The Scottish dream for young holiday makers
Jenny Lee crossed the Irish Sea from Belfast recently for some holiday park fun with her young family in Ayr
WE MAY only have been travelling across the Irish Sea but for my excited two and five-year-old's you would have thought the the destination was Disney World rather than Haven's Craig Tara holiday park in Ayr.
It was a holiday of firsts for the intrepid little travellers. It was their first time on a boat, their first time holidaying outside Northern Ireland, their first time staying in a caravan and their first time going on holiday without their daddy. He had to work, so granny came along instead. It was also my two-year-old's first time sleeping in a ‘big bed'. So I set off with nervous anticipation about the events to come. Would the kids stay tantrum free? Would anyone get any sleep? And would be Scottish weather be good to us?
The highlights started at Belfast port. More familiar with the fishing boat on CBeebies programme Old Jack's Boat than a ferry, my two were amazed by the size of the Stena Line superfast ferry we would travel on and couldn't believe mummy was going to drive on to the boat. As we joined the queue and were joined by lines of cars, vans, lorries, motorbikes, army vehicles and lorries transporting tractors and machinery it was a pleasure to see their eyes and mouths widen in awe.
On board the children were curious to explore the "floating house" and after a bite to eat we soon found solace in the Curious George play area with it's soft play corner and a kids cinema.
Criag Tara, a former Butlin's campsite, is an hour's drive north of Cairnryan. Check-in only took minutes and we received our welcome pack with a programme of activities for all ages and a map to our caravan, which was situated near the giant swan pedalos and seafront, giving us beautiful views of the Isle of Arran.
Our prestige caravan was as far-removed from the tiny five-birth touring caravan I remember our family towed to the north coast during my childhood. Our three-bedroom 'home' had plenty of storage, all your cooking utensils, a TV with built-in DVD player, central heating throughout and even a verandah, where the kids enjoyed riding on their Trunki suitcases.
Once unpacked we took a wandering around the huge entertainment complex which was also a distant memory from the caravan park I remember – where you had gas lamps, a toilet that didn't flush, an outdoor shower block and the only entertainment was a single swing and climbing frame.
It didn't take long to find one of the three playground areas, where my youngest would happily have stayed the entire weekend. But Friday evening was the calm before the storm when everything opened on Saturday. I understand the reasoning is that staff are busy booking people in and preparing for new visitors, but it is a slight anti-climax to walk around Friday evening with the fun fair, crazy golf and bungee trampolines closed.
The evening entertainment, which starts at 6pm, was cheesy – but it was to be expected. The first few hours are dedicated to the little ones with fun and dancing for the youngest guests and a pop concert from one of the Seaside Crew characters, such as Rory the lion. You can even get a high-five, autograph and picture with the cuddly mascots.
Next morning we arose bright and early to enjoy the mini-sports sessions at the indoor Airspace sports centre, which boasts games courts, a climbing wall, free to play adventure soft play frame and a most-importantly for granny, a cafe selling coffee and cakes. The fun tuition-lead sessions for those age five and under are in football, fencing, tennis and archery. The specially adapted kid-friendly archery bow with a trigger, hit the bullseye with my little Tarzans.
Thanks to the Airspace centre, if the weather is poor, you can stay dry and enjoy the fun. But during our weekend adventure, we were blessed with one sunny day and even managed a paddle in the sea. There is direct beach access from Craig Tara. Although perfect for rock pond-dipping, if you are looking for a less stony area, there is a lovely sandy beach just a couple miles down the road along Ayr Promenade.
Back on site, another day brought plenty more activity, including checking-out the refurbished swimming pool which boasts a new toddler area, complete with their own mini-slide. My eldest was surprisingly more adventurous and ventured into the main pool, complete with it's huge tipping bucket. But beware – to get to the lazy river you need to go down three slides.
As well as being a great place to go for a swim and a slide, the pools also boast a series of fun modes of transport for kids big and small including aqua gliders, aqua jets, turbo paddles, kayaks and 'water walkerz'.
Back on land, my two were booked in for a Learn2Bike session where they got to grips with the rules of the road in a fun balance bike session and the little one was quick to break the law with her wobbly overtaking manoeuvres.
There are also fun seaside family games sessions, like rounders and the pop up puppet theatre that can transport you back to your childhood as well as introduce your children to the golden age of holiday park entertainment. Whilst there on-site plenty for all ages with older children able to take part in Segway adventures and bushcraft sessions, you do need to bring a few spare pennies and pounds with you for the amuseuments and fun fair rides. I fear my two will always associate Scotland with a spinning elephant ride.
Another must-do attraction for those with young families, found right next-door to Craig Tara is the Heads of Ayr Farm Park. As well as animals including camels, wallabees and meerkats, there is a host of indoor and outdoor fun. From jumping pillows and giant sandpits to quad bikes, a grass tyre slide and indoor play barn and combine castle.
And with so much to do on and off site, and with the help of fresh sea air, one of the blessing of the trip was that my two-year-old actually slept all night.
:: Jenny Lee travelled to Craig Tara holiday park, Ayr with Stena Line self-catering holidays. For further details visit www.stenaline.co.uk/ferries-to-britain/ferry-accommodation/self-catering/haven, call 0844 5768 768 or see your travel agent.
:: Craig Tara Holiday Park, Dunure Road, Ayr, is one of a number of holiday parks located around the Scottish, English and Welsh coastline. Tel 01292 265 141 or visit www.haven.com
:: Heads of Ayr Farm Park, Dunure Road, Ayr, features animal attractions, an indoor play barn, outdoor activity zones and quad bikes. Tel 01292 441 210 or visit
:: For further information on attractions in Ayrshire visit http://www.visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/ayr-p242821