This year the Meiklejohns joined up with the McCullochs for a week at Center Parcs Whinfell Forest. It's been a poor summer so far but the weather looked like it was picking up as the day approached. However just like last year the sunniest weather was during our drive down. I think we'll be off abroad next year!
We had a stop at Annandale Water on the way down, to feed the ducks and geese and throw stones in the water as well as eat our lunch. We then finished the journey down to Penrith and Whinfell Forest. We were early arriving, but the huge queue of cars waiting to get in meant that by the time we got to the front it was time to go to our lodge anyway.
Our lodge was in the Fell View area of the forest, five minutes walk from the village centre, where the swimming pool, restaurants and shops are. It was nice and roomy for the six of us, with two bedrooms downstairs and two upstairs. The combined living/kitchen/dining room had a full-height window out to the forest behind.
We had a bit of an explore around the area, before our pre-booked meal at Huck's american diner.
On our first day Cate was up early, so we had our breafast and went for a walk around the place. We saw plenty of rabbits and some red squirrels at the rangers lodge, where food is left out for them. There were ducks wandering about too, some with little troops of ducklings.
With the morning free we went to the swimming pool as soon as it opened at 10. The pool is huge, with many levels, slides, flumes, a wave effect and jacuzzis, so we'd hardly had a chance to get round most of it before it was lunch time.
This was the start of our activites as well. We'd booked up plenty to do over the week and the first one was Cate's most anticipated: junior falconry. This was really good, with all the kids getting a chance to hold an eagle owl and then to call a buzzard on to their arm.
Later we had mammal magic, which basically was a chance for the kids to get to see various small creatures. Favourites were the rat and the sugar gliders.
With a full day ahead of us we headed out for the first of our activities: little explorers. The ranger took the kids around the forest, finding insects and pond life, explaining about the creatures and the trees. After a 45 minute session of badminton we built a bird house to take home, had dinner at the sports bar (2 platters for the price of one, basically a table covered with chicken wings) and ran about wild at the kids' disco.
On Thursday we had an early start up at the outdoor activity centre, with Robin Hood and Little John archery. This meant that both Cate and I had a shot with the bow and arrow, which made this my favourite activity.
After a swim and lunch we had the treasure trail. This was basically just a map with marked locations where you had to find the questions to answer on the back of the map. It felt a bit like twelve quid for a bit of paper, but they did give us some prizes when we managed round all the clues and came in with the correct answers.
The weather reports had been poor for Friday, so we booked some activities up for the afternoon. However the morning looked fine so we escaped from Center Parcs for a few hours and took a trip to the lakes.
When Claire and I had come to the lakes before we'd taken a drive around a little road from Keswick, which passed Buttermere. This looked lovely but we couldn't find a place to stop and so missed out. Claire's always wanted to go back so we planned ahead this time and found that the village of Buttermere has a car park.
We found it and walked to the mere, following the path around it for a way, among the trees on its western shore. After we got back to the car we followed the road round, past the slate mine at the top of the pass and down by Keswick again to get back.
In the afternoon we had a shot at short tennis, ending just on time with Cate getting hit on the nose with the ball. Then we had an hour at the bowling alley. This was a bit unfair as the lane shut down right on the hour when we only had two to go on their last shots.
Another early rise today and a fair old cycle up to the stables, for family pony trekking. This actually meant Cate riding a pony while we walked, but Cate enjoyed her stint on Biggles, especially his habit of turning sideways every time we stopped.
After a burger and another swim Cate had two animal activities in a row:
Both of these involved the kids sitting around while they were shown various animals, which they had a chance to touch and sometimes hold. The instructor was very good with them and handled Cate's random animal fact outbursts well. The first session was farmyard animals: hens, rabbits, rats(!) and the like, while cool creatures was about more exotic animals: snakes, gecko, salamander and an albino hedgehog.
We had a quick game of crazy golf afterwards, too.
We kept Sunday clear of activities and the weather reports looked good, so we took another drive out to the Lake District, with Linda, John and Kyle. We crossed the M6 and took the road south through the Kirkstone Pass to get to Windermere. Here we played in the park, took a ride on the little road train and had a look around the shops.
The others headed back after lunch to get back in time for the Cinderella show. We took the Ambleside road a couple of miles out of Windermere to find the Lake District Visitor Centre. This is an old house with lovely gardens and great views over the loch. It has a good play area and you can get down to the side of the lake. We spent a while there before heading back.
We took the same road back as we'd come, stopping this time at the car park at Kirkstone Pass to take in the views.
Once we were back home we had some dinner and went down to the kids disco, where Claire had a little nap.
On your leaving day you have to be out of the lodge for 10, so we packed, took the cars to the car park and spent an hour or two in the pool before heading off. We stopped at the nearby Rheged Centre for some lunch first. They have a great fort for the kids to play in, and it is a lovely building, but prices are a bit steep.
So that was our holiday. We really enjoyed Center Parcs and hope to come again. It was great to see the wildlife, especially the squirrels and the activities were good, especially the falconry and archery. We liked the Indian place best of the restaurants, closely followed by Huck's.
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