This year kicked off with a big event in our family – my father’s 70th birthday; he wanted to mark the occasion by doing something that meant a lot to him – a celebration but not a party. “You can rent big houses for family celebrations” he said. “Let’s do that, let's all have a weekend away together. My treat.” The task of finding the perfect place to stay was left to my siblings and me, but with Sleeps 12 it was a doddle.
So we’re just back from the most amazing large group holiday in Somerset; we had a 2 night weekend break at Cockercombe, a spacious timber-clad lodge at West Bagborough, just a stone’s throw from the Quantock Hills. What a lovely way to spend a weekend in the middle of winter and celebrate Dad’s birthday! We had everything we needed for our group of 14 (8 adults, two teenagers, a 10 year old, a four year old, a toddler and an 8 month old baby) – even an indoor heated swimming pool, which meant we didn’t need to worry about the kids being bored and we wouldn't have to fret about what to do to keep everyone amused if it rained - brilliant!
Dad had already decided we should go to Somerset as that’s where he grew up, in a village near Taunton. So we did a few internet searches looking for large group holiday accommodation in that area and we found Sleeps12 straightaway. We needed somewhere that could sleep 14 people, including a toddler and a baby, with plenty of room, and a dining table big enough to seat us all comfortably. It also had to be dog friendly as my brother and I, softies that we are, like to take our dogs everywhere we go! We were delighted to find Cockercombe, as it suited us perfectly; 6 en suite bedrooms, a big open plan living space, a games area, and the bonus of the heated indoor pool, which wasn’t something we were specifically looking for but when we saw it we thought “Why not? It’ll add to the fun!” Cockercombe is one of five purpose built holiday lodges on the same plot, but they’ve all been designed so that none are overlooked and you have privacy.
So off we went. Cockercombe was all ours from 4pm on Friday until 4pm on Sunday, but we thought we’d make the most of it and though it meant an early start for some of us we planned to meet in Taunton for lunch and a browse around. As it happens the traffic held us up so we only had time for lunch at Hideout on Castle Green before heading for the lodge. From Taunton you just follow the A358 to get to Cockercombe so that was nice and easy, no long narrow lanes to negotiate! We arrived in four separate cars and had no trouble parking but unloading confirmed that some of us need to travel lighter, especially with dogs on board!
When we unlocked the door and stepped in we were so pleased! We really had chosen well! The lodge was bigger than we expected and the neutral décor with splashes of colour gave it a lovely modern, homely feel. Us grown ups just wanted to flop down onto the sofas and have a cup of tea with the scrummy home made cake that was there for us, but the children had other ideas and couldn’t wait to get in the pool, so we took them off to find our bedrooms and get changed. We chose Bedrooms 1 and 3, so our 14 year old daughters had the room next to ours to themselves; Bedroom 4 was ideal for my brother and his family as it sleeps 4 and they had the beds arranged as a superking for them, and two singles for their children. My younger brother and his wife had Room 2, all set up for them with a travel cot and toddler bed, as requested; Mum & Dad had Bedroom 6. The great thing is that all the beds are zip and link so we could have them arranged as we wanted – for example, a superking in our room, twin beds for the twins.
At about 4.30 Helen, who manages the lodge turned up to welcome us and show us where everything was and how it all works - a very thoughtful touch, which Helen told us is something Sleeps 12 do at all their properties. As soon as she left the kids were straight in the pool and we could barely get them out again! A few times we had all 14 of us in there at the same time splashing about! It was a hoot, and we are so glad we found somewhere with a pool as the weather wasn’t the best (but then, it was January!) Dinner wasn’t a problem that night as I’d been incredibly well organised and arranged a grocery delivery for shortly after our arrival. Smug? You bet I was!
Saturday was Dad's birthday and what he really wanted to do was revisit some of his childhood haunts. So we got up early and went for a walk to Lydeard Hill; Dad told us that’s where he first learned to ride a horse properly, and where he had his first gallop, across the heaths with the huge landscape stretched out before him (the views are staggering). Though it’s a relatively small AONB the scenery of the Quantock Hills is wonderful; it has a wild beauty of its own and is so varied, with windswept heaths, steep wooded combes and picturesque dingly dells where streams tinkle merrily along. The poets Wordsworth and Coleridge both took houses in the Quantocks in the 18th century and they spent day after day wandering the heaths and hills; it's where they found inspiration for some of their best known works and if you go there you'll understand why.
After our walk we felt we deserved a pub lunch so we went to The Farmers Arms at Combe Florey; fantastic food and a lovely atmosphere. Then we popped back to the lodge to get everyone organised for a family trip to Tropiquaria that we'd planned, and what a great idea! The kids enjoyed watching the meerkat feeding, and they got to hold snakes and lizards. When we got back we lit the woodburner, made a big pot of tea and tucked into the birthday cake we’d had made and delivered by Jackie’s Cakes.
The evening was spent celebrating Dad's three score years and ten; we hired one of the Sleeps 12 recommended chefs, Gayla Stewart, to come and cook a feast for us all and boy, we did not envisage what a treat we were in for! She brought a waitress with her and they got on with things whilst serving us drinks and canapes before we sat down to a beautifully laid table to tuck into the most scrumptious food. We could hardly find words! The two vegetarians and the children loved what they had, and dear old Dad said he’d never tasted such delicious lamb.
On Sunday we were woken early by the sound of some brotherly competition on the table football; the children came down in their swimsuits and went straight to the pool. After bacon sarnies all round some of the grown ups joined them but we thought we’d take Mum and Dad out to Sheppy’s Cider, a few miles away. Dad really enjoyed the museum and we all found something tempting in the shop – a few bottles of Kingston Black, local cheese, and biscuits and chutney to go with it. On the way back we stopped in Milverton which is where Dad lived till he was 6, and we had a stroll round so he could show us his childhood home and the church where he was christened.
On the way back we managed to squeeze in a pint at The Rising Sun, just a mile or so from the lodges - coincidentally it’s where Dad had his first official pint! It’s a very charming old pub with a warm welcome; the local brew was good and the dogs got a biscuit. Back at Cockercombe we all sat round the table for a late lunch and then it was time to get packed up and load the cars; not long after 4 we were back on the road headed for home, heads full of a happy weekend.
We loved every moment of our stay at Cockercombe; the house is kept to a very high standard; it was so fresh and spotlessly clean throughout. These lodges are made for happy times with everyone all together, joining in, having fun and just completely relaxing. We’ve always got on well as a family but it’s kind of made us closer somehow and we all have wonderful memories of Dad’s 70th birthday. We’ve even said “Why haven’t we done that before?” so we’re definitely going to do it again. Sleeps 12 have some amazing large group holiday houses and they are so well equipped that you can have a gathering for all ages, like we did. The booking process was easy from start to finish and the whole experience was such a happy one. Most of all, we had a fantastic weekend away celebrating our dear father’s 70th birthday, a time we won’t ever forget.