The Grove: A Surprisingly Fabulous Family Break

By Erin Anderson

In a wonderfully serene Hertfordshire landscape 18 miles northwest of  London sits the classically opulent, Grove Hotel. With great history, the high-living, well-heeled have been coming to the Grove for centuries; including a Queen Victoria and her week-ending aides. IMG_8754But  the once restrictive dress code is now modernly non-existent and there’s a wonderfully inclusive feel for family of all ages. Longer half-term holidays or short family breaks at the Grove are the new reality. 

Our family of four was invited to stay over this recent October half-term to experience all the Grove has on offer for families; and for a crisp, colourful, autumnal break, it didn’t disappoint.  Not sure about you, but when I was a kid I always loved staying in a hotel. Time seemed to stand still. It was something about the adventure of exploring a temporary home with possibly a pool, and maybe a lift, was fun. You could become someone else for a little while. This was clearly the case for our four and six year old children…as well as for my husband and I.

From the moment our car entered the gates of the stately grounds, our backseat daughters began giggling with anticipation. The stresses of everyday life began to fade and the stillness and excitement of what the day to come offered took over. “Is there a pool, Mummy? Will I have my own bed? Is the bathtub big, Mummy?” Well, “yes, yes, and yes!” But there is so much more.

As we arrived early, the smiling and welcoming staff offered to store our bags so we could begin our familial journey of the beautiful hotel grounds. Once we got our bearings, we went for a walk for some fresh air and the girls burned off some energy in the lovely wooded play area. You couldn’t have asked for better weather. The Grove Anouska's play area
The perfect autumn day. A little chilly, but with blue sky and the leaves in perfect hue, it all offered a wonderful backdrop to the beginning of our stay. 

After a little play and a walk, we headed to our first lunchtime culinary experience at the Glasshouse, one of the three main restaurants. At first I wasn’t sure this was a place for a four and six year old…even on their best behaviour. The setting is slightly formal, but because the staff were so warm and welcoming it felt normal to bring small children to such a lovely occasion. They were so interested in the girls and sincerely wanted our experience to be a treat. And boy a treat it was.

The dish production and detail is amazing…and to think they do this a few times a day every week. Sectioned buffet areas, overlooked by the chefs themselves, for all-you-can-eat locally sourced, freshly prepared seafood, antipastos, salads, asian stir-fry, tapas, roast dinners, curries, soups, cheeses, and our absolute favourite…the various Halloween-themed merengues, tarts, and other tantalising desserts.

The Grove Glasshouse lunchtime for family

As we meandered to our table, I looked down at my girls with their wide eyes and could tell that they checked their once-picky appetites at the door. In addition to pizza, some cheeses, and fruit salad, my girls actually ate a varied amount of vegetables. Beautifully presented and exquisitely-tasty vegetable dishes. This alone is a successful feat and warrants a return.

Of course, just when we thought they couldn’t cater any further to us or our children, the hostess stopped by our table with some “Princess packs” complete with crayons, colouring, mask-construction, and puzzles. The smiles on their little faces grew bigger and sustained, with manners in tact for the remainder of meal. A lovely, caring touch for potentially nervous parents bringing children to such a nice place.

After experiencing such wonderful delights, the reception team notified us that our room was ready. Reverting back to the excitement of a temporary home, we were eager to see our living quarters for the next day, so we ventured down to the contemporary West Wing side of the hotel. Family size room at the Grove

The family-size room is huge with included deluxe king size bed, sofa beds for the girls (or bunk beds, if you request), sizeable flat screen tv, giant bathtub, bathrobes for us and for the girls, a hamper of gifts and a thoughtfully-placed box of toys and children’s books. It was a fantastic room and had us all thinking maybe we’d stick with a duvet day instead of heading out to cycle or swim.

A walk over to the balcony overlooking the view of the grounds and golf course quickly view of the golf course from the Grove west wing family rooms
changed our minds. It was a glorious day and my cycle-loving husband and children were ready to get out and explore some trails. My four year old learned to ride a bike this past summer, so we were ready to head out on our first family ride. There’s a 1.92 mile wildlife trail and a 1.03 mile musical meander trail, but we opted for and cycle-winded our way through 4.02 miles of wooded autumnal parkland and along the serenely picturesque Grand Union Canal. Such a wonderful way to spend the heart of the afternoon. The Grove cycle trails for families

After all the exercise and fresh air, we returned our bikes, and headed back to the comfort and luxury of our family room. We all quietly laid-back on our beds and chilled-out for a bit. The girls played with their toys and books while we caught up for a short while on our phones (what else?)…This didn’t last long, though, as the girls had recharged their batteries and were ready for some swimming before dinner. 

There are two pools to explore as a family at this time of the year (three in the summertime). Something to explore on another trip, the fantastically-renovated Sequoia Spa offers a black mosaic-tiled indoor pool that caters to families with children over 12 years old. Those of us with younger kids, however, are better suited to use the smaller and more shallow indoor kids’ pool at the Anouska’s Kids Club. It was early evening and we were the only ones using the facilities which was nice. The bathwater warm pool has one section for more independent swimmers and one section for less confident children, toddlers, and babies. It was so nice having a calm little swim after cycling so much The Grove's Anouska's kid's pool
earlier in the day. Anouska’s has lovely and clean showering facilities equipped with the aromatic ESPA products, so we showered and headed back to the West Wing before dinner.

All the exercise made us collectively tired, but also nicely relaxed as we got ready for our 7pm dinner booking at the Stables. We enjoyed the room a bit more and then walked over to the Golf clubhouse where the Stables is located. Despite the abundance of our lunchtime feast, we were all starving and ready to experience our next inspired meal.

The Stables is slightly more casual dining than the Glasshouse, but equally welcoming and yummy. Once the housing of 18th century horses, it’s now a country-styled building with an atmosphere that is perfect for families. The girls were presented, once again, with packs of crayons and colouring and given a hefty choice of options on the Children’s menu. My six year old opted for the pasta and my youngest, the sturdy burger, accompanied with crispy French fries.

The main menu is simple, but detailed enough to cause some indecision. Everything sounded great. In the end, I opted for the sea bass, jerusalem artichoke puree, capers, and a side of chips. My husband followed my four year old’s choice and dug in to one of the juiciest-looking, apple smoked cheese burgers I’ve seen in a long time. Instead of starters, our sweet-toothed family chose to top-off our meal with desserts of chocolate brownies, apple galettes, fruit salad, and lemon tarts. Lovely stuff. the stables children's menu desserts chocolate brownie

After a full day of fun and food, this family was ready to finalise our day by cuddling-up on the big king size bed for a film. Needless to say, after the day we had, we only made it halfway through “Despicable Me 3” before the sirens of sleep made their calling. My eldest slept walk into her sofa bed, while my youngest stayed nestled between mummy and daddy for some shuteye.

As with the rest of our Grove experience, we all slept hard and awoke rested and rejuvenated. Unfortunately for us, it was also the end of half-term, so we couldn’t linger too long before heading back to work and school that very day. It was all worth it though.

Even though we live a short drive from the Grove and were only there for one day, the whirlwind experience felt like a long weekend break somewhere further afield. As we pulled out and back down the cascading drive, my six year old says, “Mummy, I don’t want to leave the Grove. Can we live here forever?” I’d say that’s a family break to remember.

Depending on timing, family rooms at the Grove start at £195 per night, but you can also check out the many wonderful family offers listed here 

About the Author: Erin is a mum-of-two, the Editor of Mumsnet Hertfordshire, a Xoogler, and has a penchant for building tech start-ups. In between school runs, she now focuses on freelance marketing, content strategy, and copywriting projects. 

 

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A Super Summer Family Evening at Whipsnade’s Sunset Safari

Cheetahs, peacocks and zebras, oh my! Yes, it was that kind of evening at Whipsnade’s annual Sunset Safari…and those were just the high-flying aerial, acrobatic team feats. IMG_5120

Although there was a mild breeze, the weather was thoroughly cooperating for what is one of ZSL’s nicest family summer evening’s out. The far-reaching skies were ranging from reds, to yellows, to lavender and as the sun was setting over the Chiltern Hills you could feel the zoo come alive in ways that aren’t regularly experienced on your average day out.

It was a fantastic opportunity to go beyond the Whipsnade gates after closing time and see the zoo looking nothing like it normally does. As soon as you get past the entrance, you’re immediately drawn to the subtle music of chilled beats and the multi-coloured beanbag beds perfectly placed around the acrobatic apparatus…clearly where part of the evening’s bendy performers would amaze and delight.

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Intermingled between the aerial performances, there were hula-hooping leopards and stilt-walking peacocks strutting their stuff, mariachis bringing the sounds of Mexico as well as the entrancing steel drumming man. The variation of music throughout the evening kept the parents energetically relaxed and the kids happily dancing past their usual bedtime routine.

To add to the atmosphere there was plenty of food and drink to keep you satiated and interested: Pizza, Mexican, Thai, and of course the standard of hot dogs and burgers were all on offer. This and the added bar options make for a lovely evening out.

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Once fed and relaxed it was time to tour the zoo animals, after-hours. You can tour at your own pace, lookout for the zoo’s nocturnal animals, listen to talks, learn about conservation, and even pretend you’re a zoo vet for a moment.

All in all, it was a super summer sunset safari evening and one to look forward to on the calendar each year.

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School Feature: Lockers Park – A Boy’s Education

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Lockers Park is a thriving day and boarding school where boys receive a first class education that is balanced and happy. With an excellent academic reputation, the school prepares boys for top British public and independent senior schools, frequently with scholarships. Set in 23 acres of woodland on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead, it is a day and boarding school for boys aged 7-13 with a co-educational Pre-Preparatory for ages 4-7.

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At Lockers Park we seek to instil traditional values of respect, honesty and tolerance, while teaching and preparing every child to become confident, high achieving citizens of the future.  Headmaster Christopher Wilson, who is in his fourth year at the school, says: “As a small and family oriented school, we pride ourselves on an inclusive culture which ensures your child will be encouraged and supported both academically and socially.”

Academia, The Arts, Sport and Co-curricular success are celebrated in equal measure at Lockers Park and the school’s motivational and nurturing environment allows pupils to discover hidden talents and initiate lifelong passions.

Motivating Boys

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“Lockers Park brings out the best in boys” Good Schools Guide

Drawing upon our 140-year heritage, we employ a kinesthetic approach to ensure pupils are highly engaged and achieve the best academic results. An emphasis on the individual child, combined with small class sizes (a maximum of 16 children per class), outdoor play and structured sport every day enables each boy to fulfil his potential. Christopher Wilson articulates the school’s philosophy: “Lockers Park makes a virtue of letting boys be boys. We believe that engaging in outdoor activities is intrinsic to good schooling, leading to increased concentration and success during academic lessons.”

Inspiring Pre-Prep

From the outset, our approach is to foster a love of learning and not simply learning for exam success. This is a mind-set that stretches from the Pre-Prep through to the main Prep School at Lockers Park. We have the flexibility to teach core subjects in  lockers-park-pre-prepdifferentiated, small groups, allowing us to work closely with each and every child. A creative curriculum blends the more structured environment of the classroom alongside making use of our beautiful 23-acre grounds. It offers the perfect setting to allow children to discover new interests, develop a range of talents and cultivate long-standing friendships.

Close-Knit Community

Our Pre-Prep is nestled right beside the Prep School, with its own routines and in its own unique, purpose-built space, but having access to the many excellent Prep School facilities. These include acres of football and rugby pitches, sports halls, a heated outdoor swimming pool and a .22 shooting range. And not forgetting the Art Room, Design & Technology block, Drama Studio and the historic Chapel and Centenary Hall, home to countless celebrated choir concerts, musicals and plays. Involvement with the Prep School gives our younger children the chance to make friends across all year groups and find older role models, all helping to sensitively prepare them for Prep School and the broader world that lies ahead.

lockers-park-pre-prep-pupilWraparound Care at No Extra Cost

Parents lead busy working and family lives and we strive to accommodate this. Flexibility is in our DNA as boarders are on campus around the clock. As an example, wraparound care for Lockers Park Pre-Prep runs from 7.45am until 6.00pm, with all costs included in the term fees. Within this, children may have breakfast from 7.45am to 8.15am and/or supper at 5.30pm.

Open Morning on Saturday 18th March 2017, 10:30am–12:30pm

Join us for a morning of activities and crafts at the Pre-Prep, where littles ones can explore the theme of ‘People Who Help Us’… visit the vet’s surgery, dress upLayout 1 like a policeman or make your own emergency vehicle. Mums and dads will have the opportunity to meetHeadmaster Christopher Wilson and dedicated Pre-Prep staff.

The main Preparatory School will be welcoming prospective parents and pupils, too.

Contact: secretary@lockerspark.herts.sch.uk or call 01442 251712 to register. www.lockerspark.herts.sch.uk

Sensational Spa Day at Luton Hoo Hotel

Just before Christmas I had the opportunity for some much needed personal time and pampering. In the midst of all the holiday hype, I managed to find a morning where I could indulge myself into the relaxing retreat at the Luton Hoo Hotel Spa. img_0929It’s quite a magical place that helped me escape for just a little while and recharge my batteries.

From the moment you pass the majestic hotel gates and drive through the
countryside/golf course entrance you enter into an almost fairyland-esqe world that  begins melting and leaving the stresses of everyday life behind. Seriously; The Luton Hoo grounds are beautiful.

After parking my car and wandering through the woodland trails to the elegant spa entrance I was cheerfully greeted by the reception team, given a tour of the facilities and offered a cosy, terrycloth dressing gown to begin my experience.img_0940

 I  was booked in for the customized Luton Hoo Signature Treatment, but as I arrived early, had some time to decompress and take advantage of the offered facilities.

There’s a very calming atmosphere from the locker room to the spectacular (one of the best I’ve ever seen) oak framed pool area complete with infinity pool, vitality pool, and heat therapy suite.

img_0942After a little swim and sauna, I had a some time to spare before my treatment; Naturally, I ventured upstairs to the Relaxation Room to sample some herbal teas and dried fruit snacks while entranced by the sound of soothing music and the almost-sedative inducing fish tank bubbling. I almost didn’t need the treatment, though, as I was pretty much relaxed and ready for a nap.

I’m glad I held-out for the treatment, though (as if I’d miss it). The Luton Hoo Signature treatment, with the lovely Senior Therapist,  Becky, in charge, is 80 minutes of blissful calm. An ESPA-customized treatment specifically for Luton Hoo, the ritual takes you from a cleansing footbath to Balinese massage and can be incorporated with the most warming of hot stones. The ESPA oils are personalised to your liking and smell fantastic. Needless to say the overall experience left me ultra-relaxed and ready to take on the world. I’m even considering the Luton Hoo Spa membership just so I can unwind on demand.

Click here for more information on the Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf & Spa & here for Luton Hoo Spa Membership

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The Hertford Theatre Does it Again in the Panto Department   

I always thoroughly enjoy the Hertford Theatre productions and this year’s pantomime, Little Red Riding Hood, is no different. With the intertwining fairytales of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red, the storyline keeps engaging interest for all ages.

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It starts with simple Simon, the pig farmer, and his friendship with Little Red. They’re each on their own journeys with Simon searching for his lost little pigs and Red on a journey to deliver some meds to her ill grannie. The trip to grannie’s humble abode has Little Red wandering from set to colourful set meeting many full-of-life characters and most of them are the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

As with any pantomime, there’s the interjection of fun and poppy music. With a play on many pop culture ditties, the journey of tunes carries you from the recurring theme song of Friends, to Coldplay favourites, and some Mary Poppins standards. Familiar songs kept the audience toe tapping, interactively singing, and cast supportive throughout.

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Which brings us to the cast…The following words come to mind: magnificent chemistry, quality acting and choreography, and superb vocals. One of the best panto lineups the Hertford Theatre’s produced.

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For the two hour and twenty minute runtime, the combination of story, music, and interactivity kept my almost six-year old and me thoroughly entertained. It’s a wonderful Christmas treat for 2016 and we’re looking forward to next year’s production.

Little Red Riding Hood is running at the Hertford Theatre until 1 January so get your tickets fast:

http://www.hertfordtheatre.com/events/detail/1404/little-red-riding-hood

Review: “Mrs. Armitage and the Big Wave” A Great Family Day at the Theatre

Mrs. Armitage and her faithful dog, Breakspear, are off to the seaside for a day of surfing; but what happens while they’re waiting for the big wave makes Quentin Blake’s story a sincere display of true companionship, trust, problem solving, and eternal optimism.

I recently had the privilege of experiencing the Ga Ga Theatre Company’s adaptation of this lovely story at the Abbey Theatre in St. Albans. We took the whole family to this hour-long production and it was a wonderful, interactive way of giving young children a taste for the theatre, as well as having a lovely morning together.

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The entire play uses two clearly talented actors each portraying a handful of upbeat, amusing characters. Different voices and accents are used to give real variance and depth to the characters and certainly keep the audience, especially the children, interested.

The main characters endure many situations as they’re ‘waiting for the big wave;’ and with each comes the choice of either giving up or staying positive and finding a solution. These scenarios also made for some good discussion with the kids after the show.  mrs_armitage_0393

The combination of quality acting, funny lines, simple, yet clever, props, and animated, projected sketches make for a well-integrated way of interpreting Blake’s story. Well done to the Ga Ga Theatre Company for this fun production. Looking forward to your next project soon.

For more information on the Ga Ga Theatre Company and their coming productions, see the website, here: http://www.gagatheatre.co.uk

For more fun, check out Mumsnet Hertfordshire’s site: http://local.mumsnet.com/hertfordshire

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Top 10 Tips for the Primary to Secondary School Transition

The move to secondary school is a challenging and emotional time for both parents and children. Fear not – this useful guide from the National Teen Trust should help make the transition as painless as possible!

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  • Be prepared (like a boy (or girl) scout!) – It’s so important. Get all the uniform, books, shoes, trainers, socks and stationery out of the way as early as you can. You don’t want any last minute stress the week your children start secondary school!
  • Start to have conversations about the differences between primary and secondary school. You’ll have done the tour so you can reassure your child that they’ve seen the layout and that lots of people will be there to help them settle in.
  • Talk about how many children will be there in comparison to their primary education years. Often, your child will be going from a network of 30, 60 or 90 peers to around 200. This can be a positive… think how many new friends this means.
  • If your child has struggled to fit in at primary school, it’s likely that there will be a similar peer who is also facing these odds! For example, is your child a tomboy who has struggled to strike a friendship with the girls at primary school? Transitioning to secondary school may be the key, as there are likely to be girls with similar hobbies and interests.
  • In the first week, establish a routine as quickly as you can – where your child is going to hang their blazer, put their locker key, bus pass, do their homework, etc.
  • Be prepared – again – for the change! Suddenly your son or daughter transitions from a child into a more independent being. They may want to walk to/from school, get the bus or pop into town after school with new friends. Think carefully about what parental controls you will implement for this new stage.
  • New friends, new environments to hang out and have sleepovers at. How is this going to make you feel? Think about how you will approach this, whether you will meet the new friend’s parents first or is it sufficient to have a phone/text conversation?
  • Do your research. Establish if your child is better getting the school bus or the local bus or parent taxi. You can always change this as the terms pass by. First thing in the morning, your son or daughter may prefer the local, public bus to a bus full of excited school children!

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  • Make friends with other parents who are going to your tween’s new school. You may find that you lose a support network when your child’s friend’s move to different schools and this can be challenging.
  • As you can see, it’s not just about the effect this transition has on your tween, but also the effect that this may bear on you and the rest of your family. Be prepared for unsettling times as you all start to adjust to this new chapter in your family life. And remember, stay positive!

images     You may find your child’s move to secondary school a challenge in the first instance. However, the key is to be prepared and to stay positive. The National Teen Trust has been set up to create a support network for parents during these tween and teenage years.

If you’re struggling with parenting life, join the National Teen Trust Facebook group. The organisation also runs flexible programmes in St Albans that allow parents to come together and explore teen challenges, allowing you to develop practical parental approaches and skills.

Guest post written by Wendy Powell.

 

The comings and goings of all things Hertfordshire

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