Right at the end of summer, after my little moan that we hadn’t spent enough time together as a family, we took action.
We decided to use the last couple of days of the summer holidays to do something spontaneous. Sam booked a few days off work, and we headed to the Sussex coast to check out Camber Sands, Rye, and Dungeness.
The plan was to get up early and make the most of a day trip, but at the last minute, Sam decided to book a family room at a nearby hotel, granting us a little more time and a little less rushing for our last minute family time.
Our first stop was Camber Sands. It takes about an hour and a half to drive from our home in South London.
We arrived mid-morning expecting the car park to already be busy as the weather forecast was saying perfect sun all day. Actually, the car park was practically empty, despite it being the school summer holidays. But perhaps the fact that it was a Thursday, rather than a weekend, made all the difference.
This was our first time visiting Camber Sands and we’ve fallen in love.
The sand is beautifully soft and silty. We walked all the way to and from the car park in bare feet. The sand isn’t stiff and thick like you get at some British beaches.
The part of the beach where we chose to plonk ourselves (near the Western car park) was pleasingly devoid of touristy tat or ice creams to tempt the boys. There was a shop and a cafe a 10 min walk away back at the car park, but nothing commercial on the beach at all and that felt really nice.
Of course, you have the sand and the sea to keep the little ones entertained, but on top of that is a third element – the sand dunes. Arlo and Rory could have spent hours exploring the dunes and sliding down them. They stretch for quite a way with lots of different paths and turns to take, so it really feels like you are adventuring.
We were at Camber Sands from 12pm until 7pm. Whether it was playing beach football, climbing the dunes, or making sandcastles (or sand bowls, as we couldn’t find our bucket so brought a mixing bowl instead!), Arlo just did not stop the whole time. I don’t know where he gets the energy.
On the other hand, I managed to get a double nap out of Rory and Baby O. Young babies and beaches/sun is not something I have a lot of experience with, but our sun shade and our sleepyhead both proved very useful items. I think the sound of the sea and the rustling of the sun shade in the wind really helped him sleep – we got 5 straight hours out of him with a brief feed in between.
Our sun shelter is a Coleman Sundome. We chose to get a big one rather than a ‘baby’ sun shade so that we can continue to use it year on year for the whole family.
I’d heard little about Dungeness, aside from its unique other world-like shrubland giving it a strange appeal for visitors. For a place that had essentially been described to me as a devoid stretch of beach, we were surprised to find Dungeness actually has quite a few attractions, especially for families.
Firstly, there is the lighthouse. You can climb the 100-odd steps for a great view at the top – extremely cool if you are five and three years old (and 30 years old, ahem).
Dungeness also serves as the end of the line on the Romney, Hythe, and Dymchurch steam railway. Much to the boys dismay, we didn’t partake in any train activities today. It looks like there is lots to do en route, and we felt it deserved a full day, so we’ll come back and do the full RH&DR line another time.
There is an RSPB nature reserve that Sam was itching to go, but we feared our noisy children would disturb the serious bird-watchers, so Sam has put it down on his list of places to visit sans-kids.
A cool fact about Dungeness (if you are nature and insect nerds like certain members of my family), is that it is home to many species of insects and plants. To quote Wikipedia:
There is a remarkable variety of wildlife living at Dungeness, with over 600 different types of plant: a third of all those found in Britain. It is one of the best places in Britain to find insects such as moths, bees and beetles, and spiders; many of these are very rare, some found nowhere else in Britain.
Another of Dungenesses’ unique traits is the rather desolate landscape of shingle and desert shrub. Walking along the beach dotted with shipping containers, crumbling ramshackle wooden structures and boats run aground feels a little like wondering through an eery abandoned town, and I can see why it’s popular with photographers and artists.
Next up after Dungeness, we hopped back in the car for the 20 minute drive to Rye.
Over recent years, I’d heard good things about Rye from quite a few different people, so it’s been on my ‘places to visit’ list for a while.
Unfortunately the rain came out for the entirety of our visit, but hopefully my photos still somewhat portray how pretty this little town is. If you like slow-paced towns full of cobbled streets, shops with names like “The Tiny Bookshop” and cottages with sweet names like “The House with Two Front Doors”, then Rye is the place for you.
We visited in summer time, but Rye actually struck me as a very good place to visit during the colder months. There are an abundance of coffee shops and pubs that would be just perfect for a cosy winter visit.
We stopped for afternoon tea at Edith’s House. The extensive list of freshly-made scones and jam selection stumped me for a bit, but I eventually chose an almond scone with raspberry jam and vanilla clotted cream and it was wonderful.
We did this trip in a weekend, spending the day on the beach on our first day, then visiting Rye and Dungeness on our second day. Staying overnight gave us the time to see everything without rushing, although we could have easily spent more time everywhere we went – it’s the perfect long weekend destination.
It’s amazing how just a couple of days with Sam around and a change of scenery can restore my patience. No more short fuse for the near-constant refereeing of “I was talking first!!” “He hit me!” squabbles. The thing I noticed most of all, which rarely happens when it’s me on my own with the three children was that there was no need to say no.
I wrote recently about not being satisfied with how our summer holidays were going so far. It turns out all I needed was an opportunity to say “Today is for you! We can do whatever you like”.
An opportunity to say YES.