Cabin in the Woods: When Centre Parcs goes Blair Witch

After 30 weepy, wistful years, last week, I finally fulfilled a childhood dream [deep triumphant breath]: I made it to Centre Parcs.

Now you must understand, I’ve been dreaming of holidaying in this magical paradise since I was seven years old. I remember watching the first TV commercials in 1987, mesmerised by the prospect of a wondrous subtropical habitat encased in a glass dome somewhere in the British countryside. Three decades (and lots of whining) later, we managed to convince mum to go.

I couldn’t believe it was happening!!! My mother couldn’t understand why on earth I’d been hankering after a holiday in the woods when I’d spent my childhood jetting off to the likes of Florida, New York and the Caribbean (it’s all in the luck of the draw – my folks just happen to live in super-sexy, exotic destinations. I could just as easily have ended up summering in Bognor).

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – I had a cracking time, obviously, don’t get me wrong. But whilst “going home” with your parents is fantastic for your parents, as a kid, sometimes it didn’t always feel like much of a ‘holiday’.

For starters, there was no freedom – you couldn’t just wander off and drink pina coladas and go nuts. Only grown-ups were allowed to have that much fun. You had to be within arm’s reach at all times, and ALWAYS on your best behaviour.

And while our folks were always lovely and hospitable, it only follows that you’ll be subject to the regime of the household in which you reside – their wake-up calls, their bedtimes, their menus, their itineraries: their house = their rules (uuuuggghh, the pressure of trying not to break anything in someone else’s home whilst fighting that childlike urge to fiddle with every breakable in sight!)

Then there were endless house calls in the midday sun to catch up with billions of long-lost relatives when you could have been frolicking on the beach… And trust me, between the scorching sun and the sand flies, even the crystal waters of some of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches can begin to lose their shine (just ask my little sister about Grenada, circa ’94 – they ate her alive, lolll!!!)

Yes I loved playing in the sand and splashing in the sea – but I also wanted to scamper through the forest and sail a canoe! I wanted to go hunting for hedgehogs and cycling along trails of bark chip! Jamaica is fantastic but secretly, I still yearned for Centre Parcs!

You’d have thought some of the enthusiasm would have worn off in the 10,950 days it had taken us to get there. But as soon as the large wooden sign emblazoned with the dove of leaves rolled into view, my sister and I started squealing with excitement – we’d finally reached the promised land!!!! (The actual seven-year-old – my niece – was thoroughly underwhelmed. We’d only reached the car park, after all.)

Well, they say good things come to those who wait – and Woburn Forest exceeded my childhood expectations. For starters, there was…

The Bike

I really wish I could put into words how giddy I felt as I was handed the keys to my very own bike lock… I had a bike! One that I could ride further than the end of the road and back! One that I could pedal to my heart’s content without fear of being squished by the 133! One that I could secure outside my cabin at night safe in the knowledge that it would still be there – with both tyres and even the frame – when I woke up!!! What a joyous sense of freedom – I haven’t felt like that since the 80s! We were never really more than 10 minutes’ walk away from anything, but I wasn’t going to let that hold me back – I rode my bike EVERYWHERE: to the toilet, through the swamps – we were inseparable, and it was bliss. : )

The Pool

When I’d watched the commercial as a kid, the entire resort appeared to be encased under a giant glass lid, like some kind of life-sized snow globe. So I was somewhat disappointed to discover that it really isn’t – the epic greenhouse only encloses the pool. Which turned out to be the bit we all loved the most – we did it to death! The water was always nice and warm, the slides pleasingly ranged from tame to life-threatening, and the River Rapids were like tumbling round an outdoor washing machine on the ‘cotton’ setting. Fantastic.

The ‘Cabin’

Now I was more than ready for something a little ‘shabby-chic’, but our ‘cabin in the woods’ was anything but – no rickety treehouse shack here. It was like staying in a hotel – all that was missing was the butler (although you could order takeaway – close enough, right?). It had a log fire, dishwasher, flatscreen TVs and a Jacuzzi, as we accidentally discovered (top tip: find out what those weird silver buttons in the bottom of the bathtub actually do before you tip in half a bottle of Radox).

Honestly, we didn’t want to leave. Until one sunny morning after another good night’s kip, my mum called me outside to this delightful sight:

The staff said they’d never seen anything like it. Obviously, we kicked all the pebbles away and finished having a fabulous holiday. But then weird things started happening when we returned home.

First, I was splatted by an albatross on my way to work (I’d just got my coat back from the dry cleaners – I looked like I’d been pied). Then I got a mysterious rash that felt like someone had snuck in and scrubbed me with a cactus while I’d been sleeping. And once the top layer of skin had nicely burnt to a crisp over the course of two days, I began to peel like a potato. Literally. It’s just tearing off in strips, like Sellotape, and even makes the same crinkly noise as it goes. My butt cheeks feel like they’ve been crème brûléed, and I’m sat here shedding like a snake.

The doctor reckons it’s hives – my friend at work wondered whether it was the “Centre Parcs curse”. Whatevs. Either way, this poxy thing better wear off soon…

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