amazonian existences.
The same group of us are heading back to stay at Hardingsdown this October; Allison and Andrew are completing the renovation of another farm building into Chaffhouse Bunkhouse and tell me that both buildings will now have Wifi. We say: brilliant, that’s great for staying on top of work emails, or replenishing the online groceries – but telling the children? Well, really – would you bother?
Details of where we stayed:
Lower Hardingsdown Farm,
Written by, Sarah Rodrigues. Originally from Australia, Sarah is now settled in London with her English husband Dave and three children Phoenix, Cassian & Leon (plus the Zeus, the Greek rescue dog!) She travels as often as possible and writes between drop-offs and pick-ups. You can follow her on Instagram at @justtwenteen