Forced to swap Provence for Penzance this year? Amanda Statham, Editor of 101 Family Holidays, reflects on the highs and lows of family holidays in the UK and staycations lessons she’s learned.
When lockdown hit in March, my first concern was the wellbeing of family and friends and how to master Zoom. As the great pause continued, focus shifted to home educating two children (screen time restriction threats proved the most effective teaching tool) and then, finally, as summer holidays loomed, lockdown loosened and hotels and campsites reopened, it was all about how far and quickly we could get away from the house.
Technically we could have flown, but the prospect of lengthy airport queues, sitting for hours in a confined space wearing a mask and a two-week quarantine on our return didn’t appeal, so we swapped a holiday in France for a variety of short vacations in the UK and this is what we learnt.
Staycation Lesson 1: Don’t delay booking
Staycations have experienced a major boom and the trend looks set to continue for the foreseeable future, so if you find a great getaway, book it. Gone are the days of browsing the web, selecting a few cool places and then leaving it for a week ‘to decide’. They’ll be snapped up, so you need to act fast or face spending half term in a remote cottage in Cumbria with dark rooms, no heating and retirement home decor.
Staycation Lesson 2: Know the best travel websites
If Airbnb and Booking.com are reducing you to tears – ‘your search produced 3476 cottages’ – it’s probably time to refine and save time. Seeking a family escape in the south west? Take a look at Stay In Devon or Stay in Cornwall. Fancy a foray to the New Forest? Check out New Forest Living. For the Jurassic Coast, try Bridport Cottages and if you have your heart set on Norfolk, you can’t go wrong with Kett Country Cottages. Want something wonderful nationwide? It’s got to be i-escape. I promise there isn’t a single dud property on the site. Or try Oliver’s Travels for quality over quantity.
Staycation Lesson 3: Camping is cool (really)
If you haven’t slept under canvas since you were a kid, it might be time for a revisit because things have moved on (plus it’s also budget-friendly). We stayed at scenic Rushbanks campsite https://rushbankscampsite.co.uk on the banks of the River Stour in Essex for four nights this summer and it was a revelation; think Swallows and Amazon’s-style kayak adventures on the river, spotlessly clean showers and toilets, a fire pit to sit around and lots of children about for the kids to play with. On the downside, it took a while to put the tent up and rained on the last day, which was miserable. To improve the experience I’d book a campervan via Cool Camping and pitch a tent alongside, providing al fresco fun combined with somewhere comfy and warm to pile into if the weather breaks (plus a kettle for quick tea-making). A campsite with a few more facilities is also tempting, such as Trevella Park in Cornwall, which has pool, adventure playground, fishing lakes and nature trails.
Staycation Lesson 4: Think outside the holiday box
Childhood holidays spent in cottages and caravans in places like Wales, Cornwall and Norfolk mean many of us forget there’s so much more on offer now in the UK. As far as staycation lessons go, this is one we definitely shouldn’t forget.
The countryside is dotted with treehouses, geodomes, shepherd huts and converted buses, which aren’t just for couples. They make memorable family trips too. I was so fixated on hiring a cottage for the summer holidays, I forget about all the amazing alternatives including Somerset Yurts, which, sadly, was fully booked by the time I got round to booking (see lesson 1). Next year I’m loving the idea of staying in a lighthouse through Rural Retreats, or a working farm with HolidayCottages or a yurt or shepherd’s hut in Wales booked through Sugar & Loaf.
Don’t forget the UK’s many rivers. Jonathan and Rebecca Chadwick took their two daughters on a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads in August and loved it. ‘We’d hired boats on the Broads before for a day, but with all that’s happened this year it seemed a good time to try it for a longer family holiday. It was perfect, as we were totally safe in our bubble, distanced from everyone else and the boat we hired was clean, spacious and modern and had everything we needed. When the sun was out the roof slid back and we enjoyed the nature and scenery. The gentle pace of life was just what we needed. We’ll definitely go again, but for longer next time.’ If you fancy following in their wake next summer, take a look at Waterways Holidays.
Staycation Lesson 5: If there’s a pool, your kids will be happy
It’s easy to lie back and relax at a European resort as the kids play in water all day, aside from the occasional soggy sprint to the all-day buffet. A UK holiday isn’t usually so chilled unless you chance upon utopia: an escape with a swimming pool. This summer we rented Rose Barn through Suffolk Hideaways for a long weekend and the shared pool was such a highlight that the mezzanine bedrooms, tennis court, boardgames and flatscreen TV with Netflix ceased to matter. All the children wanted to do was sit in an inflatable doughnut and push each other off for 48 hours. Places such as family-friendly Sands Resort Hotel in Cornwall are pretty much the dream, with a heated indoor pool alongside playgrounds, soft play and free wetsuit and bodyboard hire for fun on Porth Beach. Ditto Blue Stone National Park Resort in Pembrokeshire, which has its own waterpark.
Staycation Lesson 6: Hiking can be fun for all the family
Even sporty kids could be heard complaining about family walks during lockdown. ‘Do we have to walk AGAIN?’ was a frequent moan in our house, even if they hadn’t actually been for a stroll in two days. The way to combat this is to transport them somewhere it’s actually fun to walk and scramble — a place they’re so distracted by large rocks/stunning views/sheep poo they don’t even notice they’ve hiked several miles.
Keith and Katie Drew and their three kids had the right idea when they switched a family holiday in Italy for the Peak District this summer. Keith told me: ‘We wanted lots of space and fresh air (we live in a city) and to get out into the countryside and do some proper hiking rather than the round-the-block walks we’d grown accustomed to during Lockdown. The Peak District was perfect for that. We knew the scenery would be very different, limestone hills and moorland, so that appealed, and we knew we’d able to do a variety of activities.’ Take a peek at Peak Cottages if you’re inspired to take your brood on a similar walking holiday.