I want to tell you a story. A story of growing up and seeing the school holidays stretched out before me. A story of UK beaches and fairgrounds and Punch and Judy and fish and chips and bacon sizzling on a makeshift gas stove. Of hammocks, of rainy days and brilliant board games. Of sea life centres and boats and awnings and tents.
I want to tell you a story about caravan holidays, and why I’ll always be a caravan girl at heart.
Caravan holidays have been in my blood since I can remember. Although there were a couple of early holidays to Portugal and Spain, I remember spending most of my Summer holidays in Dorset and Devon. And always in some sort of caravan. You see my Grandad, at some point in the mid-eighties, bought a VW Campervan to do up and renovate to take my brother and I on mini breaks and holidays across the South Coast of England. Sometimes we’d take it out for day trips, huddling inside the van on windy days eating egg sandwiches and salad and quiches and what ever else my Nan had managed to squeeze into the campervan fridge.
We’d play bat and ball on the damp grass, drink fizzy pop and sprawl out on picnic blankets enjoying the outside. And then we’d all bundle back into the van for the drive home, the two children dozing in the back – tired from the novelty of being in a house on wheels.
But sometimes (and these were the best times) we’d go on proper holidays in the van. After my brother passed away, my Grandad installed a hammock that would hang across the front seats for me to sleep in, and the three of us would head south for a week or longer. We’d pack my jelly shoes (how awesome where they, fellow children of the eighties?!), my hat and my bucket and spade. I spent overcast days getting sandy, making friends on the beach and eating pop ices until it was time to pack up and go back to the van. Again and again and again I would do this and I never got bored at all.
Sometimes, if I was really lucky, we’d visit a funfair or one of my favourite places – Corfe Castle near Swanage or the Sealife Centre in Weymouth where I watched Rays swim and went down a slide shaped like a whale. I remember it all like yesterday, and I remember it fondly.
One day, the maroon VW Campervan was gone from my Nan and Grandad’s drive, which still fills me with much regret and sadness. No more jumping in the van for adventures and no more sleeping in a hammock above the passenger seat. I had long since grown a little too big for the hammock, and the awning wasn’t large enough to house everyone that wanted to adventure with us.
So that’s when our caravan holidays truly began. A STATIC CARAVAN! To this day, I’m still worryingly obsessed with the static caravan. It’s like a house, but it has weird seats that can turn into beds, a tiny shower and cute little net curtains at the windows that go almost the whole circumference of the van. They have cute names (we stayed in Bubbles many times), and they are lined up in rows, full of other children to play with and maybe become pen-pals with.
Our favourite campsite was in Swanage – in Dorset along the Jurassic coastline. We’d go for a few weeks and be joined by my Dad or my Uncle at various times during our stay. I went here with my Mum too, and also spent a wonderful week at Rockley Park in Poole where I won the disco dancing competition. I was really really good at the running man when I was younger.
When we first started our caravan holiday adventures, the sites were basic. We had a huge slide cut into the hillside which had bumps in it and you could go down two at a time. I’d spend hours clambering up the hill and sliding down it, sometimes on my own but often with new friends. We’d hold hands, close our eyes and shriek all the way down. It was all I needed for fun.
Sometimes I wonder if travelling has become a little bit complicated. I plan my itineraries for city breaks with precision, looking for quirky spots and hot bars and restaurants hoping to find that hidden gem. As a child, I was happy burying myself in sand and throwing myself down a hill, with dirty hands and scabby knees. It was joyful and it was joyous.
I want to recapture that free spirit – that little girl who was happy with some grass and some sticks and a funny little van to sleep in. I adored caravan holidays and I still do. That’s why I’ll always be a caravan girl at heart.