If you speak English (and you probably do if you’re reading this blog) then you have certainly heard the song “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran. He wrote this song about Framlingham, his hometown and the 12th century castle of the same name. I’ve visited castles all over the world yet it took me 18 months to visit this one an hour from my home. Go figure.
With a couple of my friends visiting I took the opportunity to finally go see this castle on the hill. With the kids in tow, I was pleasantly surprised by the children’s activities put on by English Heritage. There is a slide that descends from the castle walls, role playing activities and storytelling. The gift shop sells ice cream and swords and other toys to make the trip enjoyable for the kiddos.
Something I hadn’t realized was that Framlingham does not have an interior. Past the exterior walls there is only a grassy courtyard where the activities are put on. The admission into the castle gives you access to walk along the upper castle walls, giving you a full view of the countryside in every direction. Gorgeous.
Something else I learned was that the Howard family onced owned Framlingham. The Howards were a very political family during the war of the roses era. That era of England fascinates me. Check out Framlingham for a day of fun and history.
For a long weekend we decided to take a road trip down to southwest England. Ben has some family in the Plymouth area so it was due time we made our way to that part of the country. I can’t believe it took us so long because it’s gorgeous down there. I’m even more excited now to visit Cornwall a little father west of county Devon.
The trip was supposed to be about 5 hours so to help break up the ride we stopped into Stonehenge. It’s one of those bucket list items every tourist has to see. Now that I have seen it I don’t feel the need to ever go back. But you have to do it at least once. It was a good way to let the boys stretch their legs and get some snacks at the visitor center cafe. Walking the stone circles itself takes no more than an hour including the bus ride from visitor center to the site.
Once we arrived into county Devon the English landscape changes from flat to rolling green hills. It’s a beautiful area with so much to see. We stayed at an Airbnb in the little village of Yealmpton which was a close base to family, the city, and beaches. We spent most of the weekend visiting with family and they were great hosts; showing us all their favorite sites.
This is a beautiful, unspoiled, sandy beach surrounded by cliffs. It was a few pounds to park and then a 10 minute walk down to the beach. On the morning that we went it was still pretty chilly in the upper 50’s. The wind was also pretty strong but there were still people swimming. Those people are crazy. Thankfully, my boys were satisfied with running around and throwing rocks. It reminded me very much of some of the beaches we have been to in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
We ate lunch at Jennycliff cafe which overlooks the bay across from Plymouth. This stretch of cliffs is a great place to walk and view the sailboats. There are a series of beaches below as well. Great place to sit and eat ice cream while people watching.
Just down the road from the cafe is a peninsula you can walk around to view the bay the city. You can also park here and catch a ferry into the city to avoid driving downtown. This is the scene where Carter decided to take a tumble and bust his face. So our time here was cut short.
Wembury Marine Center
One of my favorite activities in Devon was this beautiful pebble beach in Wembury. There is a car park right by the beach but our hosts had us park in a nearby neighborhood so we could take the scenic walk down to the beach. Perks to knowing the locals!
Something I really admire about many beaches in Ireland and the U.K. is how natural they keep the surrounding areas. A beach like this in America would be covered in high-rise hotels and beach homes. Instead, the scenery at the beach in Wembury included an old stone church and fields of grazing sheep and horses. The area is primarily used for wildlife conservation.
This is a great little beach for small childen because of the rock pools that form on the beach. My boys really enjoyed looking at all the rocks and playing in the water without actually having to go into the ocean. I would really like to come back here with more time. Alas, we had dinner reservations and my husband will tell you I’m worse than a toddler when I’m hangry.
The Odd Wheel Pub
This family friendly pub was so nice we decided to eat there two nights in a row. They have a playground for the kiddos and even allow dogs inside the dining area. At one point there were about 7 sweet dogs sitting behind me as I ate my meal. So nice to eat somewhere this relaxed where the food is actually very good. It has a great community feel to it. The people in general down in Devon were just very relaxed and friendly.
Plymouth is a small, walkable city that is rich in history. We got to see where the famous Mayflower set sail in 1620. I’m from eastern Virginia. Learning about America’s beginnings starts young there since it’s also an area rich in history. Funny to be on this side of the history/globe now.
We spent the morning walking around the city and around Plymouth hoe. The boys even recreated a famous shot of the Beatles from the 60’s. Molds of copper were made of how each bandmate sat in the photograph. One day Kellan will look back and appreciate this (I hope)!
We also spent a few hours in the aquarium where the boys had a blast. Carter is really getting into marinelife. He gets very excited and will run at full speed between displays. It was after this trip that I decided this boy needed a leash. I finally bought one. Worth every penny.
Dartmoor National Park
As we headed home we stopped into Dartmoor which is just north of Plymouth. It’s huge and you could spend days exploring just this park. Being limited on time we focused on an area on the eastern border which has the largest waterfall in England. Again, it was hard to belive we were still in England since the area we live in is so flat. I call Suffolk the Iowa of England. Different worlds.
There was a large cafe, playgrounds and plenty of walking trails. We stuck to the main trail which was about a one hour loop up to the top of the waterfall and back down. I’m glad we stopped here as it was a pleasant surprise. The views from the top were incredible. I would love to see what else Dartmoor has to offer.
One of my bucket list items while living in England was to see the Queen in person. The easiest way to do that is to watch her enter/exit the church she attends during her winter stay at her country estate. The Queen attends the same church for about 2 months and we only live an hour from Sandringham. You can read about our first visit to her country home here: Sandringham House and Apple Picking.
See the Queen: Round 1
We had been going back and forth on whether we wanted to drive there on Christmas Sunday for about the two months prior. Up until Christmas Eve I still didn’t know if I wanted to go or wait until the following week. We already read the reports that Will, Kate, George and Charlotte were spending the holiday with Kate’s family. We also knew the Queen and Duke had been very sick that week. When we woke up Christmas morning we had breakfast, opened some gifts, checked the weather and upon seeing it was going to be a nice day, decided to hop in the car and just go with low expectations.
On the way to Sandringham we did hear on the radio the Queen was too sick to attend church. It was disheartening since we really wanted to see her but also worrisome considering she has never missed this service…ever! Naturally, being that she is 90 years old a cold can be serious. We decided to keep on our way and hoped other members of the royal family would be attending.
The church service begins at 11:00 and we arrived at 10:40 with just enough time to walk down the long road of cars to the security area and then make our way to the church. Sandringham estate has a walkway leading to the small Mary St. Magdalene church. The royal family will walk this path but the Queen and Duke arrive by car and are dropped off at the church steps. The path is roped off so that you may stand on either side of the road to watch their arrival. Many people arrive very early in the morning for the Christmas service to get a good spot to see the Queen. Since she is dropped off you would need to be fairly close to the church to get a good view. However, on this unique day with the Queen being ill, my priority became getting a good spot along the pathway in order to have interaction with another royal. I was also told that due to so many royal members not attending that day the Christmas service crowd was much smaller than usual.
We were about 4 rows back when the family started their way to the church. On their way in they walked at a faster pace and just waved and smiled at the crowd. Christmas day is the only time they allow the public to take pictures of them on their private property….so keep this in mind if you decide to go any other Sunday in the winter. You will not be able to take pictures! So being the only day it was allowed everyone was snapping away. Due to being short I pretty much had to raise my camera above my head and hope for the best! We saw all of the Queens’s children: Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward, as well as their children. The Duke of Edinburgh then arrived by car and was dropped off at the bottom of the church stairs. So this is another thing to keep in mind with going to Sandringham really early: you will not have any interaction with the royals until after the church service is over.
While the royals attended service the boys ran around and made friends. I noticed the other side of the pathway had less people so when they let down the rope to allow people to cross… I made my way over there fast. I looked for the shortest person I could find and stood behind her. I spoke to this woman, her mother and father the majority of the service. They were pretty hilarious. She told me that coming to Sandringham to see the royals was a family tradition. Her father had a step stool so that he could stand behind her and take pictures of her talking to Prince Harry. She has a thing for Harry. The stool idea is really pretty clever. Next year I will definitely bring a stool because then it doesn’t matter what time you arrive…you will get a view!
She was joking around and putting on her chapstick in anticipation of their kiss. This woman was a riot…I liked her. I told her I had read that the royals are more likely to chat with children that have flowers. She agreed to let Kellan stand in front of her with his 3 bouquets and use him as her bait.
When the royals exit the church they stop for pictures and then proceed back towards the estate via the walkway. Unlike when they enter, they walk slowly and stop and talk to well wishers. It was definitely true that they are more likely to stop for anyone bearing flowers or gifts. They will also stop for dogs and people in wheelchairs. Our plan worked and everyone that was walking on our side of the pathway stopped and talked to Kellan. Camilla (future Queen consort) came buy and said hello and received his flowers. Princess Anne (the Queen’s daughter) also stopped and spoke with us; even asking Kellan why he wasn’t wearing his coat. I was so proud of how sweet and polite my boy was!
Anne stopped to talk with us for so long that Harry proceeded down the path without stopping on our side since we were already speaking with someone. We decided to run down to the end of the path in order to get a second chance of an encounter. I ran down, stuck out my hand and said “Merry Christmas” and he shook my hand. YES! In case you didn’t know: Harry has worked very closely with the US military, has aided programs for wounded warriors, and everyone that has met him says he is very humble and down to earth. So…we like Prince Harry!
See the Queen: Round 2
The following week was the new year’s service and we had intended on going. When we woke up that morning we searched for news of the Queen’s health and it was reported she was still too ill to attend church. We considered going and seeing if Will and Kate would be in attendance but the weather was cold and rainy. It ended up being a lazy day at home.
See the Queen: Round 3
It was two weeks after Christmas and we decided not to get to the church before the service at 11 to watch the royals arrive. Instead, we showed up about 15 minutes before they were due to exit. There was hardly anyone there and we walked right up to the the front. We made conversation with the family next to us and they informed us that the Queen, Will, Kate, and the Middleton family were in attendance. Basically everyone we did not get to see the last time. It was their first time visiting Sandringham and they also had two boys that were very sweet with mine. They dug for worms and played with a ball I brought along. I asked them “What should we say if they stop and talk to us? Last time we wished them a merry Christmas”. They had no idea what we would say either….so we settled on saying “Happy new year” being that it was only one week into 2017.
The Queen and Duke exited the church first. The crowd cheered as it was her first public appearance in a month due to being in bad health. They waved, got into a burgundy Bentley, and were driven back to her home. Will, Kate, and the Middletons walked the path and stopped to talk to well wishers. I am really kicking myself in the rear for not bringing flowers. Had Kellan brought some they would have stopped and chatted. In fact, no one in attendance had brought any which would have increased our chances; especially being that the crowd was so small. Will stopped and chatted to a woman in a wheelchair. Kate stopped to pet a small dog. The Middletons sort of stood back and waved. As they neared us we just smiled, waved, and said “happy new year”. They wished us a happy new year back and began to walk off. As they began to leave Kellan started loudly yelling “BYE! BYE!”, to which Pippa Middleton stopped and said “He is so cute!”. Pippa and Kate are absolutely gorgeous in person, by the way.
Due to being private property, you are not allowed to take pictures of the royals at the church. Christmas day is the only day they allow pictures to be taken. Paparazzi line up just off the property to get zoomed shots of the family and pictures of the Queen driving away in her car. I am so excited that we got to see all the royals during our time in England. It was really easy considering it took 3 weeks to see the Queen. I do wish we had pictures of the Queen, Will and Kate! I snuck a picture after they were far past the gate. You can view paparazzi pictures from that day here: The Queen at Sandringham
My mother has had this framed picture of herself and her sisters on a shelf for as many years as I can remember. I never paid much attention to the sign in the background until I moved to England. When I visited her in the states this summer I realized this park was only an hour from my house! So of course we had to drive to Ipswich and see where my mom used to play when she was little. Her father was stationed at a now closed military base in the area back in the late 50’s.
I was really surprised by how great this park is. First off..its huge! It has a cafe, wonderful playground and plenty of hungry ducks waiting in ponds for my children to feed. We made a stop into the visitor center and showed them the picture of my mom as a child. Of course the sign is no longer there but we figured someone may know where it used to be located. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any answers but it was still fun to snap a photo of my mom at each entrance sign to the park.
If you want somewhere to see the pretty Autumn colors this is your place. The trees are just stunning. There is so much space here to let the kids run… and definitely bring your dog. There are just as many dogs here as people. You will find plenty of paved trails for your kids to ride their bikes or scooters. It was really fun to walk around with my mom and reflect on how she probably did the same thing with her mother when she was little. I now have a new favorite park to bring my kiddos to during our time here. Life sure does come full circle!
My mom came in from the states for a couple weeks and before her arrival I asked “Do you want to leave the airport and come rest at our house for a day… or do you want to hit the ground running?” Of course she said “hit the ground running!” My mom is where I get my sense of adventure. She is someone that doesn’t need nor want a cell phone to tell her how to get somewhere. She doesn’t plan. Doesn’t need an agenda. She is perfectly content just ending up wherever a road takes her. Whenever we go places together she likes to wander off by herself and you always watch her and wonder what she is thinking. On a beach she will explore every pebble and every shell. In the forest she inquire on the types of trees and animal footprints.
Mom has a great appreciation for open spaces and outdoor scenery. So after we picked her up from Heathrow airport we decided to drive out to Dover on the southeastern coast of England. We stayed at a Best Western right on the beach with a great view of the white cliffs. This hotel was the perfect location but certainly came with quirks. The floors on the entire top level we stayed on were so slanted that even sleeping in the bed we kept falling in the direction of the decline. Other than this oddity we found the hotel to be a great value for the money with free parking right on the street. It’s fun to think about how old these buldings in Europe can be. The history and stories behind them that give them these quirks.
The White Cliffs of Dover
We parked for free thanks to our National Trust membership and set off on our hike 300 feet above sea level. The scenery is breathtaking and you can even see France in the distance across the channel. The cliffs reminded me of a white, chalky version of the cliffs of Moher in Ireland. What I was most surprised at was the beautiful blue color of the water. The water we have seen up until this point has been in the Suffolk region and typically a muddy brown or grey color.
We hiked for about an hour, allowing the boys to set the pace (surprisingly fast) and taking a million pictures. Then we noticed the large, dark clouds rolling in our direction and decided that it might be time to head back to the car. As we began our journey back it started pouring. Ben took off running with Carter while Mom and I took turns running or walking with Kellan and trying to keep my camera dry. There had been no rain forecasted that day. Welcome to England, Mom!
The next day we had tickets for the euro-tunnel at 1 so we only had a couple hours to spend at the castle being they didn’t open until 10 am. You get in free with an English Heritage membership, which we don’t have…so we decided to be cheap with our limited time and only walk the grounds and tunnels of the castle (free).
Made entirely of Caen stone, Dover is the largest castle in England and pretty impressive. They aren’t sure when the grounds were first fortified-around the iron age- but the castle mostly began to take form around the time of King Henry II in the 1100’s. This guy had a lot of power. There is a lot of history on this land in regards to wars throughout Britain and Europe. I would definitely enjoy coming back and touring the inside and reading up more on all the history.
*From Dover we drove to Folkstone and boarded the euro-tunnel that crosses into France. Stay tuned for my post on our adventures in France and Belgium!*
Over a long weekend we had plans to meet up with friends in London. We have known this family ever since Ben worked with Amy in Japan. Then we both ended up in Florida…and now we are both in Europe. I am not sure who is following who here- but our paths are constantly crossing. Amy and I spent hours going over all the exciting things we wanted to do in London. Unfortunately, the day before our trip, our friends discovered they did not have some the of paperwork required to leave and return to their country. But not all hope is lost! They have rescheduled for December and we took the opportunity to make the long weekend all about the amazing museums London has to offer.
We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in Earls Court. This hotel is west of all the major attractions and just outside the congestion zone so that we could drive and park at our hotel. It ended up being a great location for this reason and about 5-10 minute walk to the tube. There wasn’t much exciting within walking distance of our hotel but that was the cost of being able to drive in and maximize all three days. The hotel was very nice and clean with a great breakfast.
The British Museum
This is a museum where you are going to walk in and say “WHOA”. The entrance is very grand and worth seeing in itself, especially since it’s free. For 1 pound you can purchase a map which includes the top displays to see if you only have an hour to spend in the museum. But I didn’t need that…we walked in with all the time in the world because both of my toddlers were sleeping in the stroller. Was I actually going to get to read the display signs? Was this happening? Yes!
We headed straight to the Rosetta Stone and I was able to get a picture in before Kellan woke up covered in pee. Since Kellan never has accidents..I didn’t have a change of clothes for him. So that is the extent of my trip to the famous British Museum: the entrance and one display. We stripped him down and covered him with a jacket to make a 10 minute walk to the nearest GAP. This is travelling with toddlers. Things don’t always go as planned but you have to roll with the punches.
The Natural History Museum
This was my favorite museum of the trip. It’s free and you could get lost in this place its so big. We probably only saw 1/3 of it. It’s so large there are 4 dining options. There are wings for Mammals, Earth, Origins, Ecology, Dinosaurs and more. It reminded me very much of the natural history in Washington D.C., which in my opinion can never be topped. However, the London version comes pretty close and deserves at least a few hours of your time if you are in London with kids. Compared to some of the other museums it was more interesting for my toddlers. My favorite area was the origins sections and I had Ben take the kids to another area so I could really devote some time in there. Evolution fascinates me.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Due to this museum being on our itinerary right after the massive Natural History Museum…it didn’t get the attention it deserved. That, combined with the lack of interest on the part of my kiddos, meant we only spent about an hour exploring. It’s 13 acres of galleries spanning 5,000 years worth of art. Galleries include ceramics, glass, fashion, jewelry, furniture, sculptures, metal, paintings…the list goes on. The work derives anywhere from England to Asia. We mostly spent time in the sculptures area. This is also where Carter decided to wake from a nap ticked off and scream so loud it echoed throughout the entire museum. Good times. Of the 4 museums we visited this is the one less likely to garner excitement from small children.
London Transport Museum
Finally, we have come to the museum that my kids didn’t want to leave. It is also the one that is not free and actually quite expensive. They do allow one year entry with the purchase of a ticket so anyone local can visit as often as they like. I have two boys so anything with wheels is right up their ally. Not only are the transportation displays fun and informative, they also have a play area with a train table, interactive double decker bus, and dress up clothes. In one area they have a projector that displays moving newspaper clippings on the floor and that served as the kids entertainment for a good thirty minutes. Just running back and forth chasing the images on the floor. Kellan started this and slowly but surely a mob of children came over to join him. Its the simple things sometimes.
**Other highlights from our weekend in London;
The Disney Store: We visited 4 of them. Not kidding.
Bubba Gump Shrimp: Yes, when you live overseas you start to miss certain comfort foods. I couldn’t help myself.
Harrods: Shopping! We got lost because it was so big.
Today was a beautiful Autumn day so we loaded up the kids and drove an hour north into Sandringham. The orchard here has Cox apples (for eating), and Bramley apples (for cooking… quite sour). Parking was free and we spent about an hour picking apples, letting the kids run around with friends, and taking pictures.
Im actually a bit surprised my kids didn’t try to eat more of the apples. They always enjoy freebies when we are fruit picking but today they were pretty good about putting the apples in the bags. On the way out we picked up some adult apple cider and blueberry apple juice for the kids. Still thinking about what I want to make with all the apples we picked. Kellan voted for apple pie. I’m thinking apple butter. Maybe both!
Just a few miles from the orchard is the Sandringham house, gardens, and museum. I think I read the Queen stays here about 50 days of the year. However, the royal family is always present at Christmas where they attend service at the nearby St Mary Magdalene church. We plan to visit one Christmas Day during our time in England so that we can see the royals walk into church. It’s my mission to see her in person while we are here! I don’t know what it is but the Royal family fascinates me.
You can spend a good half day walking the estate grounds, home and museum. We only wanted to spend a couple hours here so we opted to walk the gardens and view the home from the outside. You can buy tickets for only the attractions you wish to tour. There is also a playground, cafe and gift shop across the street from the entrance so we spent some time letting the kids be wild over there.
My embarrassing moment of the day was when Kellan decided steps from where Prince John is buried that he HAD to pee right then and there and he started pulling his pants down in front of everyone. Oh, child! I don’t think he has ever been snatched up that fast in his life.
On the way home we stopped into Kings Lynn to grab some food at Frankie and Benny’s. It wasn’t the best but it was definitely kid friendly. Any place that hands my child a balloon works for me.
The weather has been am-a-zing here so the beach has been where it’s at! My friend read about this gem about 1:20 away so we packed up the kiddos and headed for some fun in the sun.
Brancaster Beach is on the northern coast of Norfolk and truly child friendly. There is a paid car park, restrooms, a water spicket to rinse off, and a small beach hut that sells all the beach essentials (including our fave- soft serve ice cream). This beach is natural and sandy as far as the eye can see.
Probably a good idea to check the tides coming out here because the water is constantly moving. We went in the afternoon which meant we had to walk pretty far to get to the water and gradually move our stuff back as the water came in. There were so many dogs out on the beach as well and Carter played with this one puppy for a good while as well as flirted with its owner.
What I liked most is the water is so shallow you can walk forever and it not be above your knees. With that said the water does have a current which I found out immediately as Carter face planted and then had trouble getting back up. I had to snatch him up fast because it scared the crap outta me but he of course was like “meh”.
It’s been so nice enjoying the sunshine this week and I don’t want it to end! But then again… I kinda do since we don’t have AC and night time has been miserable in this house….
Summer finally decided to show up in England this week! Truth be told- I’ve actually been enjoying the mild summer because I am really not a huge fan of sweating. However, who doesn’t love a hot day at the beach? I know I do. So my friend and I loaded my car up with kiddos and we set off for some fun in Great Yarmouth. It’s about 1:10 away and popular in the summer. People tell me it’s reminiscent of the Jersey Shore but seeing as I’ve not been there I’ll just take their word for it.
Parking was a bit of a pain. The boardwalk area was packed being such a nice weekend. Drove around a good 15 minutes looking for a good spot because the last thing we wanted to do was walk forever to get to the action. We couldn’t bring the strollers because we needed the space for the extra car seats in my car. We ended up finding a good spot but it cost $18 for 4 hours. Yikes. If you park at one end of the beach you can take a small motor train or horse drawn carriage to the other end
The entire mile long strip of Boardwalk is filled with restaurants, food vendors, arcades, carnival rides, an aquarium and more. You can really spend some serious money down there with the kids. We first decided to grab some food, walk around and let the kids ride rides. For £2.50 you can even catch a ride on a donkey across the beach. The boys loved that. Animals are always their thing.
After exploring we walked down to the water and let the kids splash around and play in the sand. My mommy friend will argue the water was fine but to me it was freezing! We definetly spent more time playing on the pebbly beach than splashing in waves. Water shoes are a good idea here because of all the rocks. Overall, Great Yarmouth is a fun day out- especially when the sun is shining. I’m definetly planning on going back with the Hubs. We didn’t get a chance to explore the opposite end of the boardwalk, or Pleasure beach. Next time!
Yesterday we drove an hour to Fakenham with friends to visit Pensthorpe Natural Park. It was a fairly warm English day and you can’t waste those indoors! This park has 700 acres of trails, lakes, and play areas. There is even an indoor play area for if it rains or parents just want to sit and have a coffee. We spent the first portion of the day just letting the kid run around and burn energy.
We had lunch at the on-site cafe and it was pretty good! The kids had some pizza and fruit and I got a jacket potato. Those are popular here and I’ve had friends say beans on a potato sounds strange…. but it really quite yummy. They had some cakes that looked incredible but I didn’t feel the boys ate enough of their lunch to deserve cake. I seriously hate when that happens. I really, really wanted cake.
After lunch we went to the indoor play area. I think we were there about ten second before Kellan got injured. I think he tried to flip on his belly halfway down the slide and he bit his lip. He was bleeding and very upset as it was painful. The staff on site was amazing and got him some water and and ice pack for his lip. He even received a “bravery button” to wear on his shirt and he thought that was pretty special. Props to the staff for being so friendly and caring!
Next, we spent time walking along the woodland trails and gardens. It was beautiful there. They have a vast variety of birds you can feed along the trails and the kids had a good time feeding them some seed I brought from home. Carter was a little on the timid side after a duck tried to snatch up his snack. Poor kid.