You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
Caravan holidays rarely give the impression of luxury and glamour, but from the moment we arrived at the Sand le Mere holiday village things were looking good.
Our first taste of the camp park, at Tunstall near Withernsea on the East Riding coast, was the reception, which sat at the entrance of the smart new main building of the site.
But the brand new luxury lodge we had booked took the biscuit. As we walked through the door, our daughter summed it up: “This is fab – I want to live here!”
And I couldn’t disagree with her. From the outside the lodge looked more like a barn conversion than a caravan – all pine paneling and French windows opening onto a decking veranda.
Inside, it was better appointed than our house, with built-in wardrobes, en-suite bathroom, two showers and heated towel rails.
The front door opened onto a living and dining area with two comfortable sofas, full-length glass doors to the veranda and TV/DVD player. The back half of the lodge was composed of two twin bedrooms, a double with TV and en suite shower and toilet, plus a family sized bathroom with a combined bath and shower.
The kitchen boasted a dishwasher and even a cooker extractor hood. Its design and quality led to my wife announcing that we need to refit kitchen at home – so I’ll be spending the summer reacquainting myself with a spirit level and screwdriver.
As our week-long stay at half term progressed, the lodge lived up to its first impression. At night it was not only comfortable and spacious, but was warm and blissfully quiet too, thanks to the generous plot, insulated cavity pine-clad walls, double glazing and full central heating.
There’s nothing better than eating fried eggs outside, so the veranda was perfect for breakfast. And as the lodge was situated on the inland side of the campsite, it was sheltered enough should the North Sea breeze become a little too bracing. It was also close to the village’s new £4 million complex – reception desk, entertainment lounge, bar, gym, swimming pool and shop – which was unveiled earlier this month.
The sea was on the other side of the holiday village – a five minute walk through the original part of the campsite, where kids were scooted around on bikes, ducks nestled on the grass between caravans, and the old shop and bar looked out over the crumbling cliff edge.
We spent a lovely afternoon walking three miles down the sand and shingle beach to Withernsea, past kids sailing inflatable boats on a tidal lagoon, dogs splashing through the breakers, anglers with their lines out to sea. On the way my kids got a lesson on the power of nature – goggling at the sight of drainage pipes and concrete slabs balancing precariously as the sea ate away at the clay and soil cliffs.
We had lunch in the town before avoiding the rising tide by taking the cliff-top route back along the edge of fields of flowering oilseed rape. We stopped off where the cliffs drop down to the beach, which the local fishing boats use to reach the sea, and the kids played King Canute with incoming the North Sea. The they had elected to make their stand at beach level, so they inevitably lost. They trudged home soaked to the skin, salt water oozing out of their boots as we passed the holiday village’s freshwater fishing lake, but with smiles on their faces.
On the inland side of the holiday camp, things were just as lovely, with footpaths leading to the surrounding hamlets and villages and the Grade-I listed church of All Saints at Tunstall. On walks through the countryside we encountered donkeys grazing in a field, hares darting for the hedgerows, flocks of wagtails swooping for insects – and a couple of Second World War pillboxes, one of which we could still get inside.
In the evening I sipped a beer or two in the main complex bar’s beer garden, enjoying the dying rays of the sun as first families, then primped and preening teenagers, arrived for the evening’s entertainment while my kids went through their pocket money tuppence at a time in the arcade.
When the weather did inevitably take a turn for the worse, we tired of watching our own films, got in the car and took in a blockbuster at the cinema 30 minutes away in Hull.
Not that the big movie screen was the only wet-weather activity on offer. The city also boasts The Deep’s multi-storey acquarium, plus eight free museums.
Further afield is the RSPB nature reserve at Spurn Point, and the picturestque towns of Beverley and Hornsea.
Closer to home, nearby Withernsea is home to a Cold War nuclear bunker-turned-museum, while Sand-le-Mere itself has a swimming pool, with water jets and aqua-domes, plus play equipment.
Our first impressions were spot on thanks to the lovely wooden lodge and Sand le Mere’s redevelopment, so there was no need for a second look.
Now where did I put my spirit level?