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A winter weekend in St Mawes

We have a lot of winter birthdays in my family, there are four of them between January 3rd and February 2nd. Coming from the side of the family that has nearly all summer birthdays (Jim, Theo and mine are all in August) I feel quite a lot of sympathy for those who celebrate at the darkest dampest time of the year when everyone is still struggling to work up enthusiasm after Christmas.

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This year my sister celebrates a big birthday, so we decided to mark it by decamping en masse to St Mawes in Cornwall for the weekend, where we expected nothing less than cold blustery weather, open fires and a cosy January weekend.

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A week on the Canal de Nantes à Brest (part 2)

A week on the Canal de Nantes à Brest (part 2)

by Clare Mansell

Last week I shared the first batch of photos from our family holiday aboard river boats in Brittany and today I want to share a few more, along with a short film of the trip and a video tour of the boat we spent the week on.

This trip was the third time we’ve holidayed as a large family group on hired boats and we really enjoyed exploring the Canal de Nantes a Brest. There is always a bit of flexibility and freedom with the route you choose on these kind of trips allowing you to decide how many miles you want to cover each day and the places you want to stop. Sometimes you have to modify your plans as you go especially as the locks are only open for set hours and close at lunchtime every day.

On one day we found ourselves held up going through the locks and I had to disembark and pedal at speed to the local town to buy bread for lunch before the boulangerie shut, but what a beautiful place to arrive in, totally worth the exertion!

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Part of the reason we as a family love these holidays is because we spent very little time on the trip standing still. There was always a new place to move on to for lunch or a mooring for the night and we only saw the same places twice when we turned round halfway through the week at Malestroit and started heading back to Messac.

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Even after we turned, the view on the return trip wasn’t all the same as we took a slight deviation to visit La Gacilly, a lovely quirky little town an hour’s cruise up a branch of the river. The town is home to several artists and when we visited was holding a photo exhibition in the grounds of the local arboretum. It was a great place to escape the heat of the day and get a cultural fix.

leboat36La Gacilly also has a vet who is very close to the river where we got the dogs wormed before their return journey, though judging by the confusion we caused asking for the pet passports to be stamped I don’t think its something he does too frequently! leboat_jane7leboat_portrait4leboat_jane20leboat_jane19

As is often the case, some of the best places we stopped were quiet moorings beside the river where we stopped for lunch and a couple of hours peace and quiet. One thing we didn’t do this time (mainly through lack of planning) was have an overnight at an out of the way mooring, so next year we must add this to the list!

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One of the surprising highlights of the trip was the riverside graffiti in Redon. Judging by the artists updating the collages in broad daylight it’s obviously something supported and encouraged by the city and the work was amazing.

My sister and I could have happily spent all day here taking photos with the backdrops and Theo and his cousin Archie also had great fun at the skate park which was right next door.

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Despite the stresses of a crawling baby on water and our outward ferry being cancelled meaning we had to leave 24 hours earlier than planned (!!) this trip was even better than our last one. The food and scenery were wonderful and there was something to keep all ages happy. We’ll be back again next year and this time we’re hoping to try out one of the new Horizon boats which Le Boat are adding to their fleet in the spring.

If you want to get a feel of what our trip was like please do watch the short film below which is less than two minutes in total and gives an idea of the wonderful relaxing week we had on the river..

And if you like to see inside the boat we stayed on, I did a quick video tour here…

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A week on the Canal de Nantes à Brest in Brittany (part one)

We are developing a bit of a tradition in our family for taking boat holidays together. Four years ago all of us (six adults, three children and four dogs) holidayed on the Welsh canals in three narrowboats, then last year we decided to step it up a gear and booked a trip to France which was a great success, even if the number of locks made it quite an active holiday too!

This summer we returned to Brittany for our second family holiday with Le Boat. We did a bit more research on the area this time and picked their Castles & Gardens route which begins at their base in Messac which is two and a half hours from Cherbourg. Although last year’s holiday was good we enjoyed this year’s route even more, the river was stunning and we found interesting towns, restaurants and scenery everywhere we stopped and amazingly, despite it being August, we found most places were very quiet.

This year we booked two boats, one for my parents and a much larger one for our family and my sister’s family to share (4 adults, 4 kids and 1 dog!) With Alice crawling I knew there was no way I’d be able to crew the boat and look after the kids so extra hands were needed!

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My parents booked the four berth Countess 15 and the rest of us were in the Grand Classique which has 5 cabins and sleeps twelve. It had a really fantastic dining and seating space in the middle of the boat with cabins at either end of the boat meaning my sister’s family and ours were able to have our own areas on board.

Despite the five cabins we had a few challenges with finding suitable sleeping spaces for all of us. None of the cabins had floor space big enough for a travel cot (which is pretty typical of any boat) so we bought a pop up travel cot to go on one of the bunks and used it with a bed guard (you can see how we used it in this video) We also discovered only when we arrived that 4 of the 10 dedicated beds are actually child size so when Jim (who’s 6’4″) and I had trouble getting a decent nights sleep on the double in the bow, one of us had to make up the bed in the saloon because neither of us fitted in the spare bunks, but it worked in the end.

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Once again on this trip, Le Boat kindly gave us a few upgrades in return for us sharing our experiences and photos of the trip. Bikes and wifi are really vital additions which we got a good amount of use out of on the trip and the baby seat we had on one of them meant I was able to get off the boat and cycle alongside the river with Alice which gave her a much needed change of scene.

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The weather throughout the week was amazing reaching the high 30s on most days and so we were pleased to be out on the water with a breeze and actively sought moorings in the shade on a number of occasions. We pretty much all survived without sunburn, even though on one day Alice and I had to do a fast pedal in the midday sun to the nearest town before the local boulangerie closed for lunch!

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And talking of boulangeries, we had amazing fresh bread and pastries to start every day from bakeries that were walking distance from the river. The Bretagne food in all its different guises was a definite highlight!

I do of course have way too many photos to share, so I’m splitting them between two posts, read part two here. As always thank you to my sister for letting me share some of her images too.

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How to survive a week on a boat with a crawling baby

Last week our family group of ten (plus two dogs) spent a wonderful seven days on boats exploring the canals in Brittany. Next week I’ll be sharing some photos and video from the trip, but before I do so I wanted to share some tips about how we survived a holiday on water with a crawling baby.

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Our holiday was booked just after Alice was born and we knew in all likelihood that she would be mobile by the time we took it. One change we made from the trip we did last year was to share a boat with my sister’s family so that there were more hands to assist, rather than having a boat just for the four of us.

That decision helped enormously, but there were still challenges ahead. A week before we left we realised we hadn’t inquired or made any arrangements for how Alice would sleep on the boat. When we did our canal boat holiday in Wales with an eleven month-old Theo the company we traveled with had a cot that fitted the cabin, but in France our enquiries didn’t lead to the same straight forward solution, so we had to find one ourselves.

There was also the problem of how to keep Alice from falling down stairs or… (heaven forbid).. overboard. We also found a solution for that! In between we had the challenges of storing a buggy, washing a baby on a boat that only had showers and keeping her from getting sunburn during a week when the temperatures in Brittany hit the high 30s.

I realise that boat holidays will not be everyone’s first choice with a young baby, but for the benefit of those who decide to keep holidaying on water despite a new arrival in the family I have made a video about my top five things to take on a boat holiday with a baby. If you read this blog post and find our experiences useful, we’d really appreciate a comment below…

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Our Eurocamp Diary – Part 2

Our Eurocamp Diary – Part 2

by Clare Mansell

Last week I shared the first half of our Eurocamp Diary, telling the story of our stay at the Domaines Des Ormes parc in Brittany, Northern France. In this post I pick up the story from midway through our stay and share a video of our week…

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Day 4

We wake up to torrential rain and head to the pool for the kids swimming lessons, splashing through the puddles in our flip flops. It’s 9am and we seem to be the only ones who are up. Alice loves the water and the wetsuit we’ve been loaned by Rachel means we don’t worry about her getting chilly, although there’s still a mad dash from the covered pool through an outside temperature corridor to the changing rooms, but the showers are hot, thank heavens!

Before we leave camp we stop in at reception to get directions for the local goods shop and discover to our dismay that it’s closed after a fire! Undeterred we decide to head to St Malo anyway discovering on the way that our Morris Minor leaks in places we never knew possible. We have lunch at a steak restaurant next to the closed shop and both kids are so tired from all the activities this week that we decide to abandon plans to go to the Aquarium across the road and head back to Domaine Des Ormes via the local supermarket.

We go to reception to report the broken loo again and as it’s unstaffed we leave a message for them. As there’s no bath in the Esprit, Alice has been getting washed in the kitchen sink, a right of passage for every baby and she seems to enjoy it.

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Once she’s in bed, Jim and I enjoy a €2.50 bottle of local red wine and show Theo the basics of how to play Scrabble. He really enjoys this focussed time with us and I’m so grateful we have decided not to pay for a week’s wi-fi pass, though having used 3G again today to get to St Malo, Jim gets to use his remaining time online to watch a video of a dog standing up in a swimming pool.

Day 5

Grey skies, but it’s dry! After breakfast we head to the pool for our 9am Learn To Swim lesson with Rachel. The classes are a little optimistically titled and I think would be better off being called something like “Water Babies : Fun sessions in the pool for non-swimmers” to help modify expectations. Jim seriously expected to see some kind of identifiable progress in 3 days which of course hasn’t happened.

After swimming Theo is booked in for a free kids club session called “Show Time” it’s really popular and some children are turned away when they reach maximum capacity, but Theo gets a place which means nearly 4 hours of free childcare for us. He spends the time making a glittery mask which seems to keep him happy even if the promised “show” for the parents at 1:30pm is a little all over the place. Four minutes watching a performance of Taylor Swift by four primary age kids can seem like a lifetime.

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After lunch, we decide to see if Theo can do the high wire adventure course and discover there is a slot free in 10 minutes. It costs €9.50 and lasts an hour. It’s brilliant value for money and I’m really impressed by the young French instructor who manages to be patient and humorous with all the children whilst instilling enough confidence for them to tackle the course on their own.

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Back at the cabin we do another barbecue and Theo finds his little friend next door to play with. They sit on the grass opposite playing games and colouring. We start chatting with his parents and before we know it we’re sitting on their deck drinking red wine.

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It’s a good chance to see first hand what the more luxurious Avant style home has to offer. We are rather envious of their large covered deck which comes into its own when it starts to rain, they also have their bathroom in one room!

Day 6

Everyone has a lie in and we miss our last early swimming session. We have a round of golf booked on the pitch and putt at 10:30am and we embrace the challenge of playing the game with two children in tow! Fortunately there is no one following us and we have the five holes to ourselves. We’ve brought clubs with us and Alice is happy enough crawling around the greens.

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Whilst we play we notice an astonishing thing, the weather is warming up! Not just slightly, but to proper balmy Mediterranean temperatures. So after lunch we decided to spend our final afternoon swimming. There’s an outside pool in the centre of the parc that is only open from 2pm so we head there. It’s buzzing with holidaymakers and kids enjoying the variety of bridges and slides.

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Alice has a last splash around in her borrowed wet suit before we hand it back and Jim and I reflect on our week at Eurocamp. It’s been a surprisingly good family holiday despite the disappointing weather and I really feel I’ve switched off, which can sometimes be hard to achieve on a short trip.

We loved the variety and affordability of the activities on offer and have already discussed returning next year. In a world that seems to be always on, Eurocamp gave us something like the old fashioned holidays I had as a kid in the eighties. No tv, lots of family time and the bare minimum of internet connectivity. It wasn’t perfect, no one ever came back to us about the broken loo and the Eurocamp staff who are all quite young, often lack the direction and authority needed to get things done, but if you can relax and accept that as part of the package, there is something special to be found here that is more than the sum of its parts.

The return journey

Our return crossing is a daytime one, the service is running a little late, so we board at about 11am and decide to take advantage of discounted room rates during the day and book a Commodore Class cabin which is more spacious than the one in which we made our outward crossing. Theo loves it and it means Alice has somewhere to sleep and crawl around for the next few hours.

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Once again we take it in turns to stay in the cabin or explore the boat and at about 5pm uk time, we hear our arrival has been delayed by an hour and a half. We put Alice down to bed again and she gets a good couple of hours sleep before we dock, making the £70 we paid for the cabin well worth while.

The details…

We stayed at Domaine Les Ormes in Brittany for 6 nights between 17th-23rd June in a 3 bed 1 bathroom Esprit mobile home. Our package included towel and linen hire, welcome pack and essentials pack would have cost £476.60. Brittany Ferries crossing from Portsmouth to St Malo costs approximately £500 return with 4 berth outside cabin for the overnight leg.

Expenses during the trip excluding shopping : Pizzas x2 from takeaway on parc : €17, Pony trek €10, kids high wire adventure €9.50, zip wire €6, pitch and putt €6 per adult



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