Driving along the single-track road into Elie’s Holiday Park, Shell Bay, sets the scene for rest of the resort. Once you’re past the leafy heaven of the woods and the football field, follow the signs to reception and you will be directed through the vast site with rows and rows of caravans stretching in every direction, complete with a collection of waving and fluttering flags and the smell of the sea flowing through the air.
Once you’ve collected your caravan keys, the road will take you past the shops and Smugglers’ Cove Games Room, where you will be taken aback by the sight of a massive pirate ship as part of the Robinson Crusoe Adventure Park for the excited children as they recreate scenes from Disney’s Peter Pan.
I’ve always had a soft spot for this particular caravan park. As a child I came here all the time; it never occurred to me that there was any other better way to spend a family holiday. We loved everything about it: the trip to the beach, come rain or shine, until we were frozen and had to return, playing bingo with our grandparents, the disco, and even the caravan itself.
I moved on, of course, discovered the joy of hotels and foreign travel, but it was perhaps inevitable when my grandparents bought their own stationary caravan on the site. And so I find myself, sometimes with my family, my sister, or my boyfriend, Gerry, in tow, returning to the site whenever I have one of those rare free weekends. The last time I went, Gerry and I travelled up in the evening to join the rest of my family for the September weekend.
After the promising start, the excitement of our trip builds. We locate our caravan perched at the back of the site and stand on the caravan’s veranda with a panoramic view: everything from the caravans to the sandy beach in our sightline. The caravan itself is beautiful, too: it’s spacious, clean and inoffensively decorated in neutral shades, three bedrooms, a well-equipped kitchen and a bathroom.
It quickly becomes apparent that it’s not just the accommodation that has been dragged into the 21st century. The choice of entertainment on offer is astounding, with something different on each night for both kids and adults, as well as the daily bingo session. Children can explore the fun in the adventure park as well as the games room, equipped with dance mats and air hockey tables. The adults can escape the madness by enjoying a football game on the BT Sport Big Screen and live entertainment in the Ruddons Bar complete with a pool table. And there’s the Kincraig View restaurant and the coastal walks for everyone to enjoy together.
After a day or two, an easy routine establishes itself: a sleep in the morning, an afternoon walk along the beach, then back to the caravan to get ready for the family to have dinner at the restaurant, a game of bingo and then a night of enjoying live entertainment.
Walking around the site, the sense of being in a holiday bubble, a parallel universe where normal rules are temporarily suspended, is palpable. It’s probably what I recall most vividly about my own childhood holidays. As my Gran used to say, “What happens at the caravan, stays in the caravan.”
As I watch my family laughing together around the living room space in our caravan, it occurs to me that this is what a holiday is really about. Spending time with those you love in a place that’s beautifully simple, wholesome and fun. If you want a real dose of holiday nostalgia, head over to Shell Bay where I’m genuinely happy to discover live acts and bingo are still on the entertainment bill.
In an era where package holidays and foreign trips are most desired, a trip to a caravan park can seem unfashionable. But when I see the magic that can be found in the smaller and underrated places like Shell Bay, I am reminded that sometimes the best places in the world are the ones close to your heart. And I know where I would rather spend my family holiday.