Hen parties these days come in all shapes and sizes and locations these days pals, and my little sister Freya’s Kentish family hen do is a tale of many twists and turns. For any non-English reader out there, a ‘hen party’ is the UK version of the American ‘bachelorette party,’ and in the last few years it’s become more and more normal that the hen party isn’t just for the female friends of the bride, but sometimes the entire family, kids and all, and often the male friends as well. I mean, why shouldn’t it be about inviting whoever you want to invite after all? My sister decided that she’d be well up for more of a family weekend away, as we don’t get many of those, so one weekend in June we headed to the Kentish countryside to hang out in a beaut house and have as many good times as we could possibly cram into two nights away.
We’re going to the zoo
Howletts Zoo wasn’t far away from the house we’d chosen to rent for the weekend, and after searching far and wide for an activity to do that would please kids, sisters, mums and grandmas (let’s face it, that’s a fair few generations to incorporate), we decided the zoo would be a pretty good place to start. A picnic was prepared, the surprise destination was leaked to Freya several times during the days leading up to the hen do (classic), and my niece and nephew were so excited about the prospect of visiting a zoo that they almost burst several eardrums just at the sight of a large plastic animal at the entrance. One of them even threw up in the car, although maybe that was more down to travel sickness than excitement.
Howletts Zoo was opened to the public in 1975, and is located in the middle of the beautiful Kent countryside near Canterbury. Don’t get me wrong pals, there are some zoos and animal parks that I feel mildly concerned about the ethics of visiting, but despite the obvious awkwardness about seeing animals essentially in cages (spacious and well-kept though they may be), I do feel like this place does an amazing job of caring for the creatures within its walls, and the John Aspinall Foundation- the charity that runs the zoo, named after its founder- has successfully been able to release black rhino and gorillas into the world, as well as breeding rare and endangered species which might otherwise not be with us. The zoo is set on what was once a country estate called Owletts (I’m not really sure why they added the ‘H’), and these days it’s home to over 450 animals, including the UK’s largest breeding herd of African elephants, and one of the world’s largest family groups of Western Lowland Gorillas.
Conan and Belle (that’s my niece and nephew ya know), particularly had a ball, and we also created a photo scavenger hunt for everyone young and not-so-young to complete in teams. I mean, who doesn’t love a photo scavenger hunt for goodness’ sake!? Teams had to take pictures with a range of things from ‘something old’, ‘something new’, ‘something borrowed’ and ‘something blue’, to a person who looked like the groom. The highlight for me was seeing my grandma attempt to surreptitiously take a photo next to ‘someone with a pot belly’ without them noticing, though I won’t post that here as I’m not sure whether that’s exactly a kind thing to do. I was rather on the sunburnt side to be honest by the end of the day, though in my normal style just in strips and stripes where I’d forgotten to thoroughly apply suncream. Looking good, feeling good.
Find out more about Howletts here: Howletts Zoo
Kids tickets are £18.95 and adults £21.95, however book online and you can save 20% on your overall entry price. Good times all around.
The most beautiful house I ever did stay in
In total, there were ten adults and three children all staying together, so it was obvious that we were going to need something on the larger side to all camp out in. And I’m not talking a jumbo sized tent here, oh no siree. My Ma found Cathedral Cottages online and we swiftly booked The View, overlooking the Elham Valley, up a long winding lane and perched on a hill overlooking the rolling fields of this officially-proclaimed ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’. This place was a true gem.
Five ginormous bedrooms, an open plan living area and kitchen with amazing views of the outside world, plus an indoor pool with equally stunning views and a hot tub outside. What more could you want from a house, guys!? There was a barbecue and outside seating area, plus a little play area for Conan and Belle. Good times all round!
After my g-ma and I cooked fajitas for all, we settled down for an evening of Prosecco and hen party games galore organised by Freya’s new in-laws before eventually collapsing into bed. It had been a long old day, but a good one.
For Cathedral Cottages: www.cathedralcottages.com
Prices start at £600 per night.
The private chef and the awkward sitch
Day two, pals, and things took a turn for the worst. Early in the morning when I ventured downstairs and started getting breakfast ready for everyone, I noticed something that really shouldn’t have been there. On the black countertop behind the stove, directly under the extractor fan, was a trio of maggots wriggling blindly in a stark white contrast to the shiny dark surface of the kitchen. I was pretty sure that maggots don’t materialise out of thin air, but that they also don’t climb in through windows or crawl through drains to get to their chosen hangout spots. Know what I’m saying? Still, I checked the window anyway, just in case. The kitchen was spotlessly clean, and had been when we arrived the day before, too. After a couple of minutes staring at in confusion I cleaned and disinfected the area and resumed the morning task.
Five minutes later I turned around to grab a spoon and five more maggots were writhing around on the same countertop behind the stove.
When I cleaned them up and two minutes later a third gang of maggots had appeared on the scene, I began to seriously doubt my own sanity.
By this point people were starting to surface downstairs and I wasn’t really up for attempting to explain the magic maggots to anyone and causing a scene. Whilst I was staring in horror at gang number three, consisting of five more crafty little scallywags, a sixth fellow seemingly dropped from the sky and landed next to his pals. I looked upwards and noticed three more pushing themselves out from the holes in the extractor fan above the hob like cheese being grated onto the top of spaghetti.
HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL. It was repulsive I tell you.
To add to the horror of the moment, in approximately an hour and a half a private chef was due to appear on the scene, ready to cook lunch for us all. How on Earth was he supposed to cook in a kitchen with a seemingly infinite number of maggots pouring onto the countertop!? And had we accidentally cooked maggots into the fajitas we served the night before!!!??? This really was an altogether unexpected turn of events.
The owner assured us she’d send her son up to inspect the wildlife developing inside the extractor fan, although by the time the chef arrived- alas! There was no sign of assistance. I met him outside and greeted him with an awkward overly-smiley handshake, a mild look of panic clearly in my eyes.
‘Hello, so nice to meet you, come in, and just so you know we have a bit of a situation that there are some maggots arriving in the kitchen and there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it right now but it’s not our house and I’m just so sorry this is so embarrassing would you like a cup of tea and do you need any help carrying anything in!?’
Luckily the amazing chef sent by Dineindulge was totes fine about the whole scenario and assured us that he wouldn’t need to use that part of the kitchen anyway. Praise the actual lord in the heavens. The owner’s son arrived a while later and proceeded straight to dismantle the fan and give it a good cleaning from outside. The poor guy. Let that be a lesson to you all: if your extractor fan is directly connected to the outside world, it’s worth cleaning it out from time to time just to be safe. Who’d have thought it? As strange a situation as it was, the house was actually completely spotless so to be fair I’d still very much recommend a stay here despite Maggot-Gate.
And guys, let me tell you. Having someone cook lunch for us was just brilliant times all around, though my niece and nephew were mildly concerned about the fact that there was a random man hanging out in the kitchen. Dineindulge operate across the whole of the UK- plus several other European countries- and offer different menus of restaurant-quality food depending on the event or occasion they’re catering for. I mean, guys- what a bloody fantastic idea! We went for a sharing platter, although they can also prepare and serve set sit-down meals. And from start to finish someone from Dineindulge kept in touch with me to make sure that all the dietary requirements were met, and the times of arrival and serving were right for us. What a brilliant company.
See more about Dineindulge here: www.dineindulge.co.uk
Prices start at £24.99 per head which is blooming good value in my opinion for something you don’t even have to leave your house for.
Chillin’ out maxing relaxing time
After the drama of the maggoty kitchen, day two became a far more chilled out affair. Thank goodness for that, as by this point I was pretty outrageously exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster of it all. Cor blimey.
The weather outside had turned rather on the grey and miserable side, with a damp mist settling in over the valley. Everyone took a dip in the hot tub outside regardless, and the pool was also put to extreme good use by pretty much everyone, including Conan and Belle who despite the fact that they’ve never been swimming before, presumed that they’d just be able to jump in and miraculously know exactly what to do. I really appreciated this and think it’s a brilliant though potentially dangerous attitude to life to have. Good one, those kids!
My siswas (there’s about 5 billion of us sisters and we call each other siswas for some reason), had arranged some classic face mask pampering-style times for the second evening, which let’s face it was probs quite necessary after such a tumultuous extravaganza.
Day three came around super-quickly and we were on our merry way away from there. Fingers crossed the bride had a spectacular time despite the strange scenarios, as after all these shenanigans I’ll be honest pals, I was ready for a full on holiday to get some relaxation!!