IT sounded idyllic: a cottage in the Devon countryside, surrounded by sheep and cows and just a short walk from a private beach.
© Image Bank
© Image Bank
We three families all had toddlers under two and hadn’t dared venture abroad – it is tough enough controlling our unpredictable offspring within the safe routine of home so who wants to throw a flight and an unfamiliar hotel into the mix?
The cottage was booked, the baby paraphernalia packed (how do those roof racks work?) and nippers bundled into car seats.
Four hours later, we pulled up to Chapman House, a huge 18th-century converted coach house and stables sitting snugly among grazing animals in the chocolate-box village of Fairy Cross – a 10-minute car journey from Westward Ho! on the north Devon coast.
Feeling like kids ourselves, we raced to park the cars and bundle inside the house to bag the best beds. There were plenty to go round: four bedrooms and a study meant only one of the little ones had to make do with sleeping in an en-suite bathroom and, since he was only one, we didn’t think he would mind.
Then we spotted the first hurdle. Our bedrooms and bathrooms were all on the ground floor, but the living areas were upstairs and guess who hadn’t thought to pack a stair gate? Being first-time parents, we hadn’t quite got all bases covered.
An elaborate chair hurdle was constructed and repeated at the other end of the vast living room, which had steps down to the kitchen/dining room.
The best moment of the day followed – unlocking the back door of the kitchen/diner, walking outside on to the balcony (complete with table and chairs) and catching our first glimpse of the amazing view that was ours for a week. As the sun slowly set over the lush Devon fields we saw Lundy Island shimmering in the distance and, beyond that, the Atlantic.
Feeling smug, we popped open the champagne, transferred the kids to the huge back garden where we took turns to take them on the swings, and put our feet up for the first time in… well, since the kids were born.
Gazing across the 50 acres of woodland and pasture, we spotted the secluded beach that was meant to be a 40-minute walk away. What we didn’t realise was that it was across pretty rough terrain which our buggies were not up to tackling. A spectacular coast path, across a chain of magnificent cliffs stretching along the Heritage Coast to Hartland Point, was also billed as an attraction in the blurb. But the kids meant that was a no-no, too.
On the first full day, we headed off to Westward Ho! The town feels like a cute throwback to the 1950s, with its ice-cream bars and tiny shops selling rubber rings and blankets. This was the first time the children would feel sand underfoot, and the minute we rolled the buggies around the corner to get a glimpse of the beach, all three protested they wanted to get out and into the sea.
Unleashed, the children thudded down the wet sand, squealing with delight, and screeched to a standstill in horror as the waves lapped their toes. Fortunately, they soon came round to the idea.
After a few hours of paddling, scoffing ice creams and looking around the shops, we headed back home for lunch. The kids had their power naps and we got time off for a leisurely meal and a bottle of wine.
That afternoon, and every subsequent afternoon, was spent playing with the animals that surrounded our cottage and generally mucking about close to home.
Mornings were devoted to forays to the Milky Way (a huge arena housing fairground rides, animal lectures for kids, ball parks and cafés), the Big Sheep (home to hundreds of animals and cute tractor rides) and sunning ourselves on beautiful beaches.
After five days of bliss, it was hard to imagine why anyone would leave the UK in search of a family holiday to remember. Who needs Torremolinos?