At the risk of sounding very spoiled, here are some places I travelled to in the year before my son was born: Iceland, Canada, France, and the USA (Portland, New York and Los Angeles).
I did warn you I’d sound spoiled. I was the Entertainment Director of a glossy mag so some were the perks of jetting off for a celebrity photoshoot, one was my honeymoon and the others, well, they were because my husband and I like to travel, and we could afford to go.
Since then, trips have been very different. Some people are brilliant at hitching their baby into a papoose and holidaying in the same places they’ve always gone, laughing in the face of a flight with a fractious infant and letting them fall asleep in the buggy at 9pm as they enjoy tapas in Las Ramblas. Others (enter me), are slaves to the hard-earned routine that is simultaneously suffocating and comforting them and find the prospect of doing everything they’re already doing, but in a location where they don’t know where anything is, terrifying. So, while my job still involves some travel (I no longer view a long-haul flight, alone, as anything other than blissful), trips with my husband and son have been very much UK-based.
Which is how last October we ended up at Woburn Center Parcs. Anyone familiar with CP knows that it’s never cheap, but at least before you’re enslaved by the school holiday system it doesn’t leave you weeping over what would previously have amounted to an all-inclusive beach holiday or several nights in a sexy boutique hotel. And if you’re used to booking flights and accommodation separately, putting together your own itinerary, and generally feeling like an independent traveller , adjusting to the idea that you’re now a person who goes to glorified holiday camps in Bedford can be a bit of a shock. We enlisted our parent friends, who are also fine-tuning (read: lowering) their expectations as to what constitutes a holiday in a post-baby world (because for us, it’s no longer lie-ins, reading a book all day and pitching up at a restaurant every night).
In the run up to our holiday, we were sent information about the village, including advice to book our child into age-appropriate classes in advance (they’re not wrong; the toddler balance bike class sold out quicker than Hamilton) and we were spoon-fed information about what to do when we arrived and where to find everything.
I read it wondering, who am I, while simultaneously remembering my one trip to the Sherwood Forest Center Parcs as a kid was bloody brilliant.
And then we arrived, and it was so easy. There was no possibility of a terse exchange over how to find our (lovely, clean, modern) cabin in the dark because we were directed to it and could park outside while we unloaded the car. There were two bathrooms so both sets of parents could simultaneously bath our charges, and then put them to bed before coming back to the (again, lovely) communal living-dining room to have dinner and wine together. We spent the weekend riding around on bikes with a child seat on the back, along trails where everyone was looking out for children, and then hung out in the swimming pool dome before going to Leon (yes, Woburn Center Parcs has a Leon!) for lunch.
The best part? The children absolutely loved it. OK, there are things that could be improved (if you’re with friends I would definitely recommend – Leon aside – coordinating on groceries and taking it in turns to cook, because the restaurants are expensive and pretty average) and the constant ping of the arcades in the indoor areas is a migraine fugue waiting to happen. But you know what, I’m a convert. We’ll definitely be going back.
But not once he’s started school. We can’t afford it.
You can follow Helen on Instagram and Twitter at @itshelenwhitaker and @helbobwhitaker respectively. Helen Whitaker’s debut novel, The School Run, is out on August 22, and available for pre-order now.