Brecon Beacons in a caravan

So we’ve returned from our jaunt around South Wales, with much mud, rain, chocolate, sand and farm animals involved. I’ve had a lot of fun, been cold and wet sometimes, been cosy with wine at other times, and learned a few things in the process, such as how useful DVD’s are when four of you are confined in a caravan sized space, and that you can never have too many spare socks.

It’s our third time caravaning since Mole and Hedgehog were born, and I have to say they’ve all been cracking. We’ve been to the New Forest, Norfolk, and now the Brecon Beacons. Even though this trip probably saw the worst weather of all, with rain and general coldness about 65 per cent of the time, we still managed to have some actual fun.

This was mainly down to having a warm and comfortable caravan to hide in when the weather got ugly. Our stash of DVD’s were perfect for the late afternoons when everyone was crashing, and we could stick Mole and Hedgehog in front of The Incredibles, while we cooked dinner and drank wine. I was extremely glad of my decision to opt for a caravan over a tent at Easter time.

Our particular campsite Pencelli Castle boasted a playground with a wendy house that Mole and Hedgehog went nuts for, a separate stables containing a horse called Blondie because of her blonde mane, (Mole and Hedgehog also went nuts for the horse but in a shy way, probably because she was twenty times their size), and the sounds of sky larks and lambs bleating in the fields all around us. It was pretty idyllic, when the sun decided to shine.

In terms of outings, I had a couple of ideas involving steam trains and animal farms, but they turned out to be eye-wateringly expensive. It dawned on me that any quick search on daysoutwiththekids will generally select all the big attractions that seek to separate you from your cash as quickly as possible, and which are basically commercialised play.

I wondered whether a vista point on a hillside / riverside / beach / in the woods with a picnic and some wildlife for company, while not advertised, would be free, include many of the same things, i.e. animals, views, fresh air and food, and could be just as fun?.

This would require getting creative and thinking outside of the box. A quick emergency re-plan later in the evening with an OS map and a large glass of wine, and I’d devised a new list of activities using the ‘search for a picnic sign on the OS map and give it a go’ method. I also became distracted by the frequent brown signs by the roadside advertising intriguing looking places in Welsh, which I won’t attempt to repeat, on the way to the picnic spots that Mr M&H obediently drove us to.

Our first picnic spot was in a road siding, at the foot of a huge mountain, with a team of army men doing some sort of training exercise. The wind was howling outside and even the army men were getting blown about, so I announced that we would be eating our picnic in the car, which Mr M&H found very amusing. Just as we’d finished our raisins and baby bels, an ice cream van pulled up directly behind the car. I took this as our cue to get out and try the walking. Hedgehog had fallen asleep in her car seat by this stage and was sweetly snoring, so Mole and I went toddling up the hill at a tortoise pace, past the army men, ascending up an impressive flight of waterfalls.

Mole had to be the youngest walker by quite a margin, so I was very proud of her. After about twenty minutes she announced that her legs were getting “A bit tired”, and I knew from experience that it’s pointless trying to force tired children on a walk, so we turned back and enjoyed the waterfall views on the rocks.

Mr M&H swapped over with Hedgehog once we returned. Hedgehog was in her curled up mode, there was no way that she was going to walk. He strode off into the distance in a very purposeful way, with Hedgehog balanced on his shoulder looking perplexed, as if he was going for the summit. He returned about ten minutes later, arms and back aching under the weight of 20 pounds of Hedgehog.

I would say this was a semi successful outing, but we needed something more sheltered, and less requiring us to carry Mole and Hedgehog for long distances. Our second option on the map took us to the National Park Visitor Centre, which I was doubly attracted to because it had a ‘standing stones’ icon right next to it on the OS map. I’m always a sucker for anything suggesting ancient ruins or pre-historic stone circles. Mr M&H did not have the same vision about the standing stones.

The Visitor Centre turned out to be the gem of the day. It had acres of common land to walk on, views in every direction, a playground, a café, and an observatory for stargazing, just in case we fancied coming back at night.

The awkward thing about trying to do walks with toddlers, is that they are too heavy for carrying, and not yet wanting to walk at any speed or distance. So we end up going to vista points with a picnic, or doing a mini walk over a couple of hours, constantly stopping to look at things or to play. It’s a new zen like approach to walking. One less focused on getting from A to B, and more focused on the walk itself.

We did this type of mini walk over the common, which was like a vast open heath of grass and gorse bushes. There were lots of paths going off in different directions, so we picked what looked like the main one and began. After 100 yards Mole announced that she needed a wee, so Mr M&H walked off with her to a bush to do the business. The problem was that a group of people behind us started following Mole into the bush, thinking that they were still on the path, so Mole ended up flashing her bum to an unsuspecting crowd.

We never did find the standing stones, but we did make it to a sort of mini beacon, before heading back towards the safety of the playground and café. Mole and Hedgehog are attracted to playgrounds like Bee’s to flowers, and I’m attracted to my chai latte in the same way, so we were all happy.

We made our way home through a maze of tiny roads, on my final mission to get to another picnic point on the OS map, but by this time Mr M&H’s stamina was waning, so I admitted defeat and we let the sat nav guide us home.

We ended up doing the animal farm and the steam train anyway, which were enjoyable in their own way, despite the ache in our wallets. The steam train was timed on a rainy day so that it served as a kind of indoor activity, and the animal farm oddly turned out to be more of a play park than a farm. Aside from an Easter egg hunt featuring the Easter bunny (a person dressed as a rabbit) that only served to confuse and traumatise Hedgehog, they spent the most time on a patch of grass playing football with Mr M&H, while I dozed, something we could have done at the campsite.

So there you are, lesson learned, and now that my curiosity is satisfied, I’ve resolved to stick with the simpler things until Mole and Hedgehog are older.

A happy medium was struck when we stumbled upon the National Botanic Garden of Wales, en route to see Granny Purple Hair, who lives in darkest Wales. It was £8 per adult and free for under 5’s, so totally doable. We spent all day there, the weather was glorious and it had a bio dome to rival the Eden Project, in addition to acres of walled gardens, a bee garden, Japanese garden, a tropical butterfly house, and so on.

Perhaps the secret lies in going for the less obvious and more quirky stuff on offer, rather than the big brash theme parks, seductive as they are. I like the idea of Woofing holidays, staying on a working farm for a week and letting Mole and Hedgehog run wild. Watch this space.

So now we are home from Welsh Wales and washing the sand from our toes. Easter was two weeks ago yet Mole and Hedgehog are still celebrating it. Despite being four, Mole has already twigged that the Easter Bunny does not exist. We can’t get anything past her.

This morning Mole follows me down the stairs on the way to innocently make a cup of tea, and asks for another Easter egg hunt in the garden. When I don’t respond quickly enough, she decides to set up the hunt herself. I retreat back to bed while she tells Hedgehog to wait at the top of the stairs until she is ready. Finally we hear “Hedgehog, it’s READYYY!”, and we hear the two of them scurrying around the living room in a state of excitement. I don’t think Mole understands the concept of looking for things you have not hidden yourself, but it buys us another half hour in bed, so we don’t mind.