A few months back, when my daughter, PJ, was still entertained by me simply meeting up with various friends, nattering away and eating cake whilst bouncing her on my lap, I wrote a blog post about all the best places in Cheltenham to eat and drink with a babe in arms. For those of you still at this stage (newborn up to 8 months), that blog post can be found here , and please, heed my advice, enjoy, because that (blissful) phase will soon come to an end.
For me, it wasn’t a smooth transition. Despite PJ whining every time we went somewhere and me crying into my coffee cup, I kept arranging to meet up with friends and I kept insisting we go to lovely places, and I kept paying out for spoilt drinks, cakes and lunches. No one was happy, not her, not me, not the other customers, and most definitely not the friend we’d met up with.
The problem? PJ needed space, she wanted to start moving, not be confined to a pushchair, a highchair or my arms. She wanted excitement in the form of toys and interesting things going on (apparently me eating a cake doesn’t count!), and she started to eat and wanted to try new things – in a rather messy fashion.
So, it got me thinking, I can’t be the only one who still wants to meet up with friends and go to places with PJ where we can all be happy, can I?! And when I say all be happy, that means me as well as PJ. She’s got her needs, but I’ve got mine too. I still want delicious cakes, a good choice of drinks, healthy and not so healthy lunches to choose from, and staff that offer great service as well as an understanding of what it’s like to be a worn-out parent and not have enough hands to push a pram as well as carry a cup of tea.
Well, whether I was the only one or not, I set about finding places that ticked all the boxes and I thought I’d share my list of tried and tested recommendations. So here you have it, a selection of cafes and coffee shops which are suitable for the next phase. The phase after the newborn months but before they can colour-in, download games on your mobile and watch kids programmes on an Ipad. That is the next phase, right?!
School House Café, St Paul’s Road, Cheltenham
This place, along with The Wilson Café are my two absolute faves. Try not to get too disheartened as you walk through the lovely adult part of the café with twinkly fairy lights, people reading books, remote workers tapping away on their laptops and friends sharing grown-up conversation over a peaceful cup of coffee. You see, with a baby, it’s the lounge area you’ll ‘want’ to go to. It’s erm, not as peaceful as the other bit, but hey, it’s not all about you anymore! They’ve got lots of space in there, a play area, a couple of boxes of toys, big comfy sofas and highchairs. The menu is pretty extensive and very reasonably priced. For adults there are always fantabulous cakes and sweet treats, as well as cooked and continental style brekky items, sandwiches, paninis, bagels, waffles, smoothies, jackets, homemade soup and sharing platters. They have a children’s menu for food and drink (ranging from 35p to £3.75), and PJ has personally tested the kids box (at the higher end of the price range) which includes a sandwich, crisps, vegetable sticks, fruit, a drink, a yoghurt and raisins. If I wasn’t so greedy myself, I could’ve shared it with her, there was plenty, and she LOVED it.
The Wilson Café, Clarence Street
So again, with this one, you need to walk through the adult bit of the café, take the lift to the first floor and there you’ll find space galore, great baby changing facilities, a play area with soft mats, a little table and chairs for toddlers and two humongous comfy sofas for the adults of course – along with plenty of other seating. The play area was put in thanks to Sarah (one of the team there) who had returned to work after maternity leave and wanted to make sure they offered something for little ones. Thanks Sarah! They have a great menu offering the usual breakfast and lunch stuff -plus some, a really strong cake game and a children’s menu ranging in price from £2.50 to £5.50. Based right in the centre of town, this is a great spot for retreating to for something to eat or an easy one to suggest to friends as a meeting place. P.s They also have those fab IKEA highchairs.
Gloucester Services, M5 Southbound
The Southbound service station has an amazing area made just for children (and their chauffeurs) complete with indoor adventure play; nearby tables and chairs for the adults; a sink, kettle and microwave for those pesky bottles, food pouches and washing sticky hands; and there’s lots of outdoor space to explore too; they’ve got family toilets (big thumbs up) and a food offering that’ll please both adults and children. Whether it’s a whole plate of grub you’re after, something smaller or just a cake and coffee, you’re onto a winner here. Oh, by the way, their chocolate coated hobnobs are worth a visit on their own! As for little ones, they’ve got a counter full of fruit, baby-food pouches, jelly, sweet treats, drinks and plenty of other stuff to choose from. I know it’s a service station, but I arrange to meet friends here on a regular basis as it’s great for babes-in-arms, the stage PJ is at, and the toddler phase.
Café Boho, Great Norwood Street
From the outside you’d be excused for thinking this is NOT the place for children, but head downstairs and you’ve got an Aladdin’s cave of child-friendliness. I visited here a few years back with a friend and her niece, but since then, they’ve done the downstairs room up and it is now just as lovely as the rest of the café. Woohoo, it is nice not to feel like you’ve been relegated to…the kid’s room! With giant, comfy sofas and a couple of normal tables and chairs too, there’s still plenty of floor space for little ones to move around and a fab selection of toys to play with. When I visited, there wasn’t a children’s menu, but there were murmurings of one being worked up ready for the school holidays. They do a mean lemon polenta cake and the lady who served us was super helpful keeping an eye on our buggies and carrying our drinks and cakes downstairs for us.
Kindness & Co, Clarence Street
Although small, this place is perfectly formed, you can park your buggy just behind the door as you go in and head downstairs to where they’ve got a teensy weensy children’s area. I love this place because they offer ALL the guilt-free options; this is the place to go to be kind to your body (as the name suggests). Serving food full of nutrition and catering for all those on special diets (including plant-based but not exclusively), this is where you can eat and drink without biting into yet another slab of cake or slurping another caffeine-filled cup. I didn’t notice a children’s menu, but I am sure they would be very happy to cater for children with their already fantastic offering. Downstairs they have a toddler-sized table and chairs great for colouring-in, but as we’re not at that stage yet, they also have a toy box, and in quiet times, enough floor space for a bit of crawling and playing.
Smokey Joe’s, Bennington Street
This is a retro diner playing the best music all day long, it’s the stuff my dad used to play in the car, so it brings back loads of good memories. In fact, me and PJ have been there before and happily danced around without a care in the world; it must happen often as the staff didn’t bat an eyelid. It’s such a bright and colourful place, full of interesting things, so there’s loads to keep little ones stimulated. The manager was so helpful whilst we were there, she noticed we’d put a blanket on the floor for the babies to sit on, and so ordered some soft play tiles there and then ready for the next lot of littlies to use – talk about good service! Again, this is another place catering well for special diets, they even have a whole menu dedicated to those who are gluten-free! I didn’t notice a children’s menu, but, everything they do would be appealing to kids. Well, what’s not to like with a menu full of waffles, pancakes, toasties, unicorn hot chocolates and milkshakes?!
Kings Coffee House, Church Street, Charlton Kings
It’s not often I gallivant over to the posh side of town, so this was a new spot for me, but I can see Kings Coffee House becoming a regular haunt now. If you don’t live nearby, there’s free-parking just a couple of minutes away in Church Piece. Split over two levels with a beautiful outdoor courtyard, this coffee shop oozes elegance – even when you have a kid in tow. It’s got a modern art-deco feel to it, with plenty of books and toys, spacious baby-changing facilities and a mixture of seating. They serve up wonderful looking cakes as well as your usual lunch suspects like jacket potatoes, soup, salads and toasties; and they have a children’s menu ranging from £2.50-£3.95. One final thing, they do Oreo cookie milkshakes. Sold?!
Star Bistro, Ullenwood
So far, my recommendations have all been coffee shop style places, but what if you want some fancy food? Our taste-buds don’t disappear when we become mums, so it’s only right I include somewhere you can go for some proper wining and dining. The thing about Star Bistro is it ticks all the boxes: you can go for a slice of cake and a cup of coffee, you can get your hands on a burger and chips or you can go all out and treat yourself to a three-course meal! And although their food is on par with many fine-dining restaurants in Cheltenham, the atmosphere is an informal one, not stuffy in the least. Crawlers can roam-free, there’s a play corner with lots of toys and books and there’s no pressure to keep the noise down. As well as mighty-fine food for grown-ups, their children’s menu is spot-on too, offering everything from jam sandwiches, to poached eggs, burgers, fishcakes and the best lemon tart you ever did try (you’ll be pleased to hear it also features on the adult menu!).
The Great Outdoors, Various
The summer months and dry weather throw a few more options into the mix, so we’ve been exploring a few of those too. Top of my list is Jolly Nice which is in the Stroud direction; it’s a farm shop and café, and a jolly good one at that. You can’t visit without trying one of their famous burgers followed by their award-winning ice cream. They have a couple of yurts, but it’s the field with picnic benches that allows little ones to be free-range and enjoy the great outdoors.
The Boathouse is a great pit-stop for when you’re at Pittville park. Serving coffee and snacks, their outdoor area overlooks the rowing lake but with fences in place – to keep little ones from going in for a swim. One of our favourite things to do is picnic in the park and then stop off here for an ice cream before heading home.
Finally, The Meadow Café backing onto Cox’s Meadow, is under new management and worth a visit. They’ve only just opened and are in the midst or sorting facilities for babies, but I’ve had a word and it all sounds promising. With all that space out the back, a delicious range of fresh sandwiches, bagels, pastries, cakes, ice creams AND longer opening hours, I can see this place doing well.
So there you have it, my recommendations for this new phase we find ourselves in. It’s worth mentioning that with all of the above places, time is most definitely of the essence. Unless you’re Super Mum, long gone are the days of sitting and nattering over a cup of coffee for a couple of hours, you’ve probably got an hour – tops! After that, baby gets antsy, you get frantic and it usually ends in tears – all round. So, keep visits short and sweet by checking the menu online before you arrive, order straight away, and ask friends you are meeting with to do the same. As well as this, it always helps to visit places at quieter times, it means there’ll be more space and less stress. You know what it’s like, no matter how many toys there are, kids all want to play with the same thing at the same time – that or poke each other’s eyes out!
A Guest Blog from Roseann of Honeybourne Line
I’m Roseann, the competent eater, amateur foodie, untrained writer, rookie photographer, nagging wife and knackered mum behind Honeybourne Line, my little corner of the internet where I talk way too much about FOOD.
I’m definitely no expert on food; I don’t know my silverside from my topside, nor my jus from my gravy. But I do know that food is capable of fuelling our bodies, making the soul sing, bringing people together, and providing great comfort.
There’s so much more to a meal than the sum of its parts. It’s about the process, the company, the surroundings, the occasion and the conversation. It’s about the mess, the smiles, the laughter. It’s a shared experience, or even a stolen moment of peace.