Penrith, England - August 2003
Sunday 31 August 2003
Long drive to Manchester for over night stay. On the way up the M1 we hit traffic in Birmingham and decided to take a late lunch just off the motorway to avoid the extortionate price of motorway service stations. We arrived in Manchester at about 4.00pm. Just before we arrived I realised that the football on the radio that I had been listening to whilst driving was taking place at the new Manchester City stadium which was just round the corner from our overnight stop. However all was well because we arrived safely and were parked up before the match finished!
Overnight we stayed at a new complex called The Place in the heart of Manchester. The building was an old factory. Outside it looks like a prison! Inside we had an apartment with two bedrooms and a kitchen and a lounge - all for £69. This is great for people like us a family of more than four people. In some hotels you pay a lot for a fairly cramped family room. Most hotels can only offer two separate bedrooms - which is awful if the children are young.
This meant that The Place was perfect for us. It was well equipped, with stereo, satellite TV with all channels, DVD player (we haven’t got any DVDs though!) and well equipped kitchen. The only down-side is that things aren’t very well maintained.
In the evening we had a wander round Manchester city centre, and ate at Nandos in the Printworks. I enjoyed this. Manchester has improved a lot - I do like Manchester, but the downside is that visually much of the city is a fairly ugly mish-mish of buildings.
We decided to spend then night in Manchester at The Place - a 4 star aparthotel the day before our break at Center Parcs started. The apartments are very modern, sparsely furnished and decorated, but adequate. We stayed in a standard one.The brick wall and steel/iron beams are exposed. We got a good price for this at laterooms.com. Definitely better than the standard family rooms in a Travelodge and for only £10 more.
The centre of Manchester has changed a bit from my student days. A lot of the derelict, yet still beautiful Victorian cotton mills and factories have been regenerated (The Place being one of them). The children enjoyed exploring our apartment and were happy with the fact that they had their own bathroom.
We had dinner at Nandos in the Printworks. The next morning after a restful night we left Manchester for the two hour trip north to Center Parcs in the Lake District, Penrith. I have heard that the wonderful weather is going to hold out for the five days that we will be there.
The landscape is still quite green,with splats of autumnal brown,yellow and pink heather. We arrived at Center Parcs situated in Whinfell Forest.
Monday 1 September 2003
The drive from Manchester to Penrith only took about two hours. After checking in at Center Parcs, we got our bikes and I left Michelle and the kids to find the lodge, and I took screaming Ethan for a drive back to Penrith to pick my sister-in-law up from Penrith train station.
Ethan had a chair on the back of my bike. Natasha and Elise are still riding bikes on stabilisers at home, so when we got their bikes we had a quandary. The bikes with stabilisers were really too small for the girls. It really wasn’t an option to get stabilised bikes and remove the stabilisers. Nor was it an option to swap bikes after a bit. So I encouraged them to get bigger bikes without stabilisers and learn.
Poor Ethan was starving, so as soon as I found Sharon, we stopped at McDonalds (somewhere I dislike) to eat. The weather is really lovely and Penrith seems like a very pleasant town. After getting some supermarket provisions we went back to Center Parcs.
On arrival I found that the ’Deluxe lodge’ was spacious, although it didn’t meet my definition of deluxe! The shower doors were broken. The child safety catch on the patio windows were broken. The settee had a large hole in the covering. The bath plug was broken and the kitchen units were really basic. However overall it was OK. Later in the week I reported the faults, and they fixed them all except for the settee which they said could not be rectified so we had to accept this. They were also unable to fix the broken shower door - although they did try.
We arrived at Center Parcs at about 3pm. After parking we went to hire bikes. Ethan was on a baby seat attached to the back of David’s bike, Natasha and Elise are not yet confident without stabilisers, so this was their big opportunity to learn, as they are too big for the bikes with stabilisers.
Natasha within minutes grasped the trick of cycling on two wheels. Elise is still very wobbly. In fact I pulled pushed and carried most of the way. As the hiring of the cycles was sorted quite quickly, David went to collect my sister Sharon from Penrith station. She took the more leisurely relaxed scenic mode of transport. Natasha and Elise enthusiastically welcomed their Auntie Sharon.
The children were excited about exploring their new surroundings. We had a deluxe three bedroom detached lodge with two bathrooms, three toilets a jacuzzi and aqua spa, dishwasher and washer dryer. The Lodge was to be cleaned and beds, made every day, and towels and linen to be changed twice a week. The accommodation was not as deluxe as I had expected. The furniture was threadbare and it was in need of general maintenance, all of which was reported.
Immediately I started to compare Center Parc Oasis to Center Parc Longleat, which we visited seven years ago. I think the accommodation there (we had a standard lodge) is better as is the Village Centre. Longleat is a bit more hilly, so if you are infirm in anyway don’t go.
The surroundings here are beautiful. The smell of the pine forest is fresh and invigorating. The surroundings are quite safe to allow the children to explore their forest surroundings without worrying at all. All I did worry about was if they went too far they would get lost and distraught. Ethan was especially excited at the sight of the wild rabbits that would appear at the patio doors and the small red squirrels that live here.
The children quickly made friends with Ellen a little Scottish girl in the neighbouring lodge, aged about 3 or 4 years old. Sharon and I went for a midnight cycle and David did the baby-sitting.
Tuesday 2 September 2003
What is especially nice is that you can leave the lodge doors open and just let the children come and go as they like. No worries about traffic. Today we went to the sub-tropical swimming pool. We all really enjoyed this - especially Ethan who like the girls before him, hasn’t yet learned - and later defeated - natural a fear of water. The girls went down the water water chutes with a bit of encouragement. We all really enjoyed it.
We ate at one of the Italian restaurant on the complex, Luciano’s. The food very expensive and the service was really poor. Even though it wasn’t at all busy, all the courses were delivered at different times. They didn’t listen to what we ordered, they were very slow and there were a variety of other mishaps. When we finished eating - and before we got the bill which contained food and drinks which we hadn’t ordered - the waiter asked David in the customary way “Was everything OK sir?”. David politely told him the the food was excellent but that the service was appalling. Unbelievably he said nothing at all. No apology, no explanation, no offer to let a manager know, no response at all! Conclusion: they didn’t have the slightest interest in whether “everything was OK”.
This is almost - but not quite - as bad as the time a waiter from a Chinese restaurant in Willesden, London chased us down the road because we had exercised our legal right to not pay the service charge after they made an enormous fuss when we asked for a jug of water to drink with our meal.
The girls are getting the hang of riding their bicycles although they still need to practice some more. They get very frustrated with their progress, but really enjoy things when they have a sustained ride. Natasha was a bit tearful because of her frustration at being wobbly on the bike. She told me that her great grandfather had told her it would take her six months to learn to ride without stabilisers, and she wouldn’t believe me when I told her she would crack it in two or three days.
We went to the sub tropical swimming pool today. The children really love the water and although not proficient swimmers are very confident and enjoyed the wave machines and the slides. Natasha and Elise have had to cycle everywhere and are getting more proficient and confident. Natasha who is progressing quite well is not convinced of her progress. Elise is still struggling but making good wobbly progress.
Wednesday 3 September 2003
Michelle has described everything that happened today. She is good at ten pin bowling. I think she has confused enthusiasm for determination! I notice that she was less willing to let her score be diminished by letting Ethan have as many goes with her than he had with me!
The repair man came round to fix the broken shower rail, broken, patio door child-lock and bath plug. We are finding this all very tiring! I tried to book circuit training today, and was a little frustrated that it wasn’t available this week. Tonight I asked Sharon to give me a severe haircut in a futile attempt to help me look intimidating ready for tomorrows football competition!
Michelle The restaurants and activities are quite expensive, as we have discovered whilst deciding what activities to do. There are not a lot of activities for free here. One of them is the two children's playground. The best one is the wooden one which is down a small ravine. Elise and Natasha went on a practice cycle with Sharon. Natasha cycles like she has being doing it for years and Elise although wobbly now manages on her own. She needs to be pulled up hill. We went to Café Vert for lunch which was excellent service and more moderately priced than other Center Parc outlets.
Outside Café Vert is the Lake where all the water sports happen.The Parc Market (supermarket) is also moderately priced. Sharon took groceries back and we went to see the Wild Thornberrys film. We were the only ones in the cinema! We all enjoyed the wild adventures of the Thornberrys.
We went 10 pin bowling. In the same area there are amusement arcade machines, snooker, ice cream, snacks and a pub. Even Ethan was able to join in as they provide a frame to assist small children who may find the ball too heavy. We all really enjoyed this. I think I dented David’s male ego as I got three strikes and eventually won. Sharon and I were laughing at his determination not to let me win.
Thursday 5 September 2003
Today was our action-packed day. After breakfast we all rode to the country club. The kids played in the children's playground whilst Michelle did some aerobics.
Later I played in a two hour football competition. This was outside in the sun on an astro turf pitch which had been sanded and was overly slippery. It was a larger pitch than I am used to. Before we started playing the organiser asked us all to not get too worked up - apparently there have been 4 fights so far this year and there were 10 fights the year before! There were three teams and we played a round robin. One of the three teams had played together before and were very good at passing the ball and retaining possession. Unfortunately the way the games fell, we always played this stronger team just before our rest and just after their rest (at least that is our excuse). We came close to beating them but lost 3-4. Overall my team was second of the three teams. I scored a goal. and mostly coordinated things from the back and ran into space on the right. I really enjoyed it although it wore me out! p.s. we didn’t fight!
After the football we did a treasure hunt with the children which they really enjoyed. It was a a rip-off. They charge £2.50 for the bit of paper with the first clue. The rest of the clues were on posts dotted around the site. C’mon Center Parcs - are you so short of money that you need to charge so much for this kiddies activity which has absolutely no running costs? The first clue could be printed at no cost in the activity booklet.
We didn’t finish the treasure hunt as we had to go for our pre-booked game of short tennis. This was one of the few things that I thought that we could do as a family. There were a few others, however they were astronomically priced and would have cost £30 - £60 for just half an hours activity. This was very frustrating as we couldn’t get any tennis rallies going - the girls just couldn’t hit the balls straight. So virtually the whole of our time was spent in me trying to coach them to stand sideways, then how to drop the ball, then how to swing the racket and then they eventually started to hit the ball over the net. The people on the courts next to us were very patient as our ball always seemed to end up on their court!
More cycling practice today for my girls who you not recognise on bikes from three days ago. They are really good now. Ethan loves sitting on the back of David’s bike being carried around like Lord of the Manor. Today I did a keep fit class which was good. Sharon and the children kept walking past and succeeded in distracting me and putting me off. David played six-a-side football (being more use to five-a-side). We bought a treasure hunt map. The children really enjoyed this. We managed to find some of the clues but did not have time to finish it. Natasha and Elise were able to cycle of to find some of the clues on their own.
We also hired balls and racquet for short tennis. It was quite laborious trying to teach the girls to hit the ball over the net, and David and I are not much good either. Sharon took herself and Ethan of the Sports bar for a drink. In the bar is a soft play area for the children. Natasha and Elise were too big!
Friday 6 September 2003
Alas we are going home. I normally look forward to this, but as this has been a short break, I haven’t got homesick just yet.