Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Sand Castles In The Sky

This summer will be my eighteenth annual visit to the backdrop of my dreams. It is not a place abroad where the skies are always blue, where the rain pours rarely and the sea is crystal clear. To you, it may not the prettiest corner of the world, but I built my happiest memories in the sands of Happy Valley and I will always be drawn to the red-sky nights, the historic walks and the easy rush of the tide in that small seaside town in Wales.

Caravan holidays are almost unheard of these days. So many families prefer the reliability of European weather, all-inclusive ready-cooked meals and foreign culture. However, to me, there are certain aspects of caravaning in Wales that injects magic into summer.

I cannot remember our family’s first visit to the holiday park as I was just a baby at the time, but as a child, every year on the eve of our adventure, my Mam and Dad would tell my sister and I stories of our first stay in a gas-powered van. It was a tradition that still excites me to this day, that flutters in my belly each year throughout the month of July, as I await to share the summer with my own little family.

It was six years before we could afford to take my son back to the place where I spent my childhood summers, but I always promised to share with him the family tradition. As expected, the little man fell in love with the little village as deeply as I had all those years ago.

It is the atmosphere of Happy Valley that I find enchanting. Barely a hour’s drive away from home, it feels like a world away from the ever-busy rush of the Valleys. Weekdays blur into holi-days, life’s problems wash away with the tide and every morning is a reason to smile. Caravan neighbours bid ‘Good-day’ in passing, every child is included in ball games in the park and it is customary to celebrate each night in the family friendly dance hall of the site pub.

Now that my son is getting older, I get dragged onto every fair ride. I hold on to him with all my strength and cherish each giggle of excitement he murmurs. He dares me to take him on rides that excited me as a child, and laughs at me for covering my eyes. We have just one ride left to share called Beach Party. It is a 360o-swinging pendulum of seats, which sways so high, it is visible right across the seaside. Each year I wait for him to grow to the required height to ride the attraction, I lose a little more confidence. Simply writing about it makes my legs weak.

The fair holds half price ticket nights on Tuesdays and Fridays and we all enjoy the flashing lights, loud music and ambiance as coach-loads of visitors fill up the seats of the attractions. The screams of happiness which echo around the bay are an unmistakable essence of the summer blend.

My partner also grew up with Welsh seaside traditions. Sharing those recollections with each other with a bag of chips on the seafront, watching our growing son running freely through the dunes, living out our memories, is sheer bliss.

I love waking up in the campsite to the smell of Marty cooking breakfast on the gas stove, planning the new day’s activities over the morning paper. We usually spend our days visiting neighbouring beaches, looking for castle ruins and strolling through markets. Last year, we collected dozens of local activity brochures and worked our way around the historical landmarks of the area, my personal favourites being Saint David’s Healing Well and the stepping stones near Ogmore Castle. Saint David’s Well took a full day to find, and was much closer to the campsite than we realised. We asked three locals, including a shop owner and a community police lady for it’s whereabouts, but they had never heard of the Well, nor the history behind it. We eventually found it in a winding country lane, covered in Brambles and discarded take-away menus. Built in the 12th century, echoing Celtic tell-tales of it’s powers to heal the sick, glowing in a ray of sunshine, the shame of it’s legend being forgotten only added to the rush of excitement of finding this hidden treasure.

Amongst my many loves of summers in Happy Valley are the arcades. At one point, everyday, we call in one of the many arcades for a flutter on a cuddly toy, a race on the car games, ten pin bowling and a round of pool. Every year, we come home with at least ten cuddly toys. Marty will spend a fortune on the grabbers and we never leave without a life-sized bear.

The heart of Happy Valley is the Blue Water Club. The dance hall is the land that time forgot. The same disco lights I chased as a child spin on the dance floor, chased by the new generation of holiday makers. There is nothing like sitting in the beer garden, watching the sun set on the camp site, singing along to the same tunes that blasted from the Blue Water Club in the 90s. The best night for entertainment always happens to be on the last night of our stay. It is the one night where everybody gets up on the dance floor, Mams, Dads, Aunties and Grans, and dances until closing time., very much like the end of Dirty Dancing. We all raise a toast to the next summer and set back for the final sleep of an amazing week.

Those seven days away from the norm, completely dedicated to my little family, is heaven to me. You can keep your busy airports, home-sickness, mosquitoes and t-shirt-tans. I’m happy making memories in Wales. :)

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