I’ve always looked forward to the summer as they have inevitably included some sort of break: a holiday abroad, a staycation or just a few nights spent at one of my siblings homes in another city. Last year, when we only had Aasiya and I was pregnant we did a couple of trips, unfortunately this year we haven’t been so lucky. Not only do we have an additional person in the family in the shape of my delicious little man Idris but we’ve also bought a house and that has really eaten into any additional income/ savings we had. I know this is totally a first world problem, but it was something that myself and my husband were quite consumed with. We did look into a few cheap holidays but ultimately decided it wouldn’t be worth it and would probably not help with recharging our spirits with two small children and an almost non existent budget. So instead we decided to do a few day trips in and around London and have a holiday at home.
One of the first things we did was to join English Heritage. I used to be a member a few years ago as Jay and I really enjoy visiting historic buildings and gardens and over the summer they have a great selection of activities for children, although most of them were more suited to slightly older children. Annual membership is around £100 and gives you access to 100’s of properties all over England; from ruins to castles to palaces and stately homes and gardens. We bought the family membership of 2 adults and up to 12 children! Members can also get discounts of up to 25% off other days out and attractions around the country and in Wales and Scotland.
In another attempt to save money we decided to pack a lunch for ourselves on most days. We literally bought a baguette, butter, some cheese, halal cold meats (my husband insisted!) olives, a couple of dips and a large packet of crisps. All of that came to about £10 and things like the cheese, butter and meats we were able to use on two trips, so it was a real money saving experience. We did always stop for drinks and cakes, which I think you kind of have to on a long day out and that was by far our biggest spend on any of the days.
Our days out in August included a trip to the Greenwich Planetarium and park, day trip to Hastings, drive to Brighton, visited Eltham Palace and a trip to Audley End House and Gardens. Our aim was to do at least one family day out every week. My daughter is obsessed with the Charlie and Lola series of books and in one of them the pair visit London. We have the book and have promised Aasiya that we will take her to each of the attractions too. She decided she wanted to start with the Planetarium which suited us as it’s situated in the stunning Greenwich Park and is nice and easy for us to get to. This trip was rather impromptu and fortunately the weather was beautiful (although we were struck with an unexpected late August shower while in the park, but it was that beautiful heavy warm rain). We made a quick pasta salad for lunch and took some fruits with us. The park is only a 20 minute drive from our house so we spent some time walking around the Rose Garden before stopping for lunch. We then decided to walk to the Planetarium and look around the free exhibitions. With a two year old and a 10 month old it didn’t seem worth paying for any of the other exhibitions but I’m definitely thinking of signing up for membership to Royal Museums Greenwich as they have so many great exhibitions on and it’s relatively easy for me and the kids to get to on our own. We then decided to visit the coffee shop for some ice cream and hot drinks and of course just as we settled on our table outside the skies decided to open up on us!
Brighton is over an hours drive from east London (there are regular trains also) we decided to skip on taking a packed lunch and opted for some fish and chips at the seafront. We had checked top Brighton Attractions on Trip Advisor but spent most of our time at the beach. We visited the Booth Museum of Natural History, which was quite fun as Aasiya loves a bit of taxidermy (don’t ask!!). There were a few places we really wanted to visit but had to forsake as Idris was restless from being in the sling so decided to go to a coffee shop where he could roam around for a bit.
The other three places we visited were all English Heritage sites and had we not bought membership we would have ended up spending about £100 on entry fees. Hastings Abbey and castle are both ruins and in hindsight probably not the best places to visit with a buggy! Although I really enjoyed waking around the bits that were accessible to us and reading and learning about the history, it was a tough job entertaining Aasiya with stories of Henry the V and monks!! The outdoor space was great and the gardens were fun to walk around in. Eltham Palace is in South London & was easy for us to get to. We spent a really long time wondering through the house and I lived for all the Art Deco decadence. They had entertainment for children in the shape of a trail that Aasiya really enjoyed. Again it probably wasn’t the best activity for children, but quite honestly this one was for me and Jay. We wanted some interior inspiration as the house has been described as “a masterpiece of modern design” and it really did deliver! Idris slept in the sling throughout and Aasiya did the trail so was amused while we walked around.
The one I was most looking forward to ended up being the most disappointing, Audley End House. On the day we visited they were hosting another WW1 event so we had to pay an addition £5 to enter, even though we didn’t want to take part in any of the activities. There was nothing on the website to indicate this additional charge or activities either, had we known we would have visited another day. Also, the house doesn’t have any public toilets, they only have portaloos, which you can’t change nappies in!!! The house itself is nice, but the staff were extremely rude and patronising. I really hate to play the race card, but as we were one of 2 non-white families there, I wonder if that had something to do with it. For example, as we were exiting, with our buggy and sling, a huge crowd of people were coming in for a tour. A staff member told us to hold back (2 adults, a sling and a buggy) although we were 2 feet from the door, and called in the tour group, maybe 20+ people who were outside the building to the right! She didn’t stop any of the other people from exiting. I was actually really angry at myself for not challenging her, but at that moment I hadn’t stopped to think what was happening, I was just following her instructions, but as we waited a good while for the crowd to enter I noticed others leaving, including people with pushchairs I shared my observations with my husband who completely agreed. We left with a very bitter taste in my mouth.
All in all we had a really great August and it was nice to spread out the trips over the whole month rather than a condensed holiday. I don’t really think we saved much money to be quite frank, just stopping for ice creams, drinks and cakes can be the same price as an easyJet ticket these days, but I do think we saved ourselves from the hassle of traveling abroad with two small children. I am still looking for a reasonable holiday, maybe later in the year so we’ll be able to do a proper comparison then. I’ve learnt that doing anything with small children requires a mix of tenacity, thick skin and improvisation skills, once you accept that, you can travel anywhere!