A day out at Packwood House National Trust

We became members of the National Trust a few months ago and have already had so much out of our membership.

Previously, on those weekends where we didn’t have much planned, we would perhaps drive into town to spend money on things we didn’t need, or spend the days ‘getting jobs done’ around the house, which frankly is never fun. Now we (I) scour our National Trust handbook to see where we should go visit for the day.

Packwood House National Trust

Admittedly, Mr M isn’t hugely into the history (I like to think I am), but we both love the outdoors and we are both lovers of England and all it has to offer. The National Trust has certainly made us appreciate more of what’s on our doorstep and all of those great places at home you never think to visit.

A couple of weeks back we decided to visit Packwood House, which is not far from where we live. Once described as ‘a house to dream of, a garden to dream in’ Packwood House certainly offers dreamy escapism and there’s something quite enchanting about both the gardens and the house. There’s plenty of countryside to explore as well as various gardens and a newly restored kitchen garden which immediately makes you want to go dig up your back lawn and start ‘growing your own’. The Yew Garden is also quite spectacular – I can’t imagine how many hours it must take to keep those trees so perfectly pruned!

yew garden packwood house

After the gardens we took a leisurely stroll around the lake which has plenty of great spots for a picnic (as usual we hadn’t gone prepared). We also passed a couple of Packwood’s ‘Follies’ – a series of playful artworks created by artist Hilary Jack, which I imagine are great for older children to explore. This had-carved wooden bed structure is one of them – a nod to ‘a garden to dream in’ and (apparently) famous beds in history, folklore and fairytale (so I read).

Packwood House Follies Embedded

Following our morning of exploration, we headed into the Garden Kitchen Café for a bite to eat. We were pleased to discover that afternoon tea was on offer so of course took full advantage of this, stuffing our faces with clotted cream and scones. Taylor may have even been treated to a few cheeky licks…there were of course much healthier options available with everything made fresh – the soups and sandwiches looked particularly tempting (although obviously not as tempting at the cream tea!)

Packwood House lake National Trust

Stomach’s satisfied, we took a tour of the house which was restored in the 1920s and 1930s by Graham Baron Ash who created his own vision of the perfect Tudor house. The house is kept as when he left it in 1941 and as you walk around the house, you really get a feel for the great care and attention to detail that went into the restoration. Highlights for me included the Great Hall (where I think I would’ve enjoyed a party or two!), and the bedroom where Queen Mary stayed when she visited the house in 1927. Mr M, as usual, was rushing me around the rooms, so I didn’t get to take in as much as I would’ve liked, but if you have a thing for Tudor houses, then this is your place.

All in all we had a great family day out and really enjoyed all that Packwood has to offer. I’m sure we will be returning again this summer with a picnic blanket in tow.

Packwood House entrance sign

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Taking baby abroad for the first time

I know that some parents would feel a little reluctant to take a four month old baby abroad – taking them away from their routine, worrying about maintaining their temperature in a new climate and panicking that a potential meltdown could make them ‘those parents who can’t shut up their child’ throughout the duration of the flight.

Taking baby abroad for the first time

But we found that taking Taylor to Dubai wasn’t stressful at all, thanks to some great tips from other mums and making sure that we were fully prepared. In fact, she absolutely loved it and thrived being around new people and in new places.

So here are my top tips if you’re planning a baby voyage anytime soon:

Limit the amount you pack: At four months old Taylor only needed a couple of small toys/rattles, and enough clothes for each day/night she would be away (plus a handful of spares in case of accidents). If formula feeding think about how much you’re realistically going to need and don’t take excessive amounts. We also only took enough nappies to last the first few days and then stocked up once we were there. Not being over-burdened with excessive amounts of luggage also helped us to keep more organised once we were on holiday.

Taylor chillin'

Taylor chillin’

Getting to the airport: Legally, you don’t need a car seat to travel in a taxi in the UK (and most other countries), so if this would be your preferred method of travel to the airport, don’t feel you need to drive. If it’s a resort you’re going to where you won’t be needing to travel much, leave your car seat behind.

Don’t forget your baby carrier: We found our baby bjorn so useful, especially at the airports and getting on/off the plane. Taylor loved bobbing around looking at everything going on and we could turn her to face us when she got sleepy.

Book a bassinet for the flight: To ensure that you won’t be holding a crying baby throughout the entire flight, make sure that you book a bassinet in advance. Most airlines have limited numbers of these available so don’t leave it up until check-in to get this sorted. Taylor was a gem and pretty much slept the whole flight (there and back) aside from waking up for feeds. Result.

Stock up on ready-made formula (if formula feeding): ready-made infant formulaOkay, so we ran out of time and didn’t get chance to do this thinking that we might be able to grab some from Boots at the airport – we couldn’t. Obviously we had prepared and had our powdered formula at the ready, but waiting for boiling water to cool down etc just took that little bit longer than we would’ve liked.

At the beach: We had a beach shelter/tent for Taylor which proved invaluable. Not only did it shelter her from the sun and the wind, it also kept her away from those pesky grains of sand. She loved chilling in there – zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Poolside: Don’t forget to stock up on swim nappies before you go. Also worth getting a swim hat so you don’t ruin your pretty cotton ones! Also take plenty of cooled boiled water so that you can keep baby hydrated between her milk feeds.

Bath time: When visiting hotels we bathed Taylor in the sinks, lining them with a hand towel first so that they weren’t too cold for her to sit in. You can also place socks over the taps to limit any potential hazards with those!

Enjoying your evenings: The best advice I can give is to not be too hard on yourself about breaking any routine you may have established back home. Being out and about every day meant that Taylor napped when she wanted to and we found that most evenings she would fall asleep in her buggy after her usual 7pm bedtime anyway (following bath and feed), so we were able to enjoy meals out etc as we would’ve done before. Make sure that you take out extra blankets/muslins that you can hang over the hood and of course any usual soothers, additional feeds just in case. We did find that Taylor woke us up more frequently throughout the night, but hey, we were on holiday and at least we could share the load.

My list of essentials (in addition to the obvious usuals):

  • Baby bjorn
  • Beach tent
  • Pool nappies
  • Sun hats/ pool hats
  • Baby sun screen
  • Travel steriliser and sterilising tablets (if you use a microwave steriliser or yours is too big!)
  • Extra blankets
  • Plug-in night light
  • Travel cot (if the hotel doesn’t provide one)
  • Calpol/ first-aid kit (just in case)
  • Travel black-out blind (the Gro Company do a good one)

And most important of all…enjoy yourself! x

The List

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Brunch in Dubai and the UAE

Anybody who knows anything about the UAE knows that they don’t do things by halves. From the world’s tallest building to the most luxurious hotel, the Emiratis pull out all of the stops when it comes to impressing the world. And their legendary Friday brunches, which are on offer at most of the major hotels, certainly don’t disappoint.

Brunch in Dubai

A must-do on the tourist calendar, brunches usually kick off at midday and end at 4pm, during which time you can eat and drink as much as you like. And I’m not talking about an Eggs Benedict here – the food on offer is out of this world with more choice than you know what to do with, and the drinks are just as generous with an abundance of cocktails to choose from, alongside the usual wines, beers and spirits. So there is lots of fun to be had.

The brunches are generally not cheap at about £100 per person, but if you love your food and have an appetite for a few tipples, it’s worth every penny. Especially when you consider Dubai prices in general which are on the steep side for eating – and especially drinking – out.

I have the bitter-sweet reality of having my sister and her family live in Dubai; bitter because I miss them dearly, sweet because I get to holiday in Dubai at a fraction of the usual cost.

Jumeirah Beach hotel

Jumeirah Beach hotel

We first visited them in 2013 when we were introduced to the brunch we’d heard so much about. My sister chose Jumeirah Beach hotel for our ‘brunch initiation’, one of Dubai’s iconic beachfront hotels.

Off the main restaurant area are several rooms, each with different food ‘stations’. From seafood to chinese, curries to roast beef dinners, the food was exquisite. Mojitos and Prosecco were on tap and the service was second-to-none. We left four hours later feeling extremely merry and full-to-bursting.

When we returned to Dubai this month, we were lucky enough to take a trip to Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, about a forty-minute drive from Dubai. Home to the F1 Grand Prix, Yas Island is a holiday maker’s paradise with renowned attractions including Ferrari World and Yas Water Park, as well as an uber cool beach.

In celebration of Mr M’s birthday, we’d planned to have brunch at the Viceroy Hotel. Situated on Yas Marina and encircled by the F1 circuit, the Viceroy makes for quite a spectacle, so we were excited to visit for the occasion. Our expectations were high given our previous experience at Jumeirah Beach hotel and I’m pleased to say that we weren’t disappointed.

Brunch with a view in Abu Dhabi

Brunch with a view in Abu Dhabi

After being greeted with a glass of Prosecco on arrival, we were seated in the restaurant which is light and airy with spectacular views over the marina. I took the opportunity before the crowds descended to take a walk around the various food stations which again included cuisine from across the world, a never-ending deli, an outdoor barbecue area for grilled lobster, lamb cutlets and beef ribs, a seafood station, a counter for roast joints, endless desserts, chocolate fountains, made-to-order ice-cream…the choice was endless. So much so that I started to panic about the prospect of not having enough time to sample everything I wanted!Brunch in Dubai and the UAE

I’m a big fan of antipasti, so was in my element to discover a whole station dedicated to this and could have filled up on cured meats, stuffed peppers and olives alone…I moved onto the oriental station, before trying the lobster and the beef wellington which was cooked to perfection. Mr M loves oysters so he had his fair share of these.

Dessert for me was ice-cream which the staff made to order using liquid nitrogen (of course!), and various cakes and chocolate truffles. All washed down with multiple margaritas – heaven on earth!

Brunch at the Viceroy

If there’s one thing you do when you visit Dubai and the UAE – make it brunch.