When I was a kid and a teenager, I spent all of my summers on holiday with Keycamp – camping for people who don’t like camping, really. You arrive on a campsite to find your tent or caravan all ready for you to move in, fully equipped with plates and wine glasses and pillows and a fridge and oven (well, grill and hob in a tent, oven in a caravan). The tents are big square things with separate bedrooms and solid-ish beds and mains electricity and the caravans are big rectangular things with two to four bedrooms and mains plumbing.
Of course, back in about 2013, Keycamp got swallowed up by its bigger and better-known sister – and my archenemy – Eurocamp, so gone are the blue-and-yellow tents and the couriers in the fleeces I coveted for so long. Of course, Eurocamp’s old red-and-green stuff is also gone, replaced with their spring green-and-yellow palette.
Earlier in the year, in a fit of nostalgia, my sister & I discovered that you don’t have to have children to book a Eurocamp holiday, so we invested in a special deal – a week in the shoulder season in the bottom-of-the-range Classic caravan, Eurotunnel included, for a ridiculous price.
So two weeks ago, off we went. We got to Folkestone with no problem but then we set the satnav to avoid toll roads in France and a journey prophesied to take two and a half hours to our campsite north-east of Paris took the best part of five hours to complete. Granted, we stopped at a supermarket to stock up on the all-important bread/Oasis/chocolate yoghurts/ham/cheese etc and then sat in the car to eat lunch but that only took an hour or so. The rest of it was following the yellow roads and the white roads instead of the thick red roads or the red-and-yellow roads.
Things have changed in the eleven or so years since I last went Keycamping. No longer do the couriers lead you to your caravan on their bicycles and show you around how everything works. You do still get a courier visit the next evening and they do still come round on your last evening and of course, you can always pop into reception (although reception on this particular site has changed from a caravan to a purpose-build wooden chalet). The plates and glasses haven’t changed. The caravans themselves haven’t changed – the evidence for this being a Keycamp ID sticker in the front door that we didn’t spot until the last morning as we were clearing up.
We settled into the caravan. From the moment we booked it, the entire extended family assumed my Dear Sister would have the master bedroom because “she’s used to having a double bed to herself” and I objected strenuously to this, to the automatic assumption. However, when we arrived, I discovered there’s hardly any room around the bed and opted for the twin room, where there’s plenty of space between the beds – indeed, I never accidentally punched a cupboard while attempting to get dressed. The downside is that the twin beds are incredibly narrow. No, I didn’t punch a cupboard but I did headbutt the walls frequently and you have to press yourself against the wall before starting the turning-over manoeuvre. A colleague suggested excitedly that I could use the other bed as storage and “just live out of the suitcase” but it’s been a while since I’ve been in the same place for a whole week and you bet I was unpacking. Outer layers hung up in the little wardrobe, t-shirts and trousers folded in the second cupboard, books and pens in the first cupboard, electronics in the top drawer and laptop in the second drawer, washbag and towel hung on the back of the door. Very tidy.
(It didn’t stay tidy. We knew there was recycling on site – somewhere – so we didn’t put any bottles or cartons in the bin but left them on the worktop until they became something I named Bottle City because it began to resemble a skyline. We found the recycling on our last evening and took it all there in an Ikea bag.)
I haven’t had a holiday like it in a long time, if ever. We went to Paris one day and Disneyland Paris another and we spent half a day at Pierrefonds, a local castle (where they happened to film BBC Merlin – and I’m watching the first episode right now, but that’s for another post) but other than that, we stayed on the campsite and because it was so unbearably hot from Monday onwards, we spent most of the time in the pool. We were familiar with the campsite because we almost always used to stay there as our last overnight stop on the way home but because we tended to arrive late and leave early, we’ve only once been in the pool before and we’ve never used any of the on-site facilities.
I had taken my camera case so we could take photos on the lake but it turns out they’re fine with cameras in the pool, which is unusual, so I popped the camera in there and we spent an hour or so being ridiculous.
I also booked us an archery session. Despite holding an instructor qualification, I don’t get to shoot very often and I wanted to play with a bow and arrow. There were five targets at three distances and because there were two little kids in our group, we got put on the middle target – which is far too far to hit with any accuracy with the little training bows. The kids’ dad was on the furthest target, with a shiny looking bow that turned out to be a 66 inch 18lb training bow – Odin only knows how he even hit the target with that. I could only hit the middle target by aiming at the curtain over the top rather than anywhere as low as actually at the target. At the end of the session (having left with two new games for my archery bag), I posed for a photo with one last arrow and put it straight in the gold of the closest target, so I can shoot when I’ve got a hittable target.
This campsite is based around a large-ish fishing lake, and has expanded that to two and a half fishing lakes and one paddling lake since I was last there, so one afternoon we hired a pedalo and spent a while on the water, as planned and with the camera safely in its case.
What I’d been most excited about, because I’m ridiculous, was eating my breakfast on the balcony – by which I mean the decking that has replaced the aluminium steps to the caravan. The picnic table & chairs now sit on there rather than on the pitch next to the caravan and the caravans are now widthways rather than lengthways so the pitches feel bigger and more open than they used to. So every morning we got up, walked to the campsite shop for fresh baguette and pastries, walked back (found that I’d completed two lights on my Fitbit before I’d even had breakfast, the campsite is so big nowadays) and had fresh bread and orange juice outside every morning – well, most mornings. One day it had been a touch rainy overnight and two mornings it was very rainy overnight so the table and chairs were wet and we had to eat inside. This is a bad idea because cutting a fresh baguette, if you’re not extremely careful (and I don’t have that sort of care in me), can make a lot of crumbs.
In terms of facilities, we self-catered most of the time but my Dear Sister visited the on-site takeaway twice and had half a roast chicken and chips on the first full day and a pizza on the last and we popped up there most memorably on Thursday evening for ice cream. Memorable because we were barely thirty seconds away from the takeaway when a huge rumble of thunder happened and twenty seconds later, the rain fell down. It’s hard to appreciate an ice cream when you’re scurrying half a mile in pouring rain while trying to eat it. I don’t drink and she does pretty rarely, so we didn’t bother with the bar and I don’t do food so we didn’t bother with the restaurant either and we didn’t even go to the cafe by the paddling lake because you have to book in advance.
Did we do anything else? No! Well, we walked around the site a couple of times and I went out on my own on Sunday evening and took photos of my feet by the lakes but other than that, I had a week of being properly lazy and getting slightly brown.
You may be glad to hear that we took the motorway back and made it in well under three hours.