Posted in History, Holiday, Life, Travel

A hidden gem in South Wales

I’ve been coming here since I was a child.  I was brought here by aunts and childminders to walk the dog and play in the park and swim in the lake (when it was allowed…sadly not any more); we came here with Sunday School and Youth Club for group barbecues – there are built in barabecues that can be hired out. I was briefly a memeber of an archaeological group and we visited; and again, with Youth Club, we would come and hang around the medieval village; once I recall even being dressed up as a medieval peasant and manning one of the buildings.  I remember coming to fetes here and watching knights charging across the field in re-enactments.

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This place is Cosmeston Country Park & Medieval Village, in between Penarth and Sully in the Vale of Glamorgan.

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Here it is on #GoogleMaps

I still spend time here these days and it still amazes me that people come here and say they didn’t know it was here.  Understandable maybe from people from outside of the area; but I have close acquaintances who grew up in Cardiff, just down the road; and have never been here.

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Cosmeston Country Park is a large area set around a large lake; one end of which, separated by a bridge, is a dedicated nature reserve. Within the park there is a play area, boardwalks along the lake and across marshland and various paths for all levels of fitness.  There are orienteering trails and school-holiday activities; in addition to school trips being catered for – the park rangers can take children pond-dipping or den building; and there are various volunteering opportunites throughout the park and the medieval village.

Over the years there have been changes in the medieval village, but essentially it’s a reconstruction, built on the original foundations dated to the 14th Century, discovered during excavations in the 1970s, when the land, a former quarry, was handed over to the council for use of the community.  These days it’s furnished and decorated and managed, in keeping with the time period

Access to the museum adjacent to the village is free; and guided tours by costumed characters start from there into the village itself a set times during the day; or self guided tours using audio-wands at your own pace.

Tickets for the guided or self-guided tours can be purchased from the reception in the main car park of the park; which is also where bookings for water activities and use of the barbecues can be arranged; not only for Cosmeston but for their sister country park, Porthkerry, down the road in Barry.

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The park is managed by The Vale of Glamorgan council.  More information on the park & its facilities, such as updated times and prices for access and various activities, can be found on the Vale website Here and the Medieval Village Here

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Posted in Bloggers, Holiday, Life, Ship, Travel

A Travel Blog…

I’ve recently come across quite a few ‘Travel Bloggers’ – people who seem to be able to travel the world and blog about it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a fair bit of traveling in my time.

My father is in the Merchant Navy.  Thankfully, he worked for a company who saw benefit for their crew to be able to take their immediate family (Wives & children) with them on long voyages.  Even more thankfully, this was back in the 70s, 80s and early 90s just before the world went H&S-Crazy.  There are photos of us children sat on large pieces of machinery in the engine rooms of these large cargo vessels; sledging off the coast of Norway in winter, along the bow around giant anchors; and walking around huge open hatches waiting to be laden with coal or iron-ore or any other such material that the company shipped from place to place across the entire world.

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Nassau Pride, formerly M.V.Gaig Ffion.  One of the cargo ships I traveled/lived on in the 1980’s

Yes, the entire world.  I had been round it a couple of times before I was 9. Again, back in the day before schools in the UK really cracked down on attendance and not allowing children to be taken out of school during term time.  We still had to do school work, and get permission from the school, of course – my mother would be given permission and handed a block of workbooks for us to complete during our time away.  We’d do 2 hours of lessons a day on the workbooks, and then I’d put together  a project, each port we stopped at, I’d complete a 1-page presentation about that place/country; plus pages about the ship and being at sea; including things like a menu from the captain’s table, which depending on which port the casual galley crew had signed on from, contained all sorts of weird and wonderful international flavours.

(My mum is fond of a tale of one foregin cook who’d decided he was going to please the British crew by cooking good old British food. Using pictures he’d found in a book written in a language he didn’t read; he’d attemped to serve Boiled eggs and soldiers one morning.  Meticulously laid out slices of toast and beautifully presented eggs in egg cups were served; and it looked very appetising.  Until the diners cracked open the top of their eggs to find…they were uncooked!  The poor man hadn’t realised he was supposed to actually boil the egg first…)

I return to school after a 4-6 month voyage and be hauled up in front of the assembly to show off my project and discuss my experiences.  For a 7-8 year old who didn’t understand that not everyone got to do this stuff it was a bit overwhelming. But I suppose those were my first experiences of being shoved in front of an audience.  No wonder I feel so comfortable on a stage!

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Corfu, circa 1993 – one of the very few ‘package’ holidays I’ve been on.
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Mont San Michel

Anyway, back to the traveling thing.  So, I was doing that while I was young.  Then my parents divorced and we

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The Sacre Coeur, Paris

moved around still, but a little more locally to my home base of South Wales; as mum tried to settle, and had various beaus…the rest of my childhood and teen years is another story (a little foreign travel by way of a family package holiday to Corfu and a school exchange trip to Brittany – the region of france not an American teenager – and a sixth-form ‘Art’ trip to Paris…).

 

When I was 19 I branched out and signed up for Camp America and spent the summer in Camp Wyoming in Iowa.  After the summer was over I spent 28 hours on a bus traveling to New York where I met up with the other ‘foreigner’ from Camp, Marek, from Poland,  He’d left the day before me and flown to New York to meet up with his Dad, a contractor working in New York.  I lost touch with Marek and have wondered for years if he ended up staying or ever made it back to Poland.

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Marek, buying street-vendor Hot Dogs in NY

After a day exploring Manhattan with him, and a night sleeping rough outside JFK, I caught a flight to Vitoria via Sao Paulo in Brazil to visit Dad, who’d re-married and moved there some years earlier.  I spent a week or so with them, meeting up with my brother who’d flown down from Heathrow.  We left on the same day…he flew via Rio back to Heathrow directly (Meeting Pele the famous footballer at the airport..much to his delight as a massive football/Soccer fan).  Because my Camp America ticket was return from JFK and couldn’t be rerouted, I flew from Vitoria via SP back up to JFK, arriving at something like 6am. Got pretty fleeced by customs on the way in…must’ve looked like a proper bedraggled backpacker with my huge …uh..backpack and flying in from South America.  Did I look like I was that green to have been caught out as a mule?  She made me unpack all my belongings that I’d been living off for the past 3 months in Iowa and then Vitoria.  I felt guilty as I pulled out my travel socks and small woven friendship bracelets and other similar items I’d been gifted

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Vitoria, Brazil

by the children at camp; and my memory notebook in which all my fellow councellors had signed and written thank you messages.  I was nearly in tears by the end of packing back up and she looked a little sheepish at having made me cry and yet not found anything.  No apology however.  In all the years of traveling to, from and through the USA since (there’ve been many occasions), I’ve come to learn her attitude was pretty much standard of Customs and Immigration staff at US airports – look at you with a guilty until proven innocent look; then offer a standard, trained “Have a nice day” ‘greeting’ while continuing to watch you suspiciously as you leave them, even after they’ve done everything short of taking DNA samples from you to prove you’re not a convicted serial killer.
My flight back to London wasn’t until the evening so I had a very long day lounging around the departure lounge at JFK. It was my 20th birthday.

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That’s me, attached to a plane by a cable, talking to the captain and walking around the apron during a pushback.

I then worked in aviation for almost a decade…couldn’t keep away from planes.  It was only supposed to be a part-time temporary Summer season job so I could pay bills until I could figure out how to get to Drama school.  One thing led to another however and I stayed, eventually dispatching aircraft myself and training others.  And fixing travel agent errors which really put me off having other people arrange my travel for me and enforcing my preference for more intrepid, DIY travel plans.

Then came A package holiday. In around 2003. To Nidri, on Lefkada, a lesser known Greek island; near Onassis’s private island (you know, the shipping magnate who married JFK’s widow, Jackie).

After I got married, my OH randomly got a call one night offering him a job in New Zealand.  So…we went there.  Mostly unplanned and quite intrepid (suddenly moving to a country you’ve never been to and don’t know too much about…hey, what could go wrong?!).  And it was supposed to be permanent.  We got a bit of exploring in during ‘normal life’ and settled in quite nicely.  Until he got itchy feet again and decided to apply for a job in The Bahamas 5 years later.  And was offered it.  2 years contract ‘with a view to extend after trial period’.  All very well, and we did a 2-week road-trip across the USA (we had the dog with us – remember, NZ was supposed to be permanent, we got a dog, and had children… and to minimise her flying and connections, and to make the most of the travel experience, we decided to drive from LA to Houston and fly the shorter distance direct from Houston to Nassau)…

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International pup…dog walking around Tombstone, Arizona.

Unfortunately, during that first 2 years, there was a General Election and the opposition party was voted in.  And the first thing they did was crack down on foreign nationals work visas “so there were more jobs for Bahamians”.  Which is all fair enough, but the only reason hubby had been imported to work in the first place was because he was  a specialist in something they needed a specialist for, and hadn’t been able to find someone for a couple of years.

The company were having trouble extending the work visa of the Canadian CEO; and they figured if they couldn’t manage to get a work visa for the CEO of the company, how would they manage it for a lowly engineer…and so they said they weren’t going to bother trying.

That was 3 years ago.  To my knowledge, they still haven’t found someone to fill the vacant specialist role…And we’re back in Wales.

So what’s next?  Nothing planned, at the moment.  But when has any of this been actually planned?  So…Who knows what’s around the corner.

 

 

Posted in camping, Family, Holiday, Home, Life

Coming Around Again…

The sun came out.

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I know.  In the UK. Amazing, right? And suddenly everyone has realised they own barbecues, and lawnmowers, and shorts.

Including us.

So the garage has been sorted and the ‘oudoor toys’ have been rediscovered by the children who forgot they had them.  In some cases they found some we didn’t even remember we had in there since before they were born…

And we got the pup-tents out.  The pop up ones for a laugh to start with, to amaze the children as to how easy and quick they were. (Yes, someone felt they had to make an instructional video….)

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They have memories attached themselves.  The road trip we were on to visit friends for the last time before we emigrated…the first time… and found them in a branch of Halfords and bought them as an impulse purchase; the (one and only) time we actually went camping, to a campsite, on a camping holiday, in them … and ended up on a pitch next to a family with a car emblazoned with a camping and outdoor accessories store logo; and the amazed looks on their faces when we turned up and within minutes were sitting next to our accomodation in camping chairs sipping wine; while they continued to struggle with their 12-person, multi-room mansion (I think they were only staying 1 night…)

And we started sorting out the camping gear in the garage, ready for the next foray into the fun of sleeping outdoors…under a sheet…

Because, so quickly, it seems like only yesterday I posted this blog post about last year’s trip. And here we are again, preparing ourselves for squashing as much as we can into the vehicle to make staying in a cubby hole made from thin fabric and plastic poles, feel like is has all mod cons, already…

And then, this one came out …

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Yes.  It’s just a tent.  It’s a little, 2-man, dome tent.  It says “Outbound Sierra 1” on it. Took me 5 minutes to pitch. But took me back an awfully long way.  It’s funny, how things, items, stuff can seem like just posessions, sometimes, but attach so many funny little memory triggers to them.

My dad bought this tent, for my brother, sister and I.  I’m not sure why…the exact reason behind it; but I remember we pitched it for the first time at one of his Seafaring colleagues houses up in Monmothshire somewhere I think.

I can remember sleeping in the back garden one night, in it.  I can remember lending it to a friend from Youth Theatre when he went to Glastonbury for the first time because he didn’t have a tent.  (The tent’s been to Glasto but I haven’t…).  I can remember taking it to my grandmother’s house in Cornwall with me, and two friends from school coming down by train and we camped in it … 17 years old and our first camping trip. And it was nuts. (and the beauty of living out your teens back then is…that’s all you’re getting…. we managed to live out our tweens and teens and twenties before the internet was invented; so we can hide all that stuff that we didn’t tweet and instagram and facebook about …and just smile about it fondly)

But trying to explain to the 7,6 and 2 year olds that this tent was … blimey… about 25 years old, got barely a reaction from them.

Best of all?  It’s still pretty weatherproof.  I attacked it with a hose from all angles, and pretty much turned the grass surrounding it into a bog, and it’s bone dry inside.

It stank a bit when I got it out … the last time I ‘aired it’ was about 5 years ago (at least).

So I think it’ll be sat outside for a while to freshen up a bit.

Which the children are pleased about – One’s favourite colour is green and the other is orange, so they’ve adopted it.  The third one loves blue so he’s gone for the blue pop up.  And I still have my pink one.

Poor Daddy.   Good job we have the cottage tent to go on holiday with, really!

 

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Posted in Acting, Christmas, Creative, Family, Holiday

The Christmas Kitchen is open!

Last year, when we were all higgeldy-piggeldy and made the last-minute, unplanned move back to the UK, and O/H was having trouble a) finding work and/or b) holding it down once he’d found it; I saw an ad looking for Mrs Claus for a local large hotel’s Santa’s grotto.  Not sure how I stumbled across it but, well, it just seemed like fun.  I thought, what the heck? I applied for it on a whim. Of course, I expected them to be looking for white-haired ladies with a few more years behind them. So I was surprised to say the least when I was actually offered the job.   Of course, I’m going for more of the “Santa Clause 2” Elizabeth Mitchell version of Mrs. Claus, than the Angela Lansbury or Judy Cornwell version …

It was the first year they’d had Mrs Claus at their Grotto, so it was pretty much a chance to make use of my acting and improv skills … which I hadn’t used in so many years.

Basically, Mrs Claus at this grotto, runs a ‘kitchen’, baking gingerbread.  Children, while waiting to see the big man, come in, sit by a table and get to decorate a gingerbread christmas tree with icing and dolly-mixtures. A far more fun and participatory experience than standing in line, probably in rain, or snow, for ages.  Of course, there are always people who find something to complain about.  But, as in any of my past experinces in face-to-face customer service, we tell ourselves through gritted teeth, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  If someone had a problem with one aspect, it would be corrected.  Very soon, someone would have an issue with that correction.  If someone felt there was too much ‘waiting around’ (the word Queue is banned at Christmas!!), then procedures were put in place to streamline the process; then someone would feel that the new procedures were ‘rushing them through’ the experience…

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This year, there are changes; some of the ‘old’ things I miss; other changes are welcome, to both staff, and more importantly, wide-eyed excited visitors who constantly enquire when they will see Santa.  Nothing like building anticipation!

On Christmas eve last year, Santa asked me if I’d consider coming back {this year}. I thought about it for  a moment, and decided I would.  (Luckily, he said he would too, so, along with two of las year’s elves, I’m not the only returnee!)

For all the difficulties, discomforts and downfalls the job brought with it, spending the month of December watching, smiling and laughing, and interacting with countless amazed and excited children really is the best way of filling you with the Christmas spirit!

That, and watching Elf and Frozen on repeat for a whole month …

“Let it go….let it go….”

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(Update – amusingly, someone reviewed the grotto on a rather well known review site, part of which stated Mrs Claus didn’t look like Mrs Claus – which amused me since how does one not look like an imaginary character?! – and the majority of the review reduced things the reviewer didn’t particularly like to “stupid” and “boring”.  Yes, just those two words.  over and over again.  Great use of vocab, there, nothing like constructive criticism, is there?!)

 

Posted in Family, Halloween, Holiday, Home, Life

Halloween

It’s never been as big a thing in the UK as the U.S.A.; not from what we can see from watching movies.  I think it’s catching on more, but the general idea of it, the way it is today, is pretty much an American invention.

I recall going to a Halloween party at Youth Club; and trick-or-treating a couple of times, when I was younger.  And then there was the BBC’s “Ghostwatch” prank which freaked my cousin and me out completely; as we were home alone babysitting her little brother, in our mid-teens.

Apart from that, it wasn’t much of a big thing.  Particularly because at this time of year, the UK had Guy Fawkes Night  to contemplate; which the U.S.A. doesn’t.

These days, however, far more than when I was young; there seem to be more Halloween discos, more fancy dress costumes for sale in the shops; pumpkins for sale just about everywhere; another hint as to our Americanisation – since they’re native to North America .

In our house, we’ve become more involved in it since living very close to the U.S.A., surrounded by Americans, while living in The Bahamas for a couple of years.  We’ve collected enough Halloween decorations for the container to almost (not quite) rival the Christmas Decorations box.  And the O/H has discovered a talent for carving.  So, in honour, today’s post has more of a visual theme to it.  Here’s some of his creations from the past few years:

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Amazing what you can do with stencils and a pumpkin carving kit from the supermarket …

Posted in camping, Family, Holiday, Staycation, Theme Park

Summer holidays!

Yesterday we got back from our ‘Holiday’, a camping trip to Devon.blogpic1 Ok, I know, everyone is doing it now, ‘Stay-cationing’, instead of going abroad.  The perception is that it’s supposed to be cheaper.  It’s not.  Not really.  You end up spending as much in petrol as you would on a plane ticket at today’s prices.  You still have to buy food and eat out when you can’t be bothered to cook (if you go self-catering).  You still have to entertain the children, and go and see the local sights which means paying entry fees for the privilege of feeling like a tourist.  Not to mention, camp sites; once the bastion of cheapness as far as accommodation is concerned, have cottoned on that the almighty tourist pound could now just as easily be heading their way than to the Costa-Lotta-Money; added slightly nicer facilities and wi-fi access and doubled their prices (plus extra if you take a child/dog/want electricity).

So, no, we didn’t choose to go camping to save money.  It’s just that over the years we, and the children despite their young ages, have already done the traveling thing, as it relates to planes and hotels and exotic things, many times over, and more intrepidly than most.  To the point where camping, especially in the good ol’ British climate, is a novelty.  Plus the camping equipment collected over a long period really needed an outing.  So, it was all packed up into the van and off we went, to a campsite we’d pre-booked a couple of months ago (when we had the money available to pay for it); I’d noticed in the 2006 edition of the AA Camping and Caravanning guide we had gathering dust on the bookshelf.

It seemed ideal… Woodlands Grove, complete with theme park next door with zoo farm and falconry center, indoor and outdoor play areas to keep the children occupied.  And it was!  Of course it was a little tired…it’s been there 26 years all in all, with new things being tried and tested and added all the time; and it’s not Alton Towers or Thorpe Park, and a million miles from Disneyworld, but for what it needed to be – a family orientated entertainment area for all ages in all weathers, it’s perfect!  The almost 2 year old had as much fun climbing, sliding, playing, shouting, throwing ball pit balls and chasing around as the 5 and 6 year olds did; and there was still plenty there to occupy those older (and certain rides and slides that only adult sized people could attempt…should they wish to)

It’s on hilly ground, so expect to get tired out just walking from area to area but with that said, there’s not much distance between the ‘zones’ anyway; and plenty of places to sit and rest and eat and drink.  And really, as with other theme parks though maybe not to the same extent, more to see than you can fit in to one day.

As it happens, spending more than 2 nights in the campsite entitles you to free entry into the park; and since we wanted a leveled pitch with electric hook up (Sorry, Glamping this year..not in the mood for completely Bear Gryllsing it just yet), and the minimum booking for High Season (Read = any time it’s a school holiday) was 7 nights, weekend to weekend, we booked Saturday to Saturday and therefore knew we had the theme park entry as a back up.  We saw everything, tried everything, tired out the boys, spent as much time as they wanted on different things, and they STILL weren’t bored by the end of the week.  All in all I think we spent 2-2.5 days away from Woodlands, exploring local sights and towns of interest, spent an evening at the Salcome Regatta nearby; but were easily entertained and suitably nourished by 3-4 full days within the theme park and its choice of food outlets and refreshment booths.

We have one boy who’s more into thrill rides so found enough to excite him; another who loves any creature feature (he was thrilled to be able to help collect the chicken eggs – every day at 5pm – and watch pig racing, and hold a giant snail and a tarantula and a cockroach; and see bats and other nocturnal animals in the dark; and a fearless toddler who would love to do what the other two do…and had the chance, because the toddler areas were safe enough for toddlers but still fun enough for the older two to participate and find the fun in them too.

Of course, it’s camping, so there’s enough mud and dirt and bugs to go around, but as with most camp sites these days, there are unisex/family cubicles and washing up facilities and coin-operated laundry, and on-site shop for bread and milk and a selection of bits and bobs and camping accessories.

Highly recommended…in all honesty, I was expecting a little less from the theme park but it more than lived up to expectations.  And we had a couple of ‘hot’ days (by UK standards!) to make the most of getting soaked on the water slides and not freezing to death afterwards!

Just in case anyone’s interested, our tent (pictured at the top) is one like this although not sure about UK retailers, we acquired it while traveling in the USA.  Other items we’ve gathered over the years from various camping outlets like Go Outdoors, and Ebay and car boot sales.