Memories of My Staycation Hell

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Who needs Cancun when you've got Cornwall on your doorstep? That's David Cameron's new motto. But will a British holiday put a smile on your face? Not according to these cautionary tales


Armando Iannucci, satirist



Saunton Sands, Devon


We went away about five years ago during the only week in a very hot summer in which it poured down constantly.

It felt like it lasted five years but I think it was about seven days. I just remember being very wet and going on a very long drive to Ilfracombe Aquarium – which everyone else had decided to do too, making it such a slow drive – and when we got there it was just two tanks of fish in a room. It had been highly recommended by a friend.

My main memory of it is the hotel. All you could do there was go on the beach, but the beach was inaccessible because of the gales and the storm, so the hotel put on some entertainment. I remember my son shouting out during the clown's act "But you're not funny," and everyone sort of agreeing with him. We had some great holidays in Wales, but there is always a risk, so I think it taught us to never go anywhere where the holiday revolves solely around the beach.

Louis de Bernières, author

Rhossili Bay, Wales

Sometimes the worst is actually the best. We went on a family holiday to Wales when I was a young teenager. This was near Rhossili Bay, near the Gower Peninsula. I bought a bag of chips from a van and I was just tucking into it when a wild horse stuck its head over my shoulder and ate them. What should have been the worst thing – but which I actually found quite funny – was that my parents and my two sisters were in a caravan but there wasn't room for me, a mere boy, so I had to be in a tent outside and I shared it with a family dog. It was a golden retriever that would go out all night – presumably shagging – and it would come back filthy and stinking, and this doggy smell filled the tent up. And the worst thing was that he did these awful dog farts all night. But having said that, I really enjoyed it. It should have been a bad memory but it isn't.

By far the best thing I remember about that holiday was one night when there was a full moon and it was really quite warm, so my mother took us children out and we surfed by moonlight. It was absolutely wonderful, one of the great experiences of my life I think.

Will Self, author

Various places in England

My parents had a notably stormy marriage and all the outdoor skills of Marcel Proust and Odette De Crécy – so perhaps taking my brother and me, when we were small, on a camping holiday had to be a mistake. In the event, the tent was too small, my parents rowed, and my father repaired in the bubble of his own solipsism to a local hotel. Actually, I don't remember being unduly upset at the time – it's just the way that these memories become layered over the years with accretions of bitterness. A bit like England itself.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder and director, Kids Company

Assorted places

We work with very disturbed children who have a lot of violence in their backgrounds, so we like to take them away for a proper holiday. Now we make special arrangements but, unfortunately, in the early days we would go along to the same holiday places as other people. Invariably the camp-owners, or whoever, would complain and end up chucking us out half-way through the holiday – sometime even in the middle of the night. It was terrible! It is the same at the theme parks. We're very lucky now because people will give us their space and we organise our own camping. I have some children at Sting and Trudie Styler's house at the moment. They have animals and Trudie Styler is really, really brilliant with the kids. It's lovely.

Esther Rantzen, journalist and broadcaster

The New Forest

My family tends to go to the New Forest where we have a cottage. One particularly distinctive trip was when, as children, my sister and I got stuck in a bog. They are just like quicksand, seemingly bottomless, and the pigs wallow in them. Anyway, we had to be pulled out by one of the "commoners", who are the people who herd the pigs. About 50 years later I returned with my daughter and a party of her friends. They got stuck in a bog too! One of the girls lost a welly. It was sucked completely under. We all had to run back to the cottage – this poor girl hopping along – and dry off. It was quite an adventure, though I've heard them since describe it as "the best party ever".

Jilly Cooper, author

Porthleven, Cornwall

I haven't been away for years and years and years, but we did go on one holiday after the war in 1948. It was our first holiday, and we went to Porthleven in Cornwall. It was terribly cold and the first dinner we had was particularly bad fish so we were all ill, and then my father, to cheer me up, went and bought me a pony. It was a lovely pony called Rufus, but when we got home I rushed into the field to welcome it and it bit me. It was an ungelded horse so it had to be taken away and put off to stud. It was a disastrous holiday.

Tamara Ecclestone, television personality and model

Brighton

I went to Brighton for a weekend with some friends and we took the last room in this hotel, which we thought would be quaint. When we got up to the room, we realised it was themed – Las Vegas style! Our bed had this great big heart over it and the bathtub was in the middle of the room. Whenever we got in it, the room would flood. We tried to get put as much as possible but it was freezing. We were stuck eating outside this restaurant, shivering away and trying to pretend it was the South of France. It was a complete disaster – and not what we expected at all. On the whole, I tend to go abroad.

Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner

Cornwall

Last August, I combined a campaign speaking tour in Cornwall and Devon with a few days' holiday. It was supposed to be summer but I spent most days shivering on the beach, peering into mist-hidden valleys and sheltering under trees to escape the torrential rain. I like time for contemplation, but this was sheer boredom and frustration. However, I did get some perverse satisfaction in eventually finding The Hurlers stone circle in the summer fog on Bodmin Moor, despite only six feet of visibility.

Harriet O'Brien, travel writer and author

Youth hostelling in Cumbria

In the early 1980s a group of friends and I wanted to have a great adventure. We hardly had any warm clothes and it poured down with rain for a week. We took a bus up to Cumbria and we were forced to sit inside, cold and miserable, in youth hostels. We were assigned tasks by the hostel staff to clean loos and halls, which was pretty grim. It was supposed to be our first experience of exploring the world but we ended up thinking the world wasn't such a great place. Finally the sun came out and we realised what we'd been missing. In hindsight, I wish we'd gone somewhere sunnier; it wasn't the fault of anything other that the great British weather. You can rectify problems due to mechanical failure; but that certainly wasn't possible there.

Emily Woof, actress and author

Cotswolds

I went to stay at a nice hotel in the Cotswolds and on arrival noticed that the place was overrun with dogs. We realised that the hotel had some sort of tag-line saying "all dogs welcome" so everyone had brought them on their trip. British people love their dogs, don't they? I've got nothing against dogs but there were about twenty of them running around this small hotel.

Every single sofa and surface was covered in dog hair – the meal times were horrible. But I don't mind British holidays: I like the Lakes and Cornwall. The weather can be a bit miserable though.

Bill Oddie, naturalist

The Scilly Isles

I used to love going to the Scilly Isles for bird watching, and every October the Isles become Mecca for bird watchers because there are so many rare ones there. In the 1980s a bunch of us would go down there with walkie-talkies, tipping each other off about good spots. Everyone would island hop on boats, racing after the wildlife. I decided to just stay on Tresco island because I was fed up with dashing all over the place with the crowds; it was too stressful. All day, people were trying to get in touch with me, saying I was missing something amazing.

Eventually I backed down and decided to join everyone for the day, going all over the place, and it was the most miserable day; it was so packed with people all jostling to see birds and we kept missing things. I left the Isles the next day, I was so fed up. And I've never been back for the October bird-watching season since. It just got a bit much.

Alexander Armstrong, comedian

A mile away from home in Northumberland

Usually when we were growing up we would go to Ireland, but when I was 12 or 13 we couldn't because of the Troubles. Instead my dad went and bought a big, family-sized tent and we went camping. Except we only went about a mile away from home. My parents brought a load of books, and all the money they saved went on things like nice food and trips to the cinema. So, although it didn't get off to the best start, I suppose it could have been worse! In the end, it was all quite fun.

Anne Robinson, television presenter

Manchester

Years ago I was convinced to go on a barge holiday down the canals of Manchester by my then-husband. It was awful. I was promised five-star restaurants, and, of course, there are no five-star restaurants.

We had the dog with us as well and at one point it ran off and almost got killed on the motorway. On top of that it rained the whole time. I holiday in the Hamptons now.

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