In the spirit of the union we have taken the decision to forego any overseas travel until we have more thoroughly explored the countries that make up the UK.
So a trip with two bases, one of which I had never visited and both of which my daughter had never visited seemed like the perfect place to start.
Travelling to Brighton by train from Edinburgh Waverley on a sunny morning ticked the first box on our staycation exploration. The glorious coastline around Northumberland is a particular favourite and after changing at London’s St Pancras, much to my daughter’s delight, we were able to catch a sneaky peek of some of the sights of London on the short journey to Brighton.
Our base in London-by-sea was The Old Ship Hotel which is front and centre to all of the action with views of beach and the famous Pier. After a warm welcome and a wee while spent settling into our spotless and comfortable sea-view room it was a short wander through some of Brighton’s cosmopolitan shopping streets to English’s, Brighton’s oldest seafood restaurant.
I had just finished explaining how much closer we were to France than Scotland when we walked through the door into what could have been a Parisien bistro. English’s is a charming building with winding staircases connecting the warren-like series of dining rooms.
The menu is packed full of fresh seafood and I sampled the local Pinney’s Rocks oysters before being blown away by the value of my main, half a lobster with a butter, brandy, marsala wine and cream sauce, served with fries and a glass of fizz for just £20. The lobster was perfectly cooked and the sauce rich and creamy.
My daughter perused the kids’ menu and surprised me by deciding to join me and indulge in her first lobster, serves with chips and garlic butter. She loved it and took great pleasure in using the tools provided to extract all of the sweet meat.
The dessert menu thankfully included a mini selection of three desserts which we fought over with gusto. The chocolate nemesis, tropical bûche de noël and sticky toffee pudding vanishing in a flurry of forks.
A fabulous food-induced night’s sleep was followed by a hearty breakfast from the excellent selection on offer at The Old Ship. And we were ready for a day of exploring. First on the list was Sea Life Brighton and we spent a pleasant morning wandering amongst the weird and wonderful sealife in the world’s oldest operating aquarium. We particularly enjoyed the turtles who were inquisitive and clearly loving life.
A wander to the end of the pier and an hour or two in the arcade was followed by more exploring in flea markets and independent boutiques in The Lanes. Afternoon tea was next on the agenda and we felt we had stepped back in time at the gorgeously bohemian Metrodeco. Sitting on chairs akin to thrones, underneath a palm tree we chose from a dizzying area of teas which were served up in beautiful china crockery. A triple tier stand filled with delicate sarnies, artisan sausage rolls, home-made scones and decadent cakes and as much tea as you can drinks is great value at £23.50.
The Royal Pavilion is a great place to visit. Home to Brighton’s original party Prince, George IV was transformed in the 1800s and is now an exotic palace showcasing a mix of decadent and luxurious international styles. eclectic mix of exhibits. The Brighton Museum & Art Gallery in the pavilion garden is also a great place to take the children, especially if the weather isn’t playing ball.
Dinner saw us visit a Brighton institution, the Curry Leaf Cafe is a short hop from The Old Ship and was bustling with diners enjoying traditional Indian street food. The kids’ menu was exceptional value at £5 for a main dish and dessert. My daughter enjoyed the mango lassi so much that we ordered it twice. The cauliflower chilly florets were deliciously moreish and impossible to resist when dipped in the spicy tomato chutney. The lamb shank lalmass chef’s special was falling off the bone and with a good kick of chilli.
If you have a head for heights then the British Airways i360 will take you up 350ft in the air in its futuristic viewing pod, providing 360-degree views across Brighton and Hove, the South Downs National Park and all the way to the Isle of Wight on a clear day. Sadly Storm Dennis put paid to our plans to glide to the top before ending our time in Brighton and boarding a train back to the big smoke.
London was calling and we were ready and willing to answer. Arriving at London Victoria a short wander through central London took us to the three palatial townhouses surrounding the elegant courtyard of the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences.
On arrival we received an extra special welcome and my daughter was given a special gift bag including colouring materials and a gorgeous cuddly Royal Guard bear. Once the home of lords and ladies from the royal court this luxurious bolt-hole is just 10 minutes walk from Buckingham Palace and within easy walking distance of some of the capital’s most famous landmarks.
But in all honesty it was hard to tear ourselves away from our beautiful two-bedroomed suite with a modern and fully equipped kitchen, huge comfy sofa, massive TV and for me a super-king size bed and a luxurious ensuite bathroom. My daughter took over this room and embraced the luxury with a Lush bath bomb and some television watching while soaking in the huge tub. A special mention must go to the lovely Indie in the Lush shop in Brighton, who kindly demonstrated a bath bomb for us and when my daughter couldn’t decide which bomb to choose she gifted one to her so that she could have them both. A lovely random act of kindness.
We managed to tear ourselves away from our suite to enjoy the hotel’s wonderful Alice in Wonderland-themed afternoon tea. After a full pot of hot chocolate, delicate soldier sandwich fingers, a red velvet cup cake and making a valiant effort to eat the scones my daughter conceded defeat and we had what was left of the glorious chess board of mini desserts boxed up to enjoy later in the evening. The whole experience could only be described as beautiful. From the Alice crockery to the mad hat, this was an afternoon tea fit for a Queen of Hearts.
The evening brought a trip to the West End, which is a five minute taxi ride, but we chose to take a 20 minute stroll instead (Lord knows we needed the exercise after our indulgent afternoon tea). A stay at the Taj provides easy access to a wealth of theatre shows.
The turn down service at The Taj is a cut above and we returned to find a personalised cookie for my daughter, a sweet plate with strawberries dipped in chocolate for me and a little face mask each to enable yet more pampering. On that note, the Jiva Spa at the Taj can provide extra pampering for grown-ups who need it.
With big plans for the next day’s sightseeing frenzy we headed to bed early. Breakfast was a fabulous affair with an array of continental style food to choose from as well as a vast choice of cooked options. We loved perusing the world breakfasts on option. The mini jars of nutella went down a storm and the eggs benedict were to die for.
We arrived at Buckingham Palace in time for the changing of the guard and then wandered through Trafalgar Square to the shops of Regent Street and Oxford Street, lingering long in the Lego Store and M&M’s World in Leicester Square before hitting Hamleys for a thorough inspection of every toy known to man.
A windswept walk over the Thames led us to the London Eye and then to Westminster for a closer inspection of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. A short walk and we were welcomed back to the Taj and the comfort of our suite where we had the opportunity to rest weary legs. One of the beauties of a stay at the Taj is that all of this is within walking distance, even for children.
Popping on our fluffy robes and slippers we settled down for a girly night in. A quick phone call to reception saw the butler appear at the door with the DVDs we requested from the hotel’s vast library and complimentary popcorn and drinks to upgrade our film night to the luxurious standards at the Taj.
Parting was certainly sweet sorrow, but King’s Cross station brought more joy to my Harry Potter fanatic daughter who was in seventh heaven when she realised we were on Platform 9 ¾! I was kept occupied watching the gorgeous hawk flying around to ward off the pigeons.
It had been a busy few days, but we left feeling invigorated having explored so many new and exciting places together. The train journey home was relaxing and provided the perfect time to reflect on what makes a great family holiday. Our trip to London and Brighton ticked all the boxes and more. Roll on our next staycation.
For more information on a trip to Brighton check out Visit Brighton’s website at www.visitbrighton.com. To find out about more about a stay at The Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences go to their website at www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk