A Shakespeare Story

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How old is old enough to sit through a Shakespearean play at the Swan Theatre? Yesterday, we tested this question and discovered that sometimes the answer is five. This might only work for a relaxed performance when there is Lego close at hand, but it was a new one for me and I was so impressed. More so because the performance didn’t have an interval, so was an hour and forty minutes of Shakespeare with no breather!

Last year, I took my 10 and 8 year olds to the accessible Shakespeare performance in Stratford (it’s £5 for kids, check it out!) and the littlest stayed at home because it was half term. This year, with daddy at work and the now 11 year old not keen, I decided to brave it with a smaller sidekick. He was very excited to pack for our ‘tiny holiday’, and his sister’s beautiful work in preparation for the play even got him excited about that.

The journey up was longer than either child would have liked, although the smallest did complain that he wanted to go to the Lake District too as we did that last time we went to Stratford. We arrived at Mary Arden’s Farm in time for lunch and recovered from the car by playing outside and visiting the animals. Then we popped in to watch the Tudors having their lunch, which looked a lot more appetising than ours!

We spent the afternoon watching owls, playing giant chess and helping to scrub the kitchen table with salt and hot water, and then headed to the youth hostel as my fingers began to freeze. I’ve learned a lot about what works for the children in the last year, and simplicity seems to be the key. Pasta and pesto was the perfect yha meal, and our friends dropped in for games of pool and table football before an early night.

It’s been a pretty stressful term so far, and taking a break from the routine was a fun way to recharge. I did some work as the kids fell asleep and then managed to start a new book and still get more sleep than usual – even considering the 1am interruption when another guest had a long and chatty phone call outside our door… not really ok!

We started bright and early with a quick yha breakfast and went straight into Stratford. My Shakespeare fan had made a beautiful book of the play so we wanted to be extra early to hunt for cast autographs. I thought we were doing really well as we arrived an hour early, then realised I had left my phone (including tickets, camera, entire life…) at the youth hostel. During the run back to the car and drive back to the hostel, I did wonder whether it was worth the hassle of trying to do exciting things. However, we made it back in good time, she chatted with all of the cast and even her favourite contestant on Bake Off, who works there, and all was forgiven.

Studying a play beforehand is pretty key when it comes to Shakespeare and although I would never have picked The Merchant of Venice for children, it was a great experience for her to really get to grips with the story. This RSC version was breathtaking – Shylock’s ‘Do we not bleed?’ speech should be seen by leaders across the world to inform their policies.

So the Shakespeare fan loved the play and the chats with the actors before and afterwards, and the littlest enjoyed building a new Lego model and driving it around the seats quietly. We had lunch with our friends and even managed to squeeze in a visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace and pick up the obligatory Christmas decoration from the Christmas shop opposite.

The drive home wasn’t fun, with heavy rain and accidents to contend with, but we got back safely in time to tuck a sleeping little boy into bed and say goodnight to his big brother, who had also enjoyed a fun break from routine. I feel so lucky to be able to do the things my children love, it’s exciting to see their personalities and dreams developing. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I love Shakespeare and theatre too, and being able to enjoy it alongside them is pretty much as good as it gets.

So much to choose from.

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Today we painted pottery, which is a lovely, calm activity I love to do with my children when I get one to one time with them. It’s much calmer with the girls than the boys, who seem to approach it with the gusto of a science experiment combined with a race, but it’s great fun either way.

Today, though, I noticed that my littlest was having trouble choosing what to paint. The shelves heave with beautiful designs and exciting things waiting to be painted, and it’s a little overwhelming. I’m not a fan of tricky choices, so I choose a Christmas tree bauble to paint each time we visit. My designs usually feature red, yellow and orange, and the year that I went off piste and experimented with purples, I hated it and wasn’t sad when it smashed on the way home.

Anyway, I guess that gives me an appreciation of how hard it is to make a choice, and we spend longer debating the options than painting. My little man was keen to replace his money box rocket, which had an accident in which he discovered that the adults were – unfortunately- correct, and it would not be able to fly. He was distracted by various dragons, castles and small dogs, but decided that he really did want a new rocket.

After a quick paint job, the rocket looked great and he was bursting to paint something else, as a present for a friend’s birthday. I hope the parent will be as relieved as I was that he eventually opted for a small plate, rather than a large and entirely pointless skull. As he experimented with colours and paint techniques, he shook his head and said, quite sadly, “there’s just so much to choose from.”

This is a feeling I have a lot, often in supermarkets, and it’s usually accompanied by a sinking feeling. We’re surrounded by stuff, far too much of it, and the waste that is created by this enormous excess is really upsetting. I’d love to find more ways to focus our attention on making the most of what we have and what we genuinely need, rather than the things we could accrue just for the sake of it.

To this end, we’re thinking about how we can enjoy appreciating what we have more – I’m keen to try fuel free days (which sound like an idyllic day of board games but could just as likely be a disaster), and aiming to read books I already have rather than looking for more. And for Christmas, my absolute favourite time of the year, I’m focusing on useful, necessary and simple gifts.

As he painted his best buddy’s name across the plate, after perfecting a blend of paints in his favourite colours, my boy was delighted with his choice and felt great about creating something personal and useful. I’m aiming to keep fostering this idea and will see what grows from it. Simplicity and purpose. Sounds like a plan.

Small adventures together…

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One of the purposes of home educating my children is to spend time with them and really get to know them. This has become increasingly difficult as the amount of children in our family has increased and as I’ve taken on more work commitments, so this year I’ve made the decision to create an extra day with my youngest dynamo. He attended his Montessori pre school for two days each week last year, mainly because it was funded, and he loved it, but I noticed that he was exhausted and quite challenging on the second day and saw an opportunity to slow down a bit. This year he’s moved up into the primary group, but is starting with just one day per week. Since he also enjoys an outdoor learning group once a week and his forest school morning will increase to a full day soon, this feels like enough for us and I’m really looking forward to having a day to spend together.

Today was our first day. I don’t know if he’s saved up all of his conversation over the last few months or whether he can’t normally make himself heard over the racket his siblings make, but he has talked, nonstop, for several hours. I have heard all sorts of tales about Lego, playmobil, nerf guns, knights and races, and I’m going to have to practise being more enthusiastic about these things.

We made soup, so he spent a long time chopping carrots from the garden, and then we took the dog for a walk and picked lots of blackberries. Autumn always makes me want to cook and fill the freezer, and this boy was very happy to help. Rushing around never leaves much time for the rhythm of daily life and it was great to be able to enjoy taking the time to make food together without any other pressures.

Time caught up with us at lunchtime and we realised we needed to hurry a little to get through our plans. He was very keen to get the boring bits out of the way and had the perfect solution when I said he needed to eat lunch and use the toilet before leaving:

“I can do those at the same time.”

Ah, efficiency. Wait. What? No!

After explaining (not for the first time) that we don’t eat sandwiches on the toilet, we compromised by leaving the sandwich in the kitchen and running to the loo to save time instead. Perfect.

The highlight of his day was due to be a visit to grandad’s house to play with Lego. This is his favourite activity anytime, but when he has a Lego expert to play with, it’s even better. We stopped at the shop on the way and had another round of nonstop narration, mainly focused on why we should or should not buy everything we could see. It’s a big shop. Finally we made it to grandad’s, where I made the most of the chance to sit down and open my post (grabbed as we left home) while they built all manner of vehicles, towers and buildings.

Today has made me realise how much this little boy needs time. Time to play, time to talk and time to decompress. He’s still so little and is learning so much so fast, those breaks are as essential for him as they are for me. I’m looking forward to our days together this term, visiting places he loves at his pace and discovering exciting things together. I wonder if he’ll talk this much every week…

Family festivals…

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We haven’t fully embraced festivals as a family, not least because they are often very expensive, but we’ve been to a few and the children have always loved the sense of freedom, the music and the break from normal rules. This year, we joined my sister and her family at the festival they go to each year, the Sunrise Celebration in Herefordshire.

With our newly discovered ability to travel long distances without too much moaning, we made the journey – including more traffic jams than usual – with only one short stop. We arrived in the early afternoon and made our way to the family camping area, which was reassuringly far from the festival itself. The weather was not on our side, but luckily we had lovely family nearby with a dry tent, so we could keep our stuff dry while we put the tent up.

The rain continued for the afternoon and evening, and we opted to buy food rather than trying to cook outdoors in the rain. We’ve finally learned to adapt, after many experiences of sticking rigidly to the plan with disastrous results, and we really enjoyed plates of delicious Indian food as the kids tucked into vegan sausages and chips. Two of them aren’t vegetarian at the moment but they were very impressed with the choices at this festival, all plant based and all tasted great.

We gave up early on the first night, after attempting to pop into the main stage tent for a family dance, when the littlest burst into tears and announced that he was cold and tired. I totally shared the sentiment so it was a relief to snuggle down in our sleeping bags and read stories while listening to the distant music.

The sun came out to play the next morning, and we were relieved to be able to dry our wet clothes and sit outside for breakfast. It was a relaxed start with lots of playing in and around the tents, and we didn’t get up to the festival area until mid afternoon. The children were delighted to spend time hanging in trees, swinging in hammocks and listening to laid back music on the small stage in the forest. Just another reminder that we’re raising little wildlings.

I love the ‘anything goes’ feeling at a festival that means dressing up is all part of the fun. The littlest always loves to wear his Spider-Man suit for days on end, and the butterfly and 80s rock star also blended into the crowd. The eldest has an entire, dedicated festival wardrobe, which we spotted at various points during the weekend as she was camping with friends a little closer to the action with a slightly later bedtime.

We planned to go back to the tent for tea and then come back out for a bit of music, but the littlest once again decided he was too cold and tired to go out again, so we snuggled down while the others went out to dance. They were very happy to have seen some music and I was pretty happy to have had some sleep, so we were all winning.

The last day was a combination of packing, circus skills and music – and a look at expensive but beautiful clothes – and we didn’t leave until after tea, having agreed to vegan sausage rolls all round again. Easily pleased, the kids relived their festival memories in the car all the way home, while Phil hatched plans to play at a festival or two next year. This is an exciting part of his amazing new plan, but I’m less enthusiastic about festival toilets and unpredictable camping for longer than two nights. When we’d unpacked, put the kids to bed and showered, we began to google. Him, festival bookings. Me, campervans.

Fun and games…

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“Stop making seagull noises and put your shoes on!”

This is probably a more commonly used phrase amongst parents than most non parents would expect, and was the fifth time of asking, in case you wondered why I didn’t say please.

This morning I decided it would be good to lower our carbon footprint by using the hairdresser closest to us for a quick trim for the youngest, and enjoying a brisk walk while the children merrily scooted there. Of course, I forgot how far away the hairdresser actually is, and this plan roughly translated into me running behind the children as they scooted perilously close to the edge of the pavement and arriving at the hairdresser seven minutes late with a child loudly remarking, “why are you sweating, mum?”.

I was glad, however, that I only had my boys with me today, as they are decidedly lower maintenance than my girls in situations like this. With my girls, I could have expected sedate scooting alongside me, keeping up intelligent and engaged conversation. My boys, on the other hand, were quite content to scoot along at a million miles an hour and just shout the occasional inane comment back at me, not caring if I even listened. The idea that the differences between girl and boy children is all in the way you raise them is, of course, only ever suggested by people who have no children.

So our journey to the hairdresser did, indeed, lower our carbon footprint, but I cannot say the same about my stress levels. The day continued in this vein as the appointed hairdresser did not appear to have ever met a child before and looked thoroughly horrified at the sight of my grubby little beast climbing into her nice neat chair.

This is the only one of my children whose hair I do not cut myself. Long hair and curly hair are relatively easy to trim, and my kids don’t stay still long enough for any wobbly bits to be noticed. This one, though, is currently sporting short, very straight hair, and I am a little anxious about attempting to cut it at home. This was a decision reinforced by the way in which he wriggled around in the hairdresser’s chair for about twenty minutes, but I may have to give it a shot as I think I may have more patience than this particular hairdresser.

After paying a bill that negated our savings on petrol and parking, we left for a slightly more relaxing walk/scoot home. And in case you wondered, despite the very grumpy hairdresser and the much larger bill than expected, the haircut looks great and he will look less feral than usual until it grows out.

He flew off the scooter on the way home and managed to deafen most of Devon in his outrage. Is it just my children that are utterly furious when hurt, especially when they cannot blame each other? This boy shouted so loudly that local residents came out of their houses to check that a gruesome murder was not taking place outside their front doors. Thankfully, he was wearing a helmet and I had the first aid kit, so I didn’t look like quite the worst mother in the world. Always uplifting.

We made an obligatory stop for blackberries on the way home, and I hatched a plan to make blackberry gin this year. For me, not them. Then we hurried home to show Daddy the new haircut and – much more importantly – the new plasters. It’s the little things that matter, after all.

Home, Sweet Home

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Four days and twenty-two loads of washing later, it almost feels like we’ve arrived at home. Being away on holiday, and especially visiting beautiful places, always inspires me to make changes at home. Then we get home and I just feel overwhelmed by the length of the to-do list.

I was determined that this wouldn’t be the case this time, however, and I have been more realistic about the list, for starters. While I am beginning a project to get rid of a hundred yards of bindweed (which actually doesn’t sound realistic at all, now you mention it), I am also including plenty of much needed family time and relaxation in our plans.

This got off to a great start when the eldest and her boyfriend returned from a fishing trip triumphantly waving lots of fresh mackerel and offered to barbecue them for us. Eating a meal that someone else has cooked is always a treat, but a meal that they’ve caught (for free, my favourite price!) and then cooked is even better. They cooked the mackerel with lemon and garlic and added gorgeous potatoes and tomatoes, and every bite was amazing.

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It’s also a treat that the littlest has decided to sleep in his own bed now that we’re home. He’s always been a hot little limpet so both of us tend to get more sleep when he has his own space. I miss the snuggles, but after eighteen years of broken nights, I think I’m probably due a bit of a catch up. It does mean he’s waking up before six because he’s so well rested and ready for the day, but you can’t win them all.

I dream of being more patient, and being able to say yes more, and I’m hoping that getting more sleep will help with that. Today, it was great to be able to say yes to a funny little request and take the children and their teeny cousin for a scoot around the block. So often I don’t have time for little things like this, especially if they weren’t in the plan, but it was so special to hear them all laughing together and to chat with my lovely sister – and it was pretty magical to see a heron on our way home, too.

So, the next week is looking pretty appealing. Lots of time in the garden, family and friends to catch up with and even a good book to read. Some work to fit in, places we’d like to visit if there’s time, and plenty of tidying up to keep us entertained! Onwards…

Homeward Bound

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I woke up to a text from the eldest, informing me that my bedroom had been full of cat poo when she returned from the lakes, and that she – or rather, her very kind boyfriend – had cleaned it up. Nothing like a little reminder of what home, sweet home, has in store for us.

It’s been a very busy year so far (did I mention that we’ve hosted 40 students from France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands since March?), and I’m looking forward to a bit of a break when we get home. Once term starts again, we’ll be catapulted back into the busy routine and hosting again, so I’m determined to keep some time clear for rest and recovery this month.

We stopped in a cheap hotel just off the M6 for the night, knowing we’d be tired after our Liverpool day but wanting to make a start on the journey home. It was exciting to have a really good shower and a bath for the kids, and even a TV – tents and hostels are the perfect break for screen addicts – and to sleep in a comfortable bed. Of course, a small, sweaty child sleeping on your head is never conducive to a great night, but we enjoyed the novelty anyway.

As we packed the car for the last time, the smallest gazed in wonder at his shiny little feet and remarked, ‘Wow! This is the cleanest day!’ Our most successful family holidays do tend to be characterised by fields, mud and wild swims, and it’s lovely that getting clean again is all part of the fun. I’m looking forward to clean clothes and a clean house. Oh, wait… well, clean clothes, anyway.

We made the first half of the journey smoothly, stopping at Gloucester Services, which had been recommended to me lots of times. It didn’t disappoint, and the kids loved being able to play outside while I looked at lots of beautiful things in the farm shop and spent a fortune in my imagination.

Sadly, the traffic gods were not feeling kindly towards us and the next section was very slow moving. It seems a strange decision to do major roadworks on a large motorway on a Saturday in August, and we were certainly not the only family feeling a bit fed up. We may, though, have been the only family who had to confiscate a sword, a bow and arrow and a pillow (my children can repurpose anything as a weapon, it seems) while Prince Caspian desperately tried to keep us entertained.

We finally arrived home at 4pm, in time for a bit of guitar playing (the boy), garden play (the others), emergency weeding and unpacking (me). We’re all off to a birthday pool party tonight so it’ll be another late night but maybe the kids will sleep in tomorrow. Ha ha. And now for some time at home, hopefully with some relaxing in between the five billion loads of washing we’ve brought back with us.

This has been the most brilliant trip, we’ve had great fun and I’ve learned so much about Britain too! It’s lovely to be back in our little corner though, and I’ve got lots of new plans to write about as well so I’m glad I’ve rediscovered the blog.

EA62F232-FB3C-44C6-B935-85728BAEFE1F.jpegMy favourite holiday photo again. I miss the geese already!

Day tripper

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We only had one day in Liverpool and most of us had never visited the city before, so we wanted to make the most of our time. I spent a while looking at the options and we worked out a plan with something for everyone. We enjoyed the novelty of an ensuite bathroom in the hostel after a week of tent life, and also had the self catering kitchen to ourselves most of the time – the cafe looked undeservedly busy!

With a combination of Blue Peter badges and club card vouchers, we set off to discover The Beatles Story. We arrived early, before it opened, and anyone who has experienced our timekeeping will understand our delight at this. We waited with a tour group from the States, some of whom recalled seeing the Beatles on tour, and enjoyed the music that was playing outside while we queued.

The Beatles Story was fascinating, and everyone was engaged for much longer than I expected. We journeyed from the Casbah to the Cavern and then from Abbey Road to America, and learned a lot about the history of popular music and this extraordinary group of musicians. Our aspiring rock star was starry eyed over iconic guitars and sad that he missed the 1960s.

3DD25888-18AF-4E9C-8BD7-7B720782EC63We spent a long time exploring and all enjoyed the audio tour, and the children created some masterpieces of their own on the giant piano at the end. We had the usual gift shop wrestling match (how much does anyone really NEED a blue pencil sharpener?), and then headed out into the sunshine to walk around the historic dock area.

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89FEF143-A05D-4DD6-9170-648C6B990EDD.jpegWe popped in to the Tate Liverpool to balance up our cultural tour, and discussed modern art while mostly looking confused. The kids settled down with paper and stencils to create their own masterpieces, and we consulted our trusty free tourist map again.

We decided to break from our usual holiday policy of walking everywhere and spending nothing, and opted for a bus tour to get an idea of the city. This was a great way to see the different areas without causing little legs to ache, and it was fun to hear about the city from an expert. We were lucky enough to be able to sit at the back of the open top bus, so we had great views and enjoyed the sunshine, too.

95878671-DF34-4C16-B7EE-DFEB1EFC8387After our bus break, we returned to the Royal Albert Dock and went to investigate the Merseyside Maritime Museum. We spent a while exploring artefacts similar to those found on the Titanic and the Lusitania, and we even managed to take turns to visit the International Museum of Slavery, which was moving and very well put together.

When the smallest had run out of museum-patience, we walked up to explore the Cavern Quarter for ourselves, stopping to dance in the Liverpool One fountains and water play area on the way. Wearing or carrying wet clothes, we walked past the new Cavern Club, saw the site of the original club and enjoyed the buzz of the area.

The street music in Liverpool was great, with a huge variety of music on every corner. We found a pizza place with a great gluten free, dairy free selection, and great discounts, too – another win.

Eating out isn’t common for us, partly because it feels like rather a waste of money to pay to feel stressed while the children struggle to sit still, and partly because our various dietary requirements mean it’s often easier and tastier to cook something nice at home. We haven’t tried it for a while, and – like many other experiences this holiday – we were pleased to find it has got easier as the children have got a little older. Also because dairy free, gluten free choices have improved so much!

We all enjoyed our meal and then made our way back to the hostel to collect our car and start our journey home – via Penny Lane, of course. We were exhausted but really pleased that we’d managed a city in a day and had a great time. One more night away to break the journey, and then home, sweet home.

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Packing up…

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Packing up and leaving a campsite is never an easy task – especially with tired children in tow – but this morning was a pretty good effort and a new personal best. Tent dry and in the bag in one attempt, more space in the car than before, and off site by 10.30. We were very pleased with ourselves! Of course, we spent the rest of the day wondering where things had been packed and we had to adjust the guitars in the boot several times, but it was still a win.

EFC9F700-FE8A-4782-958A-256919F311E2.jpegWe were sorry to say goodbye to the campsite and the clear blue skies and low cloud made for memorable final views. We were very impressed that the oldest climbed Blen Cathra this week (albeit fairly reluctantly) and all of the others are inspired to try it next time.

09B85E40-B72B-4488-9CD8-0985DF24E9CE.jpegIn case you didn’t realise from my ramblings about Harry Potter and Swallows and Amazons, I love good novels and they often influence my ideas about where to visit. I’ve read lots of books set in Blackpool, and we toyed with the idea of visiting this iconic place on our way home. However, spending so much time in the wild has, as usual, reminded us that busy places and lots of tourists do not often make for a relaxing family day, so we decided against it.

We drove down to Windermere to spend some time at the biggest lake in Cumbria instead, bought cinder toffee and Kendal mint cake, and looked at Peter Rabbit in lots of gift shops. We asked for advice in one of the shops and were directed to a fantastic spot by the lake with a big children’s playground and plenty of beach areas for picnicking.

We took photos, swam and kayaked, and admired the beautiful view. The children climbed trees and we saw perch swimming very close to the shore. It was lovely to end our visit to the Lake District in the sunshine, and we will certainly be back.

940BDA0D-6DB0-45B3-8DDD-AAA27D921768.jpegWe have a hostel booked for tonight and lots of exciting plans for tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll have enough energy for them after a good sleep! It feels sad to leave the Lakes but also really nice to be heading south again, towards home.

It’s raining, it’s pouring…

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We woke up to heavy rain again today but we decided to make the most of our friends’ last morning onsite and set off to Bassenthwaite Lake for a last swim. It was pretty overcast and showery, but this is the warmest lake in the area because it is shallower than the others, and all of the adults and most of the children swam.

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We headed back to the campsite for showers and lunch, and then we said goodbye to our friends and they set off home. We spent some time in the tent, listening to heavy rain, reading Twelfth Night and doing fractions, and then we headed into Keswick for some provisions and charity shop browsing. The budding rock star was frustrated that his sisters always find gorgeous bargains in charity shops while he never finds what he wants, but I suspect this is partly because he’s very specific, and partly because other boys are as hard on their clothes as he is and they often just can’t be passed on.

We took a detour on the way back to the site and stopped at the Castlerigg stone circle, and the sun even popped out for a while! This was an amazing place, full of the magic of thousands of years, and it was really special to be there.

50AD75FB-2DD8-4BEF-8203-630538B762FE.jpegBack at the campsite, the children played with the little one’s new frisbee for five minutes, before it got thrown into the raging torrent that was a peaceful stream yesterday. After much searching of banks, we conceded that the water had won this round, and both frisbee owner and frisbee thrower were inconsolable for about an hour.

We had tea in the tent and then began to pack for moving on tomorrow. This site is so beautiful and, despite the leakages, the tent has been great. I’ve especially loved the gaggle of geese that roam around the farm all day and the incredible mountain views. We’re looking forward to the next bit but also a little jaded and nearly ready for home. The Lake District has been wet but wonderful, and I can’t wait to plan more holidays here in the future.

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