Following on from my recent post of Things to do in Suffolk, after our recent visit to the Airstream Glamping park. I thought I’d turn my attention to places closer to home. The autumn and winter are the perfect time to get out and about locally. We have Pocahontas on our doorstep, along with Shorne Country Park which is a huge family favourite, Jeskyns Park and of course, our beloved Thanet where we have our caravan.

Even with all of these opportunities, I still have an enormous bucket list of where I’d like to take the girls on day trips close to home.

Things to do in Kent

Leeds Castle

Leeds castle

We have been to visit Leeds Castle on a number of occasions and we shall certainly be returning soon as there is always something exciting to see. This is also where we find our local Go Ape centre which the twins adore and want to return to soon.

Dover

Dover is high on my list as I took Thomas and Megan there when they were children and we visited Dover Castle, the Tunnels in the cliffs with a fascinating wartime history and of course, the notorious White Cliffs of Dover. I suggest taking a picnic along and making a day of it.

Canterbury

I adore Canterbury and now my niece has moved there to study at the university I shall hopefully be going down more often. Canterbury city is a marvellous place to wander, it has a powerful history to take in, hundreds of shops, pubs and restaurants to choose from, a cathedral to visit and plenty more to keep you amused and the children too. One of my favourite bars is the old Pound which sits outside the town wall. You can sit and drink in one of the cells!

Margate

shell grotto margate

How can I not mention Margate? If you are still thinking of a run-down, dilapidated seaside town you are very wrong and I strongly suggest you visit to see just how far Margate has come over the past few years. With the rebirth of Dreamland and the addition of the Turner Contemporary, Margate has become the place to be both in summer and winter. Walk the streets of the Old Town, visit the Shell Grotto, eat some delicious fish and chips and visit one of the many trendy bars and pubs that are popping up all over the place.

Hever Castle

The perfect example of an item on my bucket list! I remember visiting Hever Castle with the school when I was in junior school and it is a place I would love to take the twins. A romantic 13th century moated castle that was Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, it has magnificent interiors to walk through and wonder about the time Anne herself lived there plus, award-winning gardens. Of course, the Maze is a definite visit!

If you are looking for somewhere special to stay, take a look at Kent and Sussex Cottages as they have a wonderful selection of all budgets and preferences.

Things to do in Sussex

Royal Pavillion

My great grandma used to live in Hove, just along from Brighton and we would visit her in the summer. One summer we visited the Royal Pavilion and I was smitten with the beautiful rooms and decor of the palace. I want to take the twins there so they too can experience this historical landmark.

South Downs and the Seven Sisters

Friends of mine recently posted some fabulous pictures on social media after a day trip to the Seven Sisters. I think it would be a perfect day trip with a picnic in tow. Hopefully, the sun would shine and I could grab some great photos!

Rye Harbour and nature reserve

Rye beach hut

We visited Rye a long time ago when the twins were still sharing a cot! We had a wonderful few days there and visited the town plus the local beach where I took the photo of this gorgeous beach hut. I would love to return and thoroughly recommend it to friends and family.

There are plenty of places to stay in all of the above areas but if you are looking for a cottage, that offers that little bit more, then take a look at Suffolk Secrets.

This is a collaborative post – all opinions are my own.

This summer the twins spent a fortnight with the grandparents whilst Paul and I worked (this has been the most difficult part of going full-time for me, not being able to spend the school holidays with my girls). At the end of the fortnight, Paul and I travelled up to the Midlands on Friday after work and we all spent the weekend together.

We have visited a number of places on previous visits, Sherwood Forest, White Post Farm and Newark, all of which are beautiful but this time the grandparents took us to Creswell Crags.

Creswell Crags

What is Creswell Crags?

It’s such a strange name that doesn’t give anything away, does it? But if you venture out to this beauty spot you’ll be surprised at what a great place it is for the family and especially for the kids.

map of creswell crags

The first thing that struck me was the fact that this place has been a stop off for travellers for thousands of years, we’re talking between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The limestone gorge has plenty of caves along the sides and in some of them, stone tools and animal remains have been found along with the most amazing Ice Age rock art proof of the dwellers that passed by many years ago.

Creswell Crags cave home

We are lucky to have a number of caves used in prehistoric times in Britain and walking around them brings a quick history lesson to life – not just for the children! It’s impossible to not think about how it would have been and looked all that time ago. How cold would the caves have been to sleep in? How would they have kept themselves warm and safe with no door to close?

Situated on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border Creswell Craggs has a large car park where you can leave the car all day for just £3. It is free to visit the site and walk around the lake and gorge and you can also stop off in the cafeteria and gift shop before making your way home.

There are two tours that you can book to attend The Ice Age Tour and the Rock Art Tour. We hadn’t booked anything and arrived at the wrong time to join a tour so it’s worth checking their website before you go for times and prices.

creswell crags flint knife blade

The Ice Age tour takes place in Robin Hood Cave, the largest cave on the site and you find out who lived there, why they were there and how the information was discovered.

The Rock Art tour shows the only Ice Age Rock Art known in Britain. It was discovered in 2003 and consists of engravings of animals, birds and motifs. The engravings are estimated to be 13,000 years old making Church Hole Cave the oldest in Britain.

Cresswell Crags pony ride

We chose to walk around Creswell Crags under our own steam. The walk is a leisurely one with the girls scrambling up every rock face they can to peek into the caves – which incidentally are closed and only opened by the tour guide. The photo above is down at the bottom of the gorge working our way back up to the centre. We also collected a bagful of wild blackberries on our way round and added them to our roulade pudding that nonna prepared that evening.

Cresswell Crags

There are lots of informative signs as you go round which the twins loved reading. I don’t think they could quite understand the extent of how old it all was but they found it fascinating and I know it’s the kind of information that stuck.

reswell crags

Down at the bottom of the gorge, we got caught in some light rain and the pair of them danced around having a good laugh and enjoying being outside in the fresh air.

creswell crags

Sometimes it’s when you least expect it that you get a really good photo. I love this one of Alice in the tree whilst we were waiting for the rain to stop.

Once we had completed the gorge, we worked our way back to the centre where there is a large green area with games for the children to play on – slides down the mammoth’s tusks and climbing frames. There are also some picnic tables, where we stopped for lunch and as you get to the top there is the gift shop full of fossils, semi-precious stones and plenty of other merchandise to tempt you.

If you don’t have a picnic, the coffee shop has snacks and drinks and there is also an exhibition that you can pay to enter too.

A great family day out enjoyed by all.

 

beach hut southwold

We recently had a weekend away to Suffolk and stayed the night in an Airstream glamping campsite which was a fantastic experience. We managed to get out and about and it quickly became apparent that there is a lot to see and do in Suffolk, so much so that we plan on returning as soon as we can. Whilst we were there, we picked up some great leaflets giving ideas of things to do in Suffolk so I thought I’d write them all down in preparation for our next trip.

Things to do in Suffolk

Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh shell on beach

We stopped off at Aldeburgh and walked along the beach as a swimming race was taking place. There is a fabulous sculpture of a scallop shell on the beach made by Maggi Hamblings with the words, ‘I hear those voices that will not be drowned.’

Apparently, there are two fish and chip shops in Aldeburgh both owned by the same company but everyone seems to think that one is better than the other. You can tell which because of the queue waiting outside the shop. We have to return as we didn’t manage to try the famous fish and chips.

Helmingham Hall

Helmingham Hall is a beautiful manor house surrounded by a moat dating back to 1490. It is still owned by the same family, the Tollemache’s and Lady Xa Tollemache is a renowned gardener having won many medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, in fact, people come here to visit the gardens as much as they do the historical building.

Framlingham Castle

Famous for being the base from which Mary Tudor rallied her troops and set off to claim the throne in London. Framlingham Castle is part of the English Heritage and offers a great family day out. Walk the walls, visit the workshop, the cafe and of course the shop plus picking up a lot of history on your way. It is said that a walk around the walls of the castle offers some of the best views to be had in Suffolk.

Thorpness

house in the clouds

We visited and walked around the quiet seaside village. We walked as far as The House in the Clouds, a famous building for its tall structure and seemingly house in the sky. Opposite was an old windmill that featured in the CBeebies programme, Grandpa in my pocket. We walked around the pretty boating lake but it was too cold a day for us to take a boat out so we popped into the restaurant The Kitchen and enjoyed some freshly made pizzas and a crab salad.

Southwold

under southwold pier

I was quite excited about going to Southwold as I had heard lots about it. We parked up at the pier and walked Baxter along to the end. It’s amazing as there are so many curiosities and shops to visit. The Quantum telescope, The Waterclock and the Wacky Walk of Mirrors being a few. The Under The Pier show is a must, an arcade about half way along which has some completely mad machines.

southwold pier

Lavenham

Known as England’s best kept medieval village, Lavenham is chocolate-box pretty with half-timbered merchant’s houses, winding streets, a 15th century church and a long list of listed buildings including the 800 year old Swan Hotel. Lavenham’s more recent claim to fame is being the village where Harry Potter was born. Lavenham was used as Godric’s Hollow in the filming of The Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2.

Visit a brewery

Of course! Suffolk is the home to Greene King, Adnams and Aspall plus a range of smaller breweries too. the most picturesque possibly being St Peter’s Brewery in South Elmham. I have to go back just to buy some Adnams gin.

The list of things to do in Suffolk is infinite and one place to look for more inspiration is on the Visit Suffolk website where they give a list of 50 things to do in Suffolk!

Where to stay in Suffolk

There is a wonderful range of places to stay in the county, take a look at Suffolk Secrets who have all kinds of accommodation from contemporary through to rustic cottages and many of the properties are pet-friendly too. Whether it’s a couples retreat or a big family reunion there is something for everyone.

This is a collaborative post.

Things to do in suffolk pin

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

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.