When I first suggested to my wife that we go to Bognor Regis on a family holiday, she immediately looked it up on Google Maps (it’s in West Sussex, on the coast between Brighton and Portsmouth) and scoffed: “Are you mad? Its 500 miles away!”
As the designated driver, these minor details matter to my wife. But then the lure of Butlin’s Bognor Regis Resort was too tempting and she agreed to drive, as long as we split the journey with an overnight stay en route. The travelling proved uneventful and our pit-stop at the Stafford Holiday Inn Express worked out beautifully. We had a clean, spacious and comfortable family room for the four of us and a pub/restaurant with a soft play was just across the road. Our son Reuben, five, and daughter Sarah, three, were delighted with the set-up. After a monster breakfast at the hotel, we were back on the road again and pulling up at the Butlin’s drive-through check-in in no time.
We were booked into the Seaside Apartments in the heart of the resort. Our accommodation comprised two bedrooms, a shower room and a sunny, open-plan kitchen/diner/lounge with a large balcony. The décor was energetic and spotless throughout with fun, seaside-themed touches including a wall-mounted “pin the tail on the donkey” and a cloud-shaped night light (complete with gentle rays of the sun) in the kids’ room. Things have seriously moved on from the Hi-de-Hi! era of holiday camps.
We had pre-booked the premium dining package, giving us access to a wide selection of breakfast and dinner options available in two restaurants. With a monstrous hot and cold buffet and live cooking stations, even my fussy son ate well every day and I took full advantage of a gigantic cooked breakfast and at least three courses at dinner. For lunches and alternative dinner arrangements, the resort has a good selection of cafés and restaurants including traditional fish and chips, fast food and Italian chains, an American-style diner and a carvery.
The great thing about Butlin’s Bognor Regis is that it’s a compact resort, bursting with activities that are all only a short walk from the accommodation. Most attractions, such as the fun fair rides, sports coaching, soft play, theatre and puppet shows, kids crafts, play areas, discos and swimming are included in the price. Other activities, including aerial adventure, crazy golf, ten-pin bowling and go-karts, have a small charge.
To help her recover from the long drive, I arranged for my wife, Sìne, to have a pampering at the on-site Ocean Spa. The Complete Calmness Facial & Massage (£43) certainly left her revitalised – with enough vim and vigour to ride the aerial zip wire, zooming along above our heads screaming all the way.
Our children adored the numerous daytime kids shows, particularly Mr Men and Billy & Bonnie Bears. They also loved the tots fun fair rides and craft sessions. But the pièce de résistance had to be the £40m Splash pool complex, which opened last month. With slides and flumes for all ages and levels of courage, plus a myriad of other cool features, it would be easy to spend all day at the pool. We tried the helter skelter flume, stick of rock racing slides, seaside garden rapids and family slide. There is also a pool with a wave machine, squirty water jets and plenty of paddling areas with activities for toddlers. The height restrictions were clearly labelled at each slide and I’ve never seen so many life guards keeping everyone safe and queues moving. We were equally impressed by the expansive changing area, with gigantic family cubicles and lockers galore – not to mention the cheesy holiday hits playing in the background to get you in the mood.
When our energy flagged, the live show Paddington At The Seaside offered a captivating diversion, combining stage and screen to bring the hilarious story to life.
Despite having every whim catered for on site we couldn’t come all the way to Bognor without grabbing our buckets and spades and taking a wander down to its pebbly beach and famous prom. We discovered a cute little land train that put-puts between Butlin’s and Bognor town centre rather than negotiate the steep and tricky walk. It was a delightful ride and at the end of the line was a charming enclosed sand play area which more than made up for the lack of sand on the beach. After making what seemed like a million sandcastles, we jumped back on the train and put-putted back along the prom.
Goodwood racecourse is only a 20-minute drive from Bognor and our visit coincided with the May racing festival. With a choice of enclosures, each with its own dress code and style, we chose the poshest, which comes with winning post views, access to the parade ring and the fanciest bars and restaurants. There’s nothing to beat donning your finery to join England’s upper crust in watching world-class racing in glorious surroundings. Reuben and I turned heads in our full highland dress and we had all the ladies swooning. And it turns out that Sarah has an eye for the horses, picking the winner in every race, and earning enough to buy us all an ice cream.
Nestled in Lavant Valley amongst the rolling hills of the South Downs National Park, we discovered the Weald & Downland Living Museum. This 40-acre site contains more than 50 exhibit buildings which tell the stories of the people who lived and worked in them over a 1,000 year period. You can soon imagine the quieter, simple life as you pass the heavy Shire horses ploughing in the fields, Sussex cattle oxen pulling carts of hay and chickens and geese pecking around the farmstead.
At the functioning water mill we watched and listened to the very knowledgeable staff explain the grinding of corn to make flour which was turned into the most wonderful biscuits, devoured by all. A highlight was the enormous timber-framed Bayleaf Farmstead with replica furniture and equipment recreating the 1540s, where you can taste some very strange food combos, such as beef with prune pottage and walnuts, yuck!
After dodging that culinary bullet, a huge hit with the children was the woodland playground, which featured a tree trunk with a “hidden room”, a 10-metre trunk carved into a water dragon called Knucker, willow hideouts and a balance-beam trail.
On the way back we stopped in the charming Roman city of Chichester and came across the weekly city centre market where we enjoyed local sweet delicacies and Sìne bought a classic fedora-style sun hat. With the sun shining, we sat between the cathedral and the magnificent market cross watching life go by and relaxing after our frenzied few days in the South East of England.
Three nights (Friday to Monday) at Butlin’s Bognor Regis resort start from £315, while four nights (Monday to Friday) start from £340. Prices are based on four people sharing Silver self-catering accommodation in early July. They include use of the new Splash pool, the traditional fairground, live shows from the likes of Paddington, the Teletubbies and Mr Men & Little Miss – as well as a wide range of other daytime and evening entertainment and attractions. For more details go to www.butlins.com
Weald & Downland Living Museum, Town Lane, Singleton, Chichester PO18 0EU
Tel: 01243 811363, www.wealddown.co.uk
Goodwood Horse Racing
Chichester, West Sussex PO18 0PS
Customer sales: 01243 755055