Saturday, 4 July 2015

A trip to Beer in Devon

This week I took my two youngest children to Beer for a couple of days with a friend and her nearly three year old son.

It was lovely to spend some proper time with my newly three year old son doing proper toddler stuff without the distraction of my older two children.

Beer was the perfect destination for us. It only took about an hour to drive there and the village is small enough to explore on foot, yet has more than enough on offer to entertain little people (and their mums). Sadly, although we were visiting Beer, we most certainly weren't on the beers!

We stayed in the Youth Hostel, which is situated up the hill from the centre of the village. We booked a family room, which contained one single bunk bed and one bunk bed with a double bed base and single top bunk. The hostel offers catered and self-catered options and we opted for a catered cooked breakfast and to self cater for lunch and dinner. The 7pm catered dinner was a bit late for the children and too early for us to put them to bed and then get down in time for an adult-only dinner.

We arrived in the late afternoon on the Wednesday, which was not quite as early as planned due to the fact I'd been cheering my two older children on at their school sports day. Once we'd checked in (the reception is open from 8am-10am and then from 5pm to 10pm), we wandered down towards the beach. Unfortunately, we didn't actually make it to the waterfront as our two boys were ravenous and also needed a toilet stop. So we stopped at an Italian/Thai restaurant, where we were swiftly dispatched to the back room so we didn't interfere with the romantic front of house. My friend ordered a pizza to share with her son, while I opted for a children's spaghetti with pesto sauce and I went for an amazing Thai curry. By the time we had eaten, it was time to head back up to the hostel for bed.

After an amazingly sunny week, we were disappointed to wake up to rain on the Thursday. Undeterred by the miserable weather, we decided to walk to Pecorama, drawn by the promise of indoor model railways and a soft play area. The two boys were entranced by all the different model trains and thoroughly enjoyed driving a steam train and Gordon (Thomas the Tank Engine's friend) on one of the tracks. After wandering round the indoor exhibit, we took advantage of a break in the weather to brave the outdoor steam train ride around the extensive, and beautiful, gardens. The highlight for the two boys was the long tunnel.
As we ended our ride the heavens reopened, so we decided to investigate the soft play in the 'Playstation'. We were amazed. We both agreed it was the cleanest, lightest, airiest, best-kept soft play either of us had ever visited. The coffee was good too. So good, we ended up staying in there for three hours.
And by that time, the miserable weather had cleared and the blue skies and sunshine had returned. We wandered back to the exit through the beautiful gardens and decided to head straight down to the beach. And this time, we actually made it.

Beer beach is a working beach dotted with numerous boats. Jurassic Coast fossils and we spent a relaxing hour sifting through the shingle and watching the world go by. Meanwhile the youngest member of our party opted for a long feeding session. At 12 weeks, he's a little bit young for fossil hunting!
We were lucky enough to watch one fishing boat come in and get winched up the beach. The boys, who are both typical 2/3 year olds and obsessed with dinosaurs, decided to hunt among the pebbles for

We then headed back to the Youth Hostel and made a quick pesto pasta in the self-catered kitchen before heading to bed.

For our last day, we decided to head for the more fertile fossil hunting area of Lyme Regis, which is about 20 minutes' drive away from Beer. On our way, we were stopped at a level crossing to allow the Seaton to Colyton tram to pass. And if we had been staying for longer, this is definitely a trip we'd have done.

Lyme Regis is a beautiful town although all the car parks seem to be up the hill from the centre! Our main quest for our final day was to find some fossils. And as we walked into the town we spotted a sign for the Dinosaurland Fossil Museum, which sounded like the perfect place to introduce our toddlers to the joys of dinosaurs and fossils. Unfortunately, the museum was nowhere near as child-friendly as the 'Dinosaurland' name suggested. It is much more suitable for older children and teenagers than our young charges. It is a very old school museum, with extensive writing on notes near the artefacts. And, unlike many other museums, which are very much hands-on, with lots of interactive exhibits, this was very much a look but don't touch place. We also spent a lot of time lifting our boys up to see what was on show as everything seemed to be at a very adult height. We were particularly amused by the natural history room, which contained the archetypal, moth-eaten taxidermy we'd not seen since we visited museums in our childhood back in the late 70s and early 80s.

Once we'd looked around the museum, we realised the boys probably needed some sustenance.  We definitely needed a cup of tea and 12 week old baby O certainly needed a feed. So we found a lovely little square by the water mill and sat down for some refreshments and a slice of very nice cake. It soon became apparent that the boys needed to let off some steam. They were still quite frustrated that we hadn't found any fossils yet. So we headed straight to the beach.Lyme Regis Museum.
The tide was out and the desire to find a fossil (unlikely on the main beach - we had discovered in Dinosaurland that the most fertile fossil hunting ground is about a mile walk further east along the beach) was quickly replaced by the lure of the rock pools. After messing about at the water's edge and eating our picnic lunch for more than an hour, we decided to head towards the

Before coming to Lyme Regis, we had looked on the internet to see if there were any guided fossil walks. We were hopeful of finding our very own, but our research suggested these only took place on a Saturday. We were gutted to find, when we finally made it to the Lyme Regis, that the walks are a lot more regular and there had been one that morning. We made a point of asking the museum worker why these dates were not on the website, but a discussion about the merits of technology seemed beyond her. She argued that the walks are dependent on the tides, but then conceded that they had the times of the walk already planned until the end of the year (thanks to the tide timetable). So we are still none the wiser about why they don't seem to be available on the museum website!

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit the actual museum as I needed to get back to pick the children up from school. So we had a quick look round the shop to buy some souvenirs before heading home.

We had a really relaxing time away and I loved being able to spend some proper time with my friend as well as getting some one-on-one time with my three year old, thanks to my friend helping out with baby O.

Visiting East Devon and West Dorset really is like stepping back in time (although not quite to the Jurassic era!). The pace of life seems slower. Although this could just be that I was missing the internet - the 3G reception is pretty much non-existent and I barely picked up any WiFi - not even in the Youth Hostel!

My friend plans to return later this summer and I'm planning to go back again next May for the annual Lyme Regis Fossil Festival when, hopefully, we'll be able to get out on a guided fossil hunting trip and maybe make our very own Mary Anning discovery.

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