I first heard about Wigwam Holidays through Nigel Baillie, trumpeter with indie sunshine popsters Camera Obscura, and I knew it would be my kind of holiday. Rough and ready camping without the fear that your accommodation would disappear overnight thanks to an untimely wind storm, I knew it was my kind of break.
While the good lady wife (Kirsty) and my daughter Felicity were accustomed to the outdoor life thanks to numerous camps with Rainbows and Guides I hadn’t slept on an ant-ridden groundsheet since my days in the Royal Navy and that wasn’t yesterday. Nigel, and friend Catriona Grant, who had also recently enjoyed a Wig Wam Holiday, gave us some useful advice and we packed accordingly.
I say “we” but Kirsty is always in charge of packing (it’s for the best) and I have the other important job of putting together the in-car compilations for the trips to and from Englandshire. In an attempt to get away from the barrage of Horrible Histories songs I’d undergone over the past two months I made two strictly non-HH compilations; “Wig Wam Bam”, a mix of 1980s electronica pop, and “Tepee in the Park”, a Jocknroll compilation, featuring the great and (very) good of Scottish music.
A couple of hours after leaving home we rolled into Pot-A Doodle Do, a Wigwam Holiday resort three miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed. All the wigwams and yurts are named after legends of the Wild West and we were placed in Davy Crockett, situated between Buffalo Bill and OK Coral (sic). We were Kings (and Queens) of our own Wild Frontier. Other accommodation included Jesse James, Hiawatha, Fort Laramie and Lone Ranger. Rumours that the latter wigwam doubled as the camp Credit Union were unfounded! (Lone Ranger? Loan Arranger? See what I did there? Oh, please yourself!)
We unpacked the car and toured the facilities. While the first cuppa of the holiday was being made in the camp kitchen Kirsty encountered a self-confessed “tight Aberdonian” (is there any other kind?) who bemoaned the lack of a flat screen TV, microwave or kettle, which he said were available at other sites. Doesn’t it somewhat defeat the purpose of ‘roughing it’ if you have all your home luxuries with you? I can just imagine all the wigwams with satellite dishes on them for those who can’t bear to be without “Dating in the Dark” or Sky Sports. What did he expect? It’s a camp site.
Different sites do offer different facilities but the basics are a heater and a fridge, which is small but enough for the essentials like beer and, er, more beer. Power cards are available from a machine in the communal kitchen. We only bought 1 £1 card and we needn’t have bothered. The previous incumbents had left enough credit that we didn’t need to purchase another one. Most of the energy went on the fridge and the charging of mobile phones. The heater was never switched on. By the time we left we’d barely spent the £1 invested.
Wigwam - Before the beds are made
Wigwam - After the beds are made (child and bedding not included)
Camp fires can be pre-booked (£7) and it’s delivered to your wigwam pre-made, along with a basket full of wood. Therefore some long matches are essential. We ordered a fire for the first night and again on Wednesday when we realised we missed not having one on Tuesday! Those who couldn’t bear to be without pizza or chicken nuggets made use of the kitchen facilities but we packed lots of picnic type food and, thanks to our portable gas cooker (disposable BBQs are strictly forbidden for safety reasons although we did see a neighbour using one), could cook out own breakfast fry-up or evening meal.
On the drive down we took a detour via the centre Berwick-upon-Tweed, much to the Sat Nav’s chagrin, so we could see if there was a supermarket and chip shop. There were several chippies (and an Asda) and on Night One we opted for a lazy takeaway tea. Just as I got to the junction to the A1167 to head towards the nearest chip shop I saw the police had closed off much of the road. A motorcyclist had come off badly in a collision with a Golf. It occurred to me, as I was ushered past the carnage, that I wouldn’t be able to get back that way and so it turned out. That would’ve been fine if I knew the area but as an incomer the chips would probably be cold as I found a detour via Oslo. The chip shop manager tried to give me directions but it went straight over my head. The first route I tried was also blocked by the police and I had to return to Berwick where some police gave me better instructions. In the end I found the way through the village of Scremerston and a back route to Pot-A Doodle Do. We tucked into our lukewarm chips to the soundtrack of an air ambulance overhead and a now roaring fire. A dramatic start to the holiday.
While most people tended to keep themselves to themselves and use the camp as a base to tour around the local area the children there were quick to make friends. Within an hour of our arrival two of our neighbours’ children had knocked on the door and asked if Flick was “coming out to play”. We spent the evening by the fire, although not at first because our picnic table was on one side of the wigwam and the fire was on the other. As darkness fell and the fire began we moved the table to get the last of the heat. I also tuned into my old mate Ally Gourlay’s “Art School Dancing” on Leith FM. He even surprised us by playing two old favourites; Mazzy Star’s “Fade into You” and 14 Iced Bears’ “Cut”, which fitted in perfectly with the cordial atmosphere around the fire.
Having checked the weather we figured we’d only have one day of sunshine and that would be Wednesday. The “sunny intervals” promised for Tuesday were all too brief and rain dominated so my daughter and I headed off to the pool at the local leisure centre while Kirsty continued her latest knitting project. The Swan Leisure Centre proved ideal distraction on a rainy day, although, rather ironically we’d get soaking wet indoors instead of outdoors. The pool has geysers, flumes and a wave machine and a variety of different sized swimming areas. It was busy but that didn’t stop us having fun and I took every opportunity to join Felicity in speeding round the flumes. Act my age? Nah!
When the rain wasn’t too heavy we indulged in some cricket and football outside and when it got heavier we resorted to Uno and reading indoors. My books of choice were Jim Bob’s excellent Carter USM tour book “Goodnight Jim Bob” and Graham Jones’ bittersweet “Last Shop Standing – Whatever Happened to Record Shops?”.
On Wednesday we made the most of the sunshine and headed down the coast/A1 to Bamburgh Castle. We had originally considered Alnwick Castle but the prohibitive entrance fee put us off. Lindisfarne/the Holy Island was also considered but we plumped for Bamburgh Castle on the basis of a reasonable entry cost and an informative website. Proof, if ever there was, that a decent website can make a difference.
While I don’t mind museums I have to say that I can take or leave historical churches, castles and ruins. However, I was really impressed by Bamburgh Castle. Maybe the beautiful sunshine made the difference but I think even in the most inclement of weather it would look stunning. It overlooked the beach on one side and a cricket pitch on the other. A shame there hadn’t been a match on as we would’ve taken lunch on the boundary rope.
Auditioning for the next AC/DC video!
After the best part of four or five hours at Bamburgh we headed “home”. We dropped the car off at Davy Crockett, picked up some essentials and headed off on foot for the beach at Scremerston. It was a 30 minute walk but was broken up by a level crossing halfway there and this excited Felicity greatly, having never seen one before. Having arrived at the beach late in the day the tide was already on its way in but we managed a good hour’s fun and sand-based frolics. I didn’t bother sunbathing for fear that Greenpeace would come along and chuck buckets of water on me. The walk back saw us stopped at the level crossing for not one, not two but three trains. The noise and speed of the trains took Felicity somewhat by surprise. I was treated to a medley of Girl Guide songs for the rest of the walk. Pasta Carbonara Alfresco for tea and a “floodlit” Uno win for Kirsty – I had won Tuesday’s game – in blustery conditions brought the busiest and best day of the holiday to a close.
Thursday was rain, rain and more rain. Having woken up at 6 am (as we did every day whether we liked it or not) and after fruitless discussions as to what we should do I went back to bed! There was a small cinema in Berwick-upon-Tweed but it wasn’t showing anything we wanted to see and everything else seemed so far away. Instead, after a lazy morning, we opted for a bar lunch at a local hostelry we had spotted on the way to Bamburgh. Indeed, we couldn’t NOT eat there as it was called The Cat Inn.
The Cat in The Cat Inn!
“The Cat” is my nom-de-plume of choice on the radio and we simply had to eat there, especially as it was only two minutes down the road. The food was very good and we returned to the camp pleasantly stuffed. After a break, and yet more rain, we decided to return to the swimming pool. This time we all went and Felicity and I persuaded Kirsty to have a go on the flume. An hour after her one and only run her hands were still shakin’! It’s fair to say she won’t be representing Great Britain in the Skeleton Bob at the next Winter Olympics. The continuing also put paid to a possible Uno decider and the test series was drawn 1-1.
Normally I spend Thursday nights at Leith FM presenting my show “Where The Action Is” but this week’s edition had been recorded in advance and I was able, rather narcissistically, to tune into my own show. I wasn’t very happy that the show started late and as a result finished rather abruptly right in the middle of The Walker Brothers’ “Stay With Me”, which I had played to mark the passing of songwriter Jerry Ragovoy. I was heartened that some of my regular listeners had still tuned in even though I wasn’t really there.
I woke up even earlier on Friday morning (5.45 am) and utilised the time to check emails/Facebook/Twitter, grab a shower, have some breakfast and enjoy a peaceful cup of coffee in the morning haar, which seemed to envelop the camp every morning like a fluffy fog duvet. I was able to watch the camp come to life as I thought to myself what an enjoyable ‘staycation’ it had been. It wasn’t over either as we had decided to break up the journey home with a trip to East Links Family Park near Dunbar. We hadn’t been there since Flick was four years old and a return was long overdue.
The East Links Fortress (pictured above) was one of a number of additions since our last visit in 2008. It was the perfect end to a great holiday. Flick was a demon on the go-karts and left me trailing for dead as we raced through the puddles and lumps and bumps on the track. The last time we were there we entered the quiz that visitors can do as they go round. You answer questions on one of four different sheets from information scattered throughout the site. Last time we entered we won. The prize was a free return trip, which, for a variety of reasons, we couldn’t fulfil. That didn’t stop us entering all over again this time. You know we hate a competition!
On the final part of the journey Kirsty and I enjoyed a singalonga Jocknroll while Flick had a kip. What is it about singing along to Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Orange Juice, Bourgie Bourgie and The Associates that makes you sing in their voices? The tunes must have had a subliminal effect on Flick because when we got home she said that her favourites were The View’s Grace (my single of the year so far), Camera Obscura’s Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken and The Associates’ Party Fears Two (also my ringtone). I’m so proud of her!
The overall concensus amongst us was that the holiday was a great success and we would definitely have another wigwam holiday, although we would possibly go to a different location; one with more facilities in the local area to counter any rainy day boredom. There are facilities on site, including a cafe, a shop, an interactive arts centre and quad bike trekking but we didn’t take advantage of them. The only minor complaints we would have would be the ones you have anywhere when thrown together with people you don’t know. People driving round the camp the wrong way (it’s supposed to be one way), people hogging the washing machine by not collecting their washing from it and people ignoring the No Disposable BBQ warnings, which are drummed into you. Yeah, they’re minor grumbles but as Jean-Paul Sartre succinctly put it, “Hell is other people”, especially when they’re sharing with you.
One final thing, if you’re over 6 feet tall be wary of banging your head getting in and out of the wigwams. I did it, twice, and I have the blood-stained scars to prove it!
Quotes of the holiday:
1. Driving through Berwick-upon-Tweed, Kirsty, with delight: “Oh, there’s a wool shop!” Felicity, knowing mummy’s passion/obsession for wool/knitting, remarked: “Oh, what a surprise!”
2. Me: “Do you want fish and chips?” Kirsty: “No, I don’t trust English fish!”
3. Felicity’s constant references to me as “XL Baby”
4. Kirsty: “I need to go to the toilet again” Felicity: “You need to see a doctor!”
5. Kirsty referring to a fence post as a “Pence Fost”. (She once referred to the Sport of Kings as “Race Horsing”!)
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