Ziplining down the gorge is one of the many attractions at Bluestone National Park in Pembrokeshire, Wales
THE long, cold winter, and cool, wet spring have left us hankering for nature to show its kinder face and let us back into the great outdoors.
Being stuck inside does lend itself to daydreaming, of course, and all this miserable weather has played its part in the hatching of holiday plans in homes all over Ireland.
A week on a beach in Greece sounds appealing, true, but busy lifestyles passing each other in the hallways of our homes mean people are looking for more meaningful experiences together as a family.
That imperative to make the most of precious time together bonding as a unit has no doubt contributed to the rise in popularity of activity-based holidays in the great outdoors.
Activity park holidays have been popular on the continent and the UK for some time now, and a facility is under construction in this country at the moment, in county Longford, to cater for that market.
In the meantime though, we have to look across the channel for this kind of amenity, which leads us to Bluestone National Park in Pembrokeshire, south Wales.
Wales might not be a destination that immediately springs to mind for Irish holidaymakers, but some more energetic promotion by the Welsh tourism board is starting to get the message out there that the Principality is well worth a look.
We travelled over to Bluestone for an Easter trip this year, catching the ferry from Rosslare and landing in the port of Fishguard.
The fun started on the Stena Line ferry with a trip to the bridge, the nerve centre of operations, at the invitation of the officers.
Ship operations were dutifully revealed, but if I took one thing away from it all, it was the size of the wheel, which was tiny.
I’ve obviously been conditioned by all those pirate movies with several sea dogs hanging off a huge wheel in a gale trying to keep their vessel upright.
It was a slightly choppy crossing and we learned that captains these days are not as gung-ho as their counterparts of yore who would head out in all sorts of stormy conditions.
Landing in Fishguard, it’s a handy half hour down to Bluestone. For some more entertainment on the trip we attempt to wrap our tongues around some of the more outlandish Welsh names on road signs as we made our way down to the park - and there are some proper tongue twisters; Mynachlog-ddu was a personal favourite.
At Bluestone we check in and drive our luggage down to the smart, split-level cabin, which had two double ensuite rooms downstairs and a bright open plan kitchen living room area on the first floor. There is of course a wide variety of lodges, depending on how many are in your party.
Ours slept four and was called Carn Menyn, which we renamed Karen Millen to help one member of our party remember.
The kitchen is fully equipped which you’ll be glad of for a longer stay as while there are plenty options for dining in the park and general area, you won’t want to keep eating out, for cost reasons if nothing else.
Another thing to note is to bring extra towels, as while you get some on arrival, you will be charged to have them replenished.
After that initial drop-off our motor has to be returned to the car park for the duration of the trip and if you want to get around after that it’s Shank’s Pony, or you can hire a golf cart for your stay.
They’re somewhat expensive at £92.50 for the weekend, but the novelty is clearly too much to resist for most and there are dozens of them whirring around the place all weekend.
While attractions are dotted around the extensive park, the carts are not necessary as the whole thing is easily walkable.
As with most such parks, the pool/water park is the main free attraction included in the price, while there is a good children’s adventure centre that includes mini golf, climbing frames etc.
Otherwise, this being the UK you get what you pay for and for an idea of what activities will set you back, check out the box below.
And at Bluestone we found plenty of activities, supervised and otherwise, that engaged us as a family unit.
One highlight was Go Wild, a three-hour forest activity for parents and kids which combined some treasure hunting and orienteering, with little talks on the local flora and fauna, basic survival skills and team activities, like building a bivouac from branches and standing under it while the little ones tested its water-resistance with buckets of water.
Safe to say, we could have sealed it a little better.
There are a number of water activities in the reed-ringed pond like kayaking and for the more adventurous the coracle, a traditional Welsh vessel used by poachers which has a strange sideways motion.
Camp Smokey was another highlight; a semi-outdoors cafe deep in the forest gorge it played host to a shindig the weekend we were there which was great fun. Diners are divided into blue and red teams and whoever makes the best show of singing and dancing along with the music gets served first.
So, yes, you literally have to sing for your supper but it was not difficult to get into the spirit of things with a very good band.
“Let’s start with the national anthem,” boomed the singer, “we’re lucky they made it nice and easy for us.”
Uneasy glances are exchanged among our Welsh cousins, who like ourselves, would not claim universal grasp of the native tongue.
Relieved smiles all round then when the anthem turns out to be Delilah, by Tom Jones. Cue much singing dancing and fun, though the teens in the company stared hard at their phones.
For adults looking to unwind there is the Well Spa Retreat, which my better half was quick to volunteer for. I agreed, but on the condition she take copious notes.
They went something like this: “Mmmmm, mmmm...oh that’s fantastic...” You get the picture.
THE KIDS' REPORT
Bluestone National Park is a great place to go.
The second you get there you will find yourself having fun, there is so much to do.
For example, the Blue Lagoon is a water park.
It is like being at an inside beach, except better.
It has waves every 10 minutes and there is also the lazy river that drags you calmly outside and back in and, of course, the water slides - there were three of them.
There is good fun in the adventure centre too and so much different water sports to do like the kayak and coracle and lots more.
One of my personal favourites was the nature walk but you’re probably like, “BORING” and I agreed with you at the start.
I was like, “no way I am going on a three hour walk”, but when we got there it was actually one of the best things I had done in my life.
We made stick forts and toasted marshmallows on a fire we made ourselves and we had loads of games along the way.
Another thing I liked about it was the Camp Smokey Shindig. We had to dance for our supper and sing for our dessert. So in conclusion Bluestone is the best place you can find in Wales.
I loved going on the water slides even though I wasn’t too sure at first.
I liked playing the mini golf in the adventure centre too.
When we went on the nature walk I found the first clue and I liked eating the marshmallows and the popcorn we did when we made the fire.
Bluestone’s central location makes for an excellent base to explore Pembrokeshire, which combines the unassuming pastoral charm of county Limerick with some spectacular coastal scenery, including several excellent beaches.
We took in day trips to Tenby, a fine old-style seaside resort, beautiful Barafundle Bay and St David’s - the UK’s smallest city, named for the Welsh patron saint.
It has a spectacular cathedral in St David’s honour, as well as trendy shops, galleries and restaurants and nearby beaches. There is a number of other attractions in easy reach by car, like Broadhaven Bay, Newgale and surfing beach Freshwater West, but time was against us.
The cost of accommodation for a week in high season (£908) is competitive when compared with similar-sized holiday rentals in the area, whether coastal (Tenby, Milford Haven) or inland St David’s, Narberth).
Sailing with Stena varies depending on the season but a return trip in July can set you back as little as €439 for two adults, two children and a car. So, with sterling still weak as the UK lurches towards Brexit, a fun-filled family holiday won’t break the bank.
For information check out www.bluestonewales.com.
- The Limerck Leader travelled on Stena Line Ferry from Rosslare to Fishguard at the invitation of Bluestone National Park Resort