If you’re a regular reader or follow me on any social media, you’ll know that a couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to spend the week as a family in the beautiful countryside of Pembrokeshire, West Wales. I couldn’t believe it when Bluestone National Park Resort asked me if I’d like to bring the family to visit. Ben and I lived in Swansea from 2009-2011 and Wales (and the Welsh), hold a very special place in my heart. In fact I didn’t realise how special, until I blubbed going over the bridge. What am I like? I’ve wanted to take Oscar to Wales since he was born, and despite looking into it a couple of times, we’d just never found anywhere we thought could work for him and for us. I won’t lie to you when I say I was a little nervous. Oscar’s Autism means he can be unpredictable and Pembrokeshire was a long way to go for him to react badly (4.5 hours from our home in Surrey), but I can’t explain just how well everything went. It was as if Bluestone sprinkled a little bit of Welsh magic over all of us.
So we arrived on Monday after a straightforward journey, made all the easier by the iPad and a couple of Thomas and Friends films. Believe me when I say you get no badges for getting your children to their destination by singing and reading with them, when neither of these things work and a iPad strapped to the back of the headrest does. Check in starts at 4.30pm, which allowed Oscar to go to preschool in the morning and for us to arrive in time for check-in to be in full flow, which meant queuing in the car.
TOP TOP #1: If you can arrive earlier in the day, do. Although you can’t get in to your accommodation until 4.30, you can check in and use the park’s facilities, meaning you avoid the queues when everyone else arrives. This may be particularly useful if you have children who don’t deal well with queues.
Despite the short time queuing, the iPad did sterling work until we were able to get into our accommodation with no fuss and a warm welcome. And when we did we were so impressed. All accommodation at Bluestone is self catering lodges ranging from studios to those that sleep 14 people. As we had originally planned to go with friends, who then couldn’t join us, we had one of the gorgeous Grassholm Lodges, which sleep 8 people in three twin and one double room. This all came with three bathrooms, one of which was a wet room and one an ensuite. Having so much space was a luxury in itself, especially as we’re used to a two bedroom terrace cottage!
The kitchen really was incredibly thoughtfully equipped (I cooked dinner for Oscar every night and for Ben and I twice with no bother) and we both noted how all the electronics were such good makes. It’s the little things no? It’s worth mentioning that the lodges do not come with washing machines and there’s no laundry on site, so be sure to bring enough clothes for the duration.
TOP TIP #2 Kitchens have everything you’d expect in a modern luxury lodge, including a dishwasher. Bluestone kindly provide a welcome pack of kitchen essentials including dishcloths, tea towels and 3 dishwasher tablets. You can also buy packets of three tablets in the park shop for £1. I really wish I’d realised this before, so I wouldn’t have fretted about taking cloths and washing up liquid and would have packed a few of my own dishwasher tabs.
The lodge was so light and airy and the temptation was to just stay in, enjoying the space, but there was so much else to do on the park. On the first night (and subsequent evenings) Oscar was thrilled to make great use of the park’s pub garden and adventure playground. As I’m sure Ben was!
The park is built around a central ‘village’, which has a grocery store, bakery/coffee shop, off license, gift shop, pub, various restaurants and a Spa. Ben and I are both big spa fans (hey, who isn’t?!) so we knew we wanted to try out Bluestone’s WellSpa, but we knew we wanted to go together. I’m sure the ability to share childcare was the reason we saw quite a few extended family groups around the park. Although we didn’t go in a group, Bluestone is totally set up for this kind of holiday, with large lodges and even interconnected ones! So because we were ‘sans grandma’, we booked Oscar into the Mini Adventure session. This was a three hour creche session for 0-3 year olds held in the Adventure Centre (they also run similar age appropriate activities for 4-7 year old and 8-12 year olds). I booked the session in advance and explained about Oscar’s Autism. The staff weren’t phased in the slightest, and assured me that they’d looked after autistic children before. I was also reassured to hear the creche was in a locked room, with a maximum of 6 children, with two members of staff. The worst that could happen is that he’d hate it and wouldn’t stay (or they’d have to call us to come get him, which they promised to do). Three hours and no call later, we picked up a very happy little boy, who’d done crafting, baking and played with trains. Best £24 I spent all holiday!
While the boy was aliening it up, Ben and I made full use of the time to check out the Spa. The treatment list was extensive, but we chose to just relax together in the Thermal Suite. I loved the Brick Sauna and Ben liked the Herbal Steam Room and we both loved the heated outdoor plunge pool. What a treat!
Time together as a couple can be rare, but we loved that Bluestone gave us the opportunity to make the most of it. We loved the creche and we also booked a babysitter for the Wednesday night, through the park’s very friendly and helpful customer service team. Oscar sleeps well anyway, but I’ve never seen him go down so easily as I did on holiday. This meant by the time the babysitter arrived, he was fast off and we could enjoy our meal out. We chose the recently updated Oak Tree Restaurant, which mixes Italian inspiration with Welsh produce. The sharing plate starter we had with baked Perl Wen Cheese was a revelation! So good in fact I forgot to get a picture of it!
The Oak Tree was one of several places to eat on the park. The choice was appreciated and we ate in many of them over the week with prices being reasonable across the board (not something you always find when you’re a captive audience. This was also the case in the Village Stores with a great range of groceries available at everyday prices). Although we bought a lot of food with us, having done a shop the day before we arrived, we also ate out several times. The food we had all over the park was good and I particularly enjoy my flame roast mackerel, down in the woodland restaurant Camp Smokey. Such a unique venue, it’s nestled deep in the middle of the woods and all food is cooked over open fires, just like a real All American cookout! Had Oscar not had the only melt down of the week as we sat down to eat, we so would have be finishing our meal by toasting our own marshmallows! It was such a shame it didn’t work for him as the food was delicious. But one melt down all week? I’ll take that!
Our best eating experience of the week, had to be in the Wild Wood Cafe. We had been for a walk on the nature trail, after Oscar had woken that morning and still in his pyjamas declared he wanted to go for a walk by telling us ‘shoes’ and ‘buggy’. It was a beautiful day so we headed to the Nature Trail followed by a walk round the lake.
TOP TIP #3 The nature trail is beautiful and I highly recommend it. However be aware that it’s not a gentle stroll. Anyone with mobility issues would struggle and while we coped with our trusty 3 wheel Out n About 360, a lesser buggy (particularly the fold up umbrella style) would not make it. Slings or walking might be best.
After a super morning’s walk we headed over to the Adventure Centre, a building the size of a small leisure centre bursting at the seams with fun. We spent some time in the main room, playing on the bouncy castle, with the lego and in the soft play area but mainly having a good old explore. We also spent some time that afternoon in the Circus Room, an entire room devoted to the joy of Under 5s. They use the room for paid for Toddler Sensory sessions, but on the day we visited it was free to use all day. The boy found his new favourite toy in the ride on roller coaster – he’d have taken it home with him if he could!
When it came time to think about lunch we decided to try the Adventure Centre’s own restaurant, the Wild Wood Cafe. Oscar’s historically been good at eating out, but since he’s been too big for a high chair he struggles to sit and not want to get down for long enough. Add to the fact that this was all new to him, I had no high hopes for this lunch. However, I didn’t bargain on the wonderful atmosphere of the Wild Wood Cafe. As the name may suggest it’s made up to look like an enchanted wood. The lights are dimmed and the seating design really imaginative. Lunch in a bird’s nest anyone? We took Oscar in and let him have a run round exploring everything. As everyone else in there was also a parent of a small child no one batted an eyelid! The room was presided over by an enormous tree and Oscar was very taken with the throne. Yes they have a throne, which is used in the regular interactive dinner shows! They sound like awesome fun, just not for Oscar yet. Anyway after a look around he came and sat down, waited for his dinner and ate it whilst sitting the whole time! I make a big deal of this as it’s the first time he’s ever done this since outgrowing the highchair. The food was delicious (Ben was so impressed at how good his Steak Baguette was) and if you’re visiting with small children I urge you to take them at least once. It’s one of my favourite memories from the week 🙂
When I asked Ben what his favourite memory of the trip was, he said without a doubt the peace. Bluestone is set in 500 acres of beautiful Welsh National Park and the fact that cars are parked away from the lodges once they’re unloaded meant the pace of life on the park was a relaxed one. You can hire golf buggies to use during your stay. We decided not to this time, however if we’d been with a bigger group or anyone with mobility issues these would have been a life saver, as the park itself is rather hilly. The wildlife was everywhere and tame as you like, which thrilled Oscar as his new words that week were ‘bird’ and ‘animal’!
Our love of the Welsh countryside meant that we couldn’t go all that way and not explore the surrounding area, just a little. There were so many things to see and do close to Bluestone, but living in a landlocked county meant I desperately wanted to go to the beach. On recommendation from a friend back home, we broke with tradition and eschewed the popular Tenby, heading instead for Barafundle Bay, 30 minutes drive away. Now I wouldn’t recommend this beach for everyone. It’s sheltered and quiet, yes, but that’s partly because it’s only accessible via a half mile walk across the cliff tops and then down a long steep stone stair case.
TOP TIP #4 The guides say this beach is not accessible by buggies and to some extent they are right. However, if you really, really wanted to you could take your buggy most of the way and stash it in the bushes at the top of the steps, as we saw one couple do that day.
Oscar’s never really been to the beach and choosing Barafundle Bay was something of a risk. Not being able to take the buggy, being half a mile of difficult terrain away from the car, we could absolutely have chosen another location. But we would absolutely have missed out on the most amazing experience. Oscar walked/ran excitedly just ahead of us almost the whole way there. I think he appreciated the freedom, but not once did he make a dash for it (to be fair we were on high alert and had he shown any signs of bolting we would have scooped him up and high tailed it back to the car.) We thoroughly enjoyed the walk there and when we arrived? Well! No wonder it’s been voted Best Picnic Spot in the UK and in the Top 12 Beaches in the World before now.
What a day! And we totally chose the best day of the week for the weather too. The day we came to leave was dreary and reflected completely the way we were feeling. So sad to say goodbye to such a wonderful place. Although we had to check out at 10am, we were able to use the facilities until 3pm. This being the case we packed up the car with everything but our swim things and headed over to the Blue Lagoon. It’s everything you’d expect of a pleasure pool and had a great toddler/baby area. At least I thought it was great. Oscar enjoyed it but was tempted by the big pool soon enough. He’s quite confident in the water, but can’t swim and would not wear any kind of flotation device, which meant it was a very tiring experience for me. He LOVED the wave machine and the fountains and even went down the lazy river with me, but in the end I had to call time on the swimming. I just couldn’t keep up with him! I think if he’d been older he would have been in there every day. As it was I’m glad we tried it, but I’m not sorry we only went the once.
To be honest though there’s little we did more than once. The playground maybe, or getting ice creams from the Bakery. We were there Monday to Friday and we only got to sniff what Bluestone is about. But what we saw made us all happier than I could have imagined. The facilities were exactly what we needed as a family and the staff unremittingly helpful, friendly and good humoured (even the guy cutting the lawn on the ride on mower gave Oscar a big smile and a thumbs up when he saw him watching!) We couldn’t have asked for anything more. Would we go back. Yes. Definitely. Wales will always have a special place in my heart and Bluestone is a great place to visit what was once our adopted home.
We would like to say a massive thank you to Bluestone National Park Resort for generously providing us with accommodation in return for this review.
I was not paid to write this review and as always opinions are my own.
Please check out www.bluestonewales.com for more information.