Travel: Making a splash in southern Brittany

La Grande Metairie campsite
La Grande Metairie campsite
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A trip to southern Brittany, by way of an important rendezvous with the past, proves to be the perfect family holiday, writes Donald Walker

Ooh la la la, ooh la la la dance.

Donald Walker's children in Arn�ke British Cemetery, at the grave of their great grandfather Sapper John McDonald

Donald Walker's children in Arn�ke British Cemetery, at the grave of their great grandfather Sapper John McDonald

Ooh la la la dancing.

Yes, we were Lost in France, and with apologies to Ms Tyler, it was day one of the holiday and the journey was already a bonnie mess. A year on after a failed attempt to call in at great-grandad’s grave near Dunkirk, we were heading his way again, on this occasion with time on our side but technology against us. The sat nav was encouraging us to proceed down what it described as an “unclassified road” while common sense suggested that unless our means of transport had been manufactured by Massey Ferguson, it would be a serious error of judgment to obey. Frustrated and exasperated, we began to wonder, have we missed him again?

But at last, having quartered most of Pas-de-Calais, we found Arnèke British Cemetery. There lies Sapper John McDonald of the Royal Artillery, who left behind in Govan an only son, not yet two years old, when he was killed in an enemy attack, April 1918. Without that gift of life, four of the five in our little band would not be here. It wasn’t your typical start to the annual family holiday, but we left with a sense of peace and gratitude, and a resolve to return.

Onwards, then, to southern Brittany. Our destination was a seven-hour drive from Zeebrugge, where we had disembarked after crossing overnight from Hull with P&O, and the Arnèke detour had extended the journey time by another couple of hours. It’s fair to say that after five hours on the road, we did begin to wonder why we had not opted to stay in one of the many attractive parts of France within closer reach. By the time we arrived at Carnac, however, those doubts were dispelled.

Sunshine and beaches… this was what we were after. And it was reassuring to find that we were not the only ones to have made a similar journey, so perhaps we were not stark raving mad after all. Our neighbours at La Grande Métairie camp site were from Haddington, and nearby was a family from Dunbar. When we bumped into son No2’s Beaver leader from Edinburgh, we began to wonder if we hadn’t travelled far enough.

Then again, if yours truly had checked the calendar before booking, we might not have left home in the first place. It only dawned later that the trip would mean missing The Open at St Andrews for the first time since 1978. Ah well, get over it. But it takes a special kind of buffoonery to walk away from one international sporting event on your doorstep, then arrive in Brittany at the precise moment that the Tour de France pulls out of town after a two-day stay. Zut alors…

The disappointment didn’t last long though, because Canvas Holidays offered the kind of family break that we had all hoped for at La Grande Métairie. Our accommodation in a three-bedroom Select Plus mobile home, with decking, gave us enough privacy and space to get along without the need for a solicitor when we got home, and the site offered a wealth of activities and entertainment for children – and relaxing respite for the adults.

Top draw for our clan was the swimming complex, all 480 square metres of it. The main pool is an outdoor lagoon-style leisure pool, complete with lazy river and adjoining sliders and flume, while there was also an indoor pool and a covered ‘outdoor’ pool. Nearby there were tennis courts, table tennis, a games room, skate park, crazy golf, playgrounds, mini farm and ranch, zip line, treetop adventure trail, football, volleyball… the list goes on. For us, the biggest hit of all was the FamilyExtra kids club provided by Canvas Holidays. Specialist staff – saints, to be honest – entertained the kids with an excellent range of organised activities each day such as zorbing, water walking and archery, and the children loved it. Canvas was not the biggest operator on the site – nor the smallest – but all the feedback we heard from other families was that they had the best kids’ club, and the best staff running it. Our own experience underlined that impression, and we were also very well looked after by the attentive Canvas couriers throughout our stay.

Locally, the Carnac stones put this area on the map, a remarkable layout of 3,000 prehistoric standing stones which is apparently the largest such collection in the world, although the megalithic significance was on another level for some in our party: “Look, it’s the trolls from Frozen!”

The Quiberon peninsula is only a short drive away, a classy holiday resort favoured by the French with a host of fishing villages harbouring restaurants and brasseries that don’t feature on the usual tourist trail – well-kept secrets.

We were also lucky enough to experience Bastille Day, and joined 10,000 late-night revellers on the beach at Carnac for a memorable fireworks display which ended with red heart shapes bursting across the sky, to great cheers.

Further afield, some fellow campers took a day trip to the Puy du Fou historical theme park a couple of hours away and came back with glowing reports. We should have gone too. Mistake.

As for the weather, the decision to head south in search of warmth proved successful, maybe too successful on some of these July days, when the thermometer hit 26 degrees as we rose in the morning, and was well into the 30s not long afterwards. A trip to the beach was delayed until the evening, although no one was complaining about enjoying sun and sand at 8:30pm. But being on the coast, the heat was never overwhelming for long.

Our break passed in a flash, and before we knew it we were sailing for Hull on P&O’s Pride of York, comfortable in a five-berth family cabin. This consistently impressive and highly enjoyable service was only spoiled – for other passengers – by my debut performance in the kids’ show as an Ugly Dad in Treasure Island, handpicked by the children’s entertainer. I wouldn’t have minded so much, if I hadn’t been first choice.

When we arrived home, we were able to tick two important boxes: an epidemic of post-holiday blues, and everyone still on speaking terms. In other words, a happy family. You can’t ask for more than that. Thank you, Sapper McDonald.

• The lead-in fare for Hull to Zeebrugge in July with P&O Ferries is £338.50 each way based on a car and a family of five sharing a five-berth Club Cabin

(08716 64 6464, www.POferries.com). Seven nights with Canvas Holidays (0345 268 0827, www.canvasholidays.co.uk) at Camping La Grande Métairie costs from £1,081 per party, arriving on-site on 2 July 2016 and staying in a Select Plus 3 Bed and deck (sleeping four adults and up to four children). Book now to benefit from the £99 deposit.