Experiencing the great outdoors at the UK’s top holiday destination

It’s been voted the UK’s top holiday destination – Lindsay Woods visits Pembrokeshire to see just what the destination has to offer.

Experiencing the great outdoors at the UK’s top holiday destination

It’s been voted the UK’s top holiday destination – Lindsay Woods visits Pembrokeshire to see just what the destination has to offer.

PEMBROKESHIRE, the area in which Bluestone National Park Resort is located, has been voted the ‘Top UK Holiday Destination 2018’ by BBC’s Countryfile. With seaside towns such as Tenby and Saundersfoot and home to the UK’s smallest city of St David’s along with some of the most beautiful coastal scenery, it’s easy to see why this area of Wales was bestowed with the accolade. It is this same area which is home to the only Coast National Park in the UK. In fact, no part of the area is more than 14 miles from the coast and boasts such gems as Whitesands and Barafundle Bay.

Bluestone National Park is a 500-acre woodland resort that is situated along this beautiful coastline and is surrounded by rugged woodland and the Preseli Hills. They recently announced a £105 million (€118m) world class resort development with 500 lodges which will be created on the coast of Holy Island. This development in itself will see approximately 1,500 jobs created in the area and will be known as Bluestone Holy Island Resort Ynys Môn.

It is to their current offering, where we arrived for a mid-week break towards the end of May. We sailed out of Rosslare on an 8am sailing shrouded in mist and heavy drizzle. Being resident in a country with a somewhat tempestuous climate we had loaded the car with provisions for all eventualities: rain gear, wetsuits, thermal layers, etc. We had not amply prepared for the glory of a veritable heatwave on arrival into Fishguard. However, a bit of huffing and puffing to extrapolate t-shirts and SPFs from the bowels of the boot and we were off.

Sat nav will tell you the travel time to the park from Fishguard is around 31 minutes; in truth, it is probably closer to 25, such is the ease of the journey. I cannot think of another nation who holds dear such an unhealthy obsession with road infrastructure as the Irish. Rightly so given the abhorrent condition of our own. So, it is with great pleasure I advise that the routeway to the park is straight and true. Sprawling countryside of open fields and acres of golden rapeseed whizzed by as we headed to our destination.

Bluestone is an eco-friendly resort. As a result, no cars are allowed on site. For the purposes of checking in and out, they allow a window for you to unload and pack your car with your belongings. Once the time has elapsed, your vehicle must be returned to the main car park located at the entrance/exit. Check in is from 11am but you will be unable to access your lodge until 4.30pm (there is some access to accommodation from 3pm but this is dependant on the type you have booked for your stay). However, once you check in, you can avail of all of the park’s facilities from that time. Because of this, it is most definitely worth packing one easily accessible bag with provisions prior to arriving — ie, swimsuits, snacks, rain mac — which does not warrant you emptying the entire contents of your cases in the carpark.

As stated, cars are restricted on site so the park offers the option for buggy and bike rental along with an internal bus service. We had a buggy for the duration of our stay and whilst not cheap — rental for a Monday to Friday stay is just shy of £100 (€112) — I would thoroughly recommend investing in one. You will spend your days on lengthy hikes and outdoor activities so to have the luxury of one to ferry tired children back to lodges after a jam-packed day is worth every penny.

We stayed in St David’s Lodge in the Knights Rest area of the park. The lodge itself sleeps eight in four spacious bedrooms; it has two large bathrooms with shower and bath facilities and an ensuite off of the main bedroom. The large kitchen/dining area opens onto the living space which is adjacent to a stocked children’s playroom. Wifi is included in the package, however depending on your accommodation, there is an additional charge for premium access. The only negative to our lodge was the lack of a washing machine. The resort offers laundry services which are itemised on a priced menu within the lodge however, for a family staying for a week and given the fact the bulk of your stay involves outdoor pursuits, not having a washing machine can be somewhat tiresome.

‘The Village’ is the centre of the park, it has picturesque, pastel hued cottages which house various pubs and restaurants along with an amply stocked shop for provisions (we had an extensive love affair with their offering of ‘Welsh cakes’). This is all situated around an outdoor play area so parents can relax on a nearby bench pre-bedtimes with an adequate beverage. Not here are there kids’ discos until an ungodly hour, most of the park’s facilities wind down from 9pm, which makes perfect sense: early to bed, early to rise. You’ll need it for three-hour long hikes.

THROUGHOUT our stay we hiked, swam and ran. We took part in various activities like ‘Go Wild’, where our children learned how to Geo-cache, build a den and waterproof same; construct a fire and learn which plants were most suited to generate flames instead of simply smoking; and roast marshmallows and pop popcorn at the campsite. The rangers extol the merits of ‘Free-Range’ kids and encourage everyone to get muddy and as involved as possible. They do this without being intrusive or overbearing; surely a skill in itself? Those rangers who led our programme of activities seemed to have an almost psychic ability in identifying how best to include each child: not once did I witness one hang back on the side-lines or look to a parent for reassurance such was their level of engrossment in the tasks at hand.

Throughout our stay, the weather mattered not a jot. We derived just as much enjoyment from dappled sunshine as torrential downpours. After days spent outdoors, we wound down with a swim in the Blue Lagoon, billed as the park’s ‘Indoor beach’, complete with wave machine, a rapids river ride and two water flumes which exit into the outside elements before making your return with a splash into the pool area.

This was followed by a pre-dinner show in The Village Hall, where each child was treated to a tub of local ice-cream on arrival by a character from the performance. There is ample opportunity to walk off said ice-cream by heading to Camp Smokey’s shindig. A meandering wooden walkway allows you to descend through the trees to a cabin nestled in the woods where guests are treated to a sing-a-long, barbecue and more roasted marshmallows; a staple favourite at a shindig.

Suffice it to say, if you are looking for a family holiday with a bit of a twist, then Bluestone is for you. We met families with new-borns and teenagers who return each year without fail. Toddlers are free to, well... toddle, enabled with ease by the ban of cars within the resort. For us, the trip allowed us to spend time with our kids; devoid of interruptions from electronic devices and the banality of the everyday strict routine. It allowed us to pause. For that Bluestone, we thank you.

Getting there

- Stena Line offers routes from Rosslare to Fishguard for the month of June, beginning at €200 for a family of four.

- Bluestone National Park is approximately 25-30mins drive from Fishguard ferry terminal. All prices listed correct at time of publication.

Accommodation

- Bluestone National Park offers accommodation packages for two adults and two children for a four-night, midweek break in their Caldey Lodge, for £529. Booking operates on a live system so all prices are subject to change.

- See bluestonewales.com for further information.

Dining

- The park offers a variety of eateries along with an on-site shop for provisions. Lodges are self-catering so you are not restricted in bringing your own supplies.

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