Center Parcs: A Winter Wonderland

Well I haven’t started 2013 very well have I?  It is nearly the end of January and there has not been an update since just after Christmas.  I must pull my finger out if I am going to top the 30 update mark for this year, especially since it is going to be a very busy year.  So what have we been doing this year?

January is usually about getting back into routine after the build up to and holidays around Christmas and this January has been no different.  The new Christmas toys have found their places among the other toys that the girls own.  Éowyn has returned to pre-school after the Christmas break and my work has returned to ‘normal’ after the foreign leagues’ winter breaks and the busy Premier League period.

The countdowns to the arrival of baguette number 3 and the move of my work’s premises are rapidly drawing to their conclusions and there is still a huge amount of work to do for both.  With the former in mind and the fact that I still have some days left from last year’s annual leave to use up we decided to take our last break as a family of four.  But where to go?

January in the UK isn’t usually the most inspiring of times and so we decided to head to Center Parcs at Longleat Forest,  The reasoning being that if the weather was particularly poor that there would be plenty of indoor fun with the sub-tropical pools being the biggest draw.  And so Monday we headed West to the Wiltshire/ Somerset border and the delights of Center Parcs.

We need not have worried too much about the weather because for a change the weather was typically wintry with snow lying on the ground.  That may sound like an oxymoron and I am not sure if I am the only one but whenever the weathermen forecast snow I get as excited as I did when I was a child.  I know that it is only crystallised rain but snow has the ability to make everywhere look pretty, especially when it decorates the denuded deciduous trees and covers the unkempt lawns of suburbia.  However it is amazing how poor the UK reacts to any lying snow.  The papers are full of the big freeze, blankets of snow and how public transport has ground to a halt.  Other countries must look incredulously at our ineptness.  Temperatures of 0ºC isn’t really a big freeze (OK, technically it is freezing – but only just), an inch of snow isn’t really a blanket (more a sheet) and because we don’t really experience these conditions very often (although they do seem to be getting more regular) it really isn’t worth the large scale investment in equipment to ensure we can completely cope (although I thought we coped a lot better this year than we have in recent years).

Fortunately there were a couple of days of little or no snow and although the temperatures had not crept high enough to melt the lying snow the roads were clear and so our journey across country was not overly affected by the snow.  When we arrived at Longleat we were greeted with a winter wonderland.  Center Parcs is set in a pine forest and the snow on the branches and on the forest floor made us feel like we were on a skiing holiday in Canada or Scandanavia, the wooden chalets adding to the effect.  We could not have picked a more perfect week to spend at Center Parcs.

For those of you that have never stayed (or even heard of Centre Parcs), it is a holiday park set among woodland with various sporting activities that you can get involved in.  There are swimming pools, boating lakes, horse riding, fencing, archery, tennis courts, badminton courts, squash courts, snooker tables, zip-wires, adventure playgrounds, bowling lanes, in fact nearly any sport that you care to turn your hand to.  The accommodation are multi-bedroom self-catering chalets (or villas as they call them) set so that you are not overlooked by your neighbours and, apart from unloading and loading, no cars are allowing in the complex, they must all be left in the car-park.  The breaks are Monday to Friday or Friday to Monday and so cars are only allowed on Mondays and Fridays.  It works well.  Each of the houses come complete with a log burner which really adds to the atmosphere when there a snowstorm blowing outside.  We hired a two bedroom villa (the girls shared a bedroom for the first time) for a Monday to Friday break.

You are not allowed into the villas until 1500 and the cars have to be back in the car-park by 2300 but you are allowed to park up and head into the complex on foot and take advantage of the amenities prior to check-in and so we did.  There seemed to be a complete rush to attempt to get the cars in at 1500 and we were not prepared to fight the wave and so wandered around until a little later before heading to the car park and moving in.

There was more snow Monday night and so the forest looked even more magical when we woke Tuesday morning.  Lucinda had a mum-to-be massage booked for Tuesday morning so she tottered off to the other side of the complex while I looked after the girls.  Half way between our chalet and the Aqua Sana Spa was The Pancake House and so we decided that it would be a good place to meet up after Lucinda’s treatment.  So after getting the girls wrapped up against the cold we headed out to explore.  However the exploration was not to last too long and we never got the pancakes.  Partway to The Pancake House we passed though the Village and in the Village there was a wishing well and pond.  Éowyn asked for some coins to throw into the wishing well and so both girls fleeced Daddy for some money (I had better get used to that!).  They threw the money in, made a wish and then asked for more to make another wish.  That did not work with Daddy and so the girls begun to play in the snow and headed off in two different directions.

Wary of the pond I told Éowyn to keep away and not to venture too close and she appeared to be heeding me.  Suddenly Amélie began to scream.  She was standing in an inch of snow shouting ‘Daddy, I’m stuck!‘  I turned to comfort her and try and explain that she was not stuck when I heard a splash and a scream.  Éowyn had obviously not been listening and had fallen into the frozen pond.   With my heart in my mouth I ran over a dragged her out.  She was soaked and shivering so I loaded them both into the pushchair and rushed back to the villa.  Fortunately the villa was very warm and the inferno-like towel rail had warmed our towels to body temperature (and probably beyond) so I stripped her and wrapped her in a bath towel to warm her back up.  As you can imagine I was a maelstrom of emotions but what it did highlight was the fact that neither of our girls can swim and so with the opportunity that we had at Center Parcs it was something that I wanted to remedy.

Center Parcs, Longleat Forest has a sub-tropical swimming complex with a number of different pools, with various slides and a wild water rapids.  One of the pools is a heated outdoor pool which with subzero temperatures and falling snow was quite magical. Éowyn thoroughly enjoyed it and it was the pool that she made a bee-line for each day.  The water was about 1.4 metres (4 feet or so) deep and so was considerably out of her depth and bedecked with arm-bands she made significant progress over the week going from clinging on to me with all four limbs to confidently treading water and doggy-paddling refusing to allow me to touch her while she was  swimming!  It made the holiday for Lucinda and me and was worth the money that we spent on the holiday alone.  We now just have to keep going and ensure that the confidence does not wane, because she thoroughly enjoyed the freedom it gave her and even in the big pool with the wave machine on full power she bobbed confidently telling me how much fun it was.

Amélie, did not enjoy the pools as much, she was like some kind of monkey-limpet (what do you mean there is no such animal?) clinging on to you with all four limbs.  We could occasionally prise her off us and get her to float, which she would happily do until she realised what she was doing then would return to the vice-like tetrapodal embrace.  We will have to work on that one!

With more snow falling throughout the week many of the outdoor activities were cancelled (the boating lake for instance was frozen) so were concentrated on swimming, soft play, air-hockey (Éowyn was particularly good at this) and eating!  Longleat Forest has a land train to save you some of the longer journeys and so we took full advantage and completed a circuit of the complex onboard the miniature locomotive (as Grandpa Pig would say).

So all in all it was successful mini-break with Éowyn gaining confidence in water and both girls sleeping from 1930 to 0730 each night.  Now whether that was because they were completely worn out with the day’s activities, the country air or because they enjoyed the comfort sharing a room (a precursor to something that they will have to get used to very soon) or some combination of all three we can not tell but we are not complaining.  As you can guess we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Center Parcs and I am sure that the fact that there was very little mobile phone coverage and that we got undisturbed sleep were factors it was probably more because there was a thick sheet (not quite a blanket) of snow on the ground throughout our stay which made it feel that we had gone on holiday somewhere magical.

Obviously there have been a number of other minor incidents over the last few weeks but I don’t wish to detain you any longer than necessary and you are only here for the photos but our thoughts are with Lucinda’s dad who had knee-replacement surgery on Thursday.  He was discharged on Saturday and all has seemingly gone well but he now has the healing process to go through but hopefully he will be back on his feet (literally) soon.

So you may have had to wait a while for it, but I have kicked off 2013 with an essay and a half and a promise not to leave it as long next time, now here are the photos and there are plenty on our Flickr page, feel free to peruse.

Peace and Love