As I started writing more and more family-friendly interiors posts on my blog, probably around the same time as my eldest started school full time and my youngest went to pre-school for a couple of hours every afternoon, I stopped writing about our trips and adventures.
For a couple of reasons, really. One, school. We don't tend to head out as often because we have less hours to do so. And two, with time being so precious, I'm reluctant to spend it behind a camera. Having not grown up with a camera phone or taking many photos, I still don't find it natural to snap away ... I don't see a person or moment and I think, 'I should capture that'.
On the flip side, when I do take photos and spend some time writing about where we went and what we did, I'm always so grateful for the record. They tend to be my favourite posts to look back on and I'm always amazed about how much I've forgotten in such a short space of time.
With my terrible memory, it's brilliant to have both words AND pictures to look back on the moments and events from just a couple of years that my brain has already pushed away from the forefront to the black and white section.
For that reason, humour me, and let me tell you the tale of the summer holidays where the northern nine meandered to Monmouth. For those of you who prefer my interiors posts, I'm so sorry, but it's such a beautiful part of the world so maybe you can pick up some tips for a future visit.
Anyway, during the last week of the school summer holidays, nine of us, in three separate cars, headed down to Monmouthshire - us four, my mum and dad, and my brother and sister-in-law with their dog, Milo. It takes a lot to convince me that the North Wales scenery can be beat, but Monmouthshire may be its one true rival.
It's a perfectly picturesque and fun area to visit, with so many different things to do to please people of all ages and interests. Here's what we loved the most ...
I spotted The Chickenshed featured in The Simple Things magazine a few months ago, and booked the last remaining four nights in August pretty much immediately. Sleeping eight and welcoming furry friends, it couldn't have been more perfect for us.
It's no ordinary chicken shed, believe me. It's so beautifully designed with the most thoughtful touches and incredible views across the countryside. It's a real home from home, from the Nespresso machine to get you going in the morning to the fire pit to sit around with your glass of wine in the evening.
Seriously comfortable beds (I'm now saving up for a Jane Beck Welsh Blanket), powerful showers, a stunning open plan kitchen and living room, and delicious Welsh cakes on arrival. What more could you want?
It was hard to leave and my mum and dad are actually incorporating some of the design ideas that they spotted at The Chickenshed in to their new kitchen!
You can book a stay via the Canopy and Stars website.
We ate out in a few different places during the week but the one that we all walked away from saying how amazing it was, was The Hardwick in Abergavenny. It was one of those lunches where we only meant to pop in for an hour or so but the atmosphere was so relaxed and the staff so sweet, that we were still at our table with coffees and puddings some two and a half hours later. If the boys hadn't needed to run off their lunch after sitting so (reasonably) nicely for so long, I think we would have lingered a little longer and tried even more of the cocktails.
Top tip: Try a glass of Welsh wine while you're there - the Ancre Hill Estates Rose is delicious. And under no circumstance skip pudding ... the chocolate mousse with honeycomb and salted caramel is out of this world.
The Kymin is a hill overlooking Monmouthshire with an 18th century roundhouse and naval temple under the care of the National Trust. The view from the top is well worth the deep breaths you'll take driving the narrow, bendy roads to get up there. There's not a great deal to do but I'd definitely recommend stopping for an hour or two to amble round and check out quite possibly the spookiest woodlands. There are cold spots and eerie trees in abundance.
Up late the night before, the boys were at their tiredest and most mischievous the day we went to Raglan Castle. I spent most of our time there running after them and begging them to stop walking around with their eyes closed (yes, really, I have no idea why). Apologies if you were there on the same day and had your visit ruined by a rather harassed woman continually screeching, 'Will you please look where you're going, you nearly FELL IN TO THE MOAT!'
On another day, I think the boys would have loved it. Living where we do, we're quite spoilt for castles (Caernarfon takes some beating), but Raglan is up there with the best.
It was built for show rather than for battle so by castle-standards, it's quite a glam one. One look at the main hall and the kitchens and it's easy to see that entertaining was a huge priority.
A family ticket (two adults and three children) costs just under £20 and you could easily spend a full morning or afternoon there ... if your children are better behaved than mine.
Puzzlewood is such an amazing place. It's the most magical woodland I've ever visited. It feels like a film set (and has been used as one ... take a look). You're almost waiting for the Ewoks to jump out at you or Gandalf to suddenly appear in the middle of a pathway shouting, 'You shall not pass'. And as he didn't, I decided it to boom it most of the way around instead. I couldn't help myself. I think my mum got lost on purpose ... out of complete and utter shame. She said she wanted to see what was down the other pathway. Hmmm.
Some of the routes are a little steep and slippy for really young children (pushchairs are not allowed either) and you definitely don't want to be wearing flip flops here but we spent a great couple of hours at Puzzlewood and would highly recommend a visit. It's £23 for a family ticket (two adults and two children). There's a small park and picnic area so bring your lunch with you.
But even with so many wonderful places to visit, my favourite thing about Monmouthshire?
Even my littlest came out to photograph them.
Have you ever been to Monmouthshire? If you have any hints, tips or recommendations to add, let me know as we're sure to return.