Wednesday, 31 August 2011

St Briavels Youth Hostel

We've been away (I know, I know, I'm a dirty stop-out and seem to be away more than I'm at home at the moment!).

This time it was me and the little ones, along with my mum, my two sisters, and their four children.  

We stayed for the weekend at St Briavels Youth Hostel in the Forest of Dean (England).  This means that there were four adults and six children under the age of five... all staying in one bedroom!

We met on Friday late morning / lunchtime at Whirlikids Soft Play in Chepstow.  We spent until 3pm there, allowing the children to play and run off some of their energy after various journeys.  Mine hadn't been as long as all the way from Scotland, as I had stayed nearby with some friends - who it was lovely to see.  At 3 we headed via the supermarket for a quick stock up, to the Youth Hostel in the Forest of Dean.  St Briavels is an actual 1200-1300 moated Norman castle.  Visitors can look around the courtyard and the outside, but the inside is used by the Youth Hostel Association.  We spent an hour wandering around exploring outside, allowing the younger ones to nap in the cars while we killed time until the hostel opened at 5pm.

Being directed to our room was quite an adventure.  Despite knowing in advance the ages of the children we were bringing, and I am convinced there were other, more accessible, large rooms, we were located at the very top of a tower, up a steep and winding stone and wood staircase with an overhanging low ceiling.  And of course, the toilets and showers were at the bottom of the tower.  Little C attempted the climb and descent a few times (very slowly, and always with a watchful adult below him), but more often than not I was trying to climb or come down the stairs with a six-month-old in one arm and a two year old in the other, trying hard not to fall, drop one, or crack one of their heads on the stone ceiling.  Even worse if I was also trying to carry a wash-bag, toothbrush, nappy bag or anything else!

On the Saturday we headed to Beechenhurst Lodge, a Forestry Commission centre in the Forest of Dean with an adventure playground and a sculpture walk.  We headed first for the adventure playground where we played in a drizzling rain, and never made it to the sculpture walk as we were then all hungry and some of the little ones were getting tired.  The Gavellers Cafe at Beechenhurst was rubbish, with no seats and only pasties and sausage rolls on offer (I've since seen on their website that there was a special event on so they were only offering a limited menu - being rubbish is not the norm!) so we headed into Coleford.  
In the afternoon we went to Goodrich Castle, which is a fabulous place to visit.  We wandered around the castle, and the children had a brilliant time exploring nooks and crannies, pretending to be knights or kings, climbing up and down spiral staircases and generally being proper kids.

The Youth Hostel has a medieval banquet on the Saturday night, so we booked in for that thinking it would be a great experience for all.  We were a bit disappointed.  At £15 a head for adults and £10 a head for children, we were expecting some entertainment, and a drink (even jugs of water on the tables would have been a good start, but I was hoping for even a taster of ale or mead for the adults - nothing).  I think it must be a money spinner for the hostel, because what we got was much less that £10 or £15 worth.  There were boxes of haphazard costume bits and bobs allowing people to dress up and get a bit of atmosphere going, and the lights in the dining room were very much dimmed and candle flickery.  The crockery was olde worlde and added to the atmosphere, as did the rule of no cutlery.  There was plenty of food, vegetable soup to start and then lots of veg and meat, followed by a  spiced apple dish and custard.  But not exactly luxury goods, and definitely cheap to make.  Our table got no potatoes, and the custard was so burnt that it was inedible.  Thankfully the custard didn't appear until most people had finished their first helping of dessert, so only the second helping was ruined by the custard.  A bit of a disappointment.
On Sunday morning, after packing up the room, we headed back to Beechenhurst where we did the sculpture trail, we should have picked up a map and guide from the shop, but didn't think of it, which meant that we only saw two of the sculptures - never mind, it was a nice walk!  Then we had a lovely picnic before hitting the road in our separate directions.

Overall - a fabulous weekend.  Watching the children playing together and getting to know one another was brilliant and Little C has since said several times: "C...... loves D.. and E..... and B...... and B....".  A complete bonus was that we did actually get some sleep.  You can imagine the fun we had getting six excited children under the age of five to sleep in the same room at the beginning of the night, and then two woke up wanting feeds or cuddles in the night, one woke screaming after a bad dream, and another continually fell out of bed throughout both nights.  I had gone with the expectation of no sleep - so some sleep was definitely a bonus, and a big well done to the oldest of the cousins, my nephew D......, who showed the other children what a big and sensible boy he was, by settling and trying to get to sleep.

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