Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Paris and Parc Astérix

Monday, August 20th, 2018

Our main holiday for the summer was to be camping in the French Alps but we had to get there first! We decided to take the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre (very convenient for us and highly recommended for avoiding the tedium of a day wasted sat on a ferry) and then stage our journey down through France.

First stop after leaving the ferry was Paris. I didn’t fancy driving into the city centre so we parked out at La Défense (it was a Sunday) and took the metro in which seemed to work well. The aim was largely for the children to see the sights and we achieved that even if, with the temperature in the high 30s, we spent much of the time seeking out the shade.

Our overnight accommodation was conveniently placed just 10 minutes from our next day’s entertainment: Parc Astérix. After going in search of food supplies in the morning, we were still late to the party and joined long queues waiting to park. We were slightly put out by having to pay an extra €12 for the parking but there wasn’t much choice at this point. It’s still a LOT cheaper than Disneyland. That wasn’t our main reason for choosing it though: given an Astérix book, Duncan is lost to the world for hours as he reads and re-reads it.

We started with a wooden rollercoaster which turned out to be a good move as the rattling ride was enough to tame Emma’s desire to hit some of the more adventurous attractions. As you’d expect, absolutely everything has an Astérix theme although, as you’d also expect, sometimes it was a bit tenuous. It was very hot again and we were glad that, even when we did have to queue half an hour for a ride, there was generally a fair amount of shade to be found.

There was also a reasonable amount to do beyond just the rides. The dolphin and sea lion show was both entertaining and educational and “Main basse sur la Joconde” was quite a theatrical spectacle that had the children in stitches. Having failed to buy food to take in, we ate both lunch and dinner in the park and, to be honest, the prices were not unreasonable. We didn’t quite stay until the park closed but it wasn’t far off. In total we spent over ten hours there and there was plenty that we didn’t see and do.

The next day we set off south again, stopping at the walled town of Semur-en-Auxois largely because it’s about half-way down the country. We took a walk around the town and Emma was visibly wilting in the heat. Our hotel had big thick walls which meant the room was cool on arrival but sadly, without air conditioning, it didn’t take long for the four of us to warm it up! The children were therefore happy to get in to the car the following morning to complete the journey down to the Alps.

 

Over to Osborne

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

Christine had Wednesday off and, there being some debate as to whether Duncan had ever been, we decided to take the ferry over to the Isle of Wight. We took the train down to Southampton from Chandler’s Ford and managed to race across town in time to make the next Red Funnel ferry. The car ferry is a slower crossing but, as we were planning to walk up to Osborne House, its destination of West Cowes would take us closer.

In contrast to our last visit (over ten years ago when Christine was pregnant with Emma), a grey start turned in to a glorious day. Unlike last time, there was no guided tour of the house and, instead, we traipsed around after a massive long queue of people. For future reference, apparently Wednesday mornings are particularly bad for tour parties. At least there were no stuffed animals to be found!

Next stop was the beach. Christine and the children went for a paddle in the sea and then watched the Osborne themed Punch and Judy show. (The puppeteer also gave a very good history of Punch and Judy beforehand.) We then headed back up past the Swiss Chalet, made a quick visit to the walled garden and, most importantly, a visit to the café before we departed.

Although it meant paying for the chain ferry across to East Cowes, we decided to take the Red Jet back to Southampton (it seems that a family ticket it valid on either). At the end of the day, we now also have a year’s English Heritage membership so I can foresee another trip over to the island to take in the donkeys at Carisbrooke Castle!

Tudor House and Garden

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Back at home, it fell to me to keep the children amused (more on that later). On Monday, I had planned to combine a shopping trip to Southampton with a visit to the Tudor House and Garden (having never been there before) but, on looking at their website, I discovered that they were having a special day where they were rolling back the prices to 6p the next day so we delayed our trip slightly.

There’s actually loads more to the attraction than just the black and white Tudor frontage that you see from the road. Given the name there is obviously the garden (and what, on a sunny day, looked to be a very nice café overlooking it) but there is also the remains of King John’s Palace and Westgate Hall on the same site.

There has obviously been lots of Lottery money spent on the buildings and exhibits but somehow it missed the mark with me when telling the story of the site. It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that the children were given one of these trails where all they had to do was spot some (toy) mice in each room. Such trails seem to have become the fashion over the last few years (we’d had to look for squirrels at Compton Castle) but they mean you get to the exit without actually having noticed anything other than some stuffed animals.

As a consequence, we spent much less time there than I had expected but for 18p I really can’t complain! If you are thinking of going, I’d get the joint ticket with the SeaCity Museum (and don’t forget you can get 10% off with a National Trust or English Heritage card).

Down in Devon

Sunday, July 29th, 2018

More often than not we simply drive through Devon on our way down to Cornwall so, for our first holiday of the summer, we thought we’d head there for a week of camping. We were staying at Leadstone Camping, midway between Dawlish and Dawlish Warren. It’s a pleasant enough site, certainly in comparison to the massive caravan parks that surround it and, for most of the week, we had excellent weather for camping. It was a shame we hadn’t packed the bikes as there was a good cycle route along the estuary to Exeter.

On our first full day, we were picked up by my Uncle (whose proximity was our main reason for choosing the location) and we drove to Brixham to take him up on a long-standing offer of a day out on his boat. Everyone enjoyed themselves as we sailed across the bay and back, although both Emma and Duncan were sick over the side. They decided that next time they’d skip lunch on the boat! They certainly made up for the lost calories with a very nice meal out at The Anchor Inn in the evening.

The next day we met up with friends from back at home at Compton Castle where, as my Uncle had warned us, there really wasn’t a huge amount to do. Keeping with the National Trust theme, we moved on to Parke for a nice walk. As is obligatory when in Devon, we enjoyed a very nice cream tea at Home Farm Cafe.

For our third day, we stayed local, walking down into Dawlish to see the black swans for which is famed and for a game of crazy golf. Dawlish is everything you’d expect from a British seaside town which I’m not sure is a good thing! After sheltering from the midday sun, we then walked in the other direction to Dawlish Warren. Once you get past the shops, bars, and arcades, it’s a pleasant enough spot with a good stretch of sandy beach backing on to the spit that is the nature reserve. We all had a dip in the sea and failed, yet again, to stop the tide overrunning our sandcastle!

We’d been joined by Christine’s parents at this point and, on our last full day, we all walked along the coast path to Teignmouth. We only had to shelter once from a passing shower. The children would recommend the waffles in Finley Brown’s cafe (although to be fair, I got to eat a fair amount of their massive portions). That whole section of seafront being dominated by the railway line, it seemed only fitting that we take the train back to Dawlish. Christine wouldn’t tell me how much it cost but I suspect we were paying more per person than the number of minutes we spent on the train!

All-in-all, it was a great start to the holidays although next time I think we’d stay closer to Dartmoor or further west where there are more options for things to do.

 

Emma @ 11

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Emma’s party came first this year and she’d elected for a trip to the ice rink at Basingstoke with friends. We’d checked out the rink last month which was my first time skating. I managed to stay upright, unlike Duncan who was in need of an ice pack having fallen on his face just before we were about to leave. This time we left the children in the hands of the party host and, for the first half an hour, a coach, who was very good with the children. If the rink were a little closer I’m sure Emma would like to go more often.

A smaller group of friends stayed for a sleepover although, as I believe is traditional, there was a limited amount of sleeping going on. I was apparently fast asleep before the last of the chattering ceased!

For the big day itself, Duncan had disappeared off to Cub camp leaving Emma with two parents to pamper her. One of her presents was a pair of climbing shoes which necessitated a trip to the shops. After lunch in Romsey, she and Christine then tested out the shoes, along with a new harness she’d also received. In another significant milestone towards teenage-hood and secondary school, Emma has inherited one of my old mobile phones (I have replaced the screen since it was driven over by a car!). She’s only showing mild signs of addiction so far!

Scratching at Work

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Not satisfied with a four-day Bank Holiday week, I was back in work today for a Scratch Day organised by the inimitable Dale Lane, supported by an all-star cast of IBMers, past and present. The day got off to an ‘exciting’ start with Duncan and I cycling there along Hursley Road. Emma joined us by car, just as the day got going, hot foot from her swimming lesson.

There was a good turnout from IBM and other local families. On offer was a selection of projects from Code Club and Dale’s own Machine Learning for Kids. Emma and Duncan worked separately and I probably spent most of my time helping Duncan (although both are familiar with Scratch from school and home). Typically, Duncan picked two of the ‘advanced’ options but, having heard Dale talk about them at a lunchtime session, I was more than happy to try out a couple of the ML exercises.

We started with Judge a book which performs image classification on book covers to try and identify genre. I was a bit slow to realise that Duncan was logged in to my Amazon account whilst performing his searches but thankfully we switched to an incognito session before getting to the flesh-covered books under Romance! He’d picked Horror and Fantasy as two of his other genres and it wasn’t surprising that the classifier occasionally got those confused.

I had to help out a fair amount with the Headlines exercise as there was a lot of typing to enter the training set from different newspapers. We didn’t manage to finish before the end of the day but we still had an interesting discussion about the differences between tabloid and broadsheet headlines.

The event closed with an opportunity for the children to show what they had done to the others. Although some were a little reticent, this was a great opportunity for them to build a little confidence and soak up the applause that each invariably got.

All-in-all, we had a great day and my thanks go to all those that gave up a day (and more) to help out. We’ll certainly be checking out a few of the other projects and hope that Scratch Day makes a return to Hursley next year.

OMM De-Lite

Monday, May 7th, 2018

We enjoyed last year’s OMM Lite sufficiently that we signed up again this year. The venue had shifted to the Forest of Dean, another area we know reasonably well through orienteering and its proximity to Christine’s parents. In a repeat of my marathon weekend, it was set to be a scorcher and we were grateful that the organisers took the decision to drop waterproofs from the kit to be carried!

This time we had a much better idea about the distance that we were likely to have to cover to fill seven hours on Saturday although that didn’t stop us re-planning continuously. Things didn’t start well with a run along the road, a detour down a dead-end, followed by hacking through the forest past the wild boar. That, at least, taught us the extent to which we should trust all the tracks on the map!

We headed out of the forest to pick up a 50-pointer out at Symonds Yat but decided not to go further afield and, after picking up a few more checkpoints, headed back into the forest again. At that point, there wasn’t much for it but to sweep around the bottom of the map and back up the eastern edge. Christine was definitely fading towards the end and wasn’t best pleased with my suggestion to squeeze in one extra checkpoint before the finish. The unexpected lap of the camping field meant that we were docked one point for being 19 seconds late back. Much to our surprise, this still left us 49 points clear of the next pair! (My watch began to die so our efforts are spread across part 1 and part 2 on Strava.)

Christine switched to trainers for the Sunday in an attempt to pacify a rather angry looking blister on her feet but, otherwise, we didn’t feel too bad setting out for a further five hours. The map was centred on the forest this time which provided some much-needed shade. We didn’t have to think a great deal initially with the first three checkpoints being ones we had visited on Saturday. Christine accepted that we needed to cross the valley to the controls on the eastern edge of the map but the climb back out of Soudley was pretty unpleasant, particularly as the path we were on disappeared amongst fallen trees.

We made it back in time and, although we didn’t clock the biggest total for the day (guest ultra-runner Markus Scotney sped past us at the end having knocked off another 100 points), it was enough to secure a victory. Winning prizes for the first mixed pair, as well as first place, certainly meant we had a tidy haul of OMM vouchers to show for our efforts! The 23 miles covered on Sunday brought the total for the weekend to over 55 miles, very similar to last year and only with around 200m less climb.

The podium photo also shows off our cheer squad with all but two of the children in the front row being relatives (the other two were a reunion from last year’s event). Sarah and Sue, in particular, had done a wonderful job of keeping them all amused whilst we were out running. Our two had done the orienteering on Sunday. Duncan secured a second on M10 whilst Emma had an absolute epic, spending nearly an hour and a half on her orange course! To round off an excellent weekend, they also ran in a sweltering children’s race at Devauden on Bank Holiday Monday.

Snowy Snowdon

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

As we were half-way up the country, we headed on to North Wales for the rest of the Easter week. We were staying in YHA Llanberis. The forecast for the week wasn’t great and we stayed low for the first day, re-visiting the National Slate Museum and taking a walk around the quarries, dressed head-to-toe in waterproofs.

The forecast for the next day also wasn’t great but it dawned bright so we persuaded the children to walk from the hostel up Moel Eilio. Christine’s parents arrived that day and chased us up the mountain. Unfortunately, they caught us on the final ascent, just as the clouds came over and any views were completely obscured. At least the rain wasn’t too persistent.

Thursday had the best outlook for the week and we weren’t alone in targetting that day for an ascent of Snowdon. We took the bus up to Pen-y-Pass and walked the Miners Track as we did last time. The previous night’s rain had fallen as snow on the tops and we were treated to blue skies and some fantastic mountain scenery (more photos on Flickr). We were warned that a ranger was turning people back. We eventually met him about 50m short of the ridge where he was advising the use of crampons and ice axes for the final crossing of an icy slope. We pressed on (it really wasn’t that bad) but decided that we would return via the Llanberis path as it would be less fun on the return. Still no cafe open but at least there were views to be had from the top this time.

Friday was our final full day and we headed to Caernarfon where Gerry and Christine took the children climbing in the massive Beacon Climbing Centre. Sue headed into town and I made use of the not particularly exciting but flat National Cycle Route 8 for my long training run to Bangor and back. As a pleasant end to the week, we met up with my cousin and family in Colwyn Bay who Christine hasn’t seen since our wedding!