Great Western Adventures
The Barker family: Allen, Amanda, Max (aged 12) and Holly (aged 10), were staycation addicts long before the term was ever invented.
So how did these experienced fans of holidaying in Britain get on when they ventured into West Wales for the first time?
We are, we must confess, creatures of habit. Every year we go on holiday to the same place in Britain, visiting the same beach, and walking around the same gardens and castles. Last year, we decided to step out of our comfort zone, in more ways than we initially intended.
The children are now of an age where we need a bit more variety, freedom and excitement. We’d heard tales of all the things you can get up to in Pembrokeshire, so broke the habit of a lifetime and headed west from the South of England. The first pleasant surprise was how accessible it was – motorway most of the way made it a journey less fraught than to other places we’d been.
Our destination was Bluestone holiday village near Narberth. It’s a complete, self-contained resort with individual luxury lodges ranged around a purpose-built village consisting of a shop, pub, café and restaurants. The accommodation was immaculate, modern and spacious with full self-catering facilities including a state-of-the-art TV/DVD system – so the kids were immediately happy.
The adults preferred the views outside: from our lodge there were far-reaching vistas across to the historic Preseli Hills, source of the bluestone that was somehow carried 200 miles to Stonehenge. Closer to home, on the network of walks around the resort – which venture way beyond the village into woods and ravines – we occasionally came across the odd monolith of bluestone.
Bluestone ticks all kinds of boxes. There are outdoor activities for all ages, adventurous, adrenaline-pumping, gentle and relaxing, plus a superb spa and indoor adventure centre. We defy anyone to fit them all in during a short stay. What’s more, Max and Holly loved the freedom of the car-free environment (no vehicles are allowed in the resort, except at changeover).
After our journey we were hoping to sit down with a bottle of wine. Fat chance. Max and Holly seemed to get their second wind and insisted we go to The Blue Lagoon, the indoor water park with all kinds of aqua activities at the entrance to the village. The waterslides wore them out, so eventually we did get around to that bottle of wine and a good night’s sleep.
The Blue Lagoon is one of Pembrokeshire’s biggest visitor attractions. Another is Oakwood, almost next door, so we didn’t have far to go the next day to this theme park with its huge choice of rides spread out in beautifully presented surroundings. We managed to do it all, even though the kids enjoyed several rides so much that they did them again and again. For rollercoaster thrill-seekers we’d recommend Megafobia and Speed. Slightly tamer was the Treetop ride that twisted and turned around woodland.
Tenby, a must visit, came next. It’s a charming resort the like of which you don’t see too often these days, with Blue Flag beaches, picturesque harbour and medieval town. It’s also close to Caldey Island. This being Pembrokeshire, it’s almost compulsory to take a boat trip. So we did. The journey to the island didn’t take long, but gave us delightful views of Tenby, its colourful houses perched on rugged cliffs underlined by golden yellow beaches.
On Caldey, we headed straight towards a beach we had seen from the boat. We could well have been on a deserted tropical coastline lapped by clear waters. The kids paddled in the sea and threw stones, while we laid back and basked in the sun. We could have stayed all day but had an island to explore. As we walked into a clearing a towering monastery came into view, reminding Max of a Swiss château. We headed past the monastery – still home to the monks of Caldey and open to the public – for the lighthouse in search of seals. Peering over cliffs we could see what appeared to be people bobbing around in the water. Holly thought they were mermaids, but we soon realised we had found what we were looking for.
Back on the mainland, Tenby didn’t disappoint. The whole place had a terrific atmosphere with people milling around the narrow medieval streets and down on the harbour. It wasn’t for a while that we realised Tenby was missing something. Not ice cream shops, but a welcome lack of cars. After 11am they are banished from the town centre, adding to Tenby’s timeless charm.
The next day brought more family-friendly adventure. Heatherton near Tenby is a kaleidoscope of activities. We tried two, the Tree Tops and Sky Tower. On the first, the whooping and shrieking from the kids could have been coming from the mouths of monkeys. By the end of the experience we had all reverted to our primal state, swinging confidently through the trees. But it was all a mere hors d’ouvres to the main course, the Sky Tower, an experience that can only be described as a climbing tower on steroids – not just a tower, but bridges with log beams, zip wires and Tarzan swings into cargo nets. All of this, 40ft off the ground. The adventure climaxed in stepping off a small platform and ‘freefalling’ to the ground, our landing slowed by a ‘power fan’ that brings you gently to a standstill.
Our final day saw us at Pembroke Castle, an amazingly well-preserved ancient monument. Imaginative displays give an overview of the history, but it’s the walk around the walls and towers that really captures the imagination – especially when Max, our unofficial tour guide, came up with surprising facts about the evolution of castles and why towers changed from being square to round.
It’s another must-visit for families, along with Folly Farm, our next port of call. Although the name implies animals, it’s much more than this with a diverse choice of outside and undercover amusements suited for all weathers. Max and Holly loved meeting the giraffes up close at head height on a specially built walkway, and also the vintage funfair with its fairground whirligig that brought back floods of childhood memories for us all.
We can honestly say that Pembrokeshire is unlike anywhere else we have visited. Everything is so easy to get to and conveniently located. The diversity is outstanding, attractions are of a high quality, the local people cheerful, friendly and rightly proud of this beautiful part of Wales.
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