Coronavirus · Hotel · Spa

Whittlebury Hall Spa and Stay Review (during Covid)

My lovely husband and mum bought me a night away at the lovely Whittlebury Hall, for my birthday (November 2020). Of course we were in lockdown 2.0 so I was not able to partake in my present; so it was moved to Christmas – nope we were in Level 4 so it was moved again to Mothers Day – na ah – lockdown 3.0. So I finally got to enjoy my night away in June – only 7 months after I should have had it!

On my way over to Whittlebury, I drove past the Super Sausage Cafe and decided to indulge in one of their all day breakfasts, it was delicious.

On arrival at Whittlebury Hall, I was directed to the spa reception. In terms of Covid measures to keep us safe, they had temperature monitoring machines, hand sanitisers, and we all had to wear facemasks when not in a treatment or in the heat and ice area. I have been here for a spa day pre-Covid, so it was a little strange to have a timetable and not be able to glide through your spa day, however, a spa day is better than no spa day. In my mind there is nothing better; it is my ultimate day and will always be my choice of present. I was handed an itinerary which began with my treatment, the one that was included in my spa package. I was told I could choose 2x 15 minute treatments from a list of 4. I chose the head massage and the foot massage.

It was bliss, pure bliss. First the masseur rubbed my whole body with aromatherapy oils and then the head and foot massage. She was a bit over-zealous with the foot massage; it actually hurt, so I had to ask her to calm down, but she took it in stride and it was delightful. With spas being closed due to Covid for 17 months; this really was a treat.

After my massage I was taken back out into the waiting area, to await the use of the heat and ice experience. This was the part I was disappointed with because: a) waiting around and b) I was not taken to a calm, quiet area to come down after my massage.

The heat and ice area was good; although a little limited compared to the Aqua Sana at CentreParcs (my spa of choice). However it has improved since the last time; it had heated seats, a couple of foot spas, several saunas, several steam rooms and a big hot-tub like pool in the centre. It was very slippery; so I had to go back for my sandals. I particularly miss steam rooms; I find them so relaxing and also beneficial in the winter time when you have the common cold.

After the heat and ice experience it was lunch time. Normally you get a huge buffet to choose from; but buffets are not Covid-safe so they took a pre-order from me a few days ago; and though I did not like any of the salads on the menu; they were super accommodating and allowed me a soup instead. The soup was nice; but the warm bread rolls they provided were even better (the butter was rock solid – pet peeve). The tables were spread far apart and they had several sittings to allow sanitising in between and less crowding.

After my blissful spa morning, I wandered into the hotel (attached to the spa) to enquire if my room was ready. It was not. They do not allow access to rooms until 4pm – 4pm!!! Personally, I think that is too late, particularly if you are only staying for 1 night. My husband basically paid for a 19 hour room rental, rather than a 1 night (24 hour stay). Oh well, we cannot have everything in this world.

I waited in the lounge for my room to become available. The lounge is particularly lovely. I have stayed at Whittlebury Hall many times over the years; and the lounge remains my favourite place. They have huge sofas – tonnes of them, and an open fire, they serve afternoon tea and they used to have board games in there – though I didn’t see any during this visit – please bring back the board games! I love to sit lay on the sofas and read; and today was no different. I ordered a pot of tea and kicked back whilst reading an enthralling book about a doctor working during the pandemic: “Duty of Care – one NHS doctor’s story of the Covid-19 crisis” by Dominic Pimenta. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far I have not been able to put it down.

The hotel room was pleasing and comfortable. It had a double bed, a TV with freeview, tea and coffee facilities and some nice biscuits (they were all wrapped in cellophone so that it was Covid safe, an ironing board, cupboard, a desk, safe and a large bathroom with 2 sinks, and a shower over bath. It also had a fridge, which I was pleased about as I drink a lot of water. One of my pet peeves is not having access to cold water when I travel. They also provide fans in the rooms that don’t have air conditioning, it was so warm, I really appreciated that.

For my evening meal in the main restaurant I had a lovely steak and roasted carrots, and though there was no jus or flavouring on the steak, it was delicious just the same. The cheese plate for dessert was a treat; it had a lovely mix of fruit (even fresh figs) and delicious cheeses with a generous portion of chutney.

The breakfast in the morning was a let down. It was buffet style still but the staff choose your food for you. It was not good quality, and I couldn’t find a single runny egg. I had to wait a long time for the waitress to bring my tea and toast, and I gave up waiting for the juice I ordered.

Overall I had a very lovely stay; and though the hotel could do with some refurbishment; it was still relaxing and just what I needed after the last year or so.

Coronavirus · Eating out

Frosts Igloo (Eating out but in)

Now that the country has gotten through three lockdowns – yes 3 lockdowns in one year, it seems that companies are having to become more creative to keep afloat. I had been hearing about pods popping up in local pubs and restaurants. Frosts (our local and favourite garden centre) has a fantastic restaurant and cafe; they do some of the best cakes and afternoon tea around (their brownie is special but I digress).

Not only do Frosts do these outdoor pods, but theirs are called (and look like) Igloos and they are transparent; which on the cold but sunny day was lovely. When we visited Frosts in April, the current Government rules were that we were allowed to eat and drink outside but not inside (great idea in the coldest April we ever had, it was snowing the week before). So going out for breakfast with my family in the snow and -2 Degree weather was not at all appealing – even though I had not eaten out since October 2020, but I was desperate to leave the house (those 4 walls I have been staring at during lockdown 3.0 for the last 4 months) and see my family (again who I had not seen in person for 4 months), so we booked an Igloo at Frosts during their opening weekend and had a lovely breakfast both outdoors and indoors.

The Igloo was outdoors but since it was fully enclosed, it felt like we were indoors. They had a heater, a fridge and a blutooth speaker. It sat six people, I would like to say comfortably but it was a bit tight.

The breakfast was glorious!

First they brought us a tray of fresh fruit and danish pastries. And pots of tea (loose leaf).

Then they brought out piles of toast.

Then they brought out our cooked breakfasts (that we had to pre-order).

It was delightful; and every time we asked for more toast they brought it out.

The temperature was cold but we felt so warm and taken care of; and when the sun came out, we decided to go out into the patio area with the other customers where they had lovely and comfortable rattan seating, then we sat in the sunshine and enjoyed some more tea, the kids loved their milkshakes.

It was so good, I absolutely pray that they will be keeping these pods as UK weather is so unpredictable; it felt so special.

The only minor annoyance was booking the igloo was not easy; it can only be done over the phone, and when you ring they take your details and someone rings back, but if you miss their call and you call back, they won’t take your booking so I spent all week playing phone tag; and even though I rang them on the Monday; it took until Friday before I had to beg them to just let me book already! And by then most of the dates I wanted were fully booked. Online booking would be great.

There is a minimum spend of £75, but with the six of us it was not an issue. I think it would be difficult for 2 people to reach the minimum spend (unless you have some bubbly too). They serve breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.

*No one paid me to write this article, I just love Frosts.

Coronavirus · Days Out

Emberton Country Park (Summer 2020 Review)

I have been taking my children to Emberton since they were very little, it is such a lovely day out, and is only just outside of Milton Keynes (on the way to Olney). Set in 200 acres of unspoilt parkland, with five lakes – two large lakes (for fishing and sailing), 2 play parks, a sandpit, outdoor gym, bird hides, a cafe and a campsite – so much to do you can spend all day here.

Emberton has been reducing its restrictions based on Government guidelines, and our visit last week, felt just like old times.

If you visit in the next few months what you need to know is:

  • The cafe is only open for take-away service.
  • The campsite is open but is subject to social distancing restrictions.
  • When they reach capacity in the car park they will close the gate to new entrants (so bear that in mind if you plan to go late in the day on a sunny Saturday, for example).
  • Toilets are open
  • All play parks are open and free to use (including the outdoor gym)
  • Fishing is allowed (with permits)
  • Parking costs are £4.50 for the day (you cannot leave and come back though).
  • Opening times are 9:15-4:45pm each day currently (but best to check their Facebook page in case this changes).

We had a lovely morning, we walked round to the park in the middle, the one with the pirate ship, as that is our favourite. As soon as we put our bags down the kids ran off to play together, it was so sweet watching my son (aged 8) carefully hold the hand of my daughter (aged 3) as she climbed the steep steps up to the slides – he took great care of her all day.

Hubby and I were actually able to sit and watch them play, and also read a few chapters of our books – this is unheard of in previous years when Savannah was younger, and before Savannah when Nate didn’t have anyone to play with.

After about 80-90 minutes in that park the kids biked and we walked back towarsds the cafe for an icecream and a cup of tea, to fortify us for the outdoor gym, the sandpit and the stone pit. I forgot our bucket and spade (darn) but they had fun burying each other and digging around the dinosaur bones (pretend).

We decided to go home for lunch, though if we had chosen to stay all day, there are plenty of lovely big fields perfect for picnics, and even the socially distanced kind, and we didn’t make it over to the park that is further along – this one would have been good for Nate, as it had some large and tall climbing nets and things for older children mostly. There is also a beautiful lake in the middle and stunning walks to make a full day of it.

More information:

  • Emberton Country Park – Postcode: MK46 5FJ
  • There are two sets of toilets, including disabled facilities.
  • The summer camping season where the park is open every day runs from 1st April to 31st October (outside of this they are only open for a few hours on the weekend).
  • 5km of walks and trails
  • 5 lakes
  • 1 minute drive from the market town of Olney (where they have the best afternoon tea at “Teapots of Olney” highly recommend).
Cinema · Coronavirus

Going to the cinema (during lockdown)

Corona virus lockdown restrictions were eased on 4th July to allow restaurants, cafes, parks, pubs and one of my favourite things to do: the cinema, to open. On 4th July Odeon opened up again for the first time since March. Cineworld has announced that they will not be opening until 27th July.

I could not wait to go, so on Sunday I took myself down to our local Odeon at the Stadium MK (Milton Keynes) to see the movie “Dark Water”.

Tickets

Odeon recommends that you purchase your tickets online (the ticket will be sent to your email for printing or (easier) show them the barcode on your phone, which they will scan. You can purchase tickets in the cinema but they do not take cash, card only.

On arrival I noticed a one-way system and hand-sanitiser, plus they had screens around the tills AND the server wore a face-mask. All very reassuring. However, it was difficult to hear the guy under the mask, plus I kept moving my face toward the edge of the plastic screen – what is that? Must be a psychological barrier in my mind or something.

I did wonder how they would manage social distancing in the cinema, how would they assign seating, how could you go to the toilet and brush past someone in your row? This article on the BBC news site explains how.

The usher showed everyone to their seats (I remember when they used to do that all the time). There were only six other people in the screen, but strangly two of them were in my row, which considering how empty it was, I was surprised. I actually had to stand up and move into the aisle so that they could sit down, luckily they didn’t use the toilets lots of times (or any actually), because that would have been annoying. Aside from that the seating was fine.

Food

The food is limited but not eliminated – phew. I do love a snack in the cinema. The menu compared to usual is massively reduced (like restaurants too I guess). Odeon had the biggest range of snacks I had ever seen (vastly more than Cineworld); everything from fried chicken to waffle fries. However, they have slimmed it down to the essentials such as nachos, popcorn, drinks, bags of chocolates and sweets (though no pick n mix) and no icecream counter (though some packets like Magnums an Cornetto’s in a freezer). You are allowed to bring in your own food (not sure if that is a Covid only change to the rules?), but not hot or smelly food. Wow, I remember when I was a kid, smuggling in food at the bottom of my bag or under my coat (ooops sorry Odeon/Cineworld)…ahhhh a simpler time.

Films

I saw “Dark Water” – which I would describe Mark Ruffalo (leading man) as the male Erin Brockovich. The movie was fascinating actually, about how the company who makes Teflon (DuPont) has been poisoning everyone in the world (though mostly Americans) with its products because if the chemical (PFOA) that makes up Teflon gets in your body, it can never be removed; and in large doses can lead to all sorts of cancers. Very sad, capitalism at its worst! I will not say what happens to the people in the small town, or the company, as I have decided no spoilers in this article. It was worth seeing – if only to see Anne Hathaway’s 80s hair (love her) and if you enjoy legal battles.

As well as the upcoming blockbusters, most of which I have never heard of such as Tenet (shrugs) but I have heard of: A Quiet Place II (cannot wait for that one!), Odeon are also showing some classic movies such as The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar ooh and I just noticed that Bohemian Rhapsody is back next week – whooop!

I was worried by how empty is was, so I guess if you feel happy with the measures they are taking to try to protect us, best you support your local cinema, otherwise… (sad face).

Coronavirus · Days Out

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (during lockdown)

About a month ago the Zoos were told that they were allowed to open – yipee, something we can do, no more staring at these four walls!

Savannah hasn’t been to the zoo since she was a baby and therefore technically this is her first zoo visit. Nate has been many times and enjoys Whipsnade.

Tickets

We tried to book tickets the day that they were released but the site crashed – of course. Then they introduced an online queuing system…there were 6,000 people in front of me in the queue – gulp! That is long even by British standards.

We got a ticket for a morning slot; you must buy a ticket if you wish to visit Whipsnade (currently), you cannot purchase tickets on the door. It also states on their Facebook page that they are not accepting vouchers from third-party vendors such as Tesco Clubcard vouchers (currently). Additionally, if you want to visit all day you must choose a morning slot; you can arrive at 10am and stay all day. An afternoon slot will limit you to 2pm-6pm (though you can see a lot of the zoo in that time). Parking is easy, it is a 1 minute walk, right next to the zoo, and I have never found it full.

We went at the end of June and was worried that it would be packed with people; but because they limit the numbers who can buy tickets, I need not have worried, it was fine. It was not even as busy as it normally is on a weekend and we were there on a Sunday.

Safety Measures

If you arrive early or exactly on time you will have to queue, but they had socially distance space markers on the ground. They have a one-way system through the entrance and around the shop, and toilets are one in one out (but at least they are open). They had hand sanitisers at the entrance and water.

Animals

We let our little one choose her favourite animal and set off to find it – the Giraffes. The Giraffes are in the middle, so on the way we saw Monkeys (she found them funny, and I loved the look of awe on her face – her first time to see wild animals in real life – she looked like “wow are those real”.

The giraffe platform was closed at the time, but re-opened on 4th July, we were able to see the baby giraffes outside – the parents were hiding though, I guess they didn’t like the rain!

We also saw hippos (my favourite), flamingos, tigers, elephants and lions (you have to join a socially distanced queue to get into the lion viewing area. I like the signage though as it kept the kids entertaind whilst we were queuing (for all of 5 minutes). A lot of animals were hiding.

Whipsnade is huge (for those who have never been), so if you have tiny people with little legs I recommend a buggy, scooter, micro trikes etc. You are also able to pay extra to take your car into the site. Whipsnade is actually the UK’s largest zoo, set in 600 acres of land – no wonder we have never managed it even over a full day.

Food

There were no food outlets open, except one icecream van and there were limited snacks in the gift shop (bottle of drinks and chocolate bars mostly). The restaurants were not open, so it says on their website to bring your own lunch to eat in their picnic areas; which we dutifully did. However, since it was raining all day, we could not sit down at the picnic benches to eat, so we left early to eat in our car. We did however find a small covered area to sit and have a snack, the only time I sat down in 4 hours (ouch).

Closed

During our visit in June the following areas were closed or not running for our safety:

  • Aquarium (now open)
  • Butterfly house (now open)
  • Sealion show (such a shame as it is our favourite!)
  • Bird show and other talks
  • Farm
  • Outdoor play area
  • Indoor play area (Hullabazoo)
  • Indoor food areas
  • Train ride

It was a shame that so much of it was closed, it is no longer a whole day out, but this is a zoo, and the animals are the main attraction, so on a non-rainy day it is probably much more fun and we look forward to taking Savannah back there when she can enjoy the sealion show, and play in the park and soft play, go on the train and we can all stop for a lunch to rest our feet about half way round, as we used to do. However, the most important thing is that zoos are still open, and we need to support them so that our kids and grandkids will have zoos in the future to enjoy.

In terms of expectations, take your own food, be prepared for a lack of seating if it rains all day, and not everything will be open right now, but if you check out their facebook page, they update that regularly. However, it is a big open space, so definitely a perfect place for social distancing.

I’ll leave with this funny pic…

Coronavirus

Corona Diaries (Rewind – March 2020)

I haven’t blogged in a long time, but since lockdown I have had a hankering for getting my thoughts out there. Probably because I no longer have many people to talk to. In February I had a whole office of people to unload on as well as friends and family, and now I have all of these thoughts bouncing around my brain, hitting the walls and bouncing back with no place for them to go – except my poor husband who has to listen to all my worries, depressive episodes, ideas, thoughts, feelings, ranting – everything!

I’ve actually been keeping a diary since lockdown started – in fact I have been writing in my diary since I was 11, but I have stepped it up and written much more than usual, so below is how I was feeling back in March.

Thursday 19th March 2020

It is difficult to put into words, to convey how much our lives have changed this week and how bad they are going to get over the coming months. The Coronavirus is up to c2,000 cases and just under 100 deaths in the UK – but wordwide it is 220,000 cases and 30,000 deaths. Since it is spreading so quickly Boris Johnson has made some pretty epic and life-changing decisions in a matter of days.

On Monday night he told us all to work from home if we can. Therefore I went into the office on Tuesday (I work at a University) knowing it was going to be my last day here for a long time. I was able to take my screen and my chair home. I felt very sad.

Wednesday was my first day of working from home all day. My hubby is too, he is using the study and I am down in the kitchen. I cannot tell you how long the day felt. I was able to go for a walk with hub so that was nice, but I had three Skype meetings, video chats are quite good and it almost feels like the person is right there, but boy are they tiring. In the evening we heard the big news – schools and nurseries are closing for the foreseeable future this week!! Absolutely unbelievable! They even hinted that schools may not reopen again before the Summer – WTF!

Saturday 21st March

Our calendar is empty, for the first time since having children we have no plans… no birthday parties, no play dates, no swimming lessons, no Cub Scouts, no Dad’s club, no tennis, no dinner with mum and dad, no visiting friends, no parks, no play centres – NOTHING!

Sunday 22nd March

The worst Mothers’ Day I have ever experienced 😦

I do not know how this is going to work? How will we work from home with two children in the house (Nate is aged 8 and Savannah is 3), not to mention home-schooling them – simply not possible.

Another fear of mine is cabin fever – 4 people under one roof with nowhere to go, I’m not sure about this, and no more cinema, no restaurants, no pubs, no taking the kids to the park, the only thing we can do is go for a socially distanced walk. It is entirely plausible I may lose my mind.