Seven year old me sat in a wooden row boat paddling on a dubious coloured lake, giggling with a friend I had just made. Splashing. It must have been summer as I remember warmth. I had ice cream smeared in pink globous streaks down my dress and my bare legs got a rash from the water. Health and safety didn’t exist that many years ago. I am surprised I didn’t get cholera. My memory is filled with patchy recollections of similar holidays to Butlins. The resort destination of choice of my now seventy something grandmother. It is her version of the Spanish Riviera. Or Disneyland.
It’s not for me.
I would prefer a deckchair in the sun. A beach. A spa day. Painting my bathroom. But each year she, myself and my son go on an adventure to Butlins, the same as we did since I was three years old. We always go to Minehead. I pick her up from Taunton station, her tiny self-waiting, waving on the platform with bags bigger than her. She always has to pack extra towels. We drive the windy lanes to the sea with both of them getting travel sick as they are so excited.
Some have suggested I have mental deficiencies in doing this. Why the disapproval? Puppets make me anxious. I get carried away on the two penny slots. A giant plastic tent enclosed with hundreds of small, sugar filled children can frankly, be terrifying. Last year I ate two much candy floss and had to pedal round on the family bikes 174 times.
To see a white haired, five foot older woman peddling furiously and screaming ‘faster!’ to her thirty year old granddaughter with a six year old strapped in the front of a pedal car, holding handbags, in hysterics is a sight to behold.
So, why go?
Family focused is a good descriptive of Butlins. There is round the clock on stage entertainment in the Skyline pavilion; colorful live show after show, music and songs that your kids will sing for weeks. Laughing, crying and spilt drinks. The redcoat staff do make me feel like I am getting old (as they all seem to be twelve) but they are all very child friendly and beloved by the kids. A fairground, play areas, workshops, crafts, cinema, sports and bowling are available. As is a Crèche and nursery activities.
There is golf, go karts and a large water park. There is always a queue for the pool but my Nan can’t swim so we don’t go. Downside, some of these activities cost extra and you can burn a hole in your pocket if you are not careful. There was a slight incident where last year I had to mountain rescue my grandmother from the helter-skelter. It is a place for pictures. I am always behind the camera but always smiling. What time of year you go will make a difference, school holidays can be busy and loud. Think Jurassic park but with toddlers and more carnage.
It’s all about the chalet.
Accommodation has evolved since I was little, though some of the older cabins do look a tad jaded. If you want something new and fresh they offer a pastel toned West Lakes Village. I have heard good things. Being a creature of habit Nan requests the same apartment in the ‘Silver’ flats. I think that was the posh pick in her day. Kitted out for self-catering what we get is basic, but that’s what you expect for the price. It doesn’t pretend. There have been a couple of ‘cleanliness’ occasions where we have had to ask for clean sheets etc but queries are responded to quickly. My Nan and little boy sleep alongside each other side by side in little single beds, they wake me whispering in the morning. Most of the places to stay are a short walk from the turreted white tent that spikes the Minehead horizon. I would suggest you ask for a place that is not situated right on the main paths as otherwise from 7 am to 11pm there will be a constant flow of voices.
Food wise we go all-inclusive and brave the buffet. There are always choices children will like and you help yourself to the amount. It is not gourmet but it is hot and I don’t have to wash up. A win for most parents. Children like to see how many puddings they can eat and have hot chocolate for breakfast because they can. I would say if you have food intolerances you may be more limited in choice. There are shops on site and restaurants for those who choose, though they are often busy. Busy can equate to messy. Think dinner school hall.
One of my favourite things is that the site is a ten minute walk to the seafront. The beautiful beach is large and wide, offering a moment of peace from the bright lights.
The years haven’t dampened my grandmother’s love of the place, some things have changed and others have stayed just the same. There is a picture of toddler me standing alongside wooden solders clutching my Nan’s hand and I have the same picture of her with my son. He often complains when made to pose but I want to capture the moment. The chaos, sticky hands, vats of chips are things I hate, but the pictures and times together. Irreplaceable. Priceless.
How lucky we both are to have her in our holidays in our lives. Time won’t grant us this forever. I don’t think I could ever go without her.
Thank you for the memories. See you next year. I hope.
What are your feelings on Butlins? Have you been, did you and your children love it or hate it?