May Holiday at Moonfleet Manor

For the first May bank holiday weekend of 2018, we rented a car and drove southwest to Dorset, on the Jurassic Coast. The drive took us 4 hours, thanks to all the traffic of everyone else who wanted to get out of the city for the long weekend, and we arrived right at the girls’ bedtime on Friday night.

(Side note: The signs along the way made for interesting reading. Actual names of places in Dorset: Tincleton, Puddletown, Tolpuddle, Grimstone, Puncknowle, and Durdle Door.)

Our destination was Moonfleet Manor, one of the Luxury Family Hotels properties.

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We stayed at one last year over Easter, New Park Manor. This hotel chain is great for families, providing everything you could need for babies and kids. After staying at two, I’d say New Park Manor has a better adult spa area, and Moonfleet Manor has more kid activities and play areas.

There was almost too much to do with the kids for one three-day weekend, especially since we had perfect weather for spending time outside.

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These properties are also dog friendly. However, as soon as we arrived, our well-housebroken dog peed on a statue in the lobby. The woman working at reception was so nice about it and said not to worry and she’d clean it, but I was still mortified. (To be fair, I’m sure the only reason Wren peed there is because she smelled another dog had already.)

I could hear Wren thinking, “What, this isn’t Puddletown? Tincleton? No?”

After we got the overexcited children to bed (towels rolled into the shape of elephants!!! Trampoline and playground right outside the garden door!!!) we switched on the baby-listening service and went to the dining room for our adult dinner.

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We had no sooner clinked our wine glasses together to celebrate being able to relax at last when a gentleman came to our table to inform us our children were crying. The other couples in the dining room looked at us with a mixture of pity and relief that it wasn’t their children.

As I’d feared when we left the room, the problem wasn’t the kids but the dog. Wren has separation anxiety and was whining and scratching at the door, which then kept the kids awake. We ended up taking her with us and eating dinner in the lounge instead, where dogs are allowed.

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Hello…is it meat you’re looking for?

On Saturday morning we had breakfast together, then let the kids play in the playground and trampoline in the garden.

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From 10-12 they were booked into the crèche, or supervised kids’ club, and M went for a bike ride along the coast and I went to the spa for a massage.

Then we ate lunch outside on the terrace because the weather was literally PERFECT. Bright and sunny and that just-right temperature. More perfect weather has never been experienced in England, let alone on the early May bank holiday weekend.

During R’s nap, M took E to the swimming pool and Wren and I relaxed in the garden, soaking up the sun and enjoying the view of the sea and the horses and the yellow rapeseed field in bloom, and my first Pimm’s of the season. Hooray for May!

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After that, we walked down to the fleet, where smugglers used to sink their booty until it was safe to come back for it.

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E just finished a unit at school on pirates so this was pretty interesting history for her (yes, in England, when the unit is on the ocean, it means the kids learn about pirates and mermaids… not quite what I expected them to learn about the ocean).

After our walk, we went to the indoor play area, which is enormous, and if the weather were not so perfect, we would definitely have spent more time in there.

The kids had a blast, and then it was time to give them their “tea” out on the terrace and whisk E off to the cinema room for the evening’s film screening, complete with bags of popcorn.

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M and Wren and I enjoyed another dinner in the cosy lounge after the girls were in bed.

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Sunday morning dawned even brighter and warmer than the day before, which woke R up (and therefore M and me as well) at 5:30. After breakfast and the girls’ two hours in the crèche, we loaded the fam up into the car and drove to the beach.

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The drive was spectacularly scenic, with views of the sea and more yellow fields and farm animals and this darling old abbey on a hill.

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We also drove through the incredibly picturesque village of Abbotsbury, which is quintessential English quaintness, with its thatched roofs, tea rooms, churches, and pubs.

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The reality of the drive, though, was that we got stuck behind a bus for a while, and the kids were hungry and whiny because it was past their lunchtime, and I was shoving peanut puffs into all three open mouths in the backseat (Wren got some too) trying to keep everyone calm and quiet.

Pretty, though.

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We had planned to get lunch at the Hive Beach Cafe as soon as we arrived, but we hadn’t counted on the number of people who would be doing the exact same thing, since everyone in Dorset was out at the beach on that rare hot-weather Sunday. We ended up waiting in a queue for more than 45 minutes before we could get a table, and the girls ate every single snack I had packed.

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It was really nice to sit outside by the beach for our lunch, though; nicer still when our drinks arrived. Fish and chips were the obvious menu choice; and this was, somehow, the first time M ever had them in England! Fortunately, he wasn’t disappointed after such a long buildup to trying England’s most famous dish.

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My favourite thing about that place was the sign posted on the inside of the toilet stall door. It was your usual “don’t flush anything other than toilet paper down”-type sign, only it read: “Please don’t flush tea bags, nappies, sanitary products, or anything other than toilet roll down the toilet.” Because someone might be making tea in this public beach toilet??? 

After lunch, which did not include tea, we hit the beach.

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This is the Jurassic Coast, known as such because you can find fossils and giant footprints from 185 million years ago.

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It was a lot more pebbly than sandy, and the water was cold, but it was so warm out that no one seemed to mind, certainly not our kids. They happily hunted for treasures amongst the pebbles and splashed in the sea.

M looked around at the hordes sunning themselves and said, “English people don’t even mind! They can’t swim in the water, run on the beach, or build sandcastles. And they don’t even care! It’s like they don’t know what a beach could be like!” I have a feeling there were a lot of very sunburnt people in the area the next day. My English friend Liz, who confessed to getting burnt over the holiday weekend, informed me that’s known as “an English rose.” Ha. Personally, I slathered on SPF 50.

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Naturally, at the end of a trip to the beach, you have to get ice cream, and there was an ice cream stand right there next to the beach cafe. We’d promised E ice cream, so we joined the queue just as they were closing it off for the evening.

We probably would have made a different decision if we’d known it would take a FULL HOUR to get our ice cream—longer than we’d waited for a lunch table! Obviously the one kid they had working at an ice cream stand on the coast of England had never had this many people wanting ice cream in one day before, and his scooping muscles weren’t prepared for this kind of demand.

As we finally neared the front of the queue, E was jumping around in her flip-flops and stubbed her toe really badly—blood everywhere, screaming down the place, necessitating a first-aid kit and a free double-scoop of ice cream. Which she couldn’t finish, because soon the skinned toe was overshadowed by stomach cramps, which she screamed about until she fell asleep in the car on the ride back, and we could finally enjoy that scenic drive, all three of our girls worn out from a day in the sun. When we got back, we put them right to bed and went to have our last peaceful, child-free dinner.

On Monday morning we had one last session for the kids in the crèche, so M, Wren, and I went for a jog along the fleet and what I can only assume is what Sting meant by fields of gold.

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Before you think to yourself, wow, she’s so dedicated to use her precious free time to go exercise, you should know that I asked the day before if there were any more spa appointments available that morning and was told they were “chockablock.” So I let my dedicated athlete of a husband talk me into a run instead. (Well, for him it was a slow trot.) And when my left leg got attacked by a stinging nettle, I was really wishing my feet were in a pedicure soak instead.

The dog was in her element, though. Wren is a country dog, no question about it, happiest when she’s running free in the woods.

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Wren living her best life

We finished off our holiday weekend with a stop at The Anglers pub, on the river a bit southwest of where we live in London. We’d been there once before and they have a fantastic outdoor dining area with a playground. We knew it would be—as they say here—heaving on the warmest early May bank holiday Monday in history, but we actually managed to get a table, and everyone was happy to be out of the car for a while after the long drive back.

The poor dog looked rather depressed when we got home to the city. Coming back to reality post-holiday can be hard. Especially when it’s 10:30 at night and you suddenly remember it’s your turn on the class rota to make the weekly batch of play-doh to hand to E’s teacher tomorrow morning.

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