8th May 2019
Finally, as the evenings started to get lighter and we entered the final days of March, all my attentions started to shift to the annual rugby tour to Holt, Norfolk with my boys.
Every year the entire junior section of Maldon rugby club from Under 7’s to Under 12’s venture to Norfolk for two days of activity and no sleep, followed by a rugby festival on the Sunday. For me this also signifies the first caravan trip of the year, as we always stay on for a week and have a family break at the picturesque Kelling Heath.
This time there was a difference. And no, I don’t mean the sun would be shining. Don’t be silly, this is England. This year our trusty caravan was not going, instead we had a Bailey of Bristol Phoenix 650 attached to the car and of course, bikes on the car roof.
The Phoenix 650 all hitched up and ready to go
Whilst the players were engaged in some team building activities, I took the opportunity to pop off and set up the caravan and awning in preparation for the following day when my partner Gemma and eldest son would be arriving.
What I hadn’t taken into account was that this was a brand-new van to me and to be honest I couldn’t remember where I had placed everything when I packed up. The one thing anyone who is a caravanner will resonate with is how everything has a place, and it’s always funny when you have a nose around someone else’s van.
You will always find yourself making comments like, “Oh you store that there, I keep mine under here”. After a short while the van was set and I retreated to our band of exhausted rugby players (and they hadn’t even played a rugby match yet, that was tomorrow).
As expected, the rugby tournament was cold and wet so after the tournament was over, we headed to the caravan to get dry and warm up. This is when we had our first introduction to the fantastic heating system in the Bailey caravan, and boy was it needed on that first day (once we had sussed the new digital control panel that is).
Ok, I have to admit it was made a lot simpler when Gemma read the instructions. Who knew they were there to guide you and make life easier?
It is funny, although you grow to love your old caravan and have so many good memories attached to it, there is nothing like having a new model and the fun of exploring all the new features. I think Gemma’s favourite was that it had a proper shower rather than a wet room, although she only persuaded me to fill and then empty the water containers on one occasion for her to enjoy a shower in the caravan.
It wasn’t long before the weather had cleared up, and the boys were off exploring with their friends. That is the beauty of Kelling Heath, acres to explore and ride their bikes around, and of course for most young children, the football pitch - the place where knees are grazed, and children argue whether the ball crossed the line or not. I don’t think there is a pitch or park in the world were the same arguments haven’t been heard for the past hundred years or more.
For us first night is traditionally pizza night. Always a great way to start the holiday, primarily because I hadn’t unpacked the BBQ yet.
The following morning the sun was shining and although there was a chill in the air, yesterday’s memories of running across a cold wet field to the shower block were a distant memory.
It wasn’t long before the boys were up, dressed, breakfast eaten (not forgetting “have you cleaned your teeth”) and then they were out into the great outdoors with their friends with not one mention of iPad, TV or any electronic device. This is when you are reminded why camping and caravanning is such a great way to holiday as a family.
This gave me time to set up the BBQ ready for the arrival of more friends and another 11 year-old to join the football match.
That evening, with headtorches on, we took all the children to the assault course. For them this is one of the highlights of the trip and something we would repeat every evening. Although only about ten meters into the trees, you really felt as if you were in the middle of the forest.
We enjoyed a number of walks around the surrounding heathland and wooded areas during our stay, although we did give in and let the children take their bikes. Much easier than trying to enjoy a peaceful walk in the countryside with children constantly complaining that their legs are aching. Taking the bikes was a win-win for everyone. They could ride off together and experience some freedom, then about 300-400m ahead they would stop and climb another tree so by the time we caught up they would all be up a tree looking down on us. That’s the thing about the great outdoors and the thing I remember most from my childhood, the sense of freedom and adventure you feel.
If you have never visited Kelling Heath before I can highly recommend it. Yes, the site is fantastic and amenities immaculate, but it’s the scenery and beauty that surrounds you, and you never tire of hearing the sound of the steam trains on the North Norfolk Railway as they pass through. Not sure who gets more excited about the trains - the adults or the children.
For me being away in the caravan always involves the BBQ and we had our fair share for breakfast, lunch and dinner come rain or shine, although my sacred space has been infiltrated by my 9 year-old old son Albert who loves to cook. Not sure I am ready to share the cooking tongs just yet!
Albert cooking on the BBQ outside the Phoenix 650
Another of my favourite times in the caravan is those rare occasions when the boys will sit still long enough and you can cuddle up on the sofa, in the warmth of the caravan with the sun shining through the window. Although as they are now getting older I may have to bribe them with sweets to sit down for more than five minutes.
Now a visit to Norfolk would not be complete without a trip to one of its stunning beaches, and as the sun was shining, we settled on Wells-next-to-the-Sea. Fish and chips in the town followed by a nice walk to the beach and then yes you guessed it, the boys played football on the beach as we sat and watched on. What a perfect day.
Football on the beach at Wells-next-to-the-Sea
I have to say this was one of our best caravanning experiences, children playing and enjoying the freedom of the great outdoors, good friends and great food. What’s not to love about being away in the caravan, even if you do occasionally have to run across a cold field to enjoy the showers.
We are really looking forward to more Bailey adventures this year. Next time we’ll be taking the kayak.