Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A Camping Adventure

My family and I wanted a little break away during the summer holidays, but having been fortunate enough to have gone to Florida earlier in the year, we only had a limited budget. We therefore asked the kids where they would like to go, and told them to make a list of places that they would like to visit.

Their list actually quite surprised us, as we were expecting the likes of Blackpool, Alton Towers, and Chester Zoo, but instead had a mixture of attractions ranging from Theme Parks to places of historical interest. The list went as followed:
Gullivers
Legoland
Stonehenge
A farm
Monkey World
Peppa Pig World
A park
Warwick Castle

We initially thought about putting all the choices in a hat and picking out somewhere to visit and stay at a hotel nearby for a couple of days.  I got a quote for both the Legoland Hotel and the Warwick Castle glamping and was quite shocked to find both of these amounted to over £400 for just a couple of nights. So my husband and I had a chat, and I said, why don't we do them all and just camp out! So that is how our camping adventure began.

I set out trying to find campsites that were central to a couple of attractions so that we could camp two nights in each area. We already had a large tent that we had purchased earlier in the year, and after getting a few quotes from campsites, the total accommodation cost for 12 nights at campsites with a grass pitch and electric was coming to £370! Ok so we wouldn't be in a nice posh hotel, and yes it would be 12 nights on an air bed, but a 12 day holiday as opposed to two nights in one place had certainly caught my attention, and so I set about planning our route, and making final decisions on campsites.

I joined the Camping and Caravanning Club which costs £38 for a year membership, however being a member entitles you to a discount at their campsites and due to staying at several of their sites, the discount was more than the £38 joining fee and so it made sense to do this.

The first campsite we stayed at was the Gullivers Camping and Caravan site in Milton Keynes. We arrived an hour early, but we received a friendly welcome and were told that due to them not being full they were happy for us to go to our pitch early. A gentleman on a bicycle led us to the camping field and gave us a choice of several empty pitches. We chose one that was located just across the road from the shower block, and just a short distance away from the park. The pitch was level grass, and it was easy to get the pegs into the ground and get the tent set up quickly.

It is a lovely little site, that is a short walking distance to Gullivers Land, however on the entrance walk to Gullivers from the campsite, there is a lovely park, and sand pit play area that we were able to use which our children really enjoyed. Another big plus point to this site is the short distance from Willen Lake. There is a lovely walk that leads there from Gullivers and there is plenty for the kids to see and do including a very large play area, plenty of open grass space, watersports, a fairground with bouncy castles, bungee trampolines and hook a duck games (possibly seasonal), and several food and drink kiosks. There is also a Premier Inn with attached Fayre and Square restaurant that we took advantage of one morning for a lovely breakfast. Numerous other campers that we spoke to also spoke highly of their evening meals there.

The shower and toilet facilities were very clean and well maintained. They close the block between 10:30 and 12 noon to clean them and I had no issues with the facilities during our stay. Despite being quite a large site, it was also very quiet in the evening, and we all managed to sleep well during our stay.

The second campsite we stayed at was Chertsey Camping and Caravan site which we had chosen due to its proximity to Legoland Windsor. Although the site was nice, this was probably my least favourite site as when we were pitched, it was very close to another family who were directly opposite literally a few footsteps away, so when we went to sit out in an evening it felt like we were staring directly at them. The other tent had been there prior to our arrival, and when they returned to their tent after their day out, it was clear that they too also felt uncomfortable by how close we were. We then found out that we had been placed on someone elses pitch who had a campervan and had gone out for the day. They had apparently left a marker to say they were returning, but we had been sited here by one of the employees and so had listened to what we had been told.  It did lead to us feeling quite uncomfortable during our stay.

In addition to this we had been placed under a tree,  which firstly meant that the ground was very hard and ultimately we broke our mallet trying to get the pegs into the ground, and secondly it felt like the tree housed every single bug known to man. I kept finding countless creatures crawling over everything, and this combined with being on the Heathrow flight path led to 2 very sleepless nights.

The park was very basic with a slide and two swings, however it was large wooden trunks to climb to the slide so not suitable for younger children. My 3 year old could just about manage it with help from myself.

However, there are some good points to the site, which are that it is very clean and tidy, with the shower & toilet facilities being well above standard and amazingly clean given how many the site could accomodate. It offered laundry facilities, an indoor recreation area where you could sit, play games, or hire the table tennis table, and it was only a 30 minute drive to Legoland which was ideal for us. I would say that the site is more suited for couples or families with older children, and unfortunately just wasn't our cup of tea, though for others it could probably tick all the boxes.

The third site we visited was Paultons Campsite in Romsey, Hampshire. We had chosen this site due to its very close distance to Paultons Park, quite literally just across the road in the car, and roughly a 15 minute walk by foot. This was the smallest site on the list, but by far my absolute favourite purely down to the owners who are one of the nicest and accommodating couples I have met. We were greeted on arrival and shown to our pitch by Dawn, and whilst my husband began setting up the tent, John took my son and I on a quick tour of the facilities.

The owners have taken the time to think about the 'little things' that can really make a difference, and this included a selection of bikes for children to play with, a football goal, cricket set, and cozy coupe cars for toddlers. There were barbecues available to borrow free of charge, a selection of leaflets and information on the local area, and picnic benches by the tents. I felt that the picnic benches were a great idea as it gave us somewhere nice to eat as a family, instead of just on our laps in the tent.

In the evening, because there were only a few pitches, it felt a lot more how I had imagined camping, with everyone getting to know each other, and the kids running around with their new friends in and out of each others tents. A nice man in the pitch opposite to us also invited all the children over in the evening to toast marshmallows with his son, which was great, and I loved the chance to meet new people. Each time someone new arrived with their tent, it seemed natural to all pitch in and help them set up, and in general it was just a really lovely couple of days on a wonderful well thought out site. Whilst staying on this site we visited Peppa Pig World.

The next site we visited, was the Merley Court Holiday Park in Wimborne, Dorset. Unfortunately, we had some initial problems with this site, and the pitch that they gave us was very unsuitable for a family, especially one with young children. However, the warden kindly moved us to another pitch so that we could enjoy the rest of our 3 night stay in comfort. The new pitch was exactly what we had expected from their advertising and we were satisfied with their efforts to move us. In addition, when I raised my full concerns, the management team addressed my issues to my satisfaction and I was pleased to find that their customer service was excellent.

Merley Court Holiday Park was the largest site we had stayed on during our travels, but it was very nicely laid out, clean and tidy. There was a outdoor pool with lifeguards which we used a couple of times, which felt cold on initial entry but was absolutely fine once you were in.  The shop was very well stocked and reasonable priced, with a good selection of food, drink and kids pocket money priced items available. The young man that worked in the shop was very friendly and was always keen to have a chat and ask how your day was going when he saw you.

There was a little park, that was most suited to over 5's, but my youngest did enjoy pretending to drive the large wooden train which kept him busy for a short while. The site also offered a bar (which we didn't use) and a football pitch. The toilets and showers were clean, but the showers could definitely do with an upgrade, as I found them very difficult to use and they were either extremely hot, or very cold.

The site was ideally located for numerous attractions that would probably normally be within a 20 minute radius, however due to traffic issues when we visited, we found that some journeys took nearer to an hour to visit places. I was told by the young man in the shop that this was due to a main road being partially closed and so traffic was being diverted along all other routes which in turn caused congestion. Whilst staying at this site, we visited Farmer Palmers, Monkey World,  and Stonehenge.

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