Social media is full of ‘perfect’ lives. Glorious, happy holidays to beautiful places. When I share information about a place we’ve visited, it’s almost always positive because it’s a recommendation. Often, they’re places we’ve paid to go to and I share them so others can discover a place we love. But life’s not always like that. Sometimes we go somewhere and it’s not great. And that can be important to share too. So, this is what happened when we went on a Haven Holiday.
As the girls get older, we try to go on holidays to places where there’s plenty for them to do. That sounds logical, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. We’ve had some great holidays at Bluestone, which is geared up for keeping the children entertained and they love every minute of it. Outdoor fun, a swimming pool, an indoor play area, character dining. Every child’s ideal holiday.
During the Summer though, we like to spend at least some time camping. Being outdoors, bringing the dog with us and exploring a new area. We always enjoy a quiet campsite like Pencarnan Farm in Pembrokeshire and the girls love it too. But they also love the entertainment at Bluestone, so we decided to find somewhere that combined the two.
Haggerston Castle Haven Holiday Park in Northumberland looked ideal. Indoor swimming pool, a boating lake, children’s playgrounds, pony riding and loads of other activities. Camping there was really reasonably priced, we paid around £170 for five nights in the van with an electric hook-up. What could possibly go wrong?
What we liked about Haggerston Castle Haven
Well, it wasn’t all bad. Firstly, there was the location. We adore Northumberland and wanted to explore it some more after our visits to Kielder Forest and Lindisfarne Holy Island last year. It was our intention to spend most of our time on the holiday park, since we’d chosen it because there was so much to do. But as it turned out, we used it purely as somewhere to sleep and explored the area instead.
Northumberland is a rare gem in the British Isles because it has quiet beaches during school holidays like beautiful Bamburgh. Gloriously vintage days out like Ford and Etal are like a step back in time and it’s a short drive over the border into Scotland where we explored the stunning coastline around Tantallon Castle. In fact, it ended up being a very pleasant week purely because we were forced to get out and about.
As for the holiday park itself, there was certainly a lot to do as promised. The pony rides were run by an external company who owned a riding school nearby. These were fabulous, the girls had a 20 minute walk around the holiday park and the price included a photo of them on the horse. The swimming pool was fine and Libby managed to go water zorbing and both girls did an activity in the pool as well. My husband and the girls also hired a pedal cart for an hour which they enjoyed. All of these activities with the exception of swimming came at an additional cost. There was a small soft play area that Libby enjoyed, but Lia wasn’t keen on it.
What put us off Haven Holidays
I’ll be honest and say that from the moment we arrived at Haven, we knew it wasn’t for us. The campsite pitches were right next to each other. There was just enough space to park the van and put up our awning. The toilet and shower areas were nothing short of filthy. In fact, we ended up walking to a different toilet and shower block most days because it was slightly less filthy than ours.
The bar and entertainment areas were absolutely packed in the evenings. The girls did a talent show in there which they loved. However, that was the only time we went there because it was so uncomfortably busy, loud, dark and dingy that we didn’t want to go back. The only restaurant food available was fast food. Nothing healthy at all. The park was vast, I walked for half an hour without finding a way out other than the main entrance. That went straight onto a busy main road. So, unless you drove, you were pretty much stuck there.
Worst of all though, it didn’t feel safe. We’d hoped for the girls to have a bit of freedom. To be able to walk to the playground together with us keeping a loose eye on them. To take themselves to the toilet. Not too much to ask. In fact, we ended up staying with them everywhere they went. The play park was too far away from our pitch and across a road that was far busier than a normal campsite. The toilets were too dirty to let them go in alone. And worst of all, when Libby rode her bike to the toilet and left it outside, a child tried to steal it. If my husband hadn’t been watching, we’d have ended up buying a new bike.
Would we give it another try?
I’m all for second chances. But I don’t think I could be persuaded to visit a Haven holiday park again. When we went to the Hoburne Holiday Park in Somerset, it was everything we’d hoped Haven would be. Quiet but not too quiet. Everything was clean, there was plenty of entertainment both off-site within walking distance and on the site itself.
We also went to a completely different campsite in Yorkshire this summer. It was small, quiet and clean with very little entertainment other than a park for the children. They rode their bikes everywhere and went to play without us breathing down their necks. My husband and I knew it would be the sort of place we’d love, but we thought the children would be bored. In fact, we couldn’t have been more wrong. They had an amazing time and didn’t want to leave.
So, would we go back to Haven again? I don’t think so. We’ve realised that what the children enjoy isn’t so far removed from what we want ourselves. Long bike rides, days on the beach, fun activities either on the campsite or nearby and a clean environment. Sadly, Haven couldn’t provide those basic requirements. And that’s why Haven holidays are not for us.