Can scaling climbing walls and clambering over obstacle courses bring a family together? Emily Shelley experiments on an activity holiday in Wiltshire
Trying to get your kids to turn off their phones and come outside during the summer holidays can turn into one endless nag. You want them to get some fresh air and exercise, try new things and share some experiences with you in the real world. They don’t care what you want.
PGL are known for running kids-only holidays (it’s come to stand for Parents Get Lost), but they now offer family adventures that aim to keep everyone happy.
Could it keep my two off their tablets, and encourage my timid daughter to join in with others? Would it help us all reconnect after a very busy couple of months at work and school?
I get my answer when I see my shy little girl yell with glee as she throws herself off a tower down a 100ft zip wire. She’s just watched me lead by example, with a bit less enthusiasm and a scream of fear.
That’s the way of a family holiday here. You’re all in it together and the parents are expected to be as adventurous as the children.
I’ll admit to being a bit anxious when we collect our itinerary as we arrive for our weekend break. You can get a flavour of what’s in store from the PGL website, but they don’t release the exact schedule of activities until you arrive.
We are down for climbing at 8.30 the following morning, followed by an obstacle course before lunch. All of us feel a bit nervous as we explore the site that evening – until we hear the trees around us come alive with the happy marching songs of more than 800 children returning back to camp after a day of adventuring.
We’d chosen to visit Liddington in Wiltshire, but there are seven centres to pick from. It does run a bit like a military camp – one huge mess hall and ‘units’ of kids everywhere with their sporty young leaders. Accommodation for families is in a separate building (an old manor house) to the main centre, and has hostel-type rooms with bunk beds, but with en suite bathrooms.
The food is a basic but tasty hot and cold buffet, with plenty to go around. “You’ll need your calories for tomorrow,” one server advises us, doing nothing to calm my nerves. Dinner is not a quiet experience here – sharing your meal with nearly 1,000 children puts paid to that. Our kids, clearly used to the chaos of school lunches, are completely unfazed.
All is much calmer in the bar afterwards, free from groups of children, obviously. We are able to sip a glass of wine and exchange thoughts about what the morning would bring, while watching the kids play Frisbee together in the evening sunshine. They stop every five minutes to stare open mouthed at all the ‘cool’ teenagers making their way back to their dorms.
When the sun goes down, we head back to our block for a cup of coffee in the lounge. The TV is tempting for the kids, but we are determined to make this a screen-free break. Mercifully, they have now become so excited about the next day they barely put up a fight.
Forget glamour here. After a (surprisingly restful) night in our bunk beds and a hearty, noisy breakfast, we put on old comfortable tracksuit bottoms and trainers as requested and are led like lambs to the slaughter at the foot of the climbing tower.
There are two other families in our group, with children around the same age. As the first mum shimmies her way to the top of the tower, rings the bell and abseils back down gracefully to the cheers of her children, I realise this could get quite competitive.
No-one in our family would be winning this event, however. We all make it up about half way and freeze with terror. Despite yells of encouragement from the ground of “You’re nearly there,” we all spot this as an obvious lie and refuse to budge.
But we nail the obstacle course, and family pride is restored. The sun has come out by now, we are all on first name terms and chatting away with the others in our group – and laughing our heads off as various members fall flat on their faces in the dirt.
The schedule is packed, but there are long gaps for lunch and a mid-afternoon break for you to catch your breath and get a cup of tea. We are lucky with the weather and spend nearly the whole time outside. Our group leader entertains the kids with games between activities too, so we’re able to put our feet up for a bit.
It’s late afternoon on the first day when it dawns on all of us what a special time we are having. We’re canoeing on the lake in the hazy sunshine, watching baby goslings follow their mother into the water, when the kids decide to jump in and join them fully clothed.
On any other kind of organised holiday, you’d be told off for this and forced to sit out the rest of the session soaking wet. Not at PGL. Our instructor roars his approval and within seconds, everyone is in.
Emily Shelley was a guest of PGL (www.pgl.co.uk/families; 0333 321 2114) who operate Family Adventure breaks (children five years plus) at seven centres in the UK and four in France during the summer (and some half term dates). A two-night break at PGL’s Liddington adventure centre costs from £185 per adult and £159 per child, including simple accommodation, all meals, activities, instruction, equipment and evening fun.