Last week saw a major milestone in our life as parents – we went on our first family holiday!
I’ll admit that it was a slightly daunting experience going away with a 7.5 month sprog for five days, but the overwhelming sensation was that of excitement and anticipation. Life with a baby is full of firsts and a holiday was one of those that we had been looking forward to the most.
With money a little tight at the moment until the missus returns to work, I was massively thankful to be offered the chance to take the family to Bluestone National Park Resort in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It had felt a long wait since booking it back in January, however the day had finally arrived for us to head on our merry way. Check out what we got up to and what we thought about Bluestone on our hols below:
Bluestone is in Wales. We live in Hertfordshire. That’s a 4.5 hour journey from one to the other. Not the worst thing in the world, but a bit more problematic when there is a seven-month old baby in the back of the car. Not just that, but unfortunately you can’t take pets to Bluestone, so we had to go to Pembrokeshire from Hertfordshire via Birmingham to drop Dax off with friends. This meant that it would take 5.5 hours, but more likely longer with breaks and traffic, to reach our holiday destination.
Once upon a time I’d have struggled to have got up early, however a baby does wonders for your ability to wake at the crack of dawn. This was obviously an advantage when it came to getting up and out the house. By 8.30am, we were up, dressed, fed, watered and packed – quite an achievement with a baby and a brother who doesn’t often get up before 10.30am! Having got the missus to marvel at the great job I’d done of utilising every centimetre when packing the car, we set off on our journey – me driving, the missus as navigator, Baby L behind her, Dax in the middle and my bro to the right.
We successfully made it to Birmingham without any issues. Dax was dropped off with our friends and he immediately settled in as he chased their older and grumpier sausage dog around the house. As lunchtime approached, we took a slight detour into Abergavenny to find a supermarket and some petrol, but alas we were unsuccessful. We got back onto the main road and within two minutes saw a sign for a ‘Superstore’ – typical, eh?! Whilst at Waitrose, we decided to grab our food for the week too – Hay had read that the nearest big supermarket from Bluestone was 10 miles away, so we thought we’d test my packing skills even further by trying to put four overflowing ‘bags for life’ into the car.
With a sarnie in hand and a tank full of petrol, we switched drivers once more and set off on the last two hours of the journey. With 30 minutes to go, Baby L decided that it’d be fun to fill the car with her piercing scream and ignore all attempts to console her. Luckily, turning up the radio and looking at the beautiful Pembrokeshire scenery out of the window helped massively to block out her annoying behaviour. With about 10 miles to go, we stumbled upon a car accident which had just happened in the distance and were diverted down the smallest, scariest back roads known to man – we were only on these roads for 15 minutes, but I shit myself more than once. I was forced to reverse at speed when a tractor came at us and nearly had the front of the car clipped when an old woman decided to cut the corner on my side of the road.
We somehow managed to survive and felt even more thankful on our arrival at Bluestone. After a 10 minute queue, we were greeted by a very friendly girl who gave us keys, maps and directions to our home for the next five days. We were told that we were in a Gateholm lodge in Preseli View which is situated closest to the car park and exit. This gave us the advantage of being able to take a tour around the site from the comfort of our car as we gawped at other people unloading their cars. We pulled up at our imposing home for the next five days, had a look around and unloaded the car.
The lodge is upside down in nature – I don’t mean that floors are ceilings and vice versa, but more that the bedrooms and bathrooms are downstairs whilst the kitchen and living room is upstairs. The Gateholm Lodge sleeps six people on the ground floor – there is one double bedroom (with en-suite) and two twin bedrooms, along with a separate bathroom. On the first floor, there is a studio-style kitchen, dining room and lounge which have views over the Pembrokeshire countryside. We were all really impressed with the lodge – not only was it spacious and tastefully designed, but it looked to have everything we needed, including kid-friendly stuff such as a travel cot and stair gates.
One of the first things we did was ring ‘Guest Services’ to book in a couple of baby classes for the little one. There are a range of activities you can do with your kids, but we found most of these were too old for our 7.5 month old sprog. Still, there were a few baby classes including sensory play and messy play which we wanted to try out. We booked onto the animal-themed messy play on Tuesday afternoon and baby sensory on Thursday afternoon – we had originally hoped to do the party-themed messy play but this was already booked up. We paid for these two classes (£7.00 each) over the phone and was helped out with a couple of other enquiries by the helpful fella on the other end of the phone.
After moving the car to the car park, we fed Baby L, put her to bed, cooked dinner (all pots, pans, utensils etc are included), then watched TV for the rest of the evening on the (pretty uncomfortable) sofas. We went to bed pretty knackered but Baby L decided she was going to have one of those nights where she struggled to settle and woke often. Ah well, tomorrow is a new day.
I took the little one upstairs to give the missus a bit of a lie in after the night of repeated get ups. We watched a bit of TV, played on her mat and had some breakfast, before Baby L decided that her night time exploits were a little too much and she crashed on her mat for a nap. Once everyone else had woken up, we decided to briefly explore Bluestone – we took the short walk down into the Village and walked around the lake. The Village is really nice and quaint with a few shops and places to eat, although there isn’t *much* if you were planning on eating out each night or buying loads of stuff. Still, it’s the quaintness which makes it appealing. There’s some building work going on at the moment, but that didn’t bother us at all.
After lunch, we walked over to the Adventure Centre for the messy play baby class. We didn’t really know what to expect, other than it’d be messy and that my OCD would probably kick in. There were five large trays in the room filled with various messy stuff – paint, water, flour, straw and something green that I’m pretty sure was snot. We were offered an apron, but it was way too big for Baby L so we just stripped her down to her nappy. With wet wipes at the ready, Baby L pushed, pulled, prodded, poked and put in her mouth pretty much everything that was before her.
She seemed to have a good time and it was nice watching her play, but we were a bit disappointed to be honest. The bloke at Guest Services had told us that it was suitable for babies – I guess that is *mainly* true, but as she could not yet stand, we had to sort of dangle her over the trays which were a foot high off the floor. As such, we left about half way through the allotted time because it didn’t feel suitable. It is fine when a kid can stand on their own, but not the best thing in the world for a baby. I’d have liked to have seen the large trays either placed on the floor or a separate bit for younger kids. Or, at the least, a few chairs for parents to sit on if they need to dangle their sprog.
After messy play, we had a look around the Adventure Centre and found the soft play area. There were loads of different things to do in here from climbing walls, arcade games, ball pools and soft shape obstacle courses. Again, this looked a fantastic area, but I was slightly disappointed that babies seemed to have been forgotten about again. Apart from the ball pool, there was little you could do with a baby and I’d like to see a separate ‘baby area’ introduced for parents with a sprog under 10 months or so.
We then walked over to the pool as we planned to go later that day, however we were met with staff who told us that the pool was closed for the day and would reopen tomorrow. This was a bit disappointing and also a little worrying as the pool had been closed on Monday too. One member of staff gave us a tour of the pool which was appreciated, but we were left wondering if we’d ever get to use the pool. I mentioned this on Twitter and I did receive a direct message from Bluestone telling me it was closed as “someone had been ill in the pool”. I’m not sure what that means, but can probably imagine it was one of, or a mixture of, crap, puke, piss and snot. It was lucky we hadn’t been back to the lodge, then to the swimming pool, as we’d have had no way of knowing the pool was closed – it would be nice to have some information distributed around the site to inform people of closures such as this.
The evening was similar to the one before. Food, relaxing and TV.
The plan for today was to leave Bluestone and explore Pembrokeshire. We’d heard that nearby Tenby was really nice, but we’d also seen that there were various scenic views and lookouts around the coast which we thought we’d explore. A lot of our holidays – particularly when we go to the States – involve hiring a car and going on long road-trips, so we were interested to see what the Welsh coast could offer. We were not disappointed, particularly as the sun was out with force.
After getting up and getting ready for the day, we drove to Tenby and arrived around 10.30am. We managed to park up on a road overlooking the awesome views of the beach, sea and cliffs. We did a loop around the town which took us down to the beach and back up through the shops and incorporated a scenic picnic overlooking the beautiful coastline.
The next stop on our travels was near Manorbier where there was a scenic view over the Pembrokeshire coast. After driving by an MoD base and a Youth Hostel, we arrived in a car park with stunning views over the coast. With Baby L transferred to the baby carrier, we had a short wander along the coastal path until we reached Skrinkle Haven and Church Doors – two isolated coves with beaches in the rocks. We walked down the (what felt like) thousands of stairs to get to the beach and felt overawed surrounded by the huge rocks around us. A truly awesome place to see, particularly as no-one else was around.
After returning to the car, we continued our adventures along the coast. Twenty minutes later we drove through Bosherston and found another nice view over the coastline. We got out of the car, having driven through an active MoD firing range, and found the weirdest thing. This was an old, stone building in the cliffs called St Govan’s Chapel. This came as a complete surprise and was such a cool thing to see. Dating back to the sixth Century, you can walk through the chapel and onto rocks which allow you to look out over the waters.
We continued around the coastline, briefly stopping at Freshwater West, Angle and Pembroke docks, before heading back to Bluestone. We’d seen some awesome views and it’d been really nice to explore some of what Pembrokeshire has to offer. I’d definitely recommend getting in the car and going on an adventure. That evening, we cooked once more and relaxed in front of the TV.
The plan for today was to go swimming at Blue Lagoon in the morning, then go to the baby sensory class in the afternoon. After getting up early with Baby L, we headed to the swimming pool after her mid-morning nap. The swimming pool was free which was awesome and we had no issues finding somewhere to change, although only three family changing rooms were available (I think they are doing some upgrade work at the moment).
I was impressed with the inside of Blue Lagoon – there was a separate baby area, the main swimming pool and a large slide – there was probably more stuff too, but a baby inhibited my ability to explore! We spent some time in the baby pool where there was a rock pool area and a number of water-based things you can play with. We then headed into the shallow end of the main pool where we sat with Baby L when the wave machine kicked in. The little one started to get a bit moody after around 45 minutes so that was out hint to leave the pool. We were impressed with the pool area, the only issue was that it was so hot in there!
We walked back down to the Village and grabbed a milkshake from the bakery and drank it as we walked around the lake once more. We then had lunch and headed back over to the Adventure Centre for the baby sensory class. What we didn’t realise was that this was actually Baby Sensory, a class we used to go to when Baby L was younger. The teachers were really friendly, we sang a lot of varied songs, had a bit of play in the middle of the class, then finished with balloons and a parachute. All in all, it was a good class but it felt very overcrowded as there was around 15 babies there, each with two parents.
As had become customary, we chilled in the lodge for the rest of the day and evening and got a *relatively* early evening considering amount of driving we’d need to do tomorrow.
The last day of our hols was pretty much like the first, only in reverse. This was an exciting day though as an eclipse was due to darken our sky. It was a beautifully sunny day so everything looked set. With one eye on outside, we got ourselves ready and packed the car, then went to stand outside 10 minutes before the eclipse was going to happen. 25 minutes later nothing had happened. Other families stood around looking a bit confused too, so I know that we weren’t being stupid. Another five minutes later, we decided to give up and get in the car to travel home.
The journey was pretty uneventful apart from two hours into the journey when we panicked that we’d left our house keys on the bed in the lodge. Luckily we had not, but I did have to change my pants. We picked up a very excited Dax and got home around 5pm. A great, fun filled and action packed holiday which left us craving another break!
All in all, we had a great time at Bluestone and on our first family holiday. The lodge was really nice and there’s plenty of stuff to do – if you have a slightly older kid that is. Bluestone is also perfectly located to explore the beautiful scenery of Pembrokeshire. Our favourite day was the Wednesday when we went to Tenby and then drove around the coast finding awesome scenery and viewpoints, so this is a must do. Bluestone is definitely a fantastic family-friendly holiday venue and we look forward to visiting again in the future when Baby L is Toddler L.
N.B. This review was written by me (Dave) and represents my honest opinion. The accommodation at Bluestone Wales was provided to us for free with the purpose of writing an honest review in exchange. All activities and additional things we did were purchased by ourselves.