As I mentioned last week, I have one last chapter of our ‘summer of last hurrahs’ to tell you about. When we got back from our teen FOMO-riddled two weeks in Turkey, I was puzzling over how to approach future holidays with the boys when Travelodge got in touch to ask if they could help me with a summer post. Immediately the idea of a road trip sprang to mind and so they suggested we make a plan.
Because we live so close to the sea, we tend to go inland if we travel in the UK. Of course we used to go to Brighton and Devon and Cornwall when we were based in London, but the boys were babies and don’t remember. However we’ve always had this picture in our house and for years they’ve asked “what’s so cool about Brighton?” so, given the choice of any destination in the UK, a road trip to Brighton seemed like the obvious choice.
Road trip stop 1 – Oxford
It was too far to travel all the way in one journey so on a blistering (even in the north) Bank Holiday Monday, we waited for the middle one to finish his shift at Primark and then set off down country as far as Oxford. Here we are arriving and the graffiti was obviously drawing Mr MC’s eye because this is the only shot where I’m the focus rather than the artwork behind me!
Hush top; Aspiga skirt; And Other Stories sandals – all SS19
I’d had a quick look through Time Out on the way down (does anyone else feel they can’t trust Tripadvisor any more?) and found a burger restaurant that sounded as though it would appeal to the boys. Atomic Burger is based on comic book culture and although they weren’t as excited by it as they would have been ten years ago, they quite enjoyed the references to different movies and superheroes around the place…
As you can see their burgers were spectacular. After a long summer of endless eating and drinking I was trying to exercise some restraint. Looking at the pictures in this post I can see that I’m looking plump like the plums on the trees but I guess at least that’s seasonal – and I have it in hand now! Would I recommend Atomic Burger? It was fun but it was eye-wateringly expensive – our food and soft drinks came to £98 which was a bit of a shock for such a simple place.
Refuelled, we went to book into our first Travelodge which was on the edge of the city. If you’re not a UK reader I should explain that Travelodge offers simple, good value accommodation in just about every town and city. Some hotels have their own bars and restaurants, others are rooms only and they’re a reliable base, especially if you’re going to be spending most of your time out and about.
SuperRooms are gradually being introduced and they give you upgraded facilities including a coffeemaker, jet shower and choice of pillows. We had one at this hotel as you can see below.
By now it was 9.30pm and with Oxford at our feet, we decided to pop out for a glass of wine before bed. Here we are at The Head of the River and this is where we spotted a cultural difference. On a Bank Holiday Monday up north the pubs would still be packed at this time, down here however they were all closing early – sensible southerners had already called it a day.
After our long drive we were happy to have an early night though. We were all up bright and early the next morning apart from the middle one. It transpired that unable to sleep, he’d gone out at 2am and hired one of the bikes outside the hotel, spending a few hours cycling around the city. As my heart skipped a beat, I stopped myself from saying anything – reminding myself that he was, after all, (all of) two weeks past his 18th birthday. He’s a man now and the smile on his face showed me how much he’d enjoyed stretching his wings.
So we met up for breakfast and a good thing if you have boys with appetites is the bottomless buffet at Travelodge which set them up for a morning of shopping with mum (lucky things). The photos below illustrate just how much they relished it… yes, that is a yawn from the youngest in the last picture.
I suppose I should praise them for their resourcefulness though. As soon as they saw the large John Lewis they knew it was going to be a while before they saw daylight and so the middle one came up with the idea of going retro again and they downloaded Pokemon Go (yes retro in this case is a game that launched all the way back in 2016!). As you will see through the rest of this post it defeated my purpose somewhat because it meant that they were heads down catching Pokemon in every location we went to but… it kept them happy and more importantly, gave them something to do together.
I know lots of you have told me this but Oxford really does have a lovely shopping centre with just about every retailer you could wish for. Amongst others there’s a nice big Uniqlo which is the one shop that everyone in our family loves and Cos – which clearly the boys like less.
We then headed into the university part of the city with its lovely Cotswold stone buildings. I’ve only ever been to Oxford on flying visits and it’s made me determined to go back soon and spend more time there. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s the kind of place that I could see myself living in… not the city itself but a village outside.
We stopped for a coffee in one of the university quads because we had another reason for choosing Oxford as a stopover. This is the year that the youngest needs to start focusing on his UCAS university shortlist and we wondered if he’d be inspired to make Oxford one of them. This is the moment when I put the idea to him and as you can see, his answer was an emphatic ‘erm no!’ Despite not having visited, his mind is currently set on Durham… we’ll see how it pans out.
Road trip stop 2 – Brighton
So, that was our whirlwind tour of Oxford. Mr MC and I had enjoyed the sights (and the boys had caught some rare Pokemon and captured a Poke-gym so all was well with the world). It was time to get back on the road and head to Brighton. A couple of hours later we arrived at our next Travelodge which as you can see was just spitting distance from the seafront.
This is a ‘Travelodge Plus‘ (others are in London, York, Edinburgh and Marlow) which means it has upgraded standard rooms, SuperRooms and a Bar and Cafe.
The sun was shining outside so we checked in quickly and headed out to explore the promenade. Here we are on the pier and I realised that last time we were there, the boy standing next to me was just four months in utero. That’s not why he has an odd expression on his face though – I was trying to persuade him to go on a gut-twisting ride that the youngest had dashed off to get tickets for. He wasn’t keen…
… but as always he obliged and as you can see, it worked out well. Watching them gave us one of those recaptured moments of parenthood when you know that they’re in the moment and just enjoying themselves.
After that we sat in the sunshine with a glass of wine and of course as we were at the seaside it had to be fish and chips for tea. Whatever you do though don’t have fish and chips at the Palm Court on the pier – it looks lovely but it was awful.
Here’s a tongue in cheek shot that once again instantly lost me about sixty followers on Instagram which just goes to show that lots of people don’t read the caption… I wasn’t actually going to have my cards read.
At the same time something that had happened back home had triggered a Facebook reconnection with some of the girls I was at school with. We were in different class forms so we weren’t especially close but even though we hadn’t spoken for 32 years and are now spread all around the world, the distance evaporated in a flash and we pitched straight into conversation as if we were still in the 6th form common room. There’s something special about the people you were at school with isn’t there? The connection you have when you’ve spent seven of your most formative years growing up alongside each other is unlike any other. And that’s the thing about the internet, just as I was feeling the sharp sting of anonymous unfollows I was also enjoying the intense pleasure of ageless reconnection. Like anything, you have to take the rough with the smooth.
So, we walked down the prom watching the sun set…
…and enjoyed some of the sights that Brighton has to offer.
Then it was time to go back to the hotel, to catch up on a bit of work before Mr MC and I headed out to a great jazz bar. Again this is where Travelodge worked well for us, the boys joined us for half an hour before deciding to head back on their own to their rooms. Because it was so central, it was easy for us all to do as we pleased and everyone was happy.
We awoke the next morning to more glorious sunshine and after another bottomless breakfast, we spent some time exploring The Lanes. If you don’t know Brighton they’re a network of pretty narrow streets housing independent shops and designer stores such as Maje and Sandro.
When we’d seen everything we crossed over to The Royal Pavilion which was built as a summer palace for King George IV. Mr MC and I relaxed in the sunshine, enjoying the luxury of not being at our desks while the boys were as happy as they would have been ten years ago, laughing together as they chased Pokemon around the grounds. It felt good but… can you see… after a while the clouds started coming over…
… so we made a quick plan for the cinema which was next door to the hotel, stopping off for sweets on the way. I’ve no idea what the shop assistant had just said to me… or what film we saw at the cinema – something with guns and a lot of fighting but you’ll be pleased to know that by the end of it, disaster was averted and the world was saved.
We agreed on Italian food for dinner and as we wandered the Lanes looking for a good place to eat, the heavens opened. I was wearing a blouse and shoes that I’d chosen for my Boden August edit; I’d been saving them for this evening out in Brighton but there wasn’t time to get a very good shot…
… there was nothing for it but to retreat to a cosy pub until it passed over. What I will say is that I love this blouse with its tie neck – I always wear them tied low but obviously you have the option of wearing it higher in classic pussy bow style. The shoes are fabulous too with their mock croc finish and squared off toe. They’re slingbacks but I’ll be wearing them right through winter with midi-skirts, wide leg crops and tights.
When the rain eased off we ventured out again and stumbled over Donnatello’s – which I happily recognised to be the Italian restaurant that I went to with friends on my hen weekend back in 1992 (the memories are a little hazy but of course I put that down to the passing of time). The food was good, portions were large and the bill was the kindest we’d had (£64 for four with wine, coffee and a dessert for the youngest). Brighton isn’t a budget destination but this is a great place to eat.
And with that, we put Brighton to bed because the next morning it was time to head north again and visit a different town.
Road trip Stop 3 – Leamington Spa
And as if by magic, here we are arriving in leafy Leamington Spa. Now this was a very different Travelodge, you can see it behind me, The Regent Hotel. Every so often you come across a Travelodge in a magnificent building like this. I remember us staying in one in Edinburgh years ago when the boys were little and their room was quite literally a ballroom, there were just three little beds lined up against the wall.
The interior was on a similarly grand scale, it was difficult to capture because you needed a wide angle lens but here’s Mr MC doing his best – I think he was trying to hide behind the middle one, out of shot. Oh and I must mention the service, it was good everywhere we went but we had a particularly warm welcome here and I know they’ll be looking out for this post so I’m keeping my promise. The three of us headed out to explore Leamington Spa leaving the youngest happily in his huge bedroom making TikTok videos.
Once again the hotel was in the heart of the town so it was easy to pop in and out. Leamington is one of those places I’ve always wanted to go to – all through my career it’s been cited as the best market town testbed for retail and I wanted to see why.
Now I gather from Instagram that quite a few of you live in Leamington and are waiting to see what I have to say about it. As you can see, I liked it, a lot. I’m always happiest in a scalable town and I liked the fact that you could whiz round it in about 45 minutes. It had all of the market town stores that you’d expect – Joules, Seasalt, White Stuff, FatFace… but there was a Jaeger and a Jigsaw too (in fact Mr MC was chased out of Jigsaw by the manager who saw him taking pictures of me and thought he was some kind of strange stalker – oh how I laughed).
H&M t-shirt (old); Wide leg cropped jeans (gifted SS19); Sézane sandals (old); Midlifechic pop of colour
I’d looked forward to the regency architecture but what I hadn’t expected was the wide open space. The roads are so wide that they’re practically boulevards – I appreciate that the regency period was all about being seen in your carriage but it was very striking and it made the whole place feel very peaceful. The other thing that surprised me was that culturally Leamington felt northern. Warwick is only 3 miles away and yet to me it always feels like the south. Leamington on the other hand had the openness and unassuming air of a northern town which was something I hadn’t expected to find.
There were also a lot of great places to eat and drink, most of them independently run and quite busy given that this was a Thursday afternoon. The middle one had left us to join his brother by this stage so Mr MC and I enjoyed an hour in the sunshine on our own.
Knowing that it was going to be our last evening of eating out before a period of self-imposed austerity, we decided on Indian food and found Bombay restaurant which was simple but very good. And this blouse is the last of my Boden pieces for August, I’ve really fallen in love with this style, I find it flattering and easy to wear plus the viscose washes well which is a bonus.
The only breakfast option at The Regent was for a box delivered to your room so we headed out instead. I’d been given so many recommendations on Instagram the night before and this was one of them. You can tell we’re soaking up the last bit of vitamin D before accepting that our summer was officially at an end.
Before heading off we had a wander around the side of town that we’d missed the day before. Again our visit was too short to do the place justice and I should add that if we’d had more time, it would have made a great base for visiting busy places nearby such as Stratford upon Avon and Warwick.
Boden blouse (gifted SS19); jeans (gifted SS18); espadrilles (now in the sale)
And with that there was no other option but to declare summer officially closed for our family. The shock of the school timetable was looming and after twelve weeks of unravelling, it was time for us to get back and crack on with normal life. What I can say though was that this road trip to Brighton was a real success and a great way for us to draw closer again before spinning off into our own worlds. The boys said that having their own rooms made them feel validated and that’s the good thing about Travelodge, it’s affordable enough for everyone to have their own space for a short trip. It just leaves me to say a big thank you to the team there because if they hadn’t got in touch, I’d never have thought of this idea and I’m sure we’ll do it again – but maybe next time travel up through Scotland. So with half term ahead for some, I’ll leave you with that thought.
Disclosure: ‘Road trip to Brighton’ was commissioned by Travelodge and our stay was free of charge although we covered our own travel expenses and food expenditure. The concept along with all thoughts, photographs and experiences were our own.
It would be very hard for me to do Second Hand September when we’re at the beginning of new season and my blog is largely about retail. However, I’ve found a way to support it. I’ve had another clearout and I’m busy listing lovely things (lots of them hardly worn) before I change my mind and put them back into my dressing room.
So, a blogger sale will go live on Friday and this time I’m supporting the charity ‘Look Good, Feel Better‘ which helps people who are living with cancer to manage the visible side-effects of their treatment. I know when my mum was going through chemo, just little things like having a manicure or her hair done and putting on some lipstick helped her to feel better about herself.
When I was waiting for my appointment at the breast clinic in July, I did a lot of bargaining with fate and I pledged to support a cancer charity when I was through the other side. This one is just a small one but it has a nice fit with everything we talk about here. So I hope the results of our sale will bring happiness both to you and to people who are going through a difficult time as well.
It will go live on Friday at about 5pm – be ready – and thank you. xx
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