Friday 13 April 2012

Auchenlarie break

The boys were desperate to get on their Easter break, after passing the first week of their school holiday. I picked up my new car from the Patersons and decided to break it in with a drive down to Dumfries and Galloway, taking Sean with me, while Sharon made the journey in the Sharan with the rest of the lads.

We were staying at Auchenlarie Holiday Park or, more precisely, across the road from the park, in a luxury lodge that had three bedrooms and, most importantly from the boys' perspective, a hot-tub! Auchenlarie is about two miles past Gatehouse of Fleet on a site that slopes fairly steeply down to the sea. The centre of the park was across the busy A75 and down the hill. This is where the swimming pool, leisure centre and bar/restaurant were located, along with the entertainment. We weren't quite brave enough to partake of the entertainment although Sharon witnessed some real "entertainment" as she made her way back from the gym one evening - a right barney going on. We did venture into the restaurant on the first evening, which was fine, had a swim on the last day and the smaller boys were in the soft play a couple of times too.

The boys were able to practice their cycling on the wooden deck and farm road by our lodge ("Lilac Lodge") and we were in the hot tub on a few occasions. The first time I though Angus was going to come out cooked! Given the general greyness of the weather, it was most pleasant to sit in the heated tub with a view south towards the Isle of Man, watching a variety of shower clouds scythe across the Irish Sea.

There was plenty for us to get on with despite the indifferent weather. First off we headed to Cream of Galloway. This featured a great go-kart course. I took Rowan, who, true to daredevil form, was standing up, yelling, as we plunged down steep inclines towards low-roofed tunnels, so he could bump his helmeted head off the tunnel roof. Sharon took Angus, who similarly had a great time as a passenger. Sean went on his own but struggled on the climbs and Finn abstained, as is Finn's way. Sean did "down the hatch", as did I, a disconcerting feet-first barrel plunge in which you feel you are dropping out the sky before it levels off and you crawl out in an undignified manner. Sean also did the Flying Fox and we all went on the 3-D maze and other adventure playground parts. Lunch was tasty too, local burgers and ice-cream.

We went to the RSPB centre at Mersehead for a scavenger hunt where, once again, Finn impressed with his knowledge of birds and their calls. Despite the long drive to get there we had a great time looking for the items on the hunt, Sean and I jogging on to the beach when it looked as though we were going to run out of time.

Another day was spent at Mabie Farm Park south of Dumfries, where we met Rachael Ridley and her son Owen. In between the showers the boys looked at the animals and played in the indoors barn but the highlights were the hay barn, where the boys were swinging on ropes and jumping off bales while having hay fights with Sharon and Rachael (don't think it did my asthma much good), and the grass slide. I apparently went airborne, which I can ratify with the thump my coccyx received. Even Finn joined in, no doubt shamed that his younger brothers were quite prepared to get on their shovels and slide down. Afterwards, we drive around the Southerness peninsula with its stunning views south to Cumbria, to Rockcliffe. The boys had dozed off and were grumpy to a man, so I undertook the short but interesting walk through the woods to Kippford - just in time for the rain to come tipping down! I was soaked and had little opportunity to enjoy the views. Sharon drove round to Kippford to join me at the Anchor Hotel where we had a great, relaxed dinner in the back room with lots of other families and everyone in fine form. Definitely one of the highlights of the week.

But there's more! I took the boys to Cardoness Castle in Gatehouse of Fleet and we went to the local market in Creetown where we gave the boys some money to spend and watched as they made their choices round the various stalls. Finn, bless him, spent his last 50p on a cake for his Mammy. He can be so mean at times, to Rowan especially, but at other times he is the most generous of the boys. Late one afternoon I drove along to Newton Stewart with Finn and Rowan, to a real old-fashioned cinema, to see The Muppets. It was actually quite an enjoyable film.

My outing with Sean to play golf at a nine-hole course at Tongland near Kirkcudbright wasn't quite such a success however. Sean was fairly hopeless. He probably managed a generous 16 at the first par three hole and it went downhill from there (his golf, as well as the course). My investment in their lessons at Swanston is looking like a sunk cost. I suspect the next term will be their last, as Finn isn't that keen either. They seem to enjoy it with their pals (after moaning about having to go), but neither is showing any interest whatsoever in the sport, or any sport for that matter.

Another day we drove towards Castle Douglas to visit Threave Castle. This required a fairly lengthy walk to the River Dee where the castle sits on an island and has to be reached by boat. Once we got there one of the week's frequent showers darkened the horizon and swept in. We retreated to what little shelter the ruined castle offered as the rain teemed down.

A big treat for the boys was our visit to the Cocoa Bean Company at Twynholm. Entry to this place gets them into a chocolate workshop where they get to make chocolate things and decorate them. It was funny to see them all troop in, from Sean down to Angus, dressed in their aprons and hairnets. It's fair to say they loved it. Rowan could hardly keep his face out of the chocolate!

On our last day we packed up then drove back to Mersehead for a family fun day, meeting up with Jane Wilson and Molly, John and George. Once again we had a great day there, making our way to the beach this time. I really enjoyed supervising the creation of our beach art, a red kite. We joined the RSPB, on a whim rather. The nearest RSPB reserve to us is Vane Farm by Loch Leven in Fife, so I suspect we won't get the use of RSPB membership that we do from the Historic Scotland membership. But Sean's competitive streak won't let Finn be the bird expert in the house and anything we can do to get us all outdoors has to be a good thing.

We had a great week in Dumfries and Galloway despite the indifferent weather. We spent a fair bit but there's lots for the kids too and plenty they'd go back and do again. And with better weather there are lots more walks and beaches to explore. I'm sure we'll be back.

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