It was to be a glorious fanfare to the fun-filled six weeks holidays. A sun-drenched trio of memory-making days at the perfect campsite, surrounded by forest. The Tinies would run around with wild abandon and Husband and I would relax with a drink by the fire. There would be giggles and sandcastles. Stomping rockets and steam trains. It would be the perfect end to the final summer holiday with Buddy as a pre-schooler. One last, long weekend before he went to Big School. Well, that was the plan.
The reality was somewhat different for a number of reasons.
The campsite was one I’d wanted to visit since we bought the tent. Spiers House is a Camping In The Forest (Forestry Commission) campsite near Pickering, North Yorks. It’s close enough for a day trip to the beach with a choice of East coast resorts and yet is firmly in the North York Moors National Park. Earlier this year they had a special offer for 33% off pitches so I jumped at the chance to book our last-gasp weekend away for a reduced price. What I didn’t do – contrary to my usual form – was carefully check out the campsite before I booked it. I clearly had my rose-tinted specs on. I mean, camping in the middle of the forest at a multiple award-winning site. What’s not to like? Plenty, as it turned out.
A quick glance at the website to get location details the day before our trip revealed some red writing at the top of the page which I swear wasn’t there in May. There was construction work at the site until September. As it turned out there wasn’t actual construction going on when we visited during the final weekend of August, but what they had done was build a swooping arc of top-of-the-range wooden lodges. You know the type. Two stories, floor-to-ceiling glass windows, hot tubs on the decking. What this appeared to mean was that the site was shifting its focus away from camping.
For the first time in our camping lives the weather for the weekend was forecast to be dry at least. It was going to be cool at night, but as long as it didn’t rain then we’d be fine. Except it decided to try to rain as we drove up the road on to the campsite. Husband saw it ad exclaimed that the wet record stood, but I reckon it was just the flies sneezing because it soon stopped. Was this to be – as I’d hoped – our first totally dry camping weekend?!
We’d booked a standard pitch so after a rather inexplicably long wait to check in we got to put the tent where we liked on a long, fairly thin, uneven strip of grass at the centre of the site. Us and the 15 or so other units that were camping there. Now, I’m not opposed to pitching where you like, but as there was no other open space and no playground either, it meant there wasn’t really anywhere for The Tinies (and all the other children) to safely run around. There was no designated play space, you couldn’t have kicked a ball about for fear of it hitting something or someone and there was precious little for the kids to do on the site itself without wandering off into the forest. This didn’t lead to the most relaxing time back at the site as we were forever having to warn the kids to be careful or watch out for someone/something.
As most of the premium camping pitches were occupied by caravans the management had clearly taken their eye off the ball when it came to cleaning the shower block. Quantity not quality was the name of the game so there were loads of toilets and showers – the most I think I’ve seen in one place at a campsite. But they weren’t cleaned very often (let’s just say a dirty cotton wool pad that I first noticed at 3pm on the Saturday was still there at 11am on the Sunday) and I had to go to reception 15 minutes before it closed on Saturday evening to let them know that all but one of the ladies toilets were without loo roll.
The showers were big enough, but with only one hook per cubicle and no seat in the majority of them, keeping your clothes clean and dry was a challenge. More than that, the push button showers only ran for five seconds at a time. Yes, five. I counted. This meant I did almost all of my ablutions either shivering or one-handed. You try washing your hair with one hand. I’m all for water saving (in fact, the site should be applauded for having grey-water harvesting for flushing the loos) but five seconds is a ridiculous length of time.
Clearly the £600 a weekend the company can get for the lodges eclipses the standard rate of £25 a night for a camping pitch and we definitely felt like third-rate citizens. What a shame.
On Saturday we had planned to go into Whitby on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR), taking the 9am train from Pickering. However, despite being up at 7.15am it was soon apparent that we were in no way capable of getting everyone up, clean, dressed and fed by 8.30am. And we didn’t even know where the train station was.
We resolved to go to the seaside in the car (having cleverly not mentioned to The Tinies we’d planned a trip on the steam train) and decided to try Robin Hood’s Bay instead of Whitby based on the logic that neither of us had been before.
We had a fabulous day, despite increasingly cloudy weather and a small rain shower that stopped as soon as it started. The Tinies had a ball running in and out of the sea with their cheap pond-dipping nets catching seaweed to decorate the sandcastle I’d built. We didn’t take swimming things but they stripped down to their pants and, under strict instructions not to go too far in, were allowed to go paddling. Of course, Buddy got a little carried away and was soon wearing see-through pants. What is the underpant version of a wet t-shirt contest I wonder? Luckily his t-shirt was long enough to cover his modesty and he happily came home commando under his shorts.
We loved the quaint charm of Robin Hood’s Bay. Not an arcade in sight, only one fish and chip shop on the front. A dinosaur museum-cum book shop which was free to walk around and lots of old boats sat about. It really was the opposite of most other East coast resorts we’ve been to – and is all the better for it.
A quick consultation of the NYMR timetable led to a diversion on the way home and a cunning plan. Husband dropped The Tinies and I at Goathland (setting for Heartbeat for those familiar with it) and we caught the steam train back to Pickering where he met us with the car. It was fab to see the surprise on their faces as we came over the bridge and they glimpsed the station. Buddy could not have been more excited!
More revising of plans that evening led us to decide to pack up a day early and leave for home after lunch on Sunday instead of on Monday morning. School started on Tuesday, and given that the site wasn’t all I’d imagined we decided an extra day to do washing and an extra night in our own beds wouldn’t do anyone any harm.
The site’s saving grace was Sunday morning’s Junior Ranger walk with AJ. He took us into the forest on the hunt for The Gruffalo and announced to the children to keep their eyes peeled, “…especially for poo. I love talking about poo.” The Tinies were sold.
AJ’s knowledge of the forest knew no bounds. From identifying tracks to wild mushrooms, finding a mouse hole and explaining how he was sure it didn’t belong to a snake. There was not one but two Gruffalo dens – although we didn’t spot the big man himself, he must have been off looking for food. He even told us how to make ornaments for the Christmas tree out of the pine cones the kids collected and patiently discussed the species of birds and trees we could see and hear. At £8 per child (with one free adult included) it was a little steep when compared with other holiday activities, but I’d rather spend the money on a forest walk than soft play or another indoor activity.
So, here’s to Plan Bs. To rolling with the punches and to chopping and changing. To mixing, matching, flexing and fiddling to make the best of what you’re presented with. As a colleague of mine says, you can change the plan, but never, ever change the goal.