THE sight of cherry trees in full bloom always takes me back to a time in my childhood when it was sunny every day and I was allowed to roam free without a care in the world.
The arrival of spring blossom meant only one thing – it was time for a weekend break to Butlin’s in Ayr.
Fast forward a few decades and with my daughter now at the age I remember so fondly, albeit through cherry-blossom-tinted specs, and I’m once again heading for what was Butlin’s, but is now a Haven holiday park.
We check in at reception, but instead of keys for a chalet in an avenue lined with cherry trees, we’re directed to our caravan in the Golf Village, next to the nine-hole par 27 course. Our home for the weekend is a stylish seaside-themed caravan. It’s immaculate, warm and a world away from the old chalets, which were built during the Second World War by Billy Butlin at the request of the Admiralty.
First things first and we explore our 21st century surroundings. We’re more accustomed to our tiny touring caravan, so we’re pleasantly surprised by the spaciousness of the Beachcomber, which is well equipped with a flat screen TV, central heating and en-suite bathroom.
As it turns out we don’t even turn on the TV as there’s so much on-site to do. On arrival we are given a “what’s on” guide, so mini-me quickly gets to work marking all the activities and evening entertainment options that take her fancy.
There are events planned throughout the day and they are labelled with the age group they’re geared towards. Many are free while others can be paid for individually, or an activity pass costing £36 for six sessions is a great option. It’s a good idea to book the coached activities as places are limited. This can be done at the new Airspace building which is home to a sports arena with a great adventure soft play, games courts, climbing wall, and golf simulator. Even better for me, there’s a bakehouse selling coffee and cakes, and a Spar supermarket for essentials.
During our stay, my daughter books the climbing wall, archery and, as a further reminder of days gone by, mother and daughter go to the roller disco. The activities are well co-ordinated and the staff are patient and this old dog even learned a new trick – plate spinning.
The modern Mash and Barrel is the diner most suited to our family, as there’s something on the menu for everyone and prices are reasonable with daily specials and offers available. On site there’s also a buffet restaurant (reminiscent of the old Butlin’s canteen from the early Eighties) and various take-away options. The fully equipped kitchen means there’s no reason not to dine-in – other than the washing up.
The evening entertainment starts at 6pm which is ideal for tots and the Haven characters, Rory the Tiger, Bradley Bear, Anxious Elephant, Naughty Ned and Polly the Dolly are a big hit. FunStars are the new Redcoats, I was often reminded by mini-me that they’re NOT called Bluecoats, even though they do wear blue coats. We enjoyed the FunStars tribute to Steps and an Eighties tribute band. Mini-me enjoyed learning party dances but many of the tunes gave me a real sense of deja-vu. With an abundance of amusement arcade machines, we armed ourselves with 2p pieces for the slots but it would be easy to lose track of your cash on the more expensive machines.
My husband and I both recall the Butlin’s swimming pool in the “olden days” where the highlight was the underwater windows. The swim facilities have changed considerably and there’s no longer a chilly outdoor pool. Our water babe would have happily spent all day on the flumes. It’s disappointing, however, that the changing rooms, showers and viewing area are all somewhat tired.
There’s a regular bus service into Ayr, which is a lovely town worth visiting. There’s a new outdoor shopping area in the centre with many of the big-name retailers, while Newmarket Street has a selection of independent shops. On Sundays there’s a well-attended market and car boot sale at the racecourse. For family activities outside Haven, there’s Heads of Ayr farm park right next door and a short drive away is Culzean Castle and gardens.
The only downside to our break was that it didn’t seem long enough – six weeks in the summer would be ideal.
Craig Tara Holiday Park, Dunure Road, Ayr, KA7 4LB, tel: 01292 265141, www.haven.com; a three-bedroom deluxe caravan sleeping up to eight people for a three-night weekend break costs from £138 per family, based on prices for the weekend of 19 April.