THE CUMBRIAN weather may have been less than balmy, but no-one wanted to be indoors during a family trip to Center Parcs
Words Nick Drainey
WE HAD made it. My daughter and I had gone beyond the perimeter fence. The journey had been long and hard – well, pedalling uphill isn’t her forte – but we had reached our destination, mud-splattered and out of breath but undaunted.
The stables is only just outside Center Parcs’ Whinfell Forest boundary but our epic journey along pine-fringed paths was the only time we set foot outside the holiday centre during our stay.
Which is funny because when we booked our four-night stay in the Cumbrian getaway, we were reassured by the thought of the Lake District on our doorstep. We’d spend a couple of days at Center Parcs, we thought, then go back to the real world; hillwalking, Keswick, the Theatre by the Lake, Derwentwater, that sort of thing.
Because while having children is many things – hilarious, terrifying, tedious – it is rarely cool. Rather like the idea of going to Center Parcs.
But then, many of Center Parcs’ features which sound a wee bit, well, naff, when other families enthuse about them suddenly make complete sense when you actually arrive. Such as not having your car with you – which is abandoned in a car park some distance off after unpacking – and relying on walking or cycling (if you bring your bikes or hire them on site, as we did). It sounds close to the seventh ring of hell with a less-than-athletic four-year-old and a suicidally impulsive 18-month-old.
But it was glorious to cycle down practically traffic-free lanes (there is the odd Center Parcs rangers van to contend with) breathing in the crisp smell of pine. Our wee boy loved whizzing along on his seat on the back of his mum’s bike and didn’t tantrum at the idea of being strapped in, as he does with his pram and car seat. My daughter (finally, hallelujah!) learned to pedal, possibly because we had time and lack of fear of being run over to allow her to get to grips with it.
And that new-found ability to pedal paid off on our epic (well, half-hour) trip to the stables to indulge her passion for horses with a Pony Pals session. Suitable for horse-mad two-year-olds and above, Pony Pals begins with a grooming session, allowing children to try their hands at brushing, combing and generally learning a wee bit about their four-legged friends. It culminates with a short pony trek. My daughter, who combines an adoration of ponies with an absolute terror of them, began the session by refusing to go near the animal and handing the brush to me. So it was some feat on the part of the cheery stables lady who was leading the session that by the end of ‘grooming’, she was happy to paint glittery oil on her pony’s hooves and even dismiss me with embarrassment as she mounted for the riding part of her treat: “You walk at the back,” she ordered.
My exile behind the pony parade was pleasant enough as we made our way through the woods. In fact, that was one of the most surprising aspects of our stay. We’re an outdoors kind of family usually but we were amazed just how much time we spent outside during our stay, despite it being winter. OK, it helped that it didn’t pour down the entire time – very possible given Cumbria’s climate. Despite it being somewhat less than balmy, there were stacks of things to do outside, including a lovely dusk walk called Our Enchanting Forest at Night, led by a Center Parcs ranger, during which we learned about red squirrels, badgers and bats. My daughter now has a prized collection of squirrel-eaten pine cones and knows all about the differences between greys and reds. The latter are genuinely prolific here, we spotted several every day.
Of course, we made good use of the pod-like Village Centre – it would be embarrassing to say how many times we ate at Bella Italia; the staff were lovely and deeply understanding (we are neither quiet nor tidy as a family when eating out), the children’s choice was good and there was plenty to entertain them, from sparkly lights and balloons to a small play area. Oh, and the adults’ food was pretty tasty too.
The Village Centre is also home to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, with its slides, waves and very welcome subtropical temperatures. It was actually hard to fit in a visit, there was so much to do outdoors, but it’s such an iconic part of Center Parcs – and there’s no extra charge for a visit – that it shouldn’t be missed. What child, big or small, couldn’t fail to love being swept around the rapids or swimming outside with their body warm as toast under the water while seeing their breath in the frosty air?
We barely scratched the surface of the activities on offer for children but while Center Parcs is very definitely about families, the adult contingent of that unit isn’t forgotten. Even those without children come to the spa for pampering breaks. But while they may get the whole day to hang out at Aqua Sana, enjoying its outdoor pool and vast range of treatments without childcare worries, they can’t possible get the ultimate feeling of guilty indulgence by having a luxury pedicure while on a family holiday. Or so my other half tells me – I got the childcare while she got the polished tootsies.
We were there four nights. It felt like longer – in a good way. We were refreshed, full of fresh air and talking about our next trip as we packed. As for the delights of Keswick and the rest of the Lake District, they’ll have to wait.
Nick Drainey stayed in a three-bedroom Executive Lodge (which sleeps up to six people). This type of accommodation starts from £559 for four days. Activities and extras are not included, check www.centerparcs.co.uk for details.
For more information about Center Parcs or to make a booking, visit www.centerparcs.co.uk or call 08448 266266.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North west