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Memories of Childhood Vacations

Updated on March 6, 2019
Stella Kaye profile image

Stella has written a collection of childhood memoirs, some of which are travel related and others about growing up in Plymouth, Devon, UK

A day at the Zoo


Childhood Impressions

Vacation travel is something that most families take for granted nowadays and they are able to enjoy at least one two week break per year. Even the less affluent amongst us manage to save religiously for an annual holiday often cutting back on a few luxuries all year round to afford an inexpensive package deal to some exciting location.

Children now have a far greater experience of travelling in general and often take for granted the fact that they have the opportunity to visit those far-flung destinations that their parents could only dream of when they were young.

Fifty years ago, even a week at the coast was a rare event for many but I was lucky to have been brought up in a seaside location where summer vacation holidays were the norm for my family although we were on a perpetually tight budget. As the saying goes: ‘The best things in life are free’ and this is especially so if the sea is near to where you live. Until 1966 when I was eight, none of the vacations we enjoyed had involved boarding a plane and usually meant a short trip by road of no more than fifty miles or so.

England’s West Country where I was brought up has a plethora of unspoilt beaches and coves so there was always somewhere new to discover right on my Devon doorstep.

We would soon be on our way over the Tamar Bridge and into Cornwall, leaving the city of Plymouth behind us in search of all the best beaches. My father had no sense of direction even with a map but luckily wherever you go in Cornwall, sooner or later you end up at the coast.

Our mode of transport was old fashioned by today’s standards; 'antediluvian' would be an understatement: it was like something from ‘The Flintstones’ where Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble would start the car with their feet poking through the floor of the chassis. Often my father’s 'un-Reliant' Robin would break down, then stranded in the middle of nowhere, my exasperated mother would have to scour an isolated village for a phone box to contact the RAC so we could reach our destination.

Grandma Says: 'A Day at the Zoo Was Just as Exciting in Black and White!'

Plymouth Zoo early 1960s
Plymouth Zoo early 1960s | Source

England's West Country Boasts Beaches Galore

Harlyn Bay, Cornwall, UK
Harlyn Bay, Cornwall, UK | Source

Caravans, Chalets and the Occasional Guest House

I was a naughty child (so my mother tells me) and would usually begin to misbehave by the end of the first week if she booked a two-week stay in a guest house. I could be good for a week at a push but two was nigh impossible. This was why the humble static caravan was more often than not my parent’s choice of a vacation rental. My endless pleas of ‘Mum, Mum can’t we go to Butlins this year?’ always went unheard.

Caravans were not the luxury holiday homes they are now. They were often cold and damp even in the height of summer and blankets supplied would always have that musty, fusty smell about them when stored beneath the seating areas that converted to a bed. Hot water was a luxury rather than a necessity and even shower blocks were a rarity on some sites. I really don’t remember how we managed to clean up after a day on the beach - it was probably little more than a few sloshes down with a bucket of cold water from a standpipe to remove the sand from important little places. Some caravans had the old fashioned gas mantle lamps and no electricity. Flintstones aside, it really was The Stone Age compared to people’s expectations of a holiday nowadays. Even making a morning cup of tea could take as long as a Japanese tea ceremony. First, there was the walk to the caravan park shop to buy fresh milk as there was no fridge; then collect the water from the standpipe and wait for ages for the kettle to begin to whistle on the small Calor gas stove. Halfway through the whole procedure, the gas would sometimes run out so it was back to the site shop for a refill. It was only one step up from camping but we enjoyed it and I have fond memories of the caravan holidays that were a frequent event throughout my childhood. Such vacations were simple and uncomplicated and a week seemed endless. The weather usually obliged although my father would moan incessantly if a solitary cloud dared to obliterate the sun as he sat outside our caravan in his deckchair. My uncle who was a horticulturist in Surrey also had a caravan on his nursery and we often stayed there helping him to pot Rhododendrons in the school holidays.

Further Afield

In 1966, a trip to Jersey from Exeter airport was a holiday with a difference; my first ever flight in a plane. To me, this island in the English Channel with French sounding place names was as good as abroad.

At the age of ten, my first trip abroad gave me a profound zest for travel that I’ve never lost. A school cruise aboard the SS Uganda in 1969 took me and my classmates to Spain, Portugal and Morocco. None of my own children has had the opportunity to do the same as for some reason I've been unable to fathom, educational cruises are not the done thing any more. Could it be that children go abroad with their own parents so often now that they would not appreciate the experience as much? With modern travel, the emphasis is more about family fun in the sun than educational development but there is nothing that can give a child a better understanding of different cultures and lifestyles than to visit another country on a school trip.

My childhood memories of various vacations include many trips to London to visit my grandmother. Not everyone living in the UK is as familiar with the capital as foreigners sometimes believe. Many provincial children don’t get the opportunity to visit London on a regular basis if at all and I’m thankful that my mother was able to take me on outings to the many museums and places of interest in the capital. This gave me a keen insight into a different way of life to the one I was used to in Devon.

All the Fun of the Fair


Some Things Never Change

Comparing my own childhood to that of my children and grandchildren, I've come to the conclusion that most things never change. The kids today still enjoy the same things during their vacations as I experienced at their age: a sunny day at the beach, a trip to the zoo and fun park, a splash in the pool and plenty of sweets and ice cream along the way. And if the weather doesn't oblige there are certain to be arcades and a wealth of indoor entertainment in any reputable resort.

A day in the Dunes is Timeless for all Generations


© 2016 Stella Kaye


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