8 UK attractions
5 Full English Breakfasts
1 Family of four
1 Fried car battery – unfortunately, true!
When the chatter between the Mums in the playground at the end of the school term, turned to what holidays we had planned for the six weeks off, our family plans for a Midlands road-trip were met with a mixture of incredulity and horror!
What could be worse than travelling with 2 bored children on a congested motorway, at the mercy of the Great British weather?! Well, we thought the benefits outweighed the potential problems, as it gave us the opportunity to visit lots of the places on our UK Want-to-Go list, and they were all within a manageable distance from each other, after scheduling them in a sensible order. People with a motorhome or caravan take this kind of holiday all the time, but we were travelling in our normal family car, and it was a new kind of holiday for us. We’re not the sort of family to enjoy a holiday lazing on the beach, and sometimes, it can be quite restrictive sticking to one base on a UK holiday, resulting in a search for suitable places to go and things to do. We hoped that our trip would combine the variety and enjoyment of going to the attractions that we really wanted to explore, with being holiday nomads for the week. The most consecutive nights that we spent in any one hotel, was two, which of course, represented its own challenges. Read on for details of where we visited, and some of our tips for making the most of this kind of holiday in the UK.
This was our itinerary for the week:
Day 1 Avebury Ring, Wiltshire
A visit to the picturesque village of Avebury included a visit to the National Trust run Avebury Manor, which was unusually interactive for the kids, as it had been refurbished for a BBC TV show. They were allowed to climb in the beds, ‘talk’ on the phones and play on the snooker table. We also had a tour round Avebury Ring, with a National Trust guide, which was fascinating and informative, and told the tale of how the stones had been resurrected in the 1930’s by a millionaire archaeologist. We enjoyed an evening meal at the nearby Red Lion Inn, which has a deep well in the dining area (now covered over and ready to be used as a dining table) which was allegedly used by a husband to murder a cheating wife and her lover during the Civil War. The pub has a reputation for hosting more spirits than those behind the bar, and was investigated by the TV show Most Haunted in the past.
Visits to Avebury Manor, The Ring, and the museum, are free with National Trust membership. Avebury Manor and Garden costs £9.00 for an adult, children are £4.50, Family £22.50 without National Trust membership. Entry to the museum is £4.40 for an adult, £2.20 for a child and for a family is £11.00.
Day 2 Shakespeare’s Houses, Stratford on Avon
I had always wanted to visit this picturesque Cotswolds town and visit the origins and past haunts of the most famous playwright and wordsmith that England has produced. Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust operate 5 local attractions that allow you to visit places that Shakespeare or his family lived, or that give an insight into daily life in the Elizabethan period. It is much more cost-effective to buy the ‘Five House Pass’ which gives you entry to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Gardens, Hall’s Croft, Harvard House, Mary Arden’s Farm, Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Shakespeare’s Grave than to buy tickets for two or three of the houses individually. Our favourite places were Shakespeare’s Birthplace, which included videos and exhibitions about the great man, Mary Arden’s Farm, where there were great in-role characters to bring the period to life, and Hall’s Croft, where there were children’s games out in the courtyard and a children’s trail in the house. Three of the houses were within walking distance of each other in Stratford, and two were a short drive away, but you can certainly visit them all in a day. Stratford itself is a very pleasant place to spend some time, with canal and river boats offering cruises down the Avon, and the Royal Shakespeare Company are based there too, if you want to see a Shakespeare play performed live. The ‘Five House Pass’ costs £65.00 for a family, Adults are £24.90 individually, and Children are £14.90 individually.
Day 3 Cadbury’s World, Birmingham
We made the chocoholics pilgrimage to the home of the world-famous chocolate manufacturer Cadburys, in Bournville, Birmingham. You can actually see into the packaging plant, at Cadbury’s World where the chocolates are efficiently boxed up using a mixture of machinery and human input. You can also sample some of the chocolates themselves, as everyone gets free samples when you enter the main exhibition. You can also stock up with mementoes and chocolates for every occasion and taste in the world’s biggest Cadbury’s shop – although we were disappointed they’d run out of the famous Misshapes on our visit! Other highlights were the 4D cinema Chocolate Adventure, the cute car ride Cadabra and learning more about the pioneering social history of the company and how they affected the lives of local people, in the past. Tickets have to be booked online prior to visiting as you get a timed slot to enter the main exhibition. A family ticket costs £49.50 and individual adults are £16.25, children aged 4 – 15 years are £11.95, and children under 4 are free.
Day 4 Warwick Castle, Warwick
We spent an action-packed day at the imposing and awe-inspiring Warwick Castle, which is remarkably intact for a castle that was initially built under the command of William the Conqueror in 1068. It is very impressive both inside and out, and kids will love climbing the spiral staircases and enjoying the far-reaching views of the surrounding town and countryside, as well as enjoying all the artefacts in the Grand Hall. There was a great selection of shows and tours that were scheduled throughout the day, that appealed to both young and old. We particularly enjoyed a very knowledgeable and passionately expressed look back at the history of the castle and its previous owners and reincarnations, which highlighted the castle’s important role in the country’s history. This was delivered via a guided tour by one of the castle’s tour guides, around the exterior of the castle. My son’s highlight was undoubtedly the dramatic jousting display involving nice and nasty knights, and incredibly skilful horses, that provided many “ooh” and “aah” moments for the assembled crowd. My daughter loved the storytelling and interaction with a ‘real live princess’ in the Princess Tower attraction which told a magical fairytale story of thwarted true love, but thankfully, with a happy ending for the young audience. We were lucky enough to have free tickets for entry, through the Sun Perks scheme, so we had a brilliant, free day out. You can also exchange £7 in Tesco Clubcard vouchers for 1 Warwick Castle day entry token, and there are often vouchers on cereal boxes, where children can go free. If you haven’t got a voucher, then entry is £24.60 for an adult, and £21.60 for a child. It is £17.40 for a senior citizen aged 60+. Once you’ve bought any of the entry tickets, you can upgrade to a 2-day ticket for just £1 per person.
Day 5 Twycross Zoo, Leicestershire
The child-friendly Twycross Zoo, not only has lots of fascinating animals to see and learn more about, but it also has an indoor softplay area (which you pay for separately) and a brand new Wet and Wild outdoor waterplay park too. All tickets include daily keeper talks and animal feeds. One of the things that we enjoyed the most, was the Lemur Walk Through area, where you can wander amongst the frolicking and playful creatures, and maybe even pose for a selfie! It was great to see all of the enduring favourites of penguins, elephants, giraffes and tigers too. Our personal highlight was definitely the very human-like group of bonobos (a kind of primate, which share 98% of their DNA with us) as they were so funny and fascinating to watch interacting and playing. Mummy bonobo was nursing a very cute baby bonobo, the juvenile bonobos were having a blast swinging from vines, falling off, and throwing hay at each other(!) and Daddy bonobo was chillaxing in the corner with a leafy stick. Online, adults pay £16.16 to enter, children aged 3 – 16 pay £11.66, and a child under 3 years old is free. Concessions are also available.
Day 6 National Space Centre, Leicester
We spent an out-of this world science and astro-physics based day at the National Space Centre, which is the first time we’ve visited an attraction devoted to outer space, astronomy and space travel. It is a unique attraction that is crammed with interactive exhibits that the kids enjoyed engaging with, and learning more about in a fun and hands-on way. A definite highlight, is the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium, where you can relax in your comfy chair, gently tilted backwards and gaze at the mesmerising planetarium show, telling the story of how the universe was created in magnificent colour and scale. The planetarium is the largest in the UK, and the current show offers an immersive look at our cosmic chemistry, narrated by Andy Serkis. Other stand-out attractions were the rather-bumpy SIM (Spaceflight Induction Module) and the chance to star in your own weather forecast, complete with video, which you can share on social media. All in all, there are things for young and old to enjoy, and be educated by, and have lots of fun in the process. At the moment there is a special offer running – if you buy your tickets in advance, you can upgrade to a FREE Annual Pass, so you can go all year round. Adults pay £13 to enter, children aged 5 – 16 are £11 and Under 5’s are Free. Parking costs £3.
Day 7 Twinlakes Theme Park, Leicestershire
Whilst not on the scale of some of the country’s huge and better-known theme parks, Twinlakes is still a great day out for the whole family, from littlies to adults. There are fun rides, like a log flume and a few rollercoasters. There’s also an indoor softplay area, a children’s farm, a bird of prey centre and an outside water park. Whilst we were there, there was also a huge, sandy “beach” area, billed as the “biggest beach in the Midlands” , which was a bit surreal! We particularly enjoyed the exhausting fun of pedalos and cycle go-karts, as well as the more relaxing scenic train ride around the park. There are numerous playgrounds aimed at a variety of age-groups, which are also ideal to help the kids run off some energy! Entry for an adult/child of 108cm+ is £17.99 per person, and a toddler of (95 – 108cm) is £8.99 per person. There are also concessions available.
Day 8 Chedworth Roman Villa, Gloucestershire
We had a flying visit to Chedworth Roman Villa en-route back home as we travelled back down the country to the coast. My son was a bit disappointed as we arrived, as he expected to see an actual intact and ornately impressive Roman villa, I don’t think he quite appreciated that the villa’s heyday was way back in the 4th century, and that we are very lucky indeed to still be able to see some of the intricately patterned mosaic floors, that still survive. The mosaics are protected from the elements by being enclosed by a building, which you can walk through on raised walkways, and look down on these fragments of the past. When we visited, the kids were lucky enough to be able to assemble their own mini-mosaic as part of the crafts on offer, which they were very proud of. We were also lucky enough to be able to take a glimpse at the annual archaeological work that was taking place at the time. Trenches were in place, and the volunteer’s precious finds were bagged and photographed, and they were very happy to talk to visitors. The beautiful lush-green Cotswold scenery that leads to the Villa remains, were also a real treat, as was the village of Chedworth itself, with houses made of Cotswold stone, hugging the sides of a steep valley. Entry costs £9.90 for adults, and children are £4.95. A family costs £24.75. Entry is free for members of the National Trust.
During our time on the road, we definitely picked up some hints and tips that helped us, or that we would do next time. Hopefully they can help your trip go smoothly, if you decide to hit the road for your next family holiday.
- Look out for special accommodation and attraction deals. We were lucky enough to find the ‘Stay, Play, Explore’ promotion for Leicester and Leicestershire. We selected the ‘Family Fun’ package which enabled the four of us to choose free entry into 3 out of 5 attractions, plus accommodation in a 4 star hotel, plus breakfast – all for the very reasonable total price of £129. This was a great bargain, as the promotion states that this combined option can potentially save you up to 46% off normal admission prices. We opted to visit the National Space Centre, Twycross Zoo and Twinlakes Theme Park (as described above). We experienced no problems printing off and presenting the free entry tickets at our chosen attractions, and we enjoyed our stay (and great help-yourself buffet breakfast) at our chosen Hinckley Island Hotel. This was great value-for-money, and they also offer a variety of other packages including ‘Gourmet Taste of Leicestershire’, ‘King Richard III short breaks’ and ‘City Treat Experience.’
- Give your car a health check-up As mentioned earlier on, our family car didn’t quite survive the trip unscathed, as it unfortunately refused to start one morning just after we’d checked out of our hotel. Thankfully, we are members of the RAC, who promptly got us back on the road, after a we’d paid for a new car battery. Even if your car is reliable and you’ve had no problems with it, the demands of a long roadtrip, where you’re clocking up the miles, can cause your car to experience technical problems. Some of these may be preventable with a pre-trip checkover, but problems may still occur – so having an up-to-date membership of a roadside assistance service is highly recommended. Check this guide to help you get your car, journey – ready.
- Share the load. It is undoubtedly tiring for the person assigned the driving portion of the responsibilities during your holiday. They have to concentrate on new road layouts, and try to find unfamiliar places, whilst often negotiating motorway driving. It is ideal if the driving responsibilities can be shared, but if there is only one driver – or one person is more confident with it, then it may fall to that one person to get everyone from A to B. If this is the case, as it was in our family, then I (as the non-driver) took responsibility for other things, mainly unpacking the essentials out of the suitcases that we would need when we arrived at a new hotel e.g. pyjamas and toiletries. This reduced tensions and shared the workload from one person, and played to the strengths of individuals. A sat-nav in the car (generally – with some notable exceptions!) also reduced driver-stress, as it helped to get to our required destination safely and in good time.
- Keeping the Kids entertained. There’s inevitably some ‘down time’ when the kids are in the car or in the hotel, and there is the potential for boredom and arguments to creep in. We have a ‘divide and conquer’ policy with our children, as our eldest sits in the front passenger seat – partly because he is better with directions than me, but also because it can be very distracting for the driver to contend with the strains of bickering siblings! The kids would sometimes play with their tablet/electronic devices in the car, which they enjoyed to break up long journeys – and also in the hotel rooms. The key thing to remember was to hide the items from view when we were at an attraction, and to remember to take them (and all chargers) with us when we left a hotel room to move on. We also let the kids choose a kid’s magazine each before we embarked on our journey (which takes up very little room) , which they could read/do the activities inside themselves, or be read to them at bedtime, and they also had little free gifts which they enjoyed playing with . As space was at a premium in our luggage, they weren’t able to bring loads of toys with them – but they each selected a couple of favourite bedtime cuddly toys to keep them company in an unfamiliar place.
- Pack Wisely. With the unpredictable British weather, it is best to pack for all eventualities, and this doesn’t leave a great deal of room for other items in the suitcases/boot of the car. As we were hotel-hopping, and not staying longer than 2 nights in one place, we never totally unpacked the cases and bags, so needed to be fairly organised. We packed the adult clothes in one suitcase, and the children’s in another, to enable us to find the day’s outfits quickly and easily. Within those cases, we also had small plastic bags containing different people’s underwear, to make the small items easy to locate in amongst everything else. We also took some sturdy binbags to put dirty and worn clothes in that we didn’t plan to wear again during the trip, to separate them from the rest. As well as clothing, we also packed some sweet and savoury snacks (such as crisps and biscuits) and drinks, to take out with us during the day whilst we were out and about. We tended to have a light lunch to keep costs down, and filled up at breakfast and dinner time, and it was handy to have a store of portable snacks at the ready to be packed up for the day ahead, which also saved time too.
- Where to Stay. As we were keen to keep costs low, we stayed at budget hotels in their family rooms – we stayed in Premier Inns and also Holiday Inns. We searched the internet for the most competitively-priced rooms within a reasonable distance of where we needed to be. Whilst Holiday Inns appeared to be better-value than Premier Inns (as you get a free breakfast), we found that Premier Inn hotel rooms tended to be more spacious and well-decorated, the kids often had a separate bed each – and the optional Premier Inn breakfast was very tasty and good value – as kids ate for free. The Holiday Inn breakfast was a lot more restricted, and (although it was advertised as available), my vegetarian sausage failed to materialise after half an hour of requesting one, and giving up as everyone else had finished their breakfast. One thing to check when comparing prices, is to see what they charge (if anything) for parking, as this varies greatly. Parking can also be in a nearby multi-storey carpark at times, which is a bit of a trek when accompanied with small children.
- Get Organised in Advance. Get as organised as you can before you actually start your travels, as it will be a lot easier to do beforehand in the comfort of your own home. We made a written itinerary of the hotels and attractions that we were visiting (in chronological order) and made a note of the postcodes for all of these, to aid satellite navigation. We also made sure we had printed out or made a note of the booking reference numbers, for all of the hotel bookings. We kept all of these details and documents together in a plastic wallet, which we could easily lay our hands on. We also kept all of the vouchers for free entry to the different attractions, together, to stop them getting mislaid and damaged. A little pre-planning in advance can pay dividends when travelling, as it is tiring, and anything that makes life easier, is very welcome.
- Where to Eat. This proved to be our most costly outlay once we were on the road, as everything else had been pre-paid. We ate out in the evenings in either a pub or a restaurant, which gave us an interesting diversion in the evening (rather than sitting in the hotel room!) as well as feeding us! We still tried to look for value – either looking for a children’s menu, eating within a certain themed night e.g. curry night, or using Tesco Clubcard vouchers to help pay for our meal – we used ours for a very nice meal in Pizza Express. We also ate out on another occasion in Pizza Hut (can you see a theme developing?!) and took advantage of the help-yourself free salad bar. To cut down on costs, we sometimes opted out of dessert, if it wasn’t included in a meal deal, and enjoyed a sweet treat once we were back in the hotel room.
All in all, we had a great time on our action-packed Midlands road trip, and whilst it might not have been relaxing, there was certainly never a dull moment! If you decide to follow in our tyre-treads, or create your own road-trip itinerary, we hope you have a ball on your own Great British Road Trip!