We started the May half term holidays a bit glum about the fact we had no plans. That all changed very quickly on the first Saturday afternoon. A family member had offered to lend us a 12 man tent and despite us both saying, “we will never go camping”, we had the sudden desire to camping! After some Googling, some emailing and a few phone calls, at 2pm we suddenly decided, that’s it… we are going camping! We chose to go to Merley Court Holiday Park because it’s near to Bournemouth. We have a fondness for Bournemouth after going there to celebrate our engagement in April last year. We also wanted to be near my Grandad as I hadn’t seen him for months.
Within two hours, we had packed up the car, realised our tent was too big for our pitch, sourced a new tent, packed that into the car and set off. A yellow rain warning and a forecast for heavy thunderstorms was not going to hinder our spontaneous camping trip. The rain and thunderstorms were forecast to start at 8pm and we arrived at Merley Court Holiday Park at 7pm, with no clue how to pitch our tent!
Eventually, with the help of a couple of men from another tent, we got our tent pitched up, beds made and went off to explore the campsite. We popped into the bar for a soft drink and sat in the lounge area until the storm started and then headed back to the tent to snuggle down for the night.
We awoke in the morning to bright sunshine. Mike and I were a little damp from sleeping in the living area of the tent, rather than a bedroom pod, but it was warm, so we weren’t that bothered. The children were all warm, dry and snug in their pods. I was more bothered about the mouse that had run underneath my airbed in the middle of the night. That always seems to happen to me when I go camping!
We started our Sunday morning with a trip to Wimborne Market, where we perused the items on offer, won on a tombola and got ourselves some breakfast. Following the market, we stopped off at a Decathlon shop and a Home Bargains to pick up a few extra bits and pieces for our tent and some matchy matchy flip flops for Bunny and I.
The next stop was Bournemouth. We enjoyed a stroll through Bournemouth’s stunning gardens, which is one of the reasons we love this place. I have so many memories as a child of this park. My best friend and I used to feed nuts to the squirrels in the gardens. It’s always adorned with so many pretty flowers and there’s now a crazy golf course in the gardens too. We popped to a few shops to get ourselves some lunch and some ice creams and sat in the park to enjoy it picnic-style.
Of course you can’t visit Bournemouth without going to the beach, so we walked back through the gardens and spent a couple of hours paddling in the sea and playing in the sand. The children were in their element.
On the seafront promenade, Bournemouth has a water play area for children, where little fountains of water shoot up and the children can run in and out of the jets as they go up and down. I think my children actually enjoy this even more than the beach. They got absolutely soaked and the smiles on their faces were priceless.
After a quick change into dry clothes, we went back to the campsite to cook ourselves some chilli for dinner and play in the park. The children all made friends with the children from neighbouring tents and it was lovely seeing them all play together. Running about on the grass, popping into each others tents and climbing trees. They even toasted marshmallows over the neighbours BBQ.
As we only booked two nights camping, we had to pack up the tent first thing on bank holiday Monday morning and the kids took the opportunity to spend every last minute at the campsite playing with their new friends.
We started bank holiday Monday with a visit to my Grandad, where the children spent most of the morning showing him gymnastics moves in his garden. It was lovely to spend some time with him, but sadly it was only a couple of hours as my Grandad has the most active social life out of everybody I know!
We took a trip to the nearby town of Poole, parking up next to Baiter Park and walking all along Poole Quay. The views are pretty and we picked a glorious day to admire the boats. We had to stop and reapply more sunscreen as it was such a hot day.
We stopped for lunch in the sunshine outside Quay Café, which sadly, I would not recommend. They had the most disappointing children’s meals I have ever come across. Bunny’s pizza meal was literally just a 6 inch pizza, with hardly any cheese, no other toppings, no garnish, no side salad, no chips, no drink, no activity pack, no dessert. Literally we paid £3.95 for one of those mini pizzas’s that you used to be able to get in a pack of 10 for a £1 in the supermarket. The twins sandwich meal was literally two slices of bread, one slice of ham and all the crusts cut off to make it even smaller. Again no accompaniments at all and that cost £3.50. We all left hungry and ended up going to the Tesco next door for crisps and ice cream.
Poole Quay however, is beautiful, with all the expensive yachts moored up. We’d picked another scorcher of a day and I took the girls up the viewing tower to take a photo. I tried pleading with the husband to go on a boat trip to Brownsea Island but he doesn’t share my love of boats, so we decided to save that for another day.
Sweltering in the 25 degree heat and needing to do something to cool down, we followed the water around to Sandbanks (by car of course – it’s not really walkable). Sandbanks is another clean soft sandy Dorset beach which holds fond childhood memories for me. My mum took me there quite a few times when I was little. Usually just her and I, but sometimes I would bring a friend. Mike liked Sandbanks beach even more than Bournemouth beach. We all paddled in the sea again to cool down and we had a good giggle at Bunny as Fluffy chased her around the sand throwing chunks of seaweed at her. Well what else are sisters for?!
All too soon it was time to return to Gloucestershire. We were all going home with strong tans, big smiles and feeling a bit knackered to be honest. Camping is not the four or five star hotel treatment that I prefer and two nights is not by any means a holiday, but it was so lovely to have that little mini-break. It was just what we needed to see the children having so much fun in the sunshine and spending some much needed family time together away from home. I always feel good after being near the sea too. I am so glad we went. We are already talking about investing in a bigger tent and some proper camping gear, so we can take lots more spontaneous camping trips.
If you’re curious about camping with small children, head over to my travel blog where I wrote a post a few years ago, about top tips for camping with toddlers.