What happened to all the cheap deals? We waited until the October holidays were near and then looked for all these marvellous late deals you hear about. Nothing! The Teletext ones looked good but when you phone up and they ask if you want to take baggage (well, yes) and get a transfer to your destination from the airport (duh!) they're just as dear as the rest.
So time was running short. We thought about Center Parcs, but the closer ones were all booked up and had put their prices up anyway, since the Scottish schools were off. However the new park, Woburn Forest, near Luton, still had some lodges and they were still quite cheap (for Center Parcs) so we booked up and prepared ourselves for a long drive.
On the Monday we headed down the M74 with all the other skinflint Scots, into torrential rain. Thankfully when we got there our lodge was a) warm, b) dry, c) lovely and d) huge. They'd run out of two bedroom ones so we rattled about in a 4 bedroom lodge. Cate appropriated all of the extra pillows to make a mountain retreat for her soft toys.
We had dinner at the American-style place, Huck's, got settled in and I took the car off to the car park, only to get lost on the way back in the dark and pouring rain, finding out that far from keeping the water out, my walking shoes seemed to be made of some sort of sponge material, which sooks up the water from the surrounding puddles to give my feet a bath.
The resort is brand new, featuring two main centres of activity: the swimming pool is a great big building, with some shops and restaurants too, while the plaza is another big structure, with sports halls, a spa and more restaurants and shops. The two are fairly close and everything is within ten minutes walk wherever you are, unless you can't read a map properly and wander off in the wrong direction in the pouring rain.
A special mention for the wristband system. We all got a wristband when we arrived and these have some sort of electronics sealed inside. They act as keys to your lodge, keys for lockers, and can even be charged up with cash to pay for food, etc. I was very impressed with these, they worked really well.
Anyway, the main point of a spell at Center Parcs is the activities for the kids. We booked up a fairly busy three days for Cate, but still had time to visit the pool each day. The pool is designed around play rather than proper swimming. It doesn't have a lap pool and was missing a nice warm jacuzzi, but did have a wave pool, lazy river, play area, river rapids (which go outside, fun in the rain) and a number of flumes. The best of these is the Tornado, which you tackle on a big, four-person inflatable. It seemed fairly tame the first time we tried it, until we got to the bit where we were thrown over a precipice and down into a huge bowl where we swung back and forward before shooting out of the end.
Here are the other activities we tried:
Cate and I did the Robin Hood and Little John archery, Cate armed with her mocking jay pin and Katniss hairstyle. We were fortunate that two other families didn't turn up, so we had twice as many shots as usual. The instructor gave us a few different games to play and Cate managed to win £3.30 pocket money from me, while I managed to get a maximum 3 chores for her to do.
This was a high up rope course. Cate was buckled on to a guide wire and made her way around, with rope bridges, wooden steps and zip lines to tackle. It ended with a great big zip line down across the lake to the far side.
We had a bit of time to spare, so Cate and I hired a canoe each, and paddled about the lake for a while. Not much to say here, though Cate did get rammed by a family in a big double canoe. We both managed to ship a little water, so my map got ruined, but I had the hang of the place by then anyway.
The sports plaza also contains a pottery workshop. Cate picked a dragon and painted it with the pottery paints provided. It was glazed and fired overnight and we picked it up the next day.
While the youngsters just got to look at some owls, Cate's age group had a chance to try some falconry. They got to hold a few of the birds of prey each, including the Chilean Blue Eagle, which looked a bit bored with the whole thing. The instructor then used a lure to show how fast the lanner falcon could swoop down on its prey, and finally the kids got to wear the glove while a bird flew from its perch (or random lamp post) over to them. We enjoyed this but there were quite a lot of kids taking part.
Back at the adventure area again, and Cate had the gladiator challenge. The competitors had to climb onto beams, up a wooden ladder, up a net, over a couple of tyres and onto the beam at the top. Everyone got a few shots at it and they had races at the end. One of the dads took part and got the best time, but had the worst rendition of "I am a gladiator, hear me roar!" among them all.
Our final day's schedule was a punishing one, starting off early with the aqua jets, a half hour session with an underwater photograph included. By now we were recognising some of the kids in the activities and Scottish accents were everywhere. After the pool opened to everyone we had our last visit there, enjoying the river rapids in the sunshine for the first time, and having our final fling down the Tornado.
We had 45 minutes of badminton in the sports hall. Not a lot to say here, but we had fun.
The plaza also has an indoor climbing wall, and we had a 25 minute session here. That was plenty for Cate to storm up the first few climbs and take a good few shots at the most difficult one at the end. We met a lady who had come down from Thurso, so we definitely weren't the furthest travelled in the place.
Finally, we were all booked up for laser combat. We were give laser rifles and head band targets to wear, split into teams and faced off in a number of combat situations. This was great fun despite our lack of talent at shooting. Most of the kids seemed overly familiar with Call of Duty and the like. Never mind, when they do an activity involving rolling a monkey in a glass ball down a mazy course, I'll show them a thing or two.
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