A cost-effective and well-organised way to try a range of family activities. Perfect if you enjoy spending time together as a family, sleeping in a family dorm and eating school-style dinners in an ex-prison.
What we loved: The timetable! The canoeing, the obstacle course, singing round the campfire (especially the Jedi Knight / Darth Vader version of the fast food song), archery and evening Bingo.
Tips: Take your own healthy snacks!
So, our O is for Outdoor activity family holiday, otherwise known, in this case, as PGL. We never did find out exactly what PGL stands for (Parents Get Lost, possibly, or Please Give Lollies?) but if you’ve grown up in the UK you’ll probably have a pretty good sense of what it’s all about: hordes of children and teenagers doing all sorts of dangerous and exciting things and sleeping in dorms full of bunk-beds as far as the eye can see.
I never did a PGL holiday as a child, but I did come close in a cheaper, independent version in Devon with my best friend Petre. What I mostly remember is the lovely instructors (one was called Les, I think?) and attempting to abseil my ‘thunder thighs’ down a cliff-face without damaging my beloved stretchy pin-stripe jeans. Or making a fool of myself in front of Could’ve-Been-Les.
Why did we choose PGL? We were after activities we could tackle together as a family, without spending a fortune (we ogle the international family adventure holiday brochures endlessly — in fact, I could probably list the itineraries of a fair few of them — but we always baulk at the cost) and with the support of leaders and groups to help with the often awkward logistics of having slightly too many children for man-to-man marking and the range of abilities/ attitudes contained within our 3 kids’ 6 year 2 gender span.
PGL delivered, mostly. We drove to one of their bigger centres specialising in family holidays, Borreaton Park. Not all of their places are family-friendly or open so late in the season (we went in October half term, so possibly iffy weather-wise) but Borreaton is HUGE with plenty to do in all weathers it seems. Our dorm was great for our needs — 6 bunk-beds plus an en-suite in a wooden cabin next to the forest. Best of all, we got a timetable which included all sorts of activities we didn’t have to arrange ourselves (which is good, as we have bad form in this area and tend to get very lazy about sorting things to do):
Camp-fire, smores and songs
Funnily enough, the least exciting options proved to be the most fun. Attention-grabbers, such as the high ropes and the zipwire, were actually a slight let-down, I think perhaps because these carry the biggest health and safety fears for the large groups they normally work with, so there was a lot of waiting (in the cold) and not a lot of adrenaline rushing about on the headline acts.
The obstacle course, archery and canoeing were the surprise hits for us. Great instructors, plenty of fun, some games, lots of singing and a little learning in a small group.
I thought the PGL leaders were generally really good at working with their groups, and the canoeing leaders in particular were brilliant at adding fun to what was basically rowing a small way up and down a tiny river.
I think we will all remember Raft Club. We are not allowed to talk about it (what happens in Raft Club stays in Raft Club) but let’s just say there were some VERY WET parents in those canoes. Me included.
There were some downsides. It’s an ENORMOUS site, so a) it’s sometimes hard to know where you are, and b) there is lots of walking from one thing to the next — usually fine, especially if we were singing — but we did have the odd grumble.
Also, although we were prepared for basic lodgings and meals, everything about the dining room was depressing. Sorry to report the food was really rather dire; I know triple-cooked chips are all the rage, but these chips had been cooked many many more times than should be allowed, in another geological period altogether, and the ‘orange juice’ was honestly unrecognisable. With hindsight, a kettle in the room and some pot noodles or pre-packed picnics would have been an improvement.
If anyone with an ounce of food / business sense living near Borreaton Park is reading this, my advice is: Set up a cafe /shop selling decent coffee, recognisable drinks and picnic food just outside the perimeter fence. It will do REALLY well with parent escapees.
The kids didn’t seem to mind though (years of school dinners have trained them well) and Garry and I studiously kept our thoughts to ourselves. At least, we figured, we were avoiding the regular meal-time issues caused by more exciting / nutritious options. After all, what’s a weekend of food fried with an inch of its life in the grand scheme of things, when you’ve tackled challenges together and won a lot of shop vouchers in Bingo?