Dare I camp again…..??

My first camping disaster on a campsite. I actually have three, but for this blog I shall only tell you one though I do believe that, the Gods of this world were telling me “Dave…… Camping, my friend, is not for you!”

It was a beautiful hot summer’s day, 2 weeks off from work, still living with my parents (the year 1991) so had not a care in the world. My 3 friends and I decided to take a trip to Cornwall. We packed some clothes in any old bag and squeezed a rather large tent that none of us had ever seen before, into the back of my friends Fiesta XR2i. Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Cars’ tape was turned up full volume, the windows were down and the wind was fiercely blowing in my ‘then’ hair……..life was good…… and easy!

Severn Bridge

Travelling along the M4 Motorway, to our left in the distance was Chepstow, as we approached the old Severn Bridge taking us over the Severn Estuary. The question that always comes to mind is always……”will the tide be in or out?” I’ve heard the currents are very dangerous…. not sure about the sultanas though. Of course if the tide is out then there’s miles of mud, even now I think “Don’t want to be stuck in that when the tide comes in!” But why would I? I’ve never been down to the mud bank, Punch in the mouthso unless I fell out of the car window it wouldn’t happen. Anyway, we had just paid £1.00 to drive over the old Severn Bridge. Yep, remember the good old days when it was £1.00 each way, not like it is today, £6.80 for a car!! This price always leaves you feeling like you’ve just been stripped naked and beaten!

After leaving the M4 Motorway, we were all feeling good as we drove around the large sweeping bend on to the M5 Motorway. It was always a good feeling as a child, because the M5 was confirmation….. you knew we were really on the way to Cornwall. As I said, the sun was out so it was very hot, but we had already made our first mistake…. well, in fact we had made a few but the first one (that we found, which clearly none of us owned up to), was when we had stopped off at the services for a toilet break. My friends Mum had gone in to the sweet drawer in the kitchen before we left for the holidays and gave us a brand spanking new bag of fun size Mars bars that we placed on the parcel shelf up against the rear window (a rookie mistake, I know). Before we set off on our journey again I reached in grabbing the bag…….. the bag of squidgy, liquid, melted fun size Mars Bars (not so “fun” anymore!) I will take credit for the idea that followed, and that was to tie the bag of fun size Mars Bars on to the rear wiper of the tailgate outside of the car, in the hope that by the time we made it to Cornwall, they would have gone hard from the cold air of travelling at 70mph….. alright 80mph…….. alright maybe 85ish mph. Did they go hard you ask yourselves? I’ll tell you at the end of this blog.   With no traffic to be seen, we were feeling cool taking in the miles and miles ofBlack bales fields either side of the M5 being flummoxed and asking each other “Why it is that no matter what long journey you take, there is always a single dead tree in the middle of a field?” Anyway, as we came to the end of the M5 we made our way on to the A and B roads. The scenery was stunning, field after field with rolling hills in between, laughing at the same joke as we gazed at the many sheep in the fields in amongst the large black plastic balls of wrapped up hay saying “WOW…..The rabbits in that field must be HUGE!!” (I’ll give you some time to think about that one).

At this point Tracy Chapman was still playing (and by the way, I still can’t get enough of the Fast Cars album), when suddenly my friend stretched out his hand to the knob on the cassette player, turning the music down. He looked at us with a smile on his face, “Boys…… the tent doesn’t have a ground sheet, but don’t worry, my Dad gave me a plastic sheet that we can put down over the grass”. I was about to turn the music back up when he spoke again “But it’s the plastic sheet that he uses when mixing up cement on the drive.” We all looked at one another and thanked him for telling us…… when we were past the point of no return!

Eventually we came to the first camp site, so in we drove and made our way to reception. The lady took one look at us “NO!” Yes, we were eighteen years old but we were a nice bunch! I hadn’t even blinked and we were back in the car to the next camp site and the next and the next and the next and… ….Ground sheet floor planwell we lost count of the camp sites that rejected us.   Eventually, the last camp site we came to, the time now 9.30pm, we were given permission to camp but only for 1 night at the cost of…… wait for it (because it still brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it) £30…… £30!! It was 1991 not the year 2191. However, he had us by the short and curlies and there was nothing we could do, but put up our tent for the first time ever. By 10.45pm the tent was up (in some shape) with a 12 inch gap all around the bottom of the tent and an even bigger gap around the edge as the sheet of plastic looked like the map of Italy covered in lumps on cement which wasn’t exactly ideal considering the tent was square.

The next mistake we all made was that the 4 of us forgot to bring pillows, so we improvised by rolling up our jeans, you’ll be surprised how comfortable Levi 501’s can be. As we laid in our sleeping bags, the owner of the camp site turned up to see us, he was wearing an Australian bush hat, waist coat and jeans (we figured he thought he was HarleyCrocodile Dundee) on a Harley Davidson! Of course, there was no need to unzip the tent door due to the large gap around the bottom of the tent, so we stuck our heads out through the gap. “Lads, keep it quiet tonight and be gone in the morning!” he then straddled his beautiful Harley Davidson and rode off………it would have made no difference if we had a rave that night and bought the loudest stereo in the world with the biggest speakers….it was never going to be as loud as his Motorcycle.

The next day we packed up to make our way home thinking we were never going to be accepted on any camp site being a group of 4 boys, when another friend mentioned a camp site in Devon, in the little seaside town of Woolacombe. We reached the town mid afternoon and by the power of the camping Gods they let us in straight away and for a week. As it was daylight, we took our time putting up the tent, but it made no difference, the tent and the poles didn’t match. Either the tent was too small or the poles were too long and the ground sheet….. well, we did spend time picking off as many of the lumps of cement but could do nothing about the size or shape. We did have a master plan….and that was to use our bags along the bottom of the tent to save us from the wind but in reality it made no difference. Outside TentThen one of my friends (I can’t give you a name as he now has a very important job now, but he did like to wear big buckles on his belt, and yes his ‘jeans pillow’ wasn’t as comfy as ours) one night decided to sleep half in the tent and half out because he felt sick, which in fact he was, this was the scene we all woke up to in the morning

So the easiest option was to cover the sick with grass (I know…..lovely, Dave) than move the tent, whilst using one of the many gaps at the bottom of the tent as our new doorway.

Now, not having a correctly fitting tent and ground sheet can cause problems…..they don’t stop bugs and insects from joining you, this I know from firsthand experience. As the 4 of us lay on our backs in our sleeping bags chatting and laughing before going to sleep, something landed in my mouth at the precise moment I laughed.

“Alright then boys……Who threw something?”

All together it was a resounding “Nope, not me!”

Luckily I was on torch duty that night, so I sat up and spat on to the grass and there it was……Was it a bit of rolled paper? Was it a bottle top? Was it a blueberry muffin? Was it an Earwig……………..? Sleeping bagsWhy YES! YES it was! So for the rest of the week before going to bed it was “Hit off the Earwigs from inside the tent duty” and once that task was done we would all place pieces of toilet roll in our ears because…. well……. isn’t it obvious they’re Earwigs ‘DUUUHH!’ The last thing we needed was for the Earwigs to take a stroll in to our ears and eat our brains…… just how stupid do you think we were?

Halfway through the holiday I even woke up with the 3 of them staring at me with a look of horror of their faces. I first thought I was covered in earwigs with my brain sticking out of my ears…..but NO! Up until this point in my life only my Mum and Dad knew my sleeping habits, and the one thing I feared happened. Sometimes….and by the way, I’ve not done it for years, but I used to make a droning noise. This woke them all up as they were amazed by how long I could drone for without taking a breath. The only way I can describe it is…… picture yourselves on a sunny warm sunny afternoon having a cup of tea when everything near you is quiet, but far away in the distance you can hear a droning sound of a motorcycle in the distance……well that’s what I sound like…… apparently….

Oh, and just to give you some serious information on the fun size Mars Bars that melted in the back of the car……once melted it doesn’t matter how long your journey is or how fast your travelling if it’s HOT…. they will forever stay melted.

As usual on the Easy Blend I’m listening to some great music, today it has to be Tracy Chapman, Fast Cars

You can find out more about my book ‘Farrago: Ten Tall Tales’ and buy it here…. (click on the cover)

Full cover single

Until the next Easy Blend blog……….. 

Stay warm and fuzzy……..

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Fun in the Forestry

Now I’m trying to be informative for this Blog.  I’ve been away for the week having fun, getting wet and wild and being naughty.  Panting hard, a little out of breath sometimes whilst indulging myself in things I don’t normally do……but isn’t that what some holidays are all about?  I know you’re getting excited just imagining where I’ve been…….center-parcs

 

I’ve been on and off for the last twenty years and love it just as much as the first time; for us it’s always a winter holiday.  For those who have never been……let me give you an imaginary tour of what goes on.

You can either go Friday to Monday or like the Frantony family, Monday to Friday.  Since it opened, we drive to the Longleat Centre Parcs as its only a 1.5 hour drive from where we live.

driveway-in

As you turn into the entrance off the main road, you’re immediately on a lane driving through the forest where you collect the keys to the villa (which you can’t go in until  3pm) from the log cabin reception.

So what to do until 3pm?  LOTS!

Park the car/van/ Land Rover Defender in the car park just past reception then taking the bag of swimwear (that you packed in a separate bag), take the 5 minute walk to the main swimming dome.

dome

As you enter through the glass doors, the first operation is to take your scarf, hat and gloves off at lightning speed as its very warm inside.

In the Dome you have Restaurants, Coffee shops, mini super market, Bars, gift shops and a bowling alley, lush green plants, waterfalls and fish ponds full of gold fish and large Koi Karp and if you want to take a closer look, there are some stepping stones and a wooden bridge.  By the way, if you open the swimming bag and there’s nothing in there, don’t think you have to swim nude, as there’s also a swim shop at the entrance to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise.

There’s plenty of changing rooms with a door either side; one for in, the other out and in to the shower area.  Please remember to close and lock both doors as I walked in to a cubical once and saw what resembled something that would be suitable for parking your push bike in.

Once inside the centre of the swimming dome (constant temperature of 29.5C) where the swimming pool is situated, you see that the walkways are all in crazy paving with stone walls and more lush green plants everywhere.  It’s free to enter and everything to do inside is free too!

white-slide

As you follow the lovely crazy paving pathway up an incline you have a small bar area where they sell hot food and drinks (Amstel beer on tap) a rope bridge with timber flooring and more crazy paving, and then the junction where the fun begins.  Before I go any further, don’t think this is just for kids, there’s a mix of all ages, shapes and sizes and I mean all ages, shapes and sizes!  You’re never too old to smile and have fun, I know because I tried being an adult and being serious…….its way over-rated…..I won’t do that again!

slide-racing-car

To the one side there are two white slides, one is straight, the other has a bump in it.  Both are very short, but don’t be fooled as you’ll reach the bottom before any F1 car.

You’ll splash in to the water at a terrific speed in what looks like a cave….. “Ooooooooohhhhhhhhh” I hear you say! That’s right, a cave, that’s what I said!  Then you have two green tube slides, if you’re hard, the lower and shorter one is for you, but if you’re double hard, then the higher and longer one is for you.  Feel free to cry in either one as you’ll be disguised by the lashings of water hitting your face, again you’ll come out in what looks like a cave.

Once you walk back around to the junction of fun, in whatever exciting thrill you seek next, you’ll have the entrance to the outside pool.  As I’ve said, we go to Centre Parcs in the winter and it really doesn’t matter what the weather is like.  You’ll see steps that will take you in to another pool with a plastic curtain, and as you swim through….well, it’s all outside.  The water is warm with steam rising up, rocks and plants and trees cover the edges of the pool.  Standing outside the pool there are more life guards that you can shake a stick at, which is always good to know.

Halfway around the outside they also have a plunge pool (its icy cold) only once I’ve experienced jumping in…..NEVER AGAIN!!  I had to double check my birth certificate to see if I was a man or a woman.  Also outside you have the ‘Rapids’, very long rapids that cascade with fast running water into bends, dips and slides.  Again all amongst rocks, plants and trees and if you make it to the end it will take you back inside the dome ready for you to repeat it a 1000 times…….and you will.  But I do have a few tips for you on the rapids.  I always leave my wedding ring at home, WHY?  Well, it came off my finger many years ago in the rapids and I thought it was gone forever.  The lifeguard took down my name and villa number telling me he’d check the filters at the end of the night, and miraculously he found it!!  Again a very big thank you!!

kicked-in-rapids

As for other tips …….  For the men entering the outside pool down the steps and through the plastic curtain, if there is a small child in front of you, it is imperative that all hands are covering your privates, because you are more than likely to be kicked in them.

 

Once reaching the start of the rapids, you climb over a smooth concrete lip from the nice warm pool into the rapids.  At first its a little cold and you’ll be slightly bashed about by the force of the waterfall coming out of the rocks.  Don’t worry…. you will be laughing, then with no control whatsoever your journey begins.  rapidsThe first rapid slide will be in full view of a decking watch point for passersby, I cannot stress this enough….make sure all your naughty but nice bits are not on show.   Men, you must make sure the string on your shorts, are tight.  Ladies….keep the bikinis for the beach in some exotic country, always were a swim suit if you can…..!  I kid you not; it’s as if the rapids have hands.

Don’t feel that you have to do the British thing and apologise to every person you bump in to along the way; always remember you are on very fast rapids, no-one is in control, its so much fun though.  Once you have had enough fun and you want to relax, there’s also a hot pool, again surrounded by

hot-pool

rocks, plants and trees with the floor covered in crazy paving…….very nice!  At night, if you sit opposite the plastic curtain that separates the inside from the outside.  You’ll be staring through the steam coming off the hot water at the silhouettes of people as they enter or don’t enter the hot pool, it’s like ‘Stars in their eyes’…..”Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be….”

The main pool has a wave machine that comes on once or twice an hour.  To announce it coming on, you’ll hear a Tarzan sound, but it’s always a disappointment for me, as I keep looking around for Jane…..but she’s never there.

hot-air-dryerWhen your body is telling you it’s time to get out of the pool and have a shower (shampoo supplied) and dry off, we like to use what we call the human hair dryer, (£1) it’s worth it.

Then it’s time to go the Villa; cars are only allowed on the day of arrival and the day you leave which is really nice.  The villas are all nestled within the forestry with narrow winding block pavier leading you to the front door.  Single storey with flat roofs and made out of a mix of render, timber and glass, our villa was 3 bedrooms with 2 wc’s, lounge area with large corner sofa, T.V and dvd player with paper log burner in the corner with large glass sliding doors facing the forest without hardly seeing another villa.   Small but perfect kitchen with dishwasher, microwave and good size dining table, all open planned.  It has a bath with shower (they also supply bath towels).  Outside you have a place to park your push bikes, a patio area with table and chairs and a BBQ.  In the evening you can sit down with a glass of wine and relax, and read a good book……. Farrago: TenTall Tales maybe…..?

I’ve never measured the forestry, but all you need to know is that it’s big, there’s even a Pancake House and a nice restaurant in the middle of everything.  In between our villa were the ‘Cascades’ that you walked amongst the red woods and small water falls (all lit up at night), which took you to a large lake with boats and pedaloes to hire and above you have tree top climbing and a zip wire that takes you over the lake.  An Aqua Sana (a place to seriously pamper oneself) with lots of different rooms and many treatments to be had.  Then theres the ‘Jardin des Sports’.  Here there’s a sports bar, clothes shop (sports/outdoors wear), a Newsagents, a sports bar with restaurant, an Indian restaurant, climbing wall for the kids, table tennis, badminton, squash, keep fit classes, snooker, pool, roller skating, tennis, crazy golf (indoor and out) and more.

land-train

If you don’t want to walk or cycle anywhere then there’s always the land train that runs every 20 minutes from each stop that’s nearest to your villa, wrap up warm though…it can be cold.

For us going to Centre Parcs in the winter, we love it no matter what the weather, it really doesn’t make any difference, so many places to go and things to do, and the villa is very spacious to relax and cook with friends and family.

caravan

Centre Parcs is nothing like the holidays I remember as a child, in the pouring down rain being stuck in a caravan with nothing to do.  I would look out the caravan window watching the puddle form at the bottom of the caravan steps wondering how big and deep it’s going to get, whilst thinking I’d rather be back in school struggling with a calculation of algebra that I simply can’t do, with a pen that intermittently works as the teacher who I don’t like is shouting at me over the noise of my stomach rumbling, because somebody nicked my dinner money and ate my secret stash of sandwiches, and all before P.E, knowing full well I’ve forgotten my kit….again.  But as well as staring at the puddle growing minute by minute at the bottom of the caravan step, I was soon feeling thankful we were not camping!  I always felt sorry for the person passing the caravan window in their rain coat and wellies, walking to the communal sink whilst carrying a bowl full of dirty dishes to wash.

Anyway…….what to take and wear to Centre Parcs in the winter?  Well…. not a lot.  A super lovely warm hat with gloves, walking boots and trainers and leave your jeans at home and take 2 pairs of cargo trousers.  Even if you’re eating out in one of the restaurants……it’s in the forestry.  Dare I say it……you don’t really need to take shampoo as it’s supplied.  We like to walk everywhere so we have head torches as it’s only dimly lit at night.  It’s the only time I’m not scared walking the forestry at night and feel safe (call me a girls blouse if you like).

So that’s Centre Parcs through the eyes of Dave Frantony and I’ll be back every year, but the most important thing is that my 8yr old son laughed nonstop every day and didn’t want to go home…..and that’s all that matters!  So book and go, I dare you, a 3 bedroom villa in winter can be as little as £329 (total cost for 6 people for 4 nights!)

As usual on the Easy Blend, I’m listening to great music; today it’s A Silent Film – Danny, Dakota and the wishing well

You can find out more about my book ‘Farrago: Ten Tall Tales’ and buy it here…. (click on the cover)

Full cover single

Until the next Easy Blend blog……….. 

Stay warm and fuzzy……..

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