Mama discovers a glorious Pembrokeshire resort to suit the whole family.
Words: Holly Kirkwood
Things you never thought you’d say in Wales #94: “It’s too hot to go to the beach”. This summer we were fortunate enough to ship out of London the same week the mercury in town hit 34 degrees – the timing could not have been better. We headed west, our destination the Bluestone National Park in Pembrokeshire.
It was our first staycation with our nearly-three-year-old, Freya. We drove to Bluestone feeling frazzled and looking for a week of R&R with our daughter, but also a little bit of time to recharge our batteries.
The site is a 500-acre former dairy farm in the incredible Pembrokeshire countryside, which has been converted into a holiday village offering accommodation from old farm cottages to modern two-and-three bedroom ‘upside-down’ lodges.
Launched in 2006, the park has proved to be a huge success; making the most, as it does, of amazing location amongst the rolling hills and legendary beaches of the region. The model will be familiar to visitors of Center Parcs: you rent accommodation, and then let yourselves loose on the activities on offer, but Bluestone is a bit different.
Our lodge was in the Forest View area of the site (Bluestone has nearly 300 properties in total, not that you’d ever know) which we loved – it’s the most secluded of all. The house was a not-quite-new ‘upside down’ lodge with the bedrooms on the ground floor and open-plan kitchen/living room area upstairs. We had great views of the woods at the bottom of our garden.
Outside was a cute picnic bench which got the evening sun and became one of our favourite places to sit and have a drink at the end of the day, while the little one chased the remarkably tame (and Disney-cute) rabbits who emerged from the trees every morning and evening.
The site is centered around the village which has two immaculate playgrounds – one, the tree tots playground, is almost completely undercover and offers treehouse-themed fun; the newest toddler playground is excellent, and offers something for littles of all ages in a location where parents can easily keep watch from the pub or café.
The café sells coffees, soups, sandwiches and wicked ice-cream sundaes; The Knight’s Tafarn has good pub food and local beers. Other choices for lunch or dinner include The Oak Tree for pizzas, steaks and chicken, while The Farmhouse Grill offers US-style meat and fish. Importantly, all the dining options have a never-ending supply of crayons and colouring-in sheets. If you only want to self-cater then village shop sells everything you could possibly need.
Bluestone source a lot of their meat and fish from local businesses which ups the quality in both the restaurants and the shop – and local towns are within easy reach for further supplies.
Another lunch option is Camp Smokey, a rustic cabin which is a 20 minute walk (toddler depending) through the woodland. The woods themselves are delightful: in June they were a riot of greens and wildflowers, going on for miles outside the park itself – perfect for a morning run. We meandered along the path, stopping to play Poohsticks on the bridges. There are hobbit houses and an enchanting fairy village built into a bank of trees to explore: you can book your little ones into activities to see these in more detail. Freya enjoyed a couple of mornings at the crèche and we also booked a babysitter for a birthday dinner in The Grill.
The amenities on site are impressive. The water park has water slides for older children, a wave pool and a lovely, safe, baby pool alongside a café for spectators; the adventure centre offers rock climbing, a lego wall, tree top walking, and a café, as well as a crèche for up to three year olds which is run by lovely, fully-trained staff (book older children into forest rangers activities a half-day at a time, which they will never want to leave).
In addition the whole place is clearly geared up for inclement weather – well it is Wales after all. There is still absolutely loads to do, whether you mind getting soggy or not. Activity afternoons for 4-8, and then 8-16 year olds are all based in nature, from learning to pan for Welsh gold to brushing up on Ray Mears-style survival tips, building dens and making campfires. Allowing parent to take time out and relax.
The site is large: it’s car-free so most families hire golf buggies, or bikes with handy little tagalongs for getting up and down the hills with toddlers; in addition a land train tours the whole site at half-hour intervals, and is super-easy to hop on and off.
There is more to do than any one family could manage in a week – most of the guests we met were regulars – but we felt we had to get out and see the numerous beaches within a half-hour drive. We spent a couple of happy afternoons pottering around on some perfect Caribbean-style white sand beaches. We even swam in the sea. Yes. In Wales. In June.
Previously the words ‘holiday park’ merely conjured up images of places which are completely manufactured and designed to relieve you of as much money as possible, but the links Bluestone maintains with its location and community make it feel really special.
The staff are all genuinely lovely locals; nothing we asked for or needed to know was too much trouble for them.
We left feeling a little sad, but it was great to return home feeling refreshed, relaxed, and yes, quite smug about the weather.