‘PGL – Parents Get Lost’ says the poster on the wall of our room at Barton Hall in its enviable setting overlooking Torbay on the coast of Devon. My eight-year-old, Ethan, looks tantalised by the prospect of holidaying without us (indeed, he’s soon to head off to the Lake District on a school activity weekend). But despite having fond memories of our own childhood activity holidays at PGL’s Boreatton Park in Shropshire, my husband and I both felt that Ethan and his brother Ripley, seven, were a bit too young to holiday without us. A PGL Family activity holiday seemed the perfect solution – with the added bonus that we parents got to join in the fun too.
And join in we did, with my husband and I trying a number of activities we’d never undertaken in our four decades of life, or had only done as kids, including fencing, raft-building, Aeroballing (like basketball on trampolines), quad-biking, and abseiling and climbing. During our four-night stay, the boys both laughed at us and encouraged us, depending on how nervous and/or rubbish we were. We did the same with them, in what turned out to be five days of wonderful family bonding.
A PGL Family Adventure is also a really sociable holiday, since on arrival you’re put into a group with other families with children of roughly the same age and follow your program of activities with them all week, developing a real sense of camaraderie as you face the various challenges together. Some activities, including raft-building, involve team-work, while others are competitive. All generally have everyone laughing.
What you might lack in luxurious accommodation (Barton Hall is a former Pontins holiday village, and most rooms are in basic, youth-hostel-style chalets on terraces surrounding the main building), you gain in relaxation, since the price includes three meals a day. These are served in the huge canteen-like Dining Room where, outside the busy season, the friendly young PGL staff eat too. Again, there’s a lively fun atmosphere, and no one really cares that the food is far from haute cuisine. My husband and I were basically just thrilled to be freed from the daily burdens of shopping, cooking and washing up for a few days. We were also ravenously hungry!
PGL Family activity holidays are generally suitable for ages six and up. On the basis that he’d be able to join in some but not all activities, we took along our youngest son, aged three – Barton Hall was recommended to us because it has an outdoor swimming pool and a small playroom for under-sixes. But in fact there were several families there with younger kids, and many of the tinies joined in some of the most hair-raising activities (to my shame, a three-year-old girl rode a zipwire that I bottled out of). PGL has a longstanding reputation for its safety, and throughout our stay I had utter faith in the staff’s attention to rules and details.
The fun continues into the evening, with kids and parents gathering in the chill-out room, lounge or bar, for pool, table-tennis and so on, and organised activities including karaoke. We actually felt a little cruel keeping our kids to school-night bedtimes (or even earlier!), but with breakfast at 8am, our first activities at 9.30am daily, and a total of 16 90-minute activity sessions over the four days, plus the swimming, keeping them up late meant they risked being cranky and too exhausted to enjoy themselves.
Overall, we felt that PGL was superb value, since everything except your own snacks and drinks is included in the price. By the end of the week, we’d had great fun, made new friends and stretched ourselves, with all five of us having tried out at least things they hadn’t done before and, in many cases, were fearful of.
We’ll definitely go on another PGL Family Adventure, but fond as we became of Barton Hall (particularly for the location and the pool – a real boon during a week of lovely weather), for old times’ sake we plan to take the boys to Boreatton Park, PGL’s flagship centre, when Zac is old enough to join in with all activities and we can have a true family bonding holiday. Next time we’ll go for a week so that we can do more activities (you don’t get to do everything that’s available on-site in the four days) and also have time to explore the surroundings a bit – though shimmering Torbay beckoned us through the palm trees of Barton Hall’s grounds, the holiday was just too full-on for us to have the time, or energy, for the beaches.
Find out more about PGL Family activity holidays.