We’ve arrived, safe and well, here in Newquay, Cornwall. Rita has been running for 4½hrs, drove well in excess of 200 miles and all in one straight run, without a break.
I feel relieved, it was 100 miles into the journey before I relaxed, stopped listening out for unusual rattles or disturbing engine noises and just enjoyed the drive. I’m not sure why I was so worried, perhaps I’ve just been waiting for something to go wrong. A good long journey though, has built up my confidence in the old girl.
We headed south along the M5 to it’s conclusion at Exeter. I was perhaps over cautious for the majority of this leg of the route, keeping a steady pace and seeing most traffic including many HGV’s passing by me. I’m not yet sure how far I can push her in terms of cruising speed, so we pretty much stuck to 55mph. As we ate up the miles I found myself more concerned with spotting other campers travelling in the opposite direction than any worries I had about our potential fate. I quickly gave up waving at the modern VW Transporters. Their owners don’t appear to have bought into the ‘VW family’ ethos, so enthusiastic waving rarely gets reciprocated. I found the non VW holidaymakers, those usually driving large white motorhomes, much more likely to wave and smile. As we headed off the motorway I noted I hadn’t seen a single T25 yet.
Motorway done, the A30 guides us the vast majority of the rest of the journey. As we skirted around Dartmoor we encountered long steep gradients, Rita forced to struggle up the inclines in a low gear. I found myself bombing downhill trying to build up enough speed to take on the next climb! I love the leisurely driving pace but she does feel terribly under powered on these demanding hills. Rita is equipped with a 2ltr twin carbed petrol engine and I wonder how on earth people get on with a 1.6ltr lump in the back? Rita soldiered on heroically and regardless of the hills we arrived at our destination.
By the time we had reached Newquay, the ‘camper count’ was as follows: Countless t4’s & 5’s, 4 bays, 2 split screens and just a solitary dark blue T25. The owner of which was another non-waver, perhaps it’s just me!
An enormous sign accompanied by flags flapping in the breeze indicate we have arrived at our pre-booked campsite. Hendra is a huge, 5 star family holiday park, offering just about every camping option available. Accommodation here comes in the form of static mobile homes, from the luxurious through to the basic, camping pods, touring pitches and grass areas for those sleeping under canvas. The glossy brochures I received upon booking indicate everything on site: shops, nighttime entertainment, swimming pools, kids clubs, arcades and eateries. It’s advertised as the full family holiday experience. Rita has been bought for more authentic camping, and I look forward to many road trips, but just as many memories are made on the family holiday and Rita will play her part in these too.
Hendra Holiday Park as you’d expect isn’t your ‘secluded get away’. For the ‘family’ orientated holiday though, it’s won just about every award going. This is going to be camping: five star!
Hendra Holiday Park, Newquay, Cornwall, TR8 4NY T: 01637 875778
At reception we’re given a warm welcome by smart, professional staff. A map of the site is handed to me along with various park passes and leaflets advertising local attractions. Camping areas are segregated into ‘fields’, of which there are 20, each given a name from various different tree species. I’m told our pitch is on ‘Palm field’, so keen to set up I jump back in the van and head over to it. The park roads are easy to drive, wide and smooth, obviously designed for maneuvering the row upon row of near identical white caravans. I come across our pitch number situated at the end of one such row, it’s a grass pitch nestled beneath some large trees and very generous in size. It has electric hookup plus both mains and grey water facilities. I try to find the flattest possible area and kill the engine when I feel the van is level.
I’m aware pitching up is often considered a stressful part of camping so wonder if Rita and I will have our first argument! However, the awning goes up pretty easily if I’m honest. The instructions provided aren’t great, but it really isn’t too difficult to see how it all goes together. It takes just under 25 minutes and I’m happy with it. There is an option of a small tent inside too, however, requiring only extra living space, that goes unused. I have a flagpole I’m hoping to set up, so I wish we weren’t so uncomfortably close to the tree line. The park’s busy, every pitch seems to be occupied so I don’t think asking to be moved is an option. I manage to erect it anyway and we’re flying our county flag! This brings a little piece of home with us and should give us a good focal point when it comes to locating Rita later on. Should any of the littles become separated from the group they’re told to look out for our flag.
All set up, we head out to see for ourselves what this park has to offer. After all, this isn’t a place that is simply charging for the use of their fields. Four nights, Monday ’til Friday has set me back a whopping £200+ so it’d be madness not to make full use of all facilities. The weather doesn’t look fantastic, ever unreliable even in August. There’s a stiff wind with dark clouds carrying the threat of rain.
As we stroll back towards the entrance there is a cluster of buildings which appear to be the main ‘hub’ of the park. First one we come across is a Nisa mini market. This little place is a bit of a tardis, selling everything from daily essentials to novelty items and holiday nic nacs. It’s perfect if you have forgotten to bring something from home but beware: everything is sold at a site premium. I pick up a small pack of cider along with a few treats for the kids to take back to the van. I’ll source a local supermarket with ‘everyday’ prices tomorrow for any supplies we require. Just around the corner are two little eateries: A traditional fish and chip shop along with a pizza restaurant. Neither are open yet although I can smell the chips cooking and plan to pop back later, a chip supper being the staple ‘English Holiday’ treat.
Down some slabbed steps we reach the parks ‘epicentre’. There’s an arcade to the right hand side and what looks to be the clubhouse up a path to the left. These sandwich a cafe style restaurant with a further arcade attached to that. There’s a sign for the swimming pool along here too but not wishing for the kids to see this yet I quickly guide everyone into the nearest of the arcades. It’s noisy and expensive, the flashing lights and British nostalgia draw you in and your money out.
These places wouldn’t be the same without an arcade to rinse out every penny from your pocket. Anyway, I think this is what all those 2 pence pieces were really made for…
With resources diminishing far too quickly for day one, we head outside where the promised rain has begun to fall. Options limited we pull our hoods up and brave the deluge to make our way back to Rita. The awning has paid for itself already as far as I’m concerned. Wet coats are able to be stripped off and we’re towel dried before we have to climb back into Rita. She’d be soaked inside by now without it, a benefit I hadn’t foreseen until the present situation arose.
‘I’m bored!’ What feels like the second minute back at the van I hear it for the first time! But me? I’m not bored. Listening to the rain bouncing off Rita’s roof, I’m not bored at all, it’s lovely, I could chill here for hours… I bribe the kids with a promise of the chippy tea and get out the playing cards, I’ll add some games to my list of ‘must haves’ for the next trip. By the time I head over to the chip shop the rain has relented and the only storm clouds are the ones hanging over me on my return. The parks over inflated prices stinging me as I grudgingly part with the best part of £40 for 3 meals!
We eat. We’re shattered. We bed down for the night.
The morning offers much needed sunshine, all is wet but sun kissed. The air is fresh. It’s as if the World has had a wash. We head out to the shower blocks to freshen up and have a wash of our own. The blocks are large and heated. Although busy, there are plenty of available sinks with large mirrors. The wash areas and floors are soaking wet and I have to move along a couple to find one that’s decent. I think this is more to do with the high volume of campers than a lack of cleaning, so I’ll be getting down here a little earlier in future. The showers, included in your price are lovely and hot, so it’s a pleasure to freshen up.
Back at the van I prepare breakfast. Table and chairs are set up outside in the morning sunshine. The traditional kettle whistles as it boils and the bacon spits and sizzles in the frying pan. The table in the van is pulled out and a little production line of sandwiches are dished out to my hungry campers.
Favourite Van moment: Cooking in the van and dining Al fresco. A simple pleasure that can’t be beaten.
With the weather being a little more kind we head for the beach…
Fistral beach is a short drive from the park. Including finding a place to park up, it has only taken 15 minutes. I’m surprised by how easily I manage to find a spot for the van, probably helped by the ‘average at best’ weather, we have no problems at all. The beach is vast, with golden sand and clean looking water. It’s no exaggeration to say that this part of the British coastline will rival anything abroad. Unlike many foreign beaches, there is a strong presence from the Coastguard. It feels safe, and with spotlessly clean sand, seems a fantastic beach for children. There are at least a hundred surfers enjoying the rolling waves. If this is ‘your thing’ or even if you just want to have a go, then this place ideal.
Despite the odd rain shower, the kids manage to build sand castles, splash in the waves and consume plenty of ice cream. We spend the entire day here before heading back to the campsite. It’s time to make use of those wonderful hot showers once again and wash the beach from us.
Wednesday comes and the weather has improved still further. Our worries of the holiday being a total washout proving premature. With a little warmth and sunshine comes the opportunity for further outdoor cooking. This time it’s the turn of the fire pit.
I get the fire raging for a while before cooking up enough food to feed half the campsite. It smells and tastes delicious although there is far more than anyone can actually eat.
Definitely a case of: ‘Eyes are bigger than your belly!’
The day is spent on site giving the kids the chance to make use of their bikes. These we’re a tight squeeze, taking up the whole floor of the van during the journey down. I’ve considered a bike rack but I’m not sure if I like the look of them attached to the van. It’s the summer holidays and the site is overflowing with children, mine soon make friends so I hardly see them for the rest of the day.
What a difference a day makes… Thursday brings us torrential rain. My plan to get off the park and see some sites thwarted, I decide the kids will have a more enjoyable time at the swimming pool. There are two pools at Hendra: Indoor and out. The outdoor pool is free to use, however, rather annoyingly there is a charge for the indoor pool, albeit subsidized for park residents. The outdoor pool is large and looks largely shallow. I would presume it’s unheated, although with the weather as it is I can’t authenticate that. There are the odd brave souls splashing about but I’ll definitely not be one of them! It seems the vast majority of holidaymakers have similar plans to us in this weather. The result being the pool has reached capacity and there is a long queue waiting to enter. The kids have been promised, and there in their swimming togs in any case, so I’ve no choice but to stand and wait. Luckily the wait is surprisingly brief, £9 later and we’re in. The pool is large and warm, aimed toward play rather than actual swimming. There are water cannons and flumes and it’s great fun, regardless of the weather outside. We have a fantastic time.
My shirt for the night remained crease free, a rarity whenever I had been camping previously, well done Rita!
With it being our last night, we get dressed up for the clubhouse. Rita, being a camper of Westfalia design, is equipped with a small wardrobe (something on discovery I could scarcely believe in such a small van!). This means my shirt for the night has remained crease free, a rarity whenever I have been camping previously, well done Rita!
TITAN – The World Famous Robot – is the night’s entertainment. It’s a humorous and engaging show, the children in the audience (and most of the parents too) totally captivated by it. Below is a link to the 2016 performance. (I didn’t get a video myself, I’m still one for actually watching a performance, not watching the world through a phone screen, I’m OLD SKOOL!)
Our last night in Cornwall is a great one, I’m pleased to find that my own personal ‘little local delicacy’ is available at the clubhouse on tap. I love a Good old Cornish Rattler, a local cloudy cider (or cyder as they call it). They even have the flavoured version, a particular little guilty pleasure of mine!
I’m wet. I’m muddy. I’m miserable. I want to go home!
It’s Friday, and it’s time to pack up and say goodbye to the place. We’re up early to ride the park’s land train. We’ve seen it ferrying people around the park on previous mornings and my youngest is desperate to meet the park mascots (two hippo characters by the name of Henry and Henrietta), who wave from it on their way past. So I’m pleased we’re able to do this before we depart. Back at the van everything packs away neat and tidy, until it comes to taking down the awning. I’ve been pushing the thought to the back of my mind however I’ve been dreading this task. As pleased as I have been to have it all week, this is the downside. It’s wet and it’s muddy. It will not go back in the bags provided for love nor money. Luckily I have the trailer, what would I have done without it? I cram it in there, groundsheet, poles, pegs the lot, and stretch the tarpaulin over it to keep everything in. It’ll have to do, I’ll sort it properly back at home. I look at my hands and then down at myself. I’m wet, I’m muddy. I’m miserable. I want to go home!
Despite my predicament and rather than head straight for home, when we leave the campsite we pay a visit to Dairyland. Although I have no time to shower, I’ve popped on a fresh top and bottoms to make the day more comfortable. Dairyland ensures our final hours aren’t wasted. For under a tenner the kids get to meet some animals, climb on some farm equipment and play in what they call ‘The Bull Pen’ which is a indoor play area. I’m not sure you could make a ‘full’ day out of the place, but it certainly did us for a couple of hours.
Dairyland Farm World – Summercourt, Newquay, Cornwall, TR8 5AA
Call the farm! 01872 510246 email@example.com
The journey back home can only be described as horrendous. A combination of roadworks and Friday traffic mean the ‘A road’ journey back up to Exeter is one of long queues and numerous delays. Rita spends long periods stationary or at best crawling forward. I’m worried about how an Aircooled engine such as Rita’s is coping with it. As the hours tick by, several times I think about pulling over to switch her off and let her cool. But with no sign of the traffic situation easing and for fear it will only get worse as the hour gets later, I continue on. Eventually we reach the foot of the M5. It’s been the journey from hell, now we can hit the open road! My sadness about leaving for home has long gone, I just want to hurry back. The joy of reaching the M5 proves to be a false dawn. There are 23 Junctions to pass before we can head up the slip road and at every single one traffic backs up and we grind to a halt. Every. Single. One. We finally arrive home just before 8pm, Rita’s been running for a little over 7hrs! Yes, you read that right, do not adjust your screen! 7 long, tiresome hours. If Rita feels as tired as me, she’s very tired indeed. The journey was such that although I love Cornwall, (I’ve been many times previously without too much issue) I’ll think twice about heading that way again. Maybe in the future, I’ll arrange to stop over about half way. I’ll unpack tomorrow…
As with all great relationships, I’m falling in love, over and over again…
Well, Rita, My 34 year old Volkswagen has done what she does best. She’s provided home for the best part of a week. Not only that, she drove us there safely, ferried us around and brought us all the way back home again. She has provided warmth, shelter and kept us all fed. Her reliability has been tested over and above what I would previously have been comfortable putting her through. She has passed it all with flying colours. As with any great relationship, I’m falling in love, over and over again.