What do you enjoy most about being on holiday? Is it the chance to relax and read a book? Swimming in an infinity pool before sundowners on the terrace? A long walk through glorious countryside?
Enjoying your perfect holiday is a lot harder with a toddler but it isn’t impossible. And I think the best way to take the stress out of the trip is to ask one vital question.
What are the things a toddler most enjoys about going on holiday? Because if they’re happy you’ll get the sun, sea and sand but hopefully without the tantrums.
You can’t ask them of course – well you can but “Di di didada dee dee” won’t get you many badges on Trip Advisor. You can however watch them and spot their likes and dislikes in lieu of toddler testimony. Let’s go with that.
We recently came back from a week in Cornwall – yes, the same place we went last year – and we were determined to have learned from our first holiday experience as parents. Because last year we didn’t feel entirely rested or relaxed due to trying to have the kind of holiday we used to have before being parents – and then realising that doesn’t work anymore.
So this year we didn’t drive for six hours to get to Cornwall. Last year it was almost OK as Baby B was only six months old and still slept a lot in the car. Now we’re dealing with a one and a bit year old boy who loves to spend most of the day walking as fast as his tiny legs allow and generally bumping into things.
We did our research and realised you can fly to Newquay in 50 minutes from London Gatwick! First time with Baby B on a plane but we thought it was the best option. So we packed as light as we could – in other words we took hardly any clothes for us and filled the cases with his things.
Of course the flight was delayed on the runway for an hour while we sat with Baby B on our laps and tried to contain him/entertain him. Imagine wrestling a crying eel – but an eel with feet with clumpy shoes that can kick you. Ouch!
And that was the first thing we learned that toddlers DON’T like about holidays. Getting there.
I don’t think there is an easy solution to this unless you can hypnotise them. He DID like the people on the plane however and beamed at them once we were in the air. When we arrived at Newquay Airport it was super easy to pick up a car and then it was only a ten minute drive to Merlin Farm where we had booked a family-friendly cottage. Well I say cottage…
Baby B didn’t care about the modern styling but he DID like the fact he could run around the whole of the open plan living space while for once we simply sat and watched. He also loved stamping on the decking and posting gravel through the fence from our little patio area and running around on the grass beyond the gate chasing chickens (under supervision to avoid being pecked), or clambering on the big plastic climbing frame boat contraption.
Basically he was happy and safe and we could have a
cup of tea bottle of wine and enjoy the view!
Overall the cottage was light and airy, a relaxing space and very suitable for anyone with small children. We didn’t have to bring any baby paraphernalia other than our buggy, and you can ask the owners to provide whatever you need for the age of your baby, so for example, we don’t need a steriliser or a baby bath anymore but we did need a highchair, a baby monitor, bath mat and plastic dining set.
There were two bedrooms – one for adults on the ground floor and one for children in the attic where there were two single beds and, in our case, a cot – which both had black out blinds and heavy curtains so there was no chance of the 4am sunshine getting in.
Two stair gates, covers over all the toddler height electric sockets, a fireguard around the wood burner, and nothing dangerous or breakable within reach meant that for the most part we didn’t have to follow Baby B around separating him from danger and destruction. The bathroom had a walk in shower which was great for de-grubbing and de-sanding your toddler and the bath had a cool waterfall tap that Baby B loved playing with – putting his toys in the stream and watching them sloosh out into his bath!
Finally, there was a selection of toys – bit of a mixed bag of cars, a toy train set, some books, a jigsaw. The only thing I think could be improved would be for the toys to be tailored more to the age of the children staying and for there to be grocery essentials like olive oil, salt and pepper, hand wash – things you don’t really want to have to buy when you’re only staying for a week.
Every morning the resident donkey came along with the owners of the farm to be groomed and any children staying can join in and get a photo with him, which is a lovely touch and something Baby B will be very keen on in future. For now he only wanted to chase chickens!
Merlin Farm is well placed for days out that are no more than a half hour drive away – great when you have a toddler who does not like being in a car seat for long!
Cornwall is known for good food and there were some top venues right on our doorstep. We treated ourselves to breakfast at Fifteen in Watergate Bay on our first morning- Baby B really couldn’t make his mind up what to order! The restaurant had jaw-dropping views out over the sea, great service and excellent food. The staff are also young people drawn from the local area, as with the original Shoreditch restaurant. The setting and the styling really makes you feel you’re somewhere special.
For more foody treats I recommend a day out in Padstow – a village we’ve been to before but is always worth a potter about. We had elevenses at a cute friendly cafe called Cherry Trees where the staff cooed over Baby B and he discovered he liked CAKE!
And after he’d finished flirting we walked off the treats with a toddle along the bay. Did I mention he loves to walk?
Our favourite day out was to Lanhydrock, a National Trust property near Bodmin.
This was a major hit with Mister Fast Legs as the grounds are vast and totally safe so we were able to let him trot around the paths without worrying about him running into a road or over a cliff.
We also took turns going inside the house and I’d recommend it; stately homes can sometimes be stuffy and dull but this one has been laid out as if the family have stepped out of the room. From the servants quarters to the master bedroom to the kitchens with food and ingredients laid out you really get a sense of what it would have been like to live there.
The grounds are truly stunning and seem to stretch for miles so you can easily lose the crowds if you have older children who could handle a longer adventure. As it was Baby B was happy to go up and down some steps. Up and down, up and down… for at least twenty minutes.
I noticed his climbing and confidence come on leaps and bounds while we were away. His balance improved by trying out different landscapes and gradients and he slept very soundly at night after all his exertions!
I’d say the big thing we learned is toddlers don’t care where they are as long as they can have a good run around. So the key thing is staying somewhere they can do that while you flop and watch them, always being ready to accept gifts of stones, gravel, twigs and even sand. Yes, sand.
At Merlin Farm you really do feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere despite only being a fifteen minute walk (or five minute drive) from the beach as Mawgan Porth.
This is a wide sandy bay, clean and safe with lifeguards on hand and a little row of shops and cafes for whatever you need. We bought a bucket and spade and Baby B had his first walk on the sand! He loved it and became fascinated by a stream running into the sea, picking up stones and giving them to us.
We found out that you can’t really spend time sitting around on the beach with a fifteen month old as he is on the go all the time so it was more about having an hour there before heading home for his lunch and a nap. We also visited Port Isaac to see the Doc Martin tat and have a crab sandwich. And we stopped off at Polzeath, which has a gorgeous beach that goes on for miles. Here we also did walking. Like this.
When we were on the beach at Polzeath Baby B came up and gave me a grain or two of sand, very carefully between his thumb and first finger. “Da!” he said proudly and went off to get some more. I don’t know how many grains of sand there were on that beach but I don’t think he’d appreciated the scale of the challenge he’d set. Fortunately he got bored after two minutes and chased a seagull instead.
So in summary here are the Top Ten Things Baby B liked in Cornwall:
1. Planes to Newquay Airport – for being quicker than a car.
2. Merlin Farm Cottage – for posting stones, chasing chickens, running around, and naps.
3. Fifteen at Watergate Bay – for breakfast and smiling at the other babies.
4. Padstow – for CAKE! And more walking.
5. Lanhydrock – for running and climbing without Mummy and Daddy ever stopping him!
6. Mawgan Porth Beach – for sand and stones. And more walking.
7. Polzeath Beach – for sand and stones. And running into the sea to scare daddy.
8. Port Isaac – for cheese sandwiches. Daddy recommends the crab sandwiches. A grumpy man lives there.
9. Spending all day with Mummy and Daddy for a whole week!
10. Coming home!
So at the end of our week we’d had sand, sea and even sunshine – every day except the last!
We had tantrums too. When we wouldn’t let Baby B out of the gate, when it was time to go back in his buggy so he didn’t run into a harbour, when all the CAKE had gone, when it was bath time, when he couldn’t catch a chicken.
We are entering a new phase of wilfulness. Wish us luck!