Family farm holidays in Cornwall magical for children, toddlers and babies.
Coombe Mill Blog
"Tales from the farmers wife" shares the funny and interesting happenings on our lovely holiday farm with Farmer Nick and our 6 children. A behind the scenes look on balancing family, farming, the holiday business and cooking for all.
I make no secret of loving family days at the beach and here in Cornwall we have some gorgeous beaches to choose from. I don’t mind if it is summer or winter, time at the beach for me is time well spent. I can feel on holiday just minutes from home here and I like nothing better than the school holidays when all my family join me. Having children now age 12 – 18, family trips are becoming less frequent, there is always someone off doing something independently, so when the Christmas holidays gave us a chance to all be together for some winter beach days there was no stopping this trip. For Farmer Nick this is a bit of a rarity, I swear Christmas is the only time of the year he joins us at the beach; normally he is much happier pottering on the farm and having a little peace and quiet from us all!
It wasn’t a beautiful day but it was warm for December and to me it was perfect. School and work were on hold and we could just enjoy a few hours of fresh air. Once at the beach our party split into two, one group walked the coast path to the headland while Guy and I opted for surfing (Guy) and body boarding (me) in the sea.
I don’t remember the wind but looking back at the photos the waves and our hair blowing all over shows there was quite a strong side wind.
Normally photos of my family are a rarity, however thanks to my brother joining us, suddenly the kids were happy to stop and smile giving me some lovely memories of our day.
I wish I could have transported Guy and me into these photos at the headland.
That said we were in the sea nearly an hour and had a great time, it didn’t even feel like winter in there. Though I do have a thick wetsuit and a thermal rash top, Guy was the brave one in a summer weight suit.
Winter beach days: A return trip
We enjoyed it so much we couldn’t resist a return visit a few days later and this time in full sun. The tide was further out and splashing in the sea and football on the beach was all it took for happy family fun.
I don’t know what it is about term time, but persuading the kids to come out with me is so much more of an effort. I’m now looking forward to half term and the prospect of more family winter beach days here in Cornwall.
Tips for family Winter Beach Days at Polzeath
Take wetsuits, especially for the children, they always end up splashing in water at any time of year. We have plenty to borrow at Coombe Mill from our boot room.
Take snacks and drinks or a money if it is a beach with facilities. Beach play is thirsty work!
Our visit here was to New Polzeath, lf the tide is in there is a walk from parking to reach the main beach at Polzeath so check tide times before setting out.
In 2016 the beach toilets became pay toilets. You need 20p to go and worse, they lock them all together now in winter due to lack of funds for cleaning. My tip is to use the local beach cafes which are open at peak times like the Christmas holidays.
Parking at Cornish beaches is heavily monitored, never outstay your ticket or you are like to be fined. New Polzeath is free all year but parking is limited. There is a pay car park too for busier months.
Be sensible in the sea. There are no lifeguards from October to May, though you can still book surf lessons for adults and children with Surf’s Up.
The Acropolis of Athens, One of the Seven Wonders of the New World.
No trip to capital of Greece is complete without a visit to the famous Parthenon at the top of the Acropolis of Athens. Built in the centre on top of a high sacred mountain it was designed as a temple to protect and give power to its people. It has become one of the new 7 wonders of the world and is shrouded in history. An architect’s dream, this amazing building is full of wonder even to the uncultured. I defy anyone to climb to the top and not be amazed by the scale and structure, the breath taking views and wonder of a civilization past.
As we fall into the uncultured band of tourist we split our visit here into two days covering the museum one afternoon and the acropolis the following evening. With two teenage boys in tow this proved the best way for them to appreciate what they were seeing without having a cultural overload in the heat of July.
The Museum for the Acropolis of Athens.
We are lucky enough to have plenty of family and friends in Athens and had travelled in from our holiday base in Kaffisia to meet up with cousins for lunch in the city. They became our tour guides for the afternoon. They recommended doing the museum first given it was the middle of the day and very hot outside. The modern building had benefited from much EU funding and was state of the art, beautifully kept and presented with plentiful air conditioning. Even the approach oozed sophistication with its modern look walking over clear floors with ancient ruins visible beneath us.
Once inside the building stretches over several floors and could easily take you a full day to fully explore. You can book a guided tour which might be advisable, or if you go it alone there are plenty of plaques in English to explain all that you are seeing. We felt very lucky to have our own local family guides and followed obediently round.
I was really pleased we had visited the museum first, as it set my expectations and improved my understanding of what to look out for the following day climbing up to the old Parthenon. My understanding was embarrassingly lacking before the visit. I hadn’t even realised that most ancient Greek cities had an acropolis and that it was the temple at the top, the Parthenon, that was special to Athens. By visiting the museum we saw how the statues had progressed over time, increasing in their movement and characteristics in later years. We learned of the invasions, the missing pieces adorning the UK museums and of the tools and weapons used in each era. Decorative reconstructions of sections of the columns and top of the Parthenon were truly impressive. There were no cameras allowed inside so I can only share the views from the cafe terrace on the first floor where we stepped out to appreciate the view up to the Parthenon.
The Parthenon at the Acropolis of Athens.
We returned the following evening to scale the acropolis and visit the site of the Parthenon. Even though it was gone 6pm the heat of the day was till intense. Walking up was hard going but there are plenty of opportunities to rest on the way and take in the view.
I totally hand it to my 80 year old Mother in Law who made it all the way up with us; it gave the boys no excuse to complain about the heat. Having visited the museum beforehand I felt much more knowledgeable about what I was seeing, if somewhat guilty for the missing pieces adorning the British museums. The early evening sun was perfect for photos and showed the Parthenon off to its best.
Even the kids agreed to the odd photo at the top being totally in awe of their surroundings
Tips for visiting the Museum and Acropolis at Athens.
Take refuge from the midday heat by visiting the museum in the middle of the day.
It is worth doing a little research first to know what to look out for or at least visit the museum ahead of climbing the acropolis.
There is a lovely clean cafe in the museum open to the outside with stunning views to break your visit.
Prices for the museum are a bargain at 5 Euros.
The museum is open from 8am to between 3 and 7pm in high summer but I recommend going in the middle of the day to escape the heat and enjoy their air conditioning.
Prices to go up the acropolis of Athens and visit the Parthenon is £20 Euros for an adult. Student, child (under 16) and OAP discounts are available. For another 10 euros you can have a week’s access to other local archaeological sites of interest too.
Wear shoes with a good grip climbing the acropolis, the marble is worn shiny and slippery in places at the top and we all found ourselves slipping at times.
It is open 8am to 8pm in high season but there is no access after 7.30pm. We arrived just after 6pm and needed the best part of the 2 hours.
Go early or late to avoid the intense heat of the day when visiting in summer.
Be warned, the toilets at the bottom close at 4pm, we found ourselves wandering off into a cafe before taking our tour.
I totally recommend a visit to the acropolis of Athens and the Museum and hope to take my younger children when they are old enough to appreciate the trip.
Welcome to the first in a series of posts I have coming out on Greece. Farmer Nick is half Greek, which explains our crazy surname (Cambouropoulos), and he has been retracing his roots to near Athens. I’ll be sharing our journey with some lovely sunny photos to brighten up the winter months. Right now is peak summer booking time, I hope you’ll enjoy our adventure. If flying abroad isn’t for you, then why not join us in Cornwall, I think we will be staying here this year and enjoying some family day trips out from Coombe Mill.
Athens: A treat for our boys
It was 2.5 years ago now when Alistair, our eldest, finished his GCSE’s. We rewarded his effort by taking him and his choice of friend away to our favourite Honeymoon hotel in Devon, he chose to take his brother Felix and we all had a wonderful 2 nights away. Roll on 2 years and we had them both finishing A levels and GCSE’s. Upping the stakes somewhat we agreed it would be wonderful to go Athens and visit some of Nick’s relatives the boys had never met and make a little holiday of it. We booked 3 nights in Athens followed by 4 nights in the Peloponnese making the most of Nick’s Mum for her knowledge and connections there and her command of the Greek language. This was almost a year ago back in February 2016 and excitement was riding high as the exams finished and the holiday arrived.
Kifisia on the Outskirts of Athens
I have to confess I was rather worried about the economic situation in Greece and the impact on Athens with their desperate government debt, terrible unemployment (60% for under 25s) and refugee crises from Syria. We had treated ourselves to a lovely hotel in Kifisia with air conditioning and a pool that Nick’s Mum had stayed at many times before. It proved a great base at the end of the underground line allowing us to easily travel into the city centre but perfect to relax in the leafy suburbs at the end of the day.
Kifisia is a well to do area of Athens, rather like the Fulham of London. Here we encountered many boutique shops, bars and restaurants with a very continental and cosmopolitan feel and some huge houses with high walls and beautiful flowered gardens. I felt quite safe walking the streets during the day or night, though I always had Nick or one of the boys with me, largely because I have a hopeless sense of direction and found myself clueless on direction on more than one occasion! It felt much more prosperous than I had feared and the dust and dirt I remember from the Athens of 20 years ago was pleasantly absent.
For our days out it was about a 15 minute stroll to the underground station from our hotel followed by a 40 minute tube journey into central Athens. This cost just a couple of Euros for us all, was impressively clean, spacious, new and most importantly air conditioned! We made just one line change to take us right to the base of the Acropolis. There are only two lines so it is very easy after London. One terminates at Piraeus port and the other at the city beaches.
We spent both days in the centre covering the acropolis museum and the acropolis, meeting up with family and soaking up the buzz of the city. I have a separate post to follow on the Acropolis of Athens as this deserves more than a passing comment.
The Greeks are famous for their warm welcome and sense of family and belonging. Whether visiting relatives a couple of miles further out in Narathriar, where Nick’s Grandma once lived, or old friends and family in the city centre we were made to feel so welcome by all and treated to more food than we could eat. I had to say to the boys after a while to stop finishing everything on their plate as they would at home as it was taken as a sign they were still hungry and more plates being ordered. The city trip was completed for the boys when their cousins, who they had never met before the holiday, took them out clubbing on our last night. It is certainly a holiday they won’t forget and not everyone gets to go to a night club in Athens before they do in the UK! Safe to say after rolling in at 4am we had very tired boys on our drive south to the Peloponnese for the next leg of our holiday.
Tips for visiting Athens
We stayed in the Theoxania Palace at Kafisia. The hotel was perfect and a little bit of luxury. It is expensive but if you just book bed and breakfast and eat out in the local restaurants it is not so bad.
Having a pool was a real bonus after a few hour of sightseeing in the city.
We booked directly with the hotel by calling over the phone to secure the best price, but if you go online www.booking.com is the most common site used across Greece. English is widely spoken as a second language so calling to book directly is easy.
Reaching the centre of Athens by foot and tube takes an hour, but it is clean, cheap and air conditioned.
The local restaurants are reasonably priced and good and start from within a short stroll of the hotel.
We found Athens to feel safe and encountered no problems, however we met with others staying in a cheaper central region who had witnessed some scary night time scenes involving drugs and alcohol.
If we can afford it I would love to return when our younger children reach the same age and would choose the same hotel again.
This is not a trip I would recommend with young children in summer as it is very hot in the city: typically 34 degrees when we were there in early July.
So today I was supposed to share a long overdue kite flying session from September; however we took a spur of the minute decision in the week leading up to Guy Fawkes night to treat the kids to the famous Lewes Bonfire Night celebrations. This is right over in East Sussex and we haven’t been since pre kids. Farmer Nick grew up here and has many happy memories of the Lewes bonfire night. In the past we have held our own Coombe Mill celebrations with friends and guests, however our own children and their friends have now outgrown these. We only had a couple of guests leaving and arriving on the Saturday so we decided to take the triplets, leaving the older kids in charge of the animals and the guests. As fireworks night is a bit of an ‘of the moment’ occasion I decided to bump kite flying forward another week and share our adventure.
A 5th of November to Remember
A Coombe Mill Bonfire night certainly did not prepare our triplets for Lewes. We tried to explain to them what it would be like, but the scale of the operation was just beyond their comprehension. The town was diverted of all traffic from midday and on street parking suspended. Shops across the high street were being boarded up in preparation and excitement building. With Nick’s Mum living in the town we were sorted for parking and wandered through the beautiful Tudor lanes and Grange Park in the afternoon on foot to see the town being transformed.
I’m afraid I only thought to take photos of the pretty parts and not the boarded up high street!
It was bitterly cold in the evening as we headed down into town for the procession. This goes on for hours with each bonfire society parading. I remember struggling to see anything through the crowds in the past, but somehow the triplets wriggled through to the front in their eagerness to see what was going on. Bands marched and effigies were raised high supporting giant signs. We were looking out for friends of ours in the Southover society parade, but somehow missed them.
The huge fire torches made quite an impression on the triplets and they kept trying to grab the burned out ones dropped in the street.
Feeling cold and hungry we headed home for dinner, it really is a long night and we were told it would be at least 10.30pm before the fireworks would begin. With our outdoor clobber back on, a hip flask in hand and tummies full we headed back out for the fireworks.
At this point we had to decide which Bonfire society party to join as different groups split off around the town. As Southover was our nearest and our friends were there we naturally veered off following their loud music and tipsy crowd pullers. This really isn’t one for very young children and I was glad I had waited before taking our triplets, not least because if they became separated from us in the crowd they knew their way home.
Even heading back out at the programmed time there was precious little by way of action for the first hour. Finally the processors turned up at the field; the Teresa May and Boris Johnston effigies took their place on top of the Bonfire and the Pope stood up on his platform.
Nick and I knew just what would happen next but the triplets couldn’t believe their eyes. The pope was pelted with hand fireworks while the fire popped and cracked burning our Government with bangers constantly thundering round. I’d like to say it sounds scarier than it really is, but every time I go to a Lewes Bonfire night event I worry for the poor person playing the Pope.
The fireworks themselves lasted for ages making anything else I’ve ever seen look tiny. I’m sharing just a small clip from my phone, but honestly, against the biting cold evening sky they were incredible.
It was a very long way to travel for one night, but it is a 5th of November my children will always remember. Even the New York Times thought it worthy of a video
Every year on our annual family holiday to France we try to give the children a mix of days out. Adventure trips usually feature high on their wish list and they have their favourites they like to repeat, but Nick and I like to introduce something new each year too and introduce a little learning. Last year we visited Avignon together with its famous bridge for the first time. This year we found the ‘Grotte de Trabuc’, a series of underground caves, with an excellent write up and despite some reluctance from the triplets, we loaded up with a picnic and hit the road.
We had no idea what to expect, although our French cousins spoke very highly of their visit years ago. For starters, the coolness of the caves gave us a welcome break from the searing mid day heat. We joined a guided tour, although thankfully we had our own English hand held translation, as the guided tour was all in French.
The steps take you down underground into a magical world created by nature and enhanced by man with some helpful lighting. Whether or not you have an interest in Geology and Chemistry, you can’t fail to be impressed by the beauty of the caves. They were first discovered by smugglers in the 1800s who would hide in there; some basic weapons have been recovered and displayed.
The original entrance is not accessible to the public, but it must have been a wonderful haven for those entering years ago.
Grotte de Trabuc holds a scientific secret
There are some scientific conundrums in the caves. Every calcium deposit dripping from the ceiling forms a stalactite and corresponding stalagmite below, however there is a section in the caves known as ‘the room of 1000 solders’. Here there are stalagmites growing which resemble solders on a battle field but with no corresponding Stalactite above them. No one knows how they were formed, they are the only ones of their type known to exist in the world.
Perhaps the most spectacular areas of all are the crystal clear pools of water. They are in various shades of turquoise, depending on the sulphur and mineral content of the rock, and simply breathtaking.
One such pool at the deepest point is large enough for a kayak to travel across. A waterfall cascades from the river Gardon, this feeds the water supply through the caves.
Back out in daylight we found a quite picnic table overlooking the stunning mountains to enjoy our lunch. Here we ate and chatted over our favourite aspects of the tour. Nick did his degree in Geography was very helpful filling in any follow up questions from the kids.
Even the triplets who were a little reluctant to visit couldn’t help but be mesmerised by all they saw at the Grotte de Trabuc. Hopefully it added to their geography and chemistry knowledge base.
Tips for visiting the Grotte de Trabuc
Most suitable for older children who can appreciate the explanations of the cave formation and features.
Not suitable for buggies or wheelchairs or elderly unsure of their footing.
Wear sensible footwear as it is damp with puddles in the lowest sections.
€10 for adults and €6 for children, but watch out over 12 counts as adult.
If you have an interest in geology this is a must, with just a passing interest I still thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
The cafe is very basic and there are no other restaurants close by so a picnic is a good idea.
Take a jumper, it is much cooler inside the caves even in midsummer.
“Tales from the farmers wife” shares life on our lovely holiday farm with Farmer Nick and our 6 children. Step into our beautiful 30 acres and experience nature close up with farming and educational crafts in stunning North Cornwall. Family, fun and adventure start here.