A popular Fife holiday park is the subject of a new BBC Scotland TV series uncovering the stories and anecdotes from regular holidaymakers over four decades. Michael Alexander spoke to one of the stars.
It’s been a busy few months for the owners of Pettycur Bay Holiday Park in Fife.
A week before Christmas, it was confirmed that the Wallace family have bought the 23-bedroom four-star Old Manor Hotel in Lundin Links for £1.2 million.
The former 19th Century mansion house, which overlooks the famous Lundin Links golf course, became a hotel in 1994.
The takeover is being spearheaded by Steven Wallace, the third generation of the Wallace family to run the caravan park.
His grandfather Thomas Wallace purchased Pettycur Bay Holiday Park with his two sons Alan and Tommy, around 40 years ago.
However, while Steven hopes news of the hotel takeover is a welcome boost to the industry as it continues to battle through the pandemic, he is also looking forward to the public gaining a wider behind-the-scenes insight into life at Pettycur Bay through a new BBC Scotland series.
Eight-part TV series
The eight part series Life On the Bay, which starts at 9.30pm on Sunday January 9, follows the fortunes of the holiday park last summer.
The series, narrated by East Neuk-raised broadcaster Edith Bowman, goes behind the scenes as the family muck in.
The staff who help them, meanwhile, are like extended family – from the bars and restaurant manager to the maintenance team.
Also putting in an appearance are some of the hundreds of caravan owners who have made the bay their second home, enjoying the views from Kinghorn across the Firth of Forth on the ‘Fife Riviera’.
In the first episode, members of the Wallace family – including 82-year old owner and manager Tom, and his grandson, Steven – help install a brand new caravan on the steep hillside in blazing sunshine.
Over 40 years the Wallaces have built the business up to 600 caravans and a hotel complex.
On episode one, the park’s newest residents get the keys to their new holiday home, and Billy and Gibby from the maintenance team have the task of keeping the 47-acre site ship shape.
There’s also an introduction to some of the many residents who’ve made the caravan park their second home, including Victoria, a writer of Gothic stories and semi-retired college lecturer from the United States.
Viewers also meet Andrew and John, who had long dreamed of owning their own place in the picturesque park.
In an interview with The Courier, Steven Wallace, 33, confirms that life on the park is rarely dull – something that comes across right from the start.
“From the clips I’ve seen, they’ve certainly captured the view we’ve got,” says Steven.
“The series was filmed in the summer just past as we were coming out of lockdown.
“We were busy as a lot of staycation places were, but with less staff because of well documented staff shortages in hospitality.
“It was a very challenging year. But in a good way, and it’s been good to see local tourism taking off.”
A former pupil of Kinghorn Primary and Balwearie High School, Kirkcaldy, some of Steven’s earliest childhood memories are helping his grandad Thomas winch caravans off the back of a lorry at the park.
His grandfather, now 82, is still involved in the running of the park, alongside other members of the family.
“He often says the only time you’ll see him sitting down is when he’s in a box!” laughs Steven.
The purchase of the Old Manor Hotel in Lundin Links means that in addition to dealing with all the off season repairs needing carried out over winter at Pettycur, Steven has been dividing his time between the two businesses until the Old Manor gets a new manager in place.
Growing up on site before moving to Kinghorn aged 19, Steven admits his “dream job” would have been joining the fire service.
However, after a couple of attempts to join when after he left school, he’s now glad those efforts fell through because of the enjoyment he gets from working in the family business.
One of the things he enjoys most is meeting the customers, and in some cases, it’s been people who have been visiting longer than the Wallace family have even owned the park.
“The customers get to know who they are paying their money to,” he says, adding that they’ve got to know many “characters” over the years, including several who’ve passed on.
“It’s not just somebody sitting behind a desk. If you get speaking to any of the customers, they always comment – ‘oh I see your grandad out there on the grass cutter’.
“He says it keeps him going. He says ‘if I sit in the house I’ll end up in a box’. That’s his philosophy.
“’You won’t see me sitting on my backside until I’m in a box’, he says, morbid as that is!”
There’s no getting away from the fact that one of the most attractive selling points of Pettycur Bay is its location.
It also has history on its doorstep as its close to the cliff where Scotland’s King Alexander III died in 1286.
“Most people when they are looking for buying a caravan, or a holiday home, an hour is the maximum where they’ll travel,” says Steven.
“We’re 10 minutes to the Queensferry Crossing, less than an hour to Edinburgh, an hour to Dundee, Perth, Glasgow which are the main hubs round about. We are very accessible to the railway line and well connected to buses.
“And obviously even though we are close, you could be anywhere with the views. Our customers keep referring to us as the ‘Fife Riviera’.
“You look out there and it’s like you are in the middle of nowhere, but if you want to go to Edinburgh, buses and trains are right on the doorstep.”
Steven says there’s no such thing as a typical day for him as that depends on the time of year.
“You like to think there’s a typical day then there might be a problem with the swimming pool, so you’ve got to go down and deal with that,” he says.
“You take each day as it comes. Challenges are taken in your stride.”
Some situations, of course, cannot be predicted.
Landslides in 2020
In August 2020, hundreds of Pettycur Bay residents were evacuated in the early hours of the morning after torrential rain triggered two huge landslides.
Fire crews and police rushed to evacuate around 500 caravans after a number of mobile homes slid from their standings, as severe thunderstorms battered the Fife coastline.
Tonnes of mud and rock cascaded through the site leaving the A921 Burntisland to Kinghorn road impassable and partially blocking the Fife circular rail line.
“That was an eventful six months with the landslide,” recalls Steven.
“I was up for 24 hours near enough that day. Every park has different topography and challenges.
“Lots of parks have different risks.
“We used to get one in 10 year events. I remember growing up driving round with my dad and uncle in storm picking up light things.
“Then all of a sudden over the last few years we seem to be getting more – strong winds, heavy rains.
“Every time we watch the weather forecast now we wonder if we’re going to get more damage.
“Touch wood, with the last couple of storms it’s been windy but we take precautions and make sure caravans are tied down. We’ve never lost a caravan to the wind – at least not since one year someone didn’t shut their doors, the wind got in and the roof came off.
“Obviously because we are on hillside we do get battered. But we are well anchored down.”
Impact of Covid-19 and Brexit
Covid-19 has also been a challenge for the business, as it has been for the whole tourism sector.
In “normal” non-Covid-19 years, Pettycur Bay might host 25-30 weddings.
While the first main building was constructed in 1998/99, the “best thing” they ever did was build the hotel which met the untapped demand for wedding functions, while at the same time using the space for caravan park entertainments.
They cut back on festive party nights, however, and decided to stay closed on Christmas Day, even before the First Minister advised people to scale back on social gatherings.
Brexit could be regarded as an even bigger issue with one of the other owners, Tommy Wallace, recently saying the holiday park is facing staff and supply chain issues.
Steven hopes to get back to some sort of normality in the new year, however.
When to watch the series
He’s also looking forward to sitting down with his young family to watch the first episode of the series when it airs.
One thing he’ll never do, though, is put any pressure on his children to follow him into the family business – although he’d love them to one day if that’s what they choose to do.
Life on the Bay is a Red Sky Productions series for BBC Scotland.
Episode one of the eight part series airs from 9.30pm to 10pm on Sunday January 9 on the BBC Scotland channel.
It’s repeated at 7.30pm on January 12 on BBC One Scotland and wil also be available on iPlayer.