Oxford, I discovered last week, is such an incredibly beautiful place to visit. It’s streets are filled with stunning buildings, and it is a place that oozes with tales of the past (and of course a rich history of educating legends)! Just to wander around it leaves you feeling in awe and a sense of joyfulness! It was so lovely to visit there last weekend for a little family weekend adventure.

About 16 years ago now, Nathan lived there briefly and since we have been together it’s been on “the list” to take the kids to…we love to take the kids to places where they can get a hands on experience with history and hopefully appreciate our countries culture and sites. An invitation to tour the castle was that perfect excuse to finally go, do all of the aforementioned, and we all loved it.

Oxford Castle Unlocked!

 Oxford castle was the main focus of our day on Saturday, and it has certainly had an impact on the kids since. It is a great attraction of the city and something that really brings its history to life! Just yesterday Megan retold me stories of prisoners “in the tower” with no toilets, and sleeping in a room of wee and poo!(?!). She found it both hilarious and completely disgusting, but mostly very fascinating, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I love to see my kids excited about history as it’s something we both love so much!

Oxford castle is really interesting because it’s less about the Jewels and Royalty (like we saw when we visited Edinburgh), and more about scandal, theft, hard labour and murder! It was great because you see the meeting of medieval and modern crime, and prisoners held for anything from murder and war to a 7 year old stealing a pram! Each story, even those of modern prisoners, is fascinating and adds to the experience.

Built in 1017 it was used as jail as early as the 12th century, in 1531 it was formally constituted as a county Jail and changed briefly over the next couple of hundred years. By the 19th century it was expanded to cope with demand and was used as a prison until as recent as September 1996!! It only opened it’s doors to visitors back in 2006 after a complete refurbishment and restoration in 2004.

As part of it is now also a hotel and restaurants, the part preserved for visitors is small, but ample for a jump into its History and just long enough to hold the attention of kids. The tour took about an hour, and is led in a small group by a character taken from the castles History.  We had “Anne Green” a prisoner from 1650 that survived her own hanging…lets just say it really added to the feel and fun of it all, and certainly grabbed the kids attention!

The tour starts through a creepy metal gate at the bottom of the tower where you meet your guide and hear a brief history of the castle; with tales of hard labour by those sentenced to term there during the Victorian era. Next you can climb the 1o1 steps of the Saxon St George’s tower to a decent sized cell and hear tales of prisoners held there, as well as an Empress’s escape! Continuing up the tower you are greeted with 360 degree panoramic views of Oxford city from the top of it. The kids thought this was marvellous and thoroughly enjoyed looking down on the crowds and feeling on top of the world.

Next we plunged (or rather walked) down into the castle crypts to see where the bodies were stored (spooky!).

The rest of the tour takes you through cells, telling you of key characters from its 1000 years and how they lived, were treated and their doom! It was all super interesting and presented in a way gruesome enough to capture the kids and yet not enough that you couldn’t stomach it!  We had a lovely (and informative) visit and learnt tonnes.

Knight school at The Castle

Knight school is a free added bonus to a visit to the castle, and both Ethan and Megs loved the 20 min sess! It runs as part of their “King of the Castle” event for the school holidays, and takes place twice a day on a weekend only (11.30am & 2.30pm) out in the courtyard by staff trained in Sword fighting! In addition you can try to solve a a “King of the Castle” themed trail or take part in Arts & Crafts at the end of the tour.

knight school was certainly one of the highlights, and something a little different to anything we have done before at museums and castles! It was great to see the kids having an opportunity to not only hold a sword, but practice holds, stances, walks and counter strikes with little wooden swords of their own alongside “a real knight”! The session was informative, interesting and lots of fun, and again just long enough for kids ages 5 & 6.

Oxford Sites…

Following church on Sunday, we spent the afternoon walking around the colleges and checking out the famous buildings one thinks of when you think of Oxford. The sun was shining, and whilst tourists were out in the masses, it was absolutely beautiful. For brief moments I felt like we were in some foreign and far off land, but it was exciting to remember that all of this beauty is just a mornings car ride away!

We loved seeing all of the sites of Oxford and barely spent a penny doing so! There is so much to see and appreciate just wandering it’s streets and we had a lovely weekend there.

Being away from the everyday is always more fun and life is great when filled with some adventures. It was so exciting to have a change of scenery, especially in such a stunning city that’s right here in our country! If you have a chance to visit Oxford this Summer then get yourself there and check out the Castle too…you won’t be disappointed!

*Oxford Castle Unlocked is open daily 10am – 5.30pm. A Family Ticket is just £35 (or Adults £10.95 each / Kids £7.75)!! We are grateful for them for giving us a complimentary visit in return for a review. 

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We seemed to have fallen into a pattern over here when it comes to our Summer Holidays; alternating UK travel with going “abroad”. Last year was Cornwall, the year before Italy, next year Scotland, and this year? Well it just so happens we booked that yesterday, and are heading back to Italy. This year though we are heading a little more south (but not too much) and come August we will be Vacaying in Tuscany (and I can’t blumming wait)! What’s even better is I stuck to my thrifty guns and it most certainly ticks the box as a Budget Family Holiday (without losing class/charm).

Why Tuscany?

As I say 2 years ago we were in Northern Italy at Lake Garda and fell in love with everything about it. I LOVE Italy and so do the kids (and Nath), and of course from then on we all wanted to explore more of it. However, other than Rome and Pompeii it didn’t really feature on my top 10.

We didn’t go into this saying “We are going to Italy again this year”, in fact we kept trying to avoid it and find a new place to discover together…Barcelona? Croatia? Malta? but suddenly after a few Skyscanner searches, we stumbled upon Tuscany and it very quickly became incredibly exciting and a beautiful reality.

For weeks we have thrown around locations wondering where we might like to visit and decided in the end to set a budget and see what we could come up with around that. The Budget (which for some may seem ridiculously low for a family of 5) was £600, but I love a good challenge and this was it! I will point out that this was just for flights and accommodation – we will obviously take spending money too and pay for transport or hire a car depending on what we deem as the best option.

European travel can be so cheap and I don’t believe in spending more than necessary on a holiday. Regarding food, we are of the opinion that food needs to be bought at home or on holiday and rarely factor that into our budgets as there is little difference in what we would spend that week at home or on holiday (especially when Europe is rich with Lidl stores).

Budget Family Holiday Plan of action

Whenever we travel anywhere I always follow the same steps – Skyscanner and then either Trivago (if it’s just me and Nath) or AirBnb (if its all of us). I find the best flight and then match up the accommodation with the remainder of the budget.

For this years summer holiday we weren’t particularly eager to go to one of our “Top 10” places and spend it sightseeing and cramming, rather we just wanted to go somewhere chilled out, near a beach and guaranteed sunshine. So I started off on Skyscanner to narrow down some options…

My one goal was to find flights for us all for around the £250 mark, leaving about £350 for a semi decent place to stay. The options during August that ticked the boxes on price, sun and water, were Menorca, Milan (looking at lake como), France, Majorca and Malaga. Some we had been to, others didn’t marry up on the accommodation, and then a few days later Pisa came up at £50 each and the more I looked into it and what we could do there, I knew it was the one. The flight was from Leeds (convenient) and when I clicked on it for mid August, it actually was only £47 each – BARGAIN!

Next (keeping the flight deets open) I opened a new page and scouted out some options for our accommodation. For us all the best option is most definitely AirBnb. As a word of advice; when you start looking at hotels, lodges, apartments etc on holiday sites (even Eurocamp) you are looking at £1,000+ for a week. AirBnb guarantees the space, a nice home, good locations and will keep within your budget!

Following this, I quickly found a beautiful farm house in the hills, complete with stream, incredibly views, olive trees and animals. It’s 40 mins from the beach, Airport and city and was a grand total of £364 for 7 nights. It looks Idyllic and so of course we booked it all!

The budget was £600, and with a few extra things on the flight, the grand total for 5 of us for 7 nights in Tuscany is a bargainous £630 (Not bad at all)!!

Our Budget Family Holiday 2017 in Tuscany is going to be gorgeous, and probably filled with way more sightseeing than we planned on, but it will be mint, perfect for us all, and we cannot wait!

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On our recent visit to Scotland we chose to use Air bnb for the first time, as it gave us flexibility and the best value for money. This is most definitely the thriftiest choice I have made this past week!

I have wanted to use Air bnb for a long time as I had heard so many positive things about it. My sister in law uses them now where ever they go away, and I love that it encourages you to live amongst the locals and can be tailored to any budget or taste. Any group size, family or couple!

Hotels just don’t work anymore

As soon as we stepped over the 3 kid threshold we kinda had to say goodbye to staying as a family in a hotel. Doing so would mean both a massive expense for an appropriate family room, or getting 2 rooms… and who wants that or the bill?? Air bnb ensures we keep in budget and we keep together as a family. We can relax as a family, eat as a family and have our own rooms for no extra cost!

Home from home

Staying in someone’s home really is home away from home.  It’s cosy, feels family friendly and has all the necessities you are used to.

We found the kids especially were way more excited than usual and loved exploring someone else’s home and making it theirs for the weekend.

We really loved the school house we stayed in as it held character, awesome views, beautiful gardens and everything you would expect for a country retreat.

Budget friendly

My most favourite thing about it… affordable as well as lovely and it worked out excellent value for money for us all. There were 2 families  (mine and my sisters) with 3 kids in each. The total cost was £195 which with the service charge was 97.50 each..or 48.75 a night… for a family of 5! Brilliant. You couldn’t even get one travel lodge near Edinburgh for that cheap (and we’d have needed 4 rooms for our tribe)!

I will definitely be using air bnb on future trips and visits as a family. It makes sense. You can have budget, luxury or just pure quirky. Apartment or houses … city centre, coastal or the middle of nowhere. It’s straightforward to use and enhances the stay for sure. I am definitely a new lover of this budget and lovely way to escape together!

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Our Easter school break started the moment the kids stepped out of the school gates on Friday afternoon, when with a car packed full of clothes and snacks, we got on the M1 and headed straight up to the Scottish boarders for a weekend in Scotland.

Edinburgh was on our “Adventures to take” list for 2017 and with Nath having a few days off work we decided to really make the most of it and just go. We invited my sister and her family, booked an Air B&B in the Scottish boarders, and had glorious weather and a jam packed weekend seeing beautiful Edinburgh, the boarders and holy Island.

It took us about 3 hours on Friday evening to drive up and after a lovely rest in our beautiful Air b&b, we got up Saturday morning, jumped back in the cars and drove 1hr 50 mins up to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh

The main goal of our weekend was obviously to visit Edinburgh, and our main goal in Edinburgh with a tribe of kids was the castle. We thought it might be fun!

Whilst I visited close to 16 years ago as a teenager, I had few memories of the city and know for a fact the castle wasn’t part of our visit. Now having taken a bunch of giddy kids round, I can maybe see why. It was fun yes, and informative too, but the main word of the day was certainly that of Madness!

The kids absolutely loved it though, and despite their antics and monkey like behaviours in most parts, they were wowed by the crown jewels and armour, spooked at the dungeons and prison, and mesmerised by the overall majesty of such a grand building and its canons! So all in all it ticked all the boxes for a family day out.

Walking up the royal mile was lovely. Admiring the surrounding Scottish countryside was breathtaking and we loved our flying visit to this grand city. There were Street performers on every corner which was both fun and had the kids captivated and laughing. They loved floating yoga, the bagpipe players (of course) and then the invisible man!

We used the Edinburgh park and ride and with the variety of eating establishments food was reasonable too, so everything else was cheap. The sun shone and it was a great adventure for sure. As I say, I can’t quite remember Edinburgh from my childhood, but I love how close it is to the rolling hills, the amount of Georgian buildings there are, and just loved how Scottish culture and beautiful architecture lined its beautiful cobbled streets.

Gallivanting in the boarders

Scotland is rich with ancestry for us, particularly in the Scottish boarders, and with it being so many years since we visited, we also decided to pop by those villages on the way back from Edinburgh. I had forgotten how truly beautiful it all was and loved how memories flooded my mind as we drove through. It was great for us to reminisce and share stories with the kids and our husbands, of great aunts and uncles, great grand parents and their own grandma… it was so lovely to return and remember.

Holy Island

Like most weekend breaks it’s over before you know it, and Sunday we awoke to more lovely sunshine and could hardly believe it was time to head home.

It made sense to drive across to the coast and show the kids holy Island before picking up the A1 back to Yorkshire. It was lovely and exciting and a place that is so fun and fascinating for all the family. The kids had a little paddle in their wellies, explored, and just loved the whole coolness that is Holy Island.

We laughed our heads off as the kids panicked we’d be flooded out with the tides, and it was another glorious day to soak up the spring weather and gorgeous scenery of the Northumberland coast.

I am feeling old with how tired I am from our weekend in Scotland, and all of the driving it entailed, but boy did we have fun… castles, cousins, haggis, shortbread, rolling hills, sheep and spring sunshine. I love Scotland and can’t wait to go back. The kids did pretty well too with all driving, thanks to “where’s wally” books, snacks galore and singing, and It was the best start to our Easter break for sure!

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