How to Survive the Long, (sometimes) Hot Summer Holidays

So, the summer holidays are upon us and I guess I’m not alone when I admit that this brings with it mixed emotions of excitment, trepidation and fear?  

I still remember that joy of finishing school on the last day of term knowing that the long, hot summer holidays were finally here. (was the weather always hot when we were kids or is it selective memory?)  6 weeks as a kid felt like forever……it still does but maybe not in quite the same way!  I am now faced with the more boring, grown up reality of how on earth are we going to fill the days, particularly the wet, grey ones.  

Here are just a few ideas that I’ve come up with but I’d love to hear others as you can never have enough.

The Beach

Bucket and Spade

Who doesn’t love playing with a bucket and spade on the beach?   We are so lucky living in the south west as we have so many beaches to choose from.  Our go-to beaches of choice are probably Exmouth and Dawlish Warren as they are the closest (& Dawlish Warren is always a favourite with my train obsessed little boy).  However, there are as many different beaches as there are interests in this part of the world.  

  • Surfing - Can’t beat the north coast - Woolacombe, Croyde, Bude, Newquay, this list is endless - or check out Bantham on the south coast, with it’s beautiful view of Burgh Island. 
  • Exploring - Smugglers’ Tunnel to Ness Cove in Shaldon was always an adventure as a kid.  
  • Fossil hunting - Charmouth is a treasure trove, 
  • Rock pooling - I’ve never found anywhere better than Holcombe beach & Exmouth is good near the Lifeboat Station, but it depends a bit how the sea has shifted the sand.  (always check the tides!!) 
  • Sheltered coves - great for swimming and SUPing- the colour of the water at the little coves around Salcombe could be the Med.   

Wild Swimming

The beautiful Salmon Leaps, River Teign

The beautiful Salmon Leaps, River Teign

Have you ever swam in one of the rivers on the Moor?  Wow, they are cold but so much fun!  Find a peaceful stretch and there are all sorts of possibilities - still water to swim and duck dive in, mini-rapids to slide down and plenty of flat rocks for a post-swim picnic. Spitchwick Common is always popular as it has a lovely sandy beach and rocks to climb and all a short walk from the car park, but it can get busy.   If you have bigger kids, Salmon Leaps on the Teign near Whiddon Down is amazing. It is a bit of a walk to get there but so worth it and nothing beats the feeling of seeing the world from a duck’s eye view.   I’d love to hear other wild swimming spots you know of.


Summer in the City

Don't forget to look up! Just a small part of the amazing ceiling of Exeter Cathedral

Don't forget to look up! Just a small part of the amazing ceiling of Exeter Cathedral

Voted Museum of the Year in 2012, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (aka RAMM) is a treasure trove of different things to look at from creepy crawlies and butterflies to indigenous peoples from around the world and of course, Gerald the Giraffe - and if like mine, your kids are a bit little to understand a lot of the exhibts, the corridors are just amazing to run along!  (sorry everyone!). The Cathedral also offers a local resident’s card which gives you access for a year on provision of a piece of ID. Who could fail to be amazed by the size of the place and the spectacular roof?  Of course, there are also the numerous parks to explore, the library is always a winner, and if you have older kids then why not consider a Red Coat Tour.  My husband and I did a couple a few years back and it was amazing how much we learned about our own city.  

Farm Shops and Garden Centres

A family trip to the garden centre used to be the most boring activity imaginable when I was a kid but now they are so much more than they were, with all manner of things to explore (& often the possibility of cake at the end) and some of the local farm shops are amazing now.  Darts Farm needs to introduction to Devonians but there are so many others that aren’t quite so busy.  Greendale Farm Shop is a particular favourite with us as not only are there some really cool animals; including an ostrich and an emu (so I really should be able to figure out which is which but never do) but they also have some old tractors to play on.  On the subject of tractors, Kenniford Farm Shop has a great little play area with toy John Deeres and you can watch the pigs and piglets in a viewing area.  What more could a little boy want?  Oh, and the sausages are amazing! 

The Inevitable Wet Day

Lets face it, there will be some and we are all too familiar with that sinking feeling when we see the forecast.  Cooking is always popular in our house, with chocolate cornflake cakes a particular favourite, along with Play-Doh and drawing. A clothes airer and some sheets make a fab den which can provide entertainment for hours.   And, the reality is that the rain rarely actually lasts all day anyway.

The temptation to lick the bowl can be too much to resist

The temptation to lick the bowl can be too much to resist

A Ticket to Ride

Not everyone’s cup of tea I grant you, but nothing is quite as exciting as a bus ride for my little one.  £3.90 buys you a day-rider ticket which allows you unlimited travel around Exeter for the day, and on some days, £3.90 for a chance of scene and a peaceful little person seems like excellent value to me!! 

What have I missed?  There must be loads of other, low cost ways to spend the day that I haven’t thought about. I’d really love to hear your suggestions before I resort to days at B&Q or Pets at Home…..there’s always a danger I will come back with a gerbil or rabbit!

Where are the pictures of you?

How many photos do you have of your kids?  I’m guessing it’s probably in the hundreds?  How many of those include you?  Not many?  Maybe a few selfies?  In the years to come, are your children going to want to see 1000s of them or a few of you as a family?

These are questions that I’ve really had to ask myself since we got back from our holiday earlier this month.  We had an amazing trip and have memories that we will treasure.  I also have 100s of photos, many of which I’ll never get round to doing anything with, but I can count on the fingers of 1 hand the ones that include me, and I regret that.  Here they are just to prove it!

So why don’t I have more?

  • I’m always the one with the camera in my hand
  • I hate having my photo taken and always feel really self conscious
  • I’m a bit of a control freak

Any of this sound familiar?  Maybe we all need to do something about it?  Our children will thank us for it in the years to come.

Give your camera or phone to someone else - partner, friend, grandparent - and ask them to capture you playing around.  Posed photos can be awkward, there are very few people who can be totally relaxed when they know there’s a camera pointing at them.  However, if you don’t know it’s coming you are more likely to be yourself.  I don’t mean get someone to jump out at you when you are least expecting it, I’m talking about someone in the background capturing the occasional shot of you playing around with your kids; being you.

Your children won’t care that your hair may not be perfect.  They won’t notice that you aren’t all dressed up in your best gear.  Their attention won't be drawn to that weak spot that you hate so much.  They will love looking back on a bit of the everyday, seeing the way you used to play, read stories, mess around.

Of course, you could always hire a professional! I’d love to capture you and your family at home or at one of your favourite venues.  I will be in the background and you’ll soon forget I’m there.  

Whether you use a timer, get a friend to do it or hire a pro, don't put it off.  Summer is the best time to start - evenings are longer, the sunshine puts everyone in a good mood, you are more likely to have time off for holidays.  Make today the day you step in front of the camera.

And I am going to take a piece of my own advice.  I’ll let you know how I get on!

The Delights of Discovering Somewhere New

Are you someone who gets stuck in a bit of a rut and goes back to the same places time and time again?  As a lifelong Devonian and landscape photographer, I would like to think I’m not and that I get out and about a lot. However, last weekend I was lucky enough to go to two family shoots in very different parts of the county and was blown away by how gorgeous each one was and how I really don’t explore enough.

On Saturday, Rachel and James introduced me to one of their favourite places, Blackbury Camp in east Devon.  I had heard of it before but had never been.  Wow!  What a time to visit for the first time. It is an ancient hill fort maintained by English Heritage and in May it is covered (almost literally) in a blanket of bluebells.  It was an extraordinary sight and the blue hue and vivid green of the new leaves provided a wonderful backdrop for a great shoot with a lovely little boy and his mum.  It is also a lovely, enclosed area providing a wonderful, safe environment for little people to run around and explore whatever time of year and I’m sure James would tell you that the stick-searching potential is second to none! 

The next day, as the clouds cleared, I headed off in totally the opposite direction, up past Winkleigh to north west Devon.  I don’t know that area at all, as the closest we usually get is sailing past on the A30, Cornwall-bound.  It is truly Devon at its best with almost empty roads, green fields and sweeping vistas south to Dartmoor and west to Cornwall.  The shoot was in the grounds of a stunning house, part of which dates back to the Doomsday book.  The family were as beautiful as the surroundings and I even got to meet a shetland pony!  Andrea wanted some images to show Devon to her friends and family back home in California and it couldn’t have looked any more quintessentially Devonian if it had tried.  The drive home on a perfect May evening left me wanting to stop round every corner to get a shot of a beautiful vista.

The conclusion I came to?  We really must get out and about and explore new places more often.  Maybe living here makes us a bit complacent?  I know as a family we end up going to the same beaches weekend after weekend, and they are lovely. However, Devon is a really big county and we must be more adventurous.  Maybe next time we should just stick a pin in a map and gamble?

If you are in east Devon, check out Blackbury Camp, and even if you aren’t, make a point of visiting in May, you won’t be disappointed! 

If you have a favourite place you like to go as a family, I’d love to hear about it.  Its always good to have new locations for shoots, but also because there could be a new favourite out there that we have yet to explore.

Great Community

When we moved to Heavitree a few years ago we didn't really give much thought to the local community we were moving into.  Convenience to the city centre was high on our list of priorities and access to the park was a big attraction.  However, the birth of our son a few years ago highlighted that not only was there a great community here but how important it is.  I love the fact that we can chat to our neighbours, bump into friends in the park and get involved in local events.  

However, for a long time, I, amongst many others, have muttered about how much the area needed a locally run cafe.  For most of us, this was just a passing thought, but fortunately some more motivated people have now taken this on and Faye and Matthew Rowbury have now opened the lovely Daisy Cafe at 98 Fore Street.  I and my camera were invited along to the pre-opening night where it really became clear how much Faye and Matthew value the importance of the local community as so many of the 'great and good' of the area were in attendance.  I've popped in a few times since and it always seems busy.  It's great to think that there is place to be able to meet up and have a chat with friends now, whilst at the same time helping out a new, local business.  I can highly recommend it to anyone living in the area.  The breakfasts are awesome! 

Whilst at the big opening, I got chatting to Kate from ParkLife, a great local organisation which aims to act as a 'community glue' with an aim to build a community cafe in the park.  From Spring to Autumn, they run a monthly event to bring people together and the first event of the year was Mother's Day.  I therefore agreed to go along with my camera and capture the event.  The team had put in so much effort and there were activities for the kids, drinks and amazing cakes and goodie bags for all the mums.  The morning was topped off by spring sunshine and music from a bygone era.  The main event was the planting of a new sapling oak tree.  This was donated by the University in celebration of the Queen's 90th birthday and was planted next to the old oak that's stood since 1911, itself planted to celebrate King George V's coronation.  It's fascinating to think what that old oak has seen over the last century.  What changes will the new one see in the next 100 years?  Cllr Olwen Foggin cut the ribbon on the new tree and spoke of how she remembered the original oak from her childhood.  Hopefully the new one will become the background to the next generations of the local community.  

Both ParkLife and The Daisy Cafe are on Facebook.

Spring has Sprung

I love winter, there is something wonderful about a cold, bright winter's day or being able to draw the curtains on a chilly night.  That said, the novelty does wear off so its so lovely to see those early signs of spring gradually appearing.  The snowdrops have almost gone, the daffodils are in full bloom and the primroses seem to be in real abundance this year.  

We were lucky enough to be able to walk on the South West Coast Path in north Cornwall this weekend (something we used to do a lot but has become a rare treat these days) and being out in the countryside really enhanced some of the more subtle things that can so easily be missed in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  The tree and shrub branches, bare and sad looking for so long, now have a green hue to them as the leaf buds start to appear, the blackthorn is bursting with delightful little white flowers and there is a delicate but unmistakeable aroma of gorse flowers.  In a very sheltered spot I even discovered a couple of violets, and best of all was a field of lambs, just old enough to leave their mums' sides and leap and play around with each other.

It made me wonder what it must have been like in days gone by, before the benefits of central heating and supermarket deliveries, when so many people scrapped a living from the land.  The winter months must have been so tough and each of those tiny little signs so welcome.  This year, I'm determined to get out and about as much as possible and notice the little things that make this time of year so special. 

Today is the Spring Equinox so the days are going to get longer and the weather warmer - hopefully! - from now on.   Its seems an appropriate time to take a deep breath and publish my first blog post.  I hope the longer, warmer days will continue to provide me with inspiration.  

With a slight feeling of trepidation, I've turned Comments On. I'd love to hear what you love most about spring, but I'd also appreciate any comments you have on this and future posts.  

My first blog entry.....

Whilst I've read a lot of blogs over the years, I've never actually written one so having a blog option is great & slightly scary in equal measure.  Keep an eye out for slightly more informative posts in the future!