There seems to be so much more to do with the kids these days than there was generations ago. Although there is always that endless struggle of trying to get the children out of the house and away from Tv screens and computer games.
So we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane for the days when ‘staycation’ wasn’t a word, when a holiday was a week in Devon and a day trip was a full on military exercise that began at dawn and ended when you fell asleep in the car on the way home, covered in ice cream.
It’s nice to see many of the places we all went when we were kids are still going strong, and maybe there will be some day trip inspiration here for the Easter holidays which are only a few weeks away.
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Bristol is a port city with no seaside, so a day out to the beach involved packing the car, loading up the bags and getting on a bus or a train.
Back in the day, Weston was the place most kids from Bristol had their first taste of the seaside – and for many they continued to believe for years that the sea was some kind of mythical entity that people just talked about but never saw.
However, Weston had more than just the non-existent idea of lapping waves, there was the donkeys, the prom, the crazy golf, the fish and chips and the pier.
And oh, the Tropicana. Those precious seconds at the top of the pineapple when you were king or queen of the world, before the Brummie kid behind would moan and then push you down the slide.
The old pier famously burned down a few years ago, but no one who went there could forget the sheer noise of all the kids, machines and mayhem that the old pier contained.
The other thing about days out in Weston that kids of a certain age will remember was the fact that the walk from the beach to the station at the end of the day was much, much further than the walk from the station to the beach at the start of the day.
Almost everyone went to the zoo at least once in their childhood, whether it was with school or when your cousins from out of town came to visit and you somehow managed to suddenly do special things like get the bus up to Clifton, or drive and park up on the Downs to get to the zoo.
Everyone thought they’d see Johnny Morris working as a zookeeper getting sprayed by the elephants, because that’s what we saw on telly, but in reality for many children the zoo was the first time they started to question the way people treated animals. The polar bear that paced up and down on the same spot affected a generation of young people, and led to a fundamental change in the way zoos kept animals.
The sad irony was that Misha, the polar bear in question, wasn’t driven mad by the conditions at Bristol Zoo, but by ten years of cruelty in a travelling circus before she was rescued and given a much bigger space. By then, it was too late, and she was so deeply traumatised that even water, a mate and the stimulation of fun with fish at feeding time couldn’t help her. She was euthanised in 1992 after her mate died.
Before We The Curious came At-Bristol, of course. But before that, in the 1980s and 1990s came The Exploratory Hands-On Science Centre.
It was the first regional science museum of its kind – that kind being actual fun ones where kids can play with the exhibits rather than look at them behind a rope or screen – in the whole of the UK, and moved around a bit during its two decades.
It was at the Victoria Rooms for a time, and then moved to Temple Meads in the original terminal shed. It closed in 1999, paving the way for At-Bristol to open the following year in the new Millennium Square.
With the lack of a beach near Bristol, if the kids want to go swimming in the summer, then take them down the river. Bristol’s River Avon has a number of swimming spots where many a kid was chucked in and expected to sink or swim – that’s what it felt like anyway – and these are still very popular on hot days, despite repeated warnings about safety from the authorities.
Now, of course, it’s called ‘Wild Swimming’ and people write books about it.
Bristol Ice Rink
Not quite a whole day out, because you didn’t get unlimited time on the ice, but on a wet summer’s day, the ice rink was absolutely packed with kids, hoping not to fall over, or watching in awe if the rink was cleared and Robin Cousins started a training session.
A proper day out involved packing a picnic in the car and heading off out of Bristol. And a rite of passage for every 12-year-old child awaited at Bowood, a couple of junctions up the M4 near Chippenham.
There was the achingly beautiful stately home, lake, grotto and folly of course, and the rhododendron gardens that yer granny would disappear into for the afternoon, but all you really cared about was whether or not this time you would have the guts to go down the Death Slide.
It wasn’t actually officially called the Death Slide, of course. That would not have passed the rudimentary marketing tests of the 1980s and 90s. But it was a huge wooden structure reminiscent of a large shoe. You disappeared in at the heel, climbed an impossibly windy and narrow wooden tunnel that sloped and twisted upwards, and at the top were presented with a ledge over which you dropped into nothingness.
From the top it seemed like a sheer drop and many a child bottled it, despite the jeering encouragement of their peers and the sullen member of staff sitting there making sure no one did actually die, and they had to turn round and head back down the tunnel.
Of course, it was safe – you’d be swept down a curved slide and hurtle onto the level feeling like you could then take on the world.
Up the M5 for another day out as your parents tried, probably in vain, to encourage you to take up a hobby that didn’t involve setting fire to things or minor vandalism. Slimbridge was full of birds of all different kinds, and many a young Bristolian child was suddenly enamoured with wildlife and the possibilities heralded by wildfowl and wetland
Wookey Hole and Cheddar Gorge
Another day trip, this time with real fear and cheese. Cheddar Gorge was fun to drive down, but Wookey Hole in the 1970s and 80s, with its seaside prom attractions, real-life witch and pitch black threat of darkness was a real treat.
This might well have been a once-in-a-childhood treat for many, especially if your car was picked by the monkeys. Back in the day, Longleat was the elite level day out that involved a drive seemingly to the end of the earth (Warminster) and the prospect of getting your little sister to be carried off by lions.
It was like another world – well it was another world – where a colourful-coated aristocrat giggled his way around the grounds, and you got lost for four and a half hours in a maze while your parents argued.
Most people, foolishly, left visiting the safari park to the afternoon, little knowing that the lions slept then. You really wanted your dad to drive through the monkey enclosure and he really didn’t want to, but did it, and laughed as the aerial was ripped off, meaning you could then only get Radio 2 for years to come.
For Vassals Park, or Oldbury Court Estate as it’s more properly known, also read Blaise Castle, Ashton Court or Stoke Park. For we are talking here about a day out closer to home, when the family would troop off into the woods, have a picnic and build a den, maybe paddle in the river or do some fishing.
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