… or what I did on my holidays.
We’re just back from 5 nights away in Dorset. Sunshine, warm enough to spend a day on the beach… this holiday had all the sort of things you want for good memories to look back on and say “do you remember when we…?”
A couple of years back, we decided that we didn’t want to fly with our tiny bundle of a son, plus we wanted to keep costs down and not have an enormous carbon footprint and investigated child-friendly hotels in the UK. There’s a whole load of them,mostly quite expensive, so we guessed that we were not the only people thinking this way.
Our first outing was to the Bedruthan Steps hotel, halfway between Padstow and Newquay in Cornwall, and we thought about going back there this year. But the Bedruthan Steps was one of two hotels mentioned frequently by the Wandsworth yummy mummies that I used to meet – the other, Moonfleet Manor was more expensive and more exclusive. Now, I’m not sure whether the Bedruthan Steps prices have increased or whether Moonfleet has become more competitive, but this year the prices were much of a muchness. And Dorset is much less of a drive than Cornwall, so Moonfleet it was.
We followed the (loathed by my husband) sat nav’s directions, stopped to read the sign at the campsite that informed us that the road the sat nav tries to send you up no longer exists and followed the alternative directions to Fleet, the road twisting and turning down towards the coast until finally, just when you don’t think it can possibly be the right way, the roofline of the manor house appears.
The plastic slide and play equipment in the field next to the main gateway (part of the excellent creche) gives away that this is not going to be just any luxury hotel break…
There’s a difference style between the Bedruthan Steps and Moonfleet – Bedruthan is 1970s purpose-built and so lends itself to very modern decor, while the original bits of Moonfleet are from the 16th century and the decor old wood and colonial-influenced. Some people have posted on websites that it is a bit tatty, but faded grandeur is a look in itself and fits the feel of the place perfectly. The things you want to be perfect, are – bedlinen is crisp cotton, towels soft and fluffy.
The communal spaces have a lot of things on the walls (including a tiger skin and a polar bear’s head which my son thought was the best thing ever…), there are lots of sagging but comfy sofas, and good but old Persian rugs.
You are greeted at the door by Snoopy the spaniel – I’m not really a dog person but this one is adorable and led us through the entrance hall to the chi Lions guarding reception. We had a nice surprise on arrival – it was a quiet week and we’d been upgraded from the cheapest room to a junior suite. That meant my toddler could have his own room, which was good for all of us 🙂
The restaurant is largely locally sourced and caters for big breakfasts with some of the nicest sausages we’ve ever had, cream teas in the afternoon, and Anglo-French evening dining. For the kids, there is a charge for breakfast, an afternoon tea with real food (served in the Veranda room, which takes some finding), or family dining before 7.30pm (with a minimum cover charge that was way above what my toddler could manage).
There was another surprise as we went for the first of our delicious dinners that night.
A real A-list couple amongst the fellow guests dining there. In keeping with the discreet nature of Moonfleet, my own Sensibility and the clear Sense that autograph hunting would just not be the cool thing to do, I’m not Actually going to tell you directly who they were, but let’s just say it all seemed perfectly normal and not at all Stranger Than Fiction. Oh, ok, an actress that we all Love and her actor husband. My husband noted that they spoke to the (predominantly but not exclusively) French staff in French – we weren’t entirely clear why…
There was another actress there too, but as she was (according to my mother in law) from Corination Street which I don’t watch I didn’t have the faintest idea who she was and she was just another mum…
And on our fourth day we were asked if we could avoid going through the lounge for a couple of hours “for the filming”. Filming what, I asked. “His new album’s all about Moonfleet!” I was told, but although I’d seen yet another vaguely familiar person the night before, I didn’t twig who “He” was.
But back to normality for a moment (persumably what those celebrities were there for too).
Moonfleet has a sports centre (which we didn’t know and were therefore unprepared for in terms of tennis footwear), a lovely series of child and adult swimming pools plus a sauna, a big trampoline on the lawn and any number of things like petanque and croquet sets that can be borrowed. We had a really great time in the pool with my son – given his recurring illness early on and my husband’s busyness we’ve somewhat neglected the weekly swimming that we’d intended to do – so we were very pleased to have a few inches of water to teach him to splash and float and get a bit water confident.
My son adored the OFSTED-registered creche – staffed some of the time, with each child allowed two hours supervised play time and craft activities, but also open longer so parents can be there while the kids explore the huge variety of toys, costumes etc. Stew the rabbit was also popular for cuddles.
For smaller visitors, there’s a bottle-washing service, you can borrow a fridge, nappy bucket and a steriliser, and there’s a choice of cots or beds. You can also borrow a mesh bed side thing if you use one to stop your child rolling onto the floor, so we needn’t have taken ours. There’s babylistening too, so you can have dinner in peace in the restaurant, or drinks on the terrace or coffee in the lounge.
Aided by the better-than-expected weather, we spent a lovely day on a secluded beach in Portland, had fun on the farm at Lulworth castle, stroked starfish at the Sealife centre (they feel a bit like a fruit pastille but you can’t beat the little girl who said “they feel like Mummy’s legs when Daddy’s off on business”!), wandered the streets and the quayside at Weymouth and played peekaboo with the gibbon family at Monkey World in Wool.
Oh, and Moonfleet’s on the Fleet and Chesil beach.
Lovely. Relaxing. Fantastic fun.
Forget clubbing in Aiya Napa and spending a fortune shopping in Dubai and whatever else you see Jordan do. It seems to lack class.
Forget hiring Necker Island from Richard Branson or a fortnight at the One and Only Le Touessrok unless you’ve made your millions and need a personal butler. I’ll bet even the Beckhams get bored with that.
Ok so they got the dessert order a bit wrong one evening, and we felt just a little patronised one breakfast when someone who had not seen us the previous two mornings and who did not want the guests to just pick a suitable table explained to us in suitable for idiot terms that we should wait to be seated (he was better the next time we saw him).
But the welcoming, discreet, unostentatious, calm atmosphere where the needs of small children and tired adults are dealt with warmly and efficiently, where everyone is treated as special and given their space. Now that’s what an A-list holiday really means.