Over recent years, mini breaks have grown in popularity. If you like, you can blame it on Bridget Jones’s Diary for introducing the concept as something that couples do to cement their relationships, but we think it’s more likely that its rise in popularity is down to the busy world we live in, with short breaks serving as a compact way to recharge batteries and explore what’s on our doorstep.
We were recently invited to visit Gladwins Farm in Suffolk. Knowing Hollyoaks’ Sarah Jayne Dunn had some downtime in between filming coming up, we asked if she would like to visit with her family and Pug, Ming Ming.
She said, ‘yes please’. Here’s how she got on.
Our latest escapade for the lovely K9 Magazine came as a wonderful pre-Christmas wind down at the beginning of December, visiting the idyllic Gladwins Farm.
Just outside of Colchester and about a four-hour drive from home for us, this is the furthest we’ve ventured for a review to date and so we chose a three-night stay and the stakes were high for an enjoyable visit.
We prepared the squad, myself, my fiancé Jon, our little boy Stanley (17 months old at the time of our visit) and our little girl Ming Ming the one-eyed Pug, for our long car journey, armed with an iPad loaded to the brim with Disney films, snacks for the whole gang and a car so jam-packed that I could barely see Jon in the passenger seat beneath the pile of coats.
We braced ourselves for an onslaught of traffic as we were travelling post rush hour on Friday, however, we had quite an undisrupted journey and two service stops and five hours later we arrived at our destination.
It was dark as we drove down the drive onto the small cul-de-sac that is Gladwins Farm but we were still able to get the sense that the views and surroundings were going to be wonderful the next morning.
We were greeted and shown around our new home by the lovely Susie.
Our house was the ‘Wiston’ and we learnt that all houses on site are named after towns in the nearby area.
It was a spacious and delightfully decorated three bedroomed, two storey home with two double rooms upstairs, both en-suite (one shower room, one bathroom) both with TVs and one with a travel cot already set up for us which we were able to request before our visit.
There was an additional twin bedroom, again en-suite, downstairs and loads of space. You could easily visit this house with two other couples.
Downstairs comprised of a large living room with two large three seater sofas, a log burning fire, a TV and DVD player and an iPod dock.
Our home had, much to my delight, been dressed with a Christmas tree and decorations and to Stanley’s delight, there was a toy box full to the brim for him to immediately empty all around the house!
This was a very welcomed discovery as we had neglected to pack any of his toys because of the lack of space in the car and he played with them, particularly the toy cars, all weekend.
The kitchen was a great space with a rear aspect view, a large farmhouse dining table and a high chair set up for Stanley, another additional item we were able to request before our visit.
On arrival, we were greeted with a lovely little cake, selection of biscuits and teas, a fresh loaf of bread and some milk in the fridge. Bowls, feeding mat and a cushion had all been provided for Ming Ming and a lovely little bag of doggy treats which she was very pleased with.
The kitchen was filled to the brim with all the pots, pans, chopping boards, cups, glasses and utensils that you could ever need including plastic plates, bowls and cups for use outside. There was also was a bread bin for our lovely fresh bread, a microwave, toaster, Nespresso machine complete with four complimentary coffee capsules, a washing machine, dishwasher and cleaning products.
Once we had navigated our way around our ample living quarters we settled Stanley in his cot, cracked open a bottle of red and had a read of the comprehensive welcome and information book whilst keeping an ear on Stanley via the baby monitor provided by Gladwins Farm (another excellent addition).
We learned that there was an indoor pool on site, a children’s play area, some farm animals, a beauty boutique, a shop, a games room, a laundry room and we had our own hot tub! The welcome pack also suggested different places to visit and on which days of the week, we made a plan of action for our weekend and retired to our comfy double bed for a peaceful nights sleep.
Being a parent of a 17 month old boy, lie-ins are thing of the past but it does mean however that you’re up with the birds with a full day to embrace.
The first thing to delight me about seeing our weekend retreat in the daylight was the spectacular views from our house, we overlooked a large pond, trees, horses and a picturesque valley. The morning mist and sunshine made this the prettiest sight.
We quickly got dressed and had breakfast so we were able to get out and explore the site.
First of all, we went down to the shop to pick up some bags of animal feed (provided free of charge) then headed to the goats of which there were two very friendly chaps and both were very happy to see us approach with their breakfast.
Next, we visited the pigs, Ming Ming was thrilled and possibly a little confused to see such a large version of herself (I’m sure at some point Pugs have been crossbred with pigs, ha!!) and Stanley was equally thrilled to be so close to the animals, which are his favourite thing.
Next, we headed to the hen pen which you are allowed to enter and search for eggs! We didn’t find any but we did say 'hello' to the chilled out hens basking in the morning sun.
We then took Stanley to see the play area, he thoroughly enjoyed playing on all it had to offer and saying 'hello' to the horses in the adjacent field, an activity that Ming also very much enjoyed.
Once we were all out of animal food and Stanley had been on the playground rides multiple times, Stanley and I headed back to our house to make lunch whilst Jon took Ming for a run around the large grounds that Gladwins Farm offers.
There are many walks around the site which we simply didn’t get around to exploring but it’s the perfect location to visit with a dog and you’ll be spoilt for choice with walks, there are also poo bags and a bin for doggy do's provided, as well as a dog wash area but do take your own dog towel as these are not provided.
Once we were all fed and ready we headed out for the day. We had decided to visit Colchester, I lived and worked in the town for a couple of months some years ago when I was working at the theatre there in the show, ‘Noises Off’.
Jon had visited me on several occasions and we were fond of the place and so we decided to revisit while we were so close by. We parked on the Leisure Centre car park and took a walk through the park (a good tip if you haven’t visited before) to pleasantly discover a Christmas market by Colchester Castle, this called for a mulled wine, obviously!
We then had lunch at ‘Middletons' steakhouse, their food is delicious and the location is central and convenient, I ate their lots when working in Colchester and I’m glad we returned on this occasion. I’d highly recommend.
After stuffing our faces with steak and coffee we strolled back through the park, via the duck pond for Stanley’s benefit and drove across the road to a children’s play centre called ‘Go Bananas’.
This place is your idea of hell pre-children but we couldn’t have chosen a better place to visit for half an hour with a toddler. Stanley was in his absolute element whizzing around in the cars, swimming in the ball pool and navigating the jungle of nets and climbing frames. It was an afternoon well spent and we were a very tired squad when we left!
Exhausted we headed back to Gladwins Farm via the supermarket to stock up on food and supplies. Once home we put Stanley and Ming to bed for the night and cracked open a bottle of fizz before braving the cold and dipping into our private hot tub, what a delight!
The hot tub is situated to the side of the house, meaning it isn’t overlooked at all. The temperature was perfect and it was utter bliss relaxing in warm bubbles whilst sipping cold ones and discussing our wedding plans for this year! It was the perfect end to a busy yet happy and super satisfying day.
We all slept like babies, the site is so peaceful, and we woke up to another beautiful and frosty yet sunny morning with stunning views all around us.
After our breakfast and a lazy morning watching ‘Elf’ and once Ming had had her fill of smells and sniffs around the pond and field, we headed to the indoor pool and happily discovered we had it all to ourselves!
It’s very warm inside and there are male and female changing rooms. Stanley was made up with the rubber ring that was poolside and we had a lovely time practising everything Stanley has been learning in his weekly swimming lessons. We also discovered the there is another communal hot tub located just outside the indoor pool.
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After drying off and having lunch we decided to take a drive to the nearby National Trust location, Lavenham, what a perfect decision we made.
Only a short 20 minute drive from Gladwins farm, Lavenham is one of the prettiest places I’ve visited, with historical buildings everywhere you turn, picturesque pubs and surrounded by countryside, I’d recommend it to anyone.
We timed our visit perfectly with yet another Christmas market being held in the main square. It was bustling with people and dogs, there were food and drink stalls and lovely market gifts to buy, as well as a large ferris wheel!
We sat outside and drank another mulled wine whilst snacking on a hog roast bun, Ming Ming enjoyed the little bits of pork that kept falling out of my bun.
We strolled around the village spotting none other than Father Christmas himself and grabbed a hot chocolate to keep us warm. Before leaving this beautiful place we decided to stop in a pretty pub/hotel called The Swan.
They were dog friendly and also very human friendly, we were instantly welcomed and nothing was too much trouble. If you visit Lavenham (which you absolutely should) then do pop in with your four-legged friend.
On our return to Gladwins Farm, we popped into the on-site games room to see what it had to offer and it’s great!
There’s a toddler area filled to the brim with toys, a large play area with a ping pong table and a separate area with a TV and computer consoles - it’s a godsend for children and, parents of all ages.
We eventually managed to coax Stanley away from the toys and decided to try the onsite shop for our tea, there’s a freezer stocked with prepared meals that you can pop straight in the oven, which is a great idea if you haven't had chance to get some food in, or if like us you’re just feeling a bit lazy!
There’s also a list of local takeaways that will deliver straight to your door in the welcome pack, another great option if you’re feeling lazy and why not, you’re on holiday. The shop itself is small but packed with lots of essentials and sweet treats, the only thing missing was butter.
There is none provided in the house and unfortunately there was none in the shop which was a shame as it’s essential for toast and for the yummy bread that greeted us on arrival, but it also meant we had nothing to cook our food in as oil isn’t provided either. This was available in the shop but we didn't want to buy a bottle and have to take it home. If visiting, I’d suggest maybe packing some small butter sachets.
As our final night at Gladwins Farm came to a close, we headed back to our house to eat dinner and relax in front of the TV.
This is a wonderful place to visit with lots to offer for all the family, dogs included. You can come here and totally switch off, read a book and take in the stunning views or you can swim, play games and walk to your heart's content.
I’d love to visit again with a group of friends and their children and also to revisit when Stanley is older, I imagine if you have older children you would never see them because there’s so much on offer for them to do.
Unfortunately on this visit, we didn’t get chance to try out the beauty boutique onsite. Visiting in summer would be incredible and would give the chance to make more use of the garden and BBQ, and of course to spend more time in the hot tub!
I should note that the private garden is a nice size and there are both deck chairs and a table and chairs. It would be secure for a larger dog but Ming Ming could fit under the fence in places, which meant we did have to keep an eye on her when we let her outside.
There’s very little that’s negative that I can say about this place. There is some work currently going on on site (we weren’t disturbed by this at all) which suggests they may be expanding, which would be great news so more people can visit and see what lovely things Gladwins Farm has to offer.
We would highly recommend and only wish we could have stayed longer to enjoy and explore even more.