With the TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards naming Woolacombe’s golden sands and beautiful bay number one out of 25 UK beaches, I was thrilled.
Ever since I was a small child, and before that, ever since my dad was a small child, Woolacombe has held a special place in my family’s life. Yes, for over six decades, that sunny strip of sand has entertained my family with donkey rides, rock hopping, great surfing, and a warming cup of tea when the rain all got a bit too much.
Woolacombe was where friendships were made and new experiences were had. It’s where dad bought me my first Bacardi Breezer, and where many, many injuries took place. After a few years, hundreds of family, friends and friends-of-friends (literally no exaggeration, it was HUNDREDS) would meet every year to have fun in the (lack of) sun.
Usually in October, after the long drive from home to Devon – and after munching our way through a Quality Street tin of chewy sweets throughout – we would arrive at Woolacombe Bay’s Golden Coast Holiday Park.
Featuring freezing cold apartments with avocado green baths and clinky storage heaters it was far from luxury. But when the bath is only going to be used to rinse out salt-stained wetsuits and the beds were hardly slept in, who cares? All we cared about was where the other 20 or so apartments were in relation to ours.
After unpacking our clothes, we’d head straight for reception. You see, dad had found a little secret that we only shared with a few of our closest friends – the park had a secret spa room totally free to use, which could be booked out for two hours at a time. Per person. So, dad would book in a spa session at midday. My aunty would book hers at 2pm. My cousin would book his at 4pm and so on. We could bring along 6-8 people each.
Oh how we abused that loophole.
After every session in the freezing Atlantic catching waves, we’d all pile into the saunas and jacuzzis, ensuring we didn’t have to share with anyone we didn’t know.
They soon changed the rules.
Once the spa was booked, it was time to pack the car and head over to the beach. With plastic bags wrapped around our feet under our boots, wetsuits zipped to our waist and rash vests on, we’d drive the few miles to the sea to start the fun.
Considering it was October, I never remember us having a bad week of weather. Year in, year out the sun would shine with a few cloudy days in between.
Me, dad and my sister, along with about forty or so others, would surf until our hands were numb and faces frozen, only getting out once we were sure hypothermia was setting in. Mum would be sat in the Beachcomber Cafe with my aunties and younger cousins overlooking the sea and trying to spot us among the crowd of our friends, or perhaps investigating the rock pools with the younger crowd.
Feasting on tea and scones, she’d see us wave up to her from miles out and walk towards us with towels.
Have you ever tried to peel a wetsuit off in broad daylight, when freezing winds whipped about? IT’S NOT FUN. And so, walking up the cliffside to the cars, if the public loos were locked, the group of us would patiently wait to get changed in the two red phone boxes at the top of the hill.
After getting dried off half would head back to the beach to play a little twenty a side football, and the other half would head up into town to browse the surf shop and warm up with a hot chocolate and stick of rock.
Once we were thoroughly warmed up, it was back to the holiday park to sink in the sauna, play pool, and find out what everyone else was up to.
We’d play card games with dares involving licking toes and eating raw coffee the norm, we’d head over to the bar for drinks and pool, we’d steal crumpets and cause people to cry, cars would run over people, teeth would be smashed in ill-advised pool games, the kids’ park would be ambushed and much much more.
I’m pretty sure a group of us managed to get trapped inside one of the apartments after a frog-shaped bin was deposited on the doorstep…
Repeat daily for a week.
It was great fun. Even the days when not much happened we were making memories with people I don’t really see now, but have never forgotten. I hope we get a chance to go back to Woolacombe one day. Even just to relive old memories (and get changed in a phone box).
Read my top summer wishlist here.