Family holidays are tense.
I don't mean a family holiday with your spouse and children (although they have their moments).
I mean those family holidays with grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts. They are great fun but they are inevitably tricky when you realise everyone does holidays differently.
We went to Devon a little while ago with my wife's family, including a total of three families.
The main point of contention was the one before we had even booked.
I am very much of the opinion that hotels and toddlers do not mix. We've had the odd night at a Lenny Henry themed hotel off a motorway to break up an intolerable long journey but the thought of a week in a hotel with a little one or two doesn't appeal.
Our toddler’s eating schedule is an hour or two earlier than full sized people’s with breakfast in the early hours, lunch instead of elevenses and an evening meal at about 4.30 or 5pm. Decent hotels try their best to accommodate families but you can hardly ask the chef to get up an hour earlier to get you some porridge which probably won’t be eaten anyway.
Our main issue is the risk of being publicly exposed as parents whose children aren’t always perfectly behaved. What if the little one decides to deliberately decorate the hotel carpet with honey or face dive into her yogurt? Do you tell her off and make a scene or keep quiet and appear to be undisciplined parents?
And then there’s the sleeping arrangements which in a hotel usually involve piling everyone into the same room and regressing to the first few months of their lives where you counted down the days until you could put them in their own room without feeling guilty.
In a hotel I would spend the night stiff as a board and playing on my phone under the duvet, terrified that if I fell asleep I would break wind or shout in my sleep and wake everyone up.
No, I’d much rather stick to the freedom to choose meal times that suit us and sleeping arrangements which enable at least a reasonable chance of rest.
And so we agreed to split into two parties with two families staying in a hotel and us in a nearby holiday park. We chose a basic site near Sidmouth with a set of swings and a field, rather than a big park with flumes and bingo. Personally, I prefer the peace and quiet that comes from quieter parks, but there is something to be said for onsite facilities if it starts to rain or you want a low hassle holiday.
The holiday itself was much less tense than I was expecting. We took turns to choose attractions around Devon, compromised on mealtimes and spent a couple of days doing our own thing.
I’m sure we could have managed most of that in a hotel, but I think I’ll leave it a few more years, just in case.
A little while ago I saw some sweeping shots of the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales on one of those BBC Sunday night programmes. I can't remember if it was Countryfile or Coast or Strictly but the views were spectacular.
I turned to my wife and commented that I'd love to walk the coastline when the children were old enough to not require reins on clifftops.
A few days later I was discussing this with my mother who reminded me that we had spent a week walking the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path when I was nine. She explained that I had complained for the whole week that I was having to carry my own bag. I sensed there was a slight resentment in her tone, despite the passing of time.
The pieces gradually fell into place and I started to recall the three memories I have of the holiday.
Firstly, I remember eating some Kendal mint cake whilst sitting on a rock.
Secondly, I remember playing table tennis in some sort of self-catering accommodation. I'm afraid I can't remember who won, so it was probably my brother.
Finally - and most vividly - there was the Subbuteo shop in Aberystwyth which was inexplicably half the price of my local supplier. I was overwhelmed and ended up cleaning the car twice in a week in an effort to earn extra pocket money so that I could buy a scoreboard and a set of throw-in men.
You will notice that I have absolute no memory of Pembrokeshire's vast cliffs, its beautiful sandy beaches or the diverse wildlife which has found a home along the route. I have no recollection of the views or the crashing waves although I do still have the scoreboard.
This appalling memory of holidays and days out is a recurring theme. Not long ago I commented that whilst growing up on the Isle of Wight we never went to Sandown - one of the busiest resorts. The same day I found a school diary with a detailed account of a trip to Sandown and no suggestion that this was unusual.
I don't think my memory is the problem but I think the things you look for in a holiday as a child are very different from those you want as an adult. Viewpoints and walks were utterly tedious until I reached adulthood - now I would love to spend a few hours exploring a stretch of coastline on foot.
So what's the answer? Should we take our offspring on child-friendly holidays involving a whole week spent in soft play and touring round toy shops? Or a week sat round a swimming pool whilst a man dressed as a dog provides daily entertainment? I can't really think of anything worse.
I like to think that my parents' insistence on holidays which involved walking, views and history did spark some kind of interest in those sort of things, even if it took me 20 years to realise that I enjoyed myself.
I also naively think that my children will be different and that for some reason they will enjoy walking holidays and National Trust properties.
That's nonsense of course but as long as I can fit in a trip to a toy shop on route, I might just get away with it.
In some English seaside holiday counties it doesn't matter all that much which town you stay in. For example, the Isle of Wight is small enough that you will never be more than 20 minutes from a beach and you can't drive for more than an hour unless you get lost or stuck behind a tractor.
Cornwall is completely different and in terms of land mass is nearly 10 times the size of my beloved Isle of Wight. So, it is worth spending 10 minutes studying a map before booking your holiday and hoping you can explore the whole county.
Let me give you an example. You book a holiday in Bude. You've heard it's a pretty seaside town and it is in the East of the county so it is a fair bit easier to reach from somewhere like London or Bristol than other parts of the county.
After you've unpacked the travel cot and eaten your organic porridge you set off to see Lands' End.
After the first hour's driving, things are getting a little tense. The battery is getting low on the tablet and the Frozen soundtrack has started skipping in the CD player.
After another hour you've arrived (assuming there aren't roadworks or jackknifed caravans) and all is well with the world, until you realise that you've left teddy behind...
All in all, a round trip from Bude to Lands' End will take you four hours which may not be especially welcome after you've spent the previous day in the car.
So, if you want to explore the whole county I would consider somewhere a little more central. It's still a lot of ground to cover in a week but a base around Newquay or a quieter resort nearby is a safer bet. The centre of the county is also better for visiting the Eden Project, which remains one of the county's biggest attractions.
Alternatively of course you might want to head for the Lizard Peninsula. Or how about the town of St Ives or one of the many coastal villages. It's a colossal journey from London (about 5 hours by car or train, on a good day), but it's a more remote and rustic experience than the flumes in a Newquay holiday park.
Just don't attempt a day trip to bude...
Cornwall is stunning, let's not be coy about it. The imposing cliffs of the Lizard Peninsula, the pretty coastal towns of St. Ives, Padstow, Looe and Bude. The fishing villages of Polperro and Port Isaac. I can even see the appeal of Newquay for a family holiday.
I'll even go as far as admitting that much of the Cornish coast is more stunning than much of the coastline of my beloved Isle of Wight.
Cornwall’s visitor numbers are greater, their waves are higher and I expect the sticks of rock will rot your teeth quicker.
But I still don’t think Cornwall is the UK’s number one holiday destination. For me, it’s the Isle of Wight.
Yes, I’m a little biased having spent many years living on the Island but hear me out.
There’s a perception that the Isle of Wight is a 1950s version of England but in my view it’s more like a mini version of England, so you can see a remarkable variety of coastline on a lump of rock which is just one ninth of the size of Cornwall.
If you stay in the middle of the Isle of Wight you will struggle to drive for more than 25 minutes in any direction without getting your feet wet. If you find a nice B&B in Bude and fancy seeing Land’s End then you will have a four hour round trip. In a car. In summer. Behind a caravan. Admittedly Newquay is more central, but it’s still an hour’s drive to the southerly point.
It’s not just Cornwall, in most English counties you face a choice of either visiting the same few beaches all week or spending hours driving along A-roads.
On the Isle of Wight, it’s feasible to abandon the car for a couple of days and see huge chunks of the Island’s coastline in a short trip on an open top bus. You can spend the morning building sandcastles and eating ice creams on Shanklin beach, eat lunch at a seafood restaurant in charming Steephill Cove and then have one of the South Wight’s rocky beaches all to yourself in the afternoon.
That closeness means you get to know the Island after a couple of days but it also means you can confidently ask a four year old what they want to do today and know that it won't lead to a huge journey.
Some of the main towns are linked by pretty cycle tracks (due to the closure of most of the Island’s railways in the 1960s) so you can avoid the car altogether if you travel a little lighter than we do. The numerous attractions certainly don’t compete with the big theme parks of the mainland, but they are mostly around a tenner and they’re perfect if you want to waste a couple of hours with younger children.
The rarely visited wildlife haven of Newtown Creek feels a world away from the busy sailing town of Cowes, even though they are just five miles apart. The 2p machines which empty your pockets on Sandown Pier are 10 miles from the virtually uninhabited West Wight coastline. Poundland is only a couple of miles from an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
People of Cornwall, please don’t be offended. We’ve had some lovely trips to your county and I'm not surprised it is frequently voted as England's favourite holiday destination. But come and see our fair Isle once and I'm confident you'll be back again.
Holiday Park Guru Blog
Occasional thoughts on holidays in England, Wales and Scotland