"The arms that you wield now are not such as your forefathers wielded; but they are infinitely more effective, and infinitely more irresistable" ~ Cymru Fydd leaflet, 1890

Monday 19 January 2015

Review - Bluestone National Park Resort

In January 2015 we were fortunate enough to be given the chance to stay at Bluestone in Pembrokeshire. For the sake of full disclosure I should point out that the stay was free (I promised to write a review) but I should also point out that this was the second time we had been there. The first occasion was in June / July 2014 so if we hadn't enjoyed the first time we paid to stay I wouldn't have bothered emailing them and blagging the second.

The slate and stone sign as you enter the resort.
Getting to Bluestone is easy and it's just an hour from the good end of the M4. From J48 you take the A48 to Carmarthen then the A40 to Canaston Bridge and then take the A4075. If you see Oakwood then you've gone too far as it's literally next door. Oakwood is closed during the winter but if you are visiting during the other seasons it is well worth visiting, if you use your clubcard deals you can get in for a bargain and whilst it's a small park, it's two main coasters will rival many in Florida's parks. As a fun fact, Chris Sawyer, the creator of Roller Coaster Tycoon, loved Megaphobia (the woodie) so much he included a photo of it on the original game packaging.

For a mid-week break you can arrive at the park anytime on the Monday but you aren't allowed to access your property until after half four. The park is car free with the exception of time slots for you to dump and collect your wares at your new home. Disabled visitors are allowed to bring cars onto the site at all times. With this in mind here's your chance to park up at the top and explore the place before worrying about unpacking.

As you enter you will walk passed the bike and golf buggy hire centre, we didn't bother hiring a buggy on either stay but if you think you might want to then you'll need to bring your driving license. There are charging locations near the properties and at buggy parking areas by some of the activities. Remember even the usually untouchable Welsh international rugby players can get done for drink driving on a golf buggy.

With Bluestone once you have booked you can pay as little or as much as you want depending on how much you want to just chill out. With the online booking tool you can enter your preferred date and can compare it with earlier or later dates. In this picture below you could save £90 just by going a few weeks earlier.

If you're flexible you can save a packet
I checked on the day before we went how much the price for our Ramsey Lodge would be and it would have cost us £195 for  a self catering midweek break from January 12th but they were tweeting a deal for the following week for £99 so it's worth following them for last minute bargains. Also once you are on their mailing list they will email you with deals fairly frequently. The more flexible you are the more you can save!

The bit about The Adventure Centre

Once there you have free access to the pool and The Adventure Centre but if you want to check out the other activities which range from canoeing to spa treatments then you can pay extra for it. These vary from day to day but they will give you a schedule of around 100 activities in your welcome pack. For us, Bluestone is a week for chilling out and getting the kids in the pool as often as possible in order to build their confidence around water. I did also pay £20 for my daughter to do 'The Big Four' in The Adventure Centre, I've included a few pictures in the gallery below. The instructors were brilliant with her and pointed me in the direction of the best places to take pictures from. They also looked as thought they were having a lot of fun doing their job.

These giant maps are located throughout the park.
The Adventure Centre also has a mini golf course, a games arcade and a restaurant / cafe upstairs. In one corner there is an adult climbing wall which I plan to tackle on another trip. Having looked up the prices for indoor climbing at our local centre the rates in Bluestone are very competitive. Outside the centre there are tennis courts but they look quite shabby and suffer from terrible ponding due to the rain, this shouldn't be an issue in the summer but does suggest an uneven surface.

A little bit of history
Bluestone is rather new (opened in 2008) and doesn't show up on satellite imagery on google maps but it does show up on bing maps. Fortunately bing maps is what powers the awesome map feature on the People's Collection of Wales website where you can find a location and then overlay it with old OS maps.

Maps from the People's Collection of Wales website
A few interesting things show up, the first is the church which is still there and you can look up a little bit of info from the Dyfed archaeological trust here. That link mentions the 'holy well' but you can't see it as the church is fenced off with all sorts of warning signs up and the land next to it is overgrown. This is a shame as with some work it could be a great addition to the park.

The second is the 'moat' at the top of the map. The wikipedia page mentions a 'ruined manor house (known locally as Castell Coch)' so you would naturally deduce this is the ruined manor house. Whilst these are shown as places of interest on the large Bluestone map they aren't sign posted on the ground. When I got to Castell Goch I saw the information sign was broken, when I put it back together on the post so I could take a picture I spotted 'Ble Mae'r Gymraeg' crudely written in pencil. Clearly there's an obvious way to prevent vandalism like this and that is to include bilingual signage from the outset. But then vandalising a sign that very few people will ever see is quite pointless. I'm sure a simple phone call, email or letter would be a better first option.

Bilingual signage is rather hit and miss throughout the park. It appears that the original signage was put up bilingually but as newer signs have been added they've just put them up in English. In Wales there aren't that many resorts like this to choose from so alienating a large chunk of your most local potential customers isn't good business practice.

Bluestone makes for a great base to explore the surrounding area, just up the road is the village of Efailwen which was home to the very first Rebeca Riot. For those not aware the Rebeca Riots were a series of riots throughout Wales where hundreds of men who were dressed up as women (as a disguise and not for kicks) would gather and proceed to smash their local toll gates. One such riot in the village of Yr Hendy (just off J47) resulted in the death of the toll keeper.

The bit about the pool
The pool is free for guests and is one of the park's gems. The pool itself is a tidy size beach style water park (has a slope going in) with a rock pool themed toddler play area in one corner and splash area for big kids in another. The wave machine operates fairly frequently and is quite powerful if you get too close. The lazy river takes you out of the building where there are steps leading to a jacuzzi and a cwtch to hang out in before going back into the pool. The current for the lazy river is strong enough that it can suck you into the river but not too strong to give you any issues unless you're small.

The slides at the Blue Lagoon
The pool has four slides, the first is a translucent tube which stays inside and is suitable for beginners. There are also two dark slides which go outside, they are different designs but  you'll have to try both a few times to see which you prefer. The most obvious difference is the one on the right has a bit of a dip at the end. The last slide, which can be ridden with a child is awesome but packs a hell of a punch. Unlike the others it's an open top slide, it goes outside before crashing into the first landing area which has a large bowl off to the side. The landing areas have a strong current which will take you under if you're not careful. The bowls are like a private pool, great in the summer when the weather is nice. During this trip I was in one whilst it was snowing. Once you're done in the bowl or if you want to skip it the current will take you back towards the slide where you continue down to the next landing area which also has a bowl. The slide then returns to it's own splash pool, again it has a hell of a kick in it. The other slides all return to their own run off areas where you can simply stand and wade out.

There tends to be a lifeguard at either end of the lazy river (the wave area is in between them) with another patrolling outside. One sits at the bottom of the slide that exits into a plunge pool with another at the top of this slide with CCTV monitors to keep an eye on those outside. The other three slides all start off next to each other and are monitored by one guard.

Lockers are available and take £1 (refunded when you put the key back in) but many of them are missing the wrist band which has the number on it. Some of the family changing rooms were missing hooks on the doors. Again, it's the little things that let it down but they are quick fixes so hopefully will be put right soon.

The bit about the lodge
The lodge was very spacious and is described on the website as "upside-down living - its quirky and fun with great views". The upside-down refers to the fact the bedrooms are downstairs with the open-plan living area upstairs. We stayed in lodge #5, #1 and #2 both had the master bedroom and living room double doors facing the Preselli Hills so for them they had the great views. #3 and #4 were a different design but ours faced a different direction with only a tiny (and quite grubby) window facing the Preselli Hills. I had wanted to do some time lapse during our stay but there was little point.

The kitchen is well designed with lots of cupboard space for a few days shopping. The fridge had a small freezer compartment which is large enough for a few items. The cooker and dishwasher were easy to use and there are plenty of pots and pans, cutlery and dishes for your stay. I would recommend taking a decent non-stick pan if you like bacon, eggs and sausage as the frying pan they provided wasn't very good.

Ramsey Lodge in Carn Menyn
I did email Bluestone upon our return home with a photo of the strip that connects the carpet to the tiles as it wasn't fitted properly and represented a real hazard to your feet. They responded quickly and assured me they would get their maintenance team to fix it. There are quite a few other smaller issues, mainly relating to general cleanliness of the property but nothing big enough to spoil the trip. I have included pictures of these in order for Bluestone to be aware of and perhaps improve their cleaning schedule and checks.

The living area has a TV, DVD and wi-fi router which is open so easy to connect to. I tested the speed of the connection and at 15 meg it's quicker than my home connection. There was no problems for any of our tablets and phones and plenty of sockets throughout the lodge for chargers.

As their internet appears to be all on the same network it meant that when the kids (I include myself in this) played Minecraft on their tablets they were able to connect to other people in Bluestone who were playing and they were also able to connect to them. I must have counted around a dozen other people throughout the week. Parents perhaps should be made aware of this but there was no cause for any concern from our time there.

The TV has plenty of connections if you want to bring your own media players or simply hook up your tablet via HDMI. The double doors upstairs did feel a little pointless as there is no balcony and were difficult to close once I opened them. During our stay there was a tornado in nearby Haverfordwest, the adverse weather did cause the patio doors in the master bedroom to leak a little but not a huge amount.

During the storms the lights flickered quite a few times every now and then on one evening but with no power outages or disruption to the TV and internet. If the same happened at home I'm sure we'd have needed to get the candles out and save the kids from 'the dark' but Bluestone's power supply appears very robust.

The upside-down living did present a problem when it came to getting dressed in the morning as the lighting in the bedroom was very poor but unless you want to give anyone passing by a show you can't open the curtains. This isn't a problem when your bedroom is upstairs. This would be a problem no matter what time of year we went. Another issue is the lack of a dressing table which the cottage we had previously stayed in had. This meant a floor full of make up and toiletries next to the full length mirror. Hardly convenient and can easily be rectified by adding a dressing table.

The en-suites were both nice with the kids room being a wet room style shower with detachable washing line which is great for drying swimming costumes and the master bedroom having a shower in the bath. Both had toilets and sinks. The shower in the master bedroom had a fixed shower head which meant you had to stand adjacent to the end of the glass panel resulting in a wet floor. We didn't use this shower as it was too much hassle to clean up. Both had electric towel rails and the rest of the rooms had electric panel heaters which warmed up quickly.

The kids room had twin beds and a travel cot tucked away in one corner. Both rooms had more than enough storage for clothing with a wardrobe and chest of drawers. All the blinds in the lodge had anti-choke devices fitted and child gates were fitted at the top and bottom of the stairs. It did feel a little weird having the kids in bed downstairs whilst we were still upstairs but there is a lock on the inside of the door that disables the card entry so that should reassure people.

Next to the front door is the door to the cwtch dan star which has hooks for coats and a shelf for shoes. The hot water tank is in there so it acts as an airing cupboard. The front door didn't have a blind for the window so we tended to keep the cwtch door open as there were two lodges opposite us. Also inside the cwtch were brushes, mops and a vacuum cleaner. I suspect these are kept there mainly for the cleaning staff but also for the guests to use if needed. In the kitchen cupboard there was a dustpan and brush which is always handy.

The bit about The Village

The Village has several shops, a pub, games arcade and children's play area. The shop sells a variety of food and drink and at the sort of price you'd expect in your own local shop. There is also a selection of local produce and you will see local companies delivering throughout the week. The nearby towns have a large selection of supermarkets if you want more variety.

There are plenty of trails around the park for walking and cycling, we made use of one of the trails on a previous trip that started by the lake, went out around the iron age fort and back up to the steep ravine.

The conclusion bit
All in all we enjoyed our trip but then we've been before so knew what to expect. Despite the days being shorter in January you can always do what you want to do in the day and then head to the Blue Lagoon or Adventure Centre when it starts getting dark so there's still lots you can do after dark. As with any 'staycation' you should know how bad the weather can be but if you go in the summer there's the possibility you'll get a heat wave. As we've stayed nearby many times (Freshwater East) we know the weather can be amazing in the summer!

I wouldn't stay in a Ramsey Lodge again as we preferred the design of the cottages and also the central location in The Village. The hill up to the entrance isn't a big deal when you take the shortcuts plus at least you are guaranteed to know which area you are staying in. Oh and before I get told off, the cottages also have dressing tables, the lodge didn't.

There were a number of issues with the lodge that I have listed either on this page or in more detail on the picture page but many are the kind of thing you will find at any resort or hotel and usually once pointed out they are resolved fairly quickly and consequently not a big enough problem for us to look elsewhere. That being said Bluestone is fairly close so if the resort was a few hundred miles away and not an hour away it might make us think twice in future. It also helps that the cottage we stayed in previously didn't have these issues with cleanliness.

There's a lot to do in Bluestone and even more in Pembrokeshire as a whole with Oakwood next door plus a load of other activity parks and a couple of zoos nearby not to mention all the beaches, historical sites and little towns to visit. If you want a base to explore then it's situated in a great location close to a couple of main roads.

Our daughter wants us to book again in the summer for her birthday so I guess I better go and see what bargains I can get by playing with the online booking system!

The photo bit
Here is a selection of photos from our stay with a description of each photo. If the photos do not display you can use this direct link. If you find it difficult to read the text then click on the direct link and it will open the page up with all the pictures. There are a lot of pictures and whilst I have reduced the size there are over 100 so it will eat your data if you are on a mobile plan. I've used Imgur to host the pictures. It appears easy enough to use but is a bit clunky when the album is this size.

That's pretty much it, I hope you enjoyed my review and who knows, if there's a good response to it they might give me another trip that I promise to give away as a competion prize.

Here's their website if you want more info.

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