KENT: Ashford and environs

Heidi 6 drives a robot at Diggerland lr
Heidi Saunders (6) drives a Robot at Diggerland, Kent
By Tim Saunders
Returning from a break feeling relaxed is something that’s pretty hard to achieve in my experience. But it has happened following our stay at the newly opened Travelodge in Ashford, Kent.
The town centre located hotel constructed of metal is situated in a modernised part of the area surrounded by other modern structures that surprisingly blend in with more historic dwellings nearby. There’s a pleasingly continental feel. Traditionally, Ashford has become associated with the Eurostar train and little else. But this is an attractive town with much to offer. We find out some interesting tales from the flagstones next to the Travelodge. We discover that the Queen of Romania was born in the town in 1875, that there’s a local cycling superstar, Jamie Staff OBE and that the nearby river has claimed at least one life.
The redevelopment is still underway, which should go some way to rejuvenating the place and provide greater interest. Despite Brexit, during our stay we come across a variety of Europeans both staying at the Travelodge and in our travels around Kent. Inside the Travelodge are three floors of bedrooms and a restaurant, accessed by lift or stairs. We stay in a family room complete with an almost entirely white bathroom, which creates a very welcome clinical and hygienic feel. There’s instant hot water; hottest temperature restricted to 38 degrees Celsius so no one gets unexpectedly burnt. There’s a small bath and shower allowing each one of the Saunders family to relax in peace for a little while. This is very much appreciated as I am getting over a bad cold.
Usually a Travelodge family room will only accommodate four people but we are able to shoehorn little Henry (3) inside with an oversized cot, which works well until about 2am when he wakes up and comes into our bed. Harriett (8) and Heidi (6) are comfortable in their single beds. On the first night, despite new surroundings, the children sleep well.
Travelodge offers unlimited breakfasts that we all love. Adults pay £8.95 each and children go free. Served from 7am to 10am we amble down at around 8am and enjoy an unhurried experience. Have what you like and take your time. So we do. We all have fruit juices: apple or orange from the machine. The set up gives the children independence – they can serve themselves at the drinks machine and select their own breakfast. There’s a variety of cereals, fruit salad, yoghurts, croissants, toast and of course the full English breakfast. A plethora of coffees and even hot chocolate. This meal truly does set you up for the day and I find that I can do without lunch as a result. It is possible to have dinner at the restaurant, too with a three course meal for under £13 a head.
On the second night, after a long soak in the bath I slip into the comfortable double bed after my wife reminds me to use the Vick that she packed and I sleep like a snoring elephant. She sleeps better, too. The staff are all very welcoming and polite and even help carry our bags to the car.
During our stay at the Travelodge we park on a private driveway, just under a mile away. We book the space through, which provides an extremely cost effective solution to expensive car parking in town centres. We also like the fact that as we park away from the town centre it gives us the luxury of exploring a little further afield than we would typically do if we parked in a central car park.
When away we try to do something every day. On our first day we visit Wildwood, the park and conservation charity at Herne Bay where there are 200 animals on 40 acres of woodland. It’s such a popular place that on arrival we are told that there will be a wait to get into the car park, which is full. We don’t have to wait very long though and it gives us chance to have a quick bite to eat. No sooner are we through the gates and there’s a make a mask activity, which all the children are keen to do. Heidi and Henry make hedgehog masks while Harriett creates a rabbit one. We then make our way round with Henry racing away; he suddenly has a burst of energy, which is great to see. Usually we have to carry him everywhere. Harriett becomes distraught when sees a raven tearing into a dead rabbit’s head, which is a bit gruesome but she has to understand how these creatures live, sooner or later. After a bit of consoling we watch the barn owl gracefully flying. There are so many wonderful animals to see including polecats and wild boars. But the highlight for us all is seeing the bears and we climb along a high rope bridge to watch them. It’s all a bit scary but very memorable although Henry doesn’t seem to bat an eyelid. We learn about bees and how very clever they are and when we’ve done with that the children run themselves ragged in the play area where they thoroughly enjoy climbing and playing on their own bridge.
On the second day we head for Diggerland at Strood, not really knowing what to expect and fretting that Henry might not be able to do much there due to being small. But how wrong we are. This is a truly amazing experience. One where little people get to operate diggers. There’s a bit of queuing but it’s worth it to be able to sit in a big digger and learn how to operate it. Henry sits on my lap and is in his element as he looks out of the windscreen and nonchalantly moves the joysticks to lift the arm and bucket. We even manage to scoop up some earth. It’s quite difficult to do and makes us look at roadworkers in a whole new light. We then get to try our hands at driving a dumper truck. Oh the fun of it. We even see a very elderly woman doing this with a big smile on her face; it really is open to all ages. We take a ride on the Diggerland train. After a quick picnic the children play in the Little Tikes area where there’s a little house and sit in cars. They then run round the indoor play barn. It’s time to dig for some treasure after which we discover the Robots where the girls drive themselves round a course, followed by Henry and me – these are vehicles the size of a small car and yet little Heidi (6) is able to drive one quite competently. It’s amazing to see. The children have a blast driving the mini Land Rovers, too. Little Henry cannot believe his eyes and the girls allow him to do the driving, too. We finish our day by racing the electric go karts.
Our final day is spent visiting the Debenhams opposite the Travelodge and then making our way to Maidstone where we watch Goldilocks & The Three Bears & The Mayor of Porridgeton at Hazlitt Theatre. There’s singing and dancing and scene changes, all of which grips our children for almost two hours. The show finishes with the children being invited on stage.
What a great experience.
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