By Lauren Edwards
I went on my first holiday abroad to Greece with my parents and older brother when I was 13. Prior to this, our family holidays were always in the UK. We would embrace whatever weather system came our way, we stayed in everything from a tent to a cottage and I have nothing but fond and happy memories of all my childhood summer vacations.
With my own family of five, we have holidayed in Spain and France numerous times since our three children were small. However, a majority of our holidays have also been in the UK. We choose to stay on home turf because; it is often cheaper, we can take our beloved dog Chester with us, it has made it easier for us to holiday with our extended families and friends, but, mainly, because there are some amazing places to visit right on our doorstep.
However, holidaying as a family in the UK is not always straightforward or very relaxing either. If your family are under 10 years of age, you will need to find stuff to occupy their time, especially if the weather is rubbish – which it often is. You will find yourself screeching to a stop if you see any kind of ‘bottle feed the calves’ poster and hit gold if you’re near a monkey or donkey sanctuary. It is useful to join either the English Heritage or National Trust so that you can attend some sort of jousting event and there always seems to be a tank museum in most tourist hotspots where you will pray that there are vehicles for the kids to climb on, buttons for them to press or helmets and military uniform for them to try on.
If you’re lucky enough to have some sunny weather, then a day at the beach suddenly becomes a military operation. Holidaymakers will follow each other in their herds down to the beach with trolleys, backpacks, and carrier bags full of picnics, water bottles, wetsuits, towels, windbreakers, mallet for the windbreaker, inflatable boat, a thing to inflate the boat with, chairs, a tent for shelter from the wind and/or sun, swimwear, jumpers, and waterproofs.
Once you’ve carted everything to the beach, then it will take the next hour to set up camp. Kids will run to the sea and then realise it’s freezing and quickly run back. Parents will be in construction mode, holding up windbreakers and banging them into the ground or trying to find the right tent poles so that the dog/toddler has some shade. Lunch is a mission in itself, whereby, you must try and stop children from picking up sandwiches with sandy fingers. And for some reason the sand on UK beaches will pebble dash to your skin so no amount of handwipes or water will remove it and your cheese roll will always end up with an unwanted crunch. It’s at this point that I will feel slightly jealous at ‘that family’ who I had earlier judged for having set up their picnic next to their car in the car park!
There is a rustic charm to the humble UK holiday, I love the local pubs, the expanse of beaches you find in places like Cornwall and Norfolk and the beautiful countryside in Wales and throughout the Lake District. However, no matter where you visit, the holiday home you choose can always be a bit hit and miss. Cooking becomes impossible as you can always expect the kitchen cupboard to house four colanders and just one tiny saucepan. There is often the absence of a freezer (apart from the one shelf at the top of the fridge) and there is always a tiny kitchen bin and a weird refuse collection system that you will have to try and work out from the enormous, laminated folder of instructions left for you by the owner.
Self-catering holidays are not for the faint hearted. First you need to get a ‘big shop’ either delivered or you will need to find a local supermarket and then have the arduous task of putting it away, which often results in having to rearrange the kitchen cupboards to fit it all in. You always over order on the alcohol and snack front which results in a rolling hangover throughout the week for the parents and a constant sugar high with the kids. There is normally an open fire and even in the height of summer you must use it at least once, despite having to sit in front of it in your swimwear to cope with the heat.
If you are parents to teenagers, you may think that you are in for an easier time as you won’t need to wade through the gazillion ‘things to do’ pamphlets that you picked up at the service station. Instead, you will have the uneasy task of trying to a) get them out of bed before lunchtime, b) persuade them to go anywhere of interest which might involve walking or anything historical or educational, c) cope with their holiday eating patterns where breakfast is two hours after yours and they only wish to graze for the rest of the day on Doritos and ice-cream. Still, on the plus side, they are now mostly adult sized and able to carry a lot of the stuff down to the beach and take part in assembling windbreakers and the tent for the dog.