Happy Days Retro Vacations

Last weekend we packed our bags, jumped in the car and drove up to Suffolk to a small town called Saxmundham. Just outside the town is a small campsite run by Jenni and Kevin who set up there about three years ago after transferring from Dorset. But it’s not just any campsite, it’s an airstream glamping park and as you pull on the breaks and turn to look at the field, you are greeted by a spectacular sight of 6 beautiful airstreams, carefully brought back to their original glory, standing peacefully in the park, waiting to give you a weekend break like you’ve never experienced before.

At this point, I can hear Jenni entering the conversation and reminding me that one of the trailers is actually an Avion.

These guys are super passionate about what they do and how they do it. They spend months searching the internet for airstreams for sale. They buy them, import them from the States and drive them from Southampton, where they arrive on a ship, up to the quiet Suffolk countryside.

Happy Days Airstream

But they’re not just any Airstream offered up for hire. No, they are all furnished and decorated as closely as possible to the original state, lending a marvellous vintage air to them. On top of that, each trailer is named and the names are delightful – Betsy, Dee Dee, Nettie and Gloria are some examples. You will even hear Jenni referring to her airstreams as ‘she’.

We were incredibly lucky to be invited up for a weekend break at Happy Days Retro Vacations to try out the experience for ourselves, as a family and we were allowed to bring Baxter with us as a few of the Airstreams are dog friendly.

Airstream galmping

Inside an Airstream

We were given Dee Dee for our stay who is one of the first trailers you pass in the field. Standing brightly with a wooden table outside she looks really inviting. I really liked that the area in front of the Airstream was artificial grass, what a great idea as it saved a lot of mud being dragged in but was still in keeping with the field. We also had some colourful outdoor chairs to relax in too dotted around our pitch and flamingos too.

Airstream living area

The door opens into the living area with a table to the right, the kitchen sink and hob/oven in front and the fridge to the left as you climb the steps. The shelf over the fridge has a TV (for watching DVDs as there is no television connection) and a radio. Parents will be pleased to know that the WiFi connection is very hit and miss, we really embraced this as the girls were off out exploring from the word go but more about that later.

Airstream bedroom

As you turn left into the airstream, straight after the kitchenette you enter the bedroom with a single bed on either side of the walkway which leads down to the bathroom. The bathroom has a portable toilet, a shower, a sink and a cupboard for storage.

Airstream kitchen

Each window has beautiful handmade curtains to make a cosy evening and shut out the light. The table has a PVC cloth and the benches are covered in cushions in wonderful retro prints.

It Is Gorgeous.

As you settle in to your vintage Airstream, you find all sorts of delightful surprises that make you smile and from the word go I can guarantee a happy-go-lucky feel about your weekend (or longer) stay.

Once the children were in bed, we sat and chatted a while before turning the table area into a comfortable double bed. You simply remove the table top which slots across the two benches on either side and store the leg under the bed. The cushions all go into making the mattress – and it was very comfortable indeed.

You can either take your own bed linen or hire it from Jenni.

Bathrooms

Happy Days Retro vacations

Don’t panic there are some very accommodating bathrooms onsite, not gender specific and also large enough to get the family in. Heated, spacious and beautifully decorated too. Definitely shower here rather than in the Airstream!

Entertainment at Happy Days Retro Seaside Glamping Holidays

You may be thinking, ‘What will we do in the middle of nowhere?’ and to that my first reply is, “Relax!” You are in the midst of nature at its best, surrounded by a peace that can only do you the world of good. Take the time to recharge and treasure the moment.

However, Jenni and Kevin have also put a lot of thought entertaining all members of the family.

Airstream glamping

There is a wonderful park with a ‘secret garden‘ kind of entrance that leads to an old army truck which our kids loved playing on. A trampoline and a wonderful area of grass, fields and trees, all hedged in so the children can play safely until their heart’s content. We came home with a bag of apples and pears!

Reception is in a furnished shed and has games, DVDs and a jar of sticks for marshmallows too. There are books, leaflets to take away and plenty of ideas to keep you amused.

Then there is the Red Shed. The Red Shed is a place that can be used for parties, there are sofas to sit on and a dance floor. There is a DJ booth in the corner and a glitter ball. Kevin will be installing a fire this autumn so it can be used in the colder months too.

Jenni told me that the whole park can be hired out for special celebrations, birthdays, hen parties, anniversaries. I agree it would make a wicked venue for a family get together.

Happy Days polytunnel

There is also a polytunnel which the previous owners had used as a greenhouse. If we were looking for the twins they were in the polytunnel playing table football! There was also a super-sized Connect 4 game and a table with lots of chairs. Oh and another glitter ball, why not?

fire pit

Lastly, I must mention the firepit and marshmallows. As sun falls and dinner has been served, Kevin did a round of the Airstreams taking huge buckets of wood and firelighters to his guests. Using an old washing machine drum which works perfectly as a firepit, we lit a fire, pulled some wonderful hand crocheted blankets around us and whilst we toasted our marshmallows (on the sticks found in reception) we looked up and saw a sky full of stars. I managed to point out the plough but I soon realised it was the only formation I knew!

Places to visit close to Happy Days Retro Park

There is plenty to see in this part of the world and both Kevin and Jenni are full of top tips to pass on. We went to visit Southwold which was lovely. We walked along the pier and beach. We stopped off at a pub on our way back to Happy Days called The White Heart, also home to the  Famer and Fisherman restaurant which had a delicious menu. We weren’t there for food but we tried a couple of the local Adnams beers – I spotted that Adnams also do gin but failed to find some to buy. We sat in the pub garden where the girls fed the ducks and walked alongside the lake picking wild blackberries.

On the Sunday we visited Thorpness and walked to The House in the Clouds and spotted the windmill from Grandpa In My Pocket tv programme. We also visited Aldeburgh where apparently there are two marvellous fish and chip shops which we are going to have to go back and try as we got hungry in Thorpeness and went into the Kitchen where Paul and the girls had a homemade pizza and I had a fresh crab salad.

Airstream Dee Dee

Local shops

Each Airstream has tea, coffee and sugar but if you do want to shop for food and other bits there is a Tesco and a Waitrose in Saxmundham. A five minute drive away.

I’m not sure if you understand just how much I enjoyed our weekend at Happy Days? I am hoping my enthusiasm is coming over through my post because it was one of the nicest experiences I have had this year. I would thoroughly recommend it and the girls arrived home asking if we could go back again.

Thank you, Jenni and Kevin, for a very special experience.

Disclosure: We were weekend guests of Happy Days Retro Vacations for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.

camping at chessington with the brownies

One of the highlights of the past year for the twins has been going to Brownies on a Tuesday evening. They are in a group of around 20 – 30 girls and under the watchful eyes of three owls (Tufty, Eagle and Little) they get up to all sorts of activities including, craft, singing and playing football. Each term they work towards a new badge – much to my delight when it comes to sewing them on – and now one arm of their jackets is more or less covered!

At the beginning of the year, forms were sent to the parents talking of an annual camping at Chessington trip along with the other Brownie groups and the Guides in July. There was a lot of excitement in the house and dad and I knew it was a ‘must’ for the girls, plus it was planned for the weekend just before their birthday so would go nicely into being part of their present.

As the time drew closer, kit lists were sent out and dad and I realised this was proper camping! We were going to have to learn how to make bedrolls and make them easy enough for the girls to carry.

Girl Guiding does its best to keep costs to a minimum and there wasn’t going to be a lot of kit that needed to be bought but a few bits that sprung to mind were, a mattress to roll the sleeping bags on, a thermal mug to drink hot chocolate around the camp fire and a torch for the midnight feast of course!

Who do you turn to with any camping related question – Millets of course! I told them what we needed and the important reason  – Brownie Camping trip to Chessington – and they were delighted to help out; camping is their forte.

camping mattresses

They sent along two fabulous mattresses and we practised rolling and unrolling our bedrolls (something that will need practising again before next year, apparently there were a few tears walking back to the coach on Sunday with a bedroll that kept on unravelling…)

thermal camping mug

They also gave us two thermal mugs which were nice and light to carry and did the job perfectly according to the twins (only the hot chocolate wasn’t very nice mummy)

small torch

And lastly, two torches which were small and light. Now, I spent a lot of time telling the girls to look after these torches and showing them a special pocket on the rucksack PERFECT to put them in so we wouldn’t lose them but of course, one twin came home without hers. *sigh*

Dad and I dropped two VERY excited little girls off on Saturday morning at 7.30am and collected two very happy but shattered little girls on the Sunday at 4 pm. We did our best to get some conversation from them; just an idea of how it went, what they got up to but they were so tired we got barely anything other than, ‘It was great, can we go again next year?’

Bedding roll for camping

They had a lot of fun and if you are contemplating your little ones going I would whole heartedly say yes, send them as it’s a life memory and fantastic for confidence building. Bessie said she went on all of the rides whereas before departure she was sure she wouldn’t be doing some of them.

Thank you very much Millets for coming to our rescue with all of our camping equipment. I think we did very well only losing one torch considering what could have gone missing!

Disclosure: Millets sent us the products mentioned above for the purpose of this post – all opinions are my own and Brown Owl is writing a long list of necessities for next year ;)

Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Hidden within the white chalk cliffs towering over Ramsgate Sands is a network of tunnels extending approximately 3 and 1/4 miles under the town. There are 11 entrances at strategic points around the town providing easy access to safety within a 5 minute walk of most areas. If the siren was to go off, you and your family could be safe within a five minute’s walk.

Ramsgate Tunnels town entrance

Martin, our guide for the 1 and 1/2 hour tour is born and bred in Ramsgate and his grandparents used the tunnels during the war. He has many fascinating anecdotes to share.

Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Ramsgate Tunnels entrance

I would advise you book your tickets online as the tours fill quickly and arriving at the door, hoping to squeeze on a tour may leave you disappointed.

The Ramsgate Tunnels Tour starts in the large entrance tunnel with a short film which takes you back to the days of World War II. Martin then introduces himself and runs you through the history, starting at the beginning when the tunnel was made to join Ramsgate Sands to the existing train line that then ended at Broadstairs. It proved to be a great success and Ramsgate enjoyed a booming tourist industry.

Ramsgate Tunnels vintage sign

As the Second World War approached, the tunnels had fallen into disuse and it was the brains of Mr Brimmell and Mr ABC Kemp, the mayor of Ramsgate, that came up with the ambitious plan to extend the tunnels into a network of deep shelter areas that would provide refuge for 60,000 people.

The Duke of Kent opened the completed tunnels in 1939 and on August 28th 1940 they proved their worth when Ramsgate received more than 500 bombs from a squadron of German pilots who dumped their load rather than carry it home. No lives were lost but the town was left badly damaged.

Ramsgate Tunnels toilets

The toilets of the time

The tunnels were equipped with chemical toilets, bunk beds, seating, lighting and a public addressing system. As homes were damaged above ground, life carried on underneath. Some people even took up residence down there.

Construction of the Ramsgate Tunnels

Ramsgate Tunnels tour

The tunnels were made 6 feet wide and 7 feet high. They were constructed at a depth of 50-75 feet to provide protection from bombs. If the tunnels rose closer to the surface and were deemed unsafe, they were coated with reinforced concrete.

Life in the Ramsgate Tunnels

Ramsgate Tunnels Tour

Two babies are said to have been born in the tunnels. Dances were held, Christmas dinners enjoyed, a barber, whose shop had been bombed, started to work down there. Life carried on and the children of the time, unaware of the enormity of the situation, had a great time living their underground adventure.

Fortunately, nobody died in the tunnels. The closet Ramsgate came was a man nicknamed ‘Shell’ which is a very sweet story but I’ll let Martin tell you that one, he tells it so much better than I could.

Tickets

Can be bought online

Adults – £6.50
Seniors – £5.00
Child – £4.00

Top Tips

Wear warm clothes. You will need a jacket as the tunnels are cold.

Wear trainers or flat closed shoes, it’s a dusty uneven surface down there.

Young children aren’t going to enjoy this. We had a 2 year old in our group, he screamed and cried all the way round which echoed in the small space. Poor child, he was cold, bored and would much rather be on the beach. It was a shame he was so noisy as he interrupted Martin’s fascinating stories and made it difficult for the group to hear.

Ramsgate Tunnels memoirs

Capri day trip

I’m not sure why but I thought I’d never see the Island of Capri. You see, it is a luxury destination where world-known celebrities hang out and overpaid footballers buy enormous mansions with personal football pitches.

It is the island where Sophia Loren swam in the Grotta Azzura (Blue Cave) with Clark Gable in the film, ‘It Started in Naples’. This tiny dot of limestone rock, I’d just assumed to be impossible to ever visit.

So should you ever be taking a short break in Sorrento and you have some spare time, I would wholeheartedly recommend a day trip to the Island of Capri.

The ferry runs a few times a day and tickets can be bought down near the harbour in Sorrento. We strolled down one morning and queued up alongside a melting pot of tourists from every corner of the planet.Those armed with guidebooks, who with cameras and some with just a curious mind.

Day trip Island of Capri

Giuseppe our Italian guide – note the license around his neck.

Day Trip to the Island of Capri

As we hung around the piazza waiting for our ferry, an Italian gentleman approached. Giuseppe asked if we would be interested in his services for the day. He explained he had been a licensed guide for 50 odd years and had been accompanying people to the island since. He explained the route he would take, the places we would visit, the places we could eat and his price which was reasonable. I managed to convince our group and we were taken under Giuseppe’s wing.

It was the best decision, his advice started on the crossing. On spotting the choppy sea, he indicated to sit towards the back for a better ride. We did as we were instructed and survived a crossing that made many others very ill indeed.

capri day trip

Arrival to the island is in the bustling port of Marina Grande. I found it fascinating, there were bellboys from the luxury hotels, collecting guests and their luggage from the various, ferries, yachts and water taxis. The customers were taken in open top taxis to their destinations and their luggage followed.

Capri day trip

Everything on the island has to be imported from the mainland, the food and drink even the buses and building materials.

Capri luggage taxis

Chambermaids, barmen, waiters and shop assistants all travel over daily to work on the island as there is nowhere to stay overnight. Property is way too expensive to put staff up in!
Giuseppe shuffled us and another ten guests onto a bus and we drove off to our first sightseeing point along a narrow and winding road with a sheer drop to one side.

Anacapri

day trip island of capri

Those green stickers on our t-shirts Giuseppe gave us so he could remember his customers :) 

There is a short walk from where the bus drops you at Anacapri and you follow a path through souvenir shops up around the side of the highest point until you stand and look down over Capri. It is a breathtaking moment,  below you can make out the mansions with their football pitches I was telling you about earlier. You can see the dot of a harbour that we had been in half an hour ago and you can take in the lush green vegetation against the blue of the Mediterranean Sea.

If you wish, you can walk down 100s steps past the mansions, back to the harbour. We didn’t, Giuseppe had arranged for us to continue our journey after a stop for lunch. ‘Pausa pranzo’

The lunch was in a busy restaurant on the walk we had taken up and the menu was basic but cheap. There wasn’t any time in Giuseppe’s schedule for luxurious long lunches which would have been very nice, so we obliged and enjoyed a decent meal with wine for a few euros before making our way back to the meeting point.

Now it was time to drive over to Capri the second main town on the island.

Capri

On the way over to the town Capri, Giuseppe asked the driver to stop after one of the bends in the winding road. He’d been telling us about famous people who had lived on the island or who had a holiday home here. Property prices are eye watering but the views are stunning. Fortunately for us, the sun came out at this point. That is Punta di Tragara in the distance.

Marina Piccola Capri

We drove on to our last stop. Giuseppe would be leaving us here but included in his fee were tickets to catch the cable car from Capri down to the harbour, Marina Grande where we would catch our ferry home. We had some time to explore the town during our day trip and what a beautiful place it is.

Piazzetta Capri

Designer shops line the cobbled stone streets, posh hotels, world class restaurants and pizzerias with photos of Simon Cowell and other famous faces in the window. The buildings are whitewashed and the shops are full of luxurious items. It’s another world.

Capri day trip

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Carthusia

Carthusia perfume CApri

When you visit Capri, you will see the word Carthusia everywhere. It’s the name of the perfume company from Capri and you will spot signs everywhere. They sponsored the town’s flower displays, they have scent smelling stations set up and there are shops where you can choose and buy your personal favourite. I wish I had! I shall return to Capri one day to visit Carthusia. Note the small table with jars in the photo above, they are the scents to smell and decide.

Town square

Piazzetta Capri

Sit in one of the squares long enough and sooner or later you will spot a celebrity stopping for an espresso, an aperitivo or just to savour the moment, maybe with a limonata, the soft drink that is so popular in this part of the world. We didn’t stop at this bar as we were curious to walk around the town and see what we could discover. We weren’t disappointed.

Capri cable car

Piazzetta in Capri

One exciting way to get back down to Marina Grande is by the cable car. Just by the main Piazzetta there is a wonderful terrace with garlands around the pillars. Right next to that you will see the word funiculare, and that is the entrance to the cable car. As you descend you have a fantastic view of the harbour below and the sea stretching out in front.

capri cable car

Capri aperitivo

If there is one last tip I must pass on it is to make time to sit in one of the bars in the Marina Grande harbour, order a Capri aperitivo (which you can see here  – Blue for the Grotto Azure) and watch the world go by. There is a hive of activity passing right in front of you and people from all walks of life walking and looking at the cheap souvenir shops lining the streets.

Bar Aprea Capri

Capri is well worth a visit and I look forward to returning one day … maybe even staying over one night and going for a pizza…

shell grotto margate

If like me, you are attracted to mystery and you enjoy being wowed by unexplainable facts then the Shell Grotto in Margate has to be high on your bucket list. Trust me and read on, you are going to love it.

Hidden away in the back streets of an unsuspecting residential area of Margate, within walking distance of the centre, is a curiosity that will hold your wonder for days after your visit. In fact, it is so insignificant you would be forgiven for passing it by or for even not finding it all! It is said it was discovered by mistake in 1835, when James Newlove was digging a duck pond in the ground and came across a hole. Like any loving father, he lowered his son into it to explore and his son returned, thankfully, describing a labyrinth of tunnels covered in shells below ground.

shell grotto margate

Well, that’s one story of how it was discovered but there are a number of stories out there and after 180 years of exaggeration and embellishment there’s not a lot of chance finding out the truth!

Anyway, in 1838, three years later, James opened the Shell Grotto to the public and now, almost 200 years to the day, it hasn’t lost its ability to draw the curious in. It remains a hugely popular place to visit when in Margate.

“My brother found out about the underground place sometime before it was known. He never dared to tell father. He found the chalk loose at one end of the passage next to the cottage, which was built afterwards, and he opened it up by taking the stuff away, as it were in rough blocks. Then when the opening was wide enough, he crawled through and got into the Grotto. And so did I. Yes, and two or three other young girls too. We crept in through the opening, and had to scrub ourselves right through the dirty chalk, and lor, we did make a mess of ourselves. But we got in and saw it all; we had to take a candle in a lantern round somebody’s neck.

“Once, when we were in, father shouted for us, and we were in a fine hurry to get out. “Where are those girls?” The reason he wanted us then was because a new governess, a clergyman’s daughter, had just arrived, and we were to be introduced. So we got out as quick as might be, and we were all white and dirty from the chalk and the dust. We needed some brushing, I can tell you; and we had to do it quick too.

“But it was really discovered in 1837, and my brother was dropped down the Dome with a light. He had been through it before, but had not told father.”

— Fanny Newlove

The Shell Grotto

Shell Grotto Margate

The Shell Grotto measures 104ft long and the walls are covered in 4.6 million shells mosaiced into intricate panels each depicting a separate design and meaning. There is the Turtle Panel, the Aries Panel, the Skeleton Panel and the Ankh-Isis Panel amongst the 20 that have been named since the discovery.

shell grotto margate

To date no documents have come to light mentioning the Grotto, no correspondence, no maps and no plans of construction, so nobody knows really with any certainty what it was built for. All we have to work on are theories.

  • Those who believe the Shell Grotto was a place of worship
  • Those who think the Shell Grotto was a rich man’s folly.
  • Those who are certain the Shell Grotto was a smuggler’s cave.

Who knows?

What we do know is 99% of the shells used are all locally found but in the corners of the Altar Room, there are queen conches from the Caribbean which adds an exotic touch to the mystery.

shell grotto margate

When to visit and how much does it cost

The Shell Grotto is open daily from 10am – 5pm from the beginning of the Easter holidays to the end of October half term and in winter at the weekends.

Tickets cost £4.00 for adults, £3.50 for concessionaries, £1.50 for children and a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) £8

shell grotto margate

What else is there to do?

There is a wonderful shop selling all sorts of shell related products and precious stones plus a cafe where you can get a drink and a bite to eat. Read up more on the Shell Grotto website and if you are in the area go and see it for yourself.