I recently went to Centerparcs with a group of girls. Ladies. Women. Most of us are over 40, but this time there were a few youngsters too. It's something we've done a few times before. In fact I think it is the 11th year we've been there as a group.
Last time I went, I noticed how downmarket the place was getting. Readers, I have to report that things have not improved.
Once again, our group was staying in one of the posh villas with the hot tub and sauna and so on, which was lovely. However, there are even more new villas crammed on the site, and they are building a series of "tree houses" which are being heavily advertised, so I anticipate increased visitor numbers. It all meant that there were queues for everything, and that most of the activities - the selling point that Centerparcs advertises heavily - and treatments at the Spa were already booked up, meaning that a lot of people will have arrived and found that the only thing they could do all weekend (other than walk or cycle around the park in the pissing rain) was use the swimming pool and slides.
We stood and watched the slides for a bit. It was like watching a nature film of spawning salmon, dozens of people all rammed together, sqeeeeeeeeaking slowly down the slide in unison. One day I might break in, wearing the bear costume, and stand at the top, swiping at the slower ones with a huge clawed paw.
A new attraction since my last visit was this, the "Aerial adventure," described on the Centerparcs website thus:
A thrilling combination of Tree Trekking and Zip Wire for the serious adrenaline junkie. You are connected into the ExpoGlider safety harness system whilst you tackle our Aerial Adventure course, experiencing many individual challenges.
Looks nice and straightforward at the start, doesn't it? You climb up a short ladder, walk along a wooden log onto a platform, and then make your way along a series of rope and log traverses, strung between the trees. Yeah. Easy.
Except, it gets higher as you go along, because the ground slopes away.
And then, as if that wasn't quite enough, you have to zipline across the lake to get to the end, where tea and medals await you.
One of our group* went for a walk one morning, and found herself walking alongside the Aerial Adventure. She was enjoying the sunshine, probably whistling to herself when she heard a "terrible screaming." She stopped, as you would, and looked around to see what was going on. A woman was standing on one of the wooden platforms, in her hard hat, safety rope clipped to the guide cable**, part-way along the Aerial Adventure. She had stopped having an adventure and was instead having a huge panic attack.
Apparently it took half an hour for one of the staff to coax her along the walkway thingy - a series of short logs artfully strung on ropes like a wobbly plank bridge - to the next platform. She was shaking so much that the entire walkway was shaking with her. When she got to the next platform, even higher up, of course, she refused point blank to go any further, and they had to rig up a special abseil rope to get her down. When she got to the ground, there was copious hysterical weeping and the medics had to be called.
Her husband/partner was just behind her on the walkway, probably having persuaded her to give it a go - "You'll be fine, love, it's not that high! It'll be a laugh!" - so I like to imagine the painful, stony silence they drove home in.
Other highlights included a roebuck calmly eating his breakfast right outside our villa kitchen window.
We stood and watched him for ages, it was lovely.
And in less than two weeks I am off to Ragdale Hall for a Spa minibreak with Middle Sis. Hurrah. This not working malarky has a lot to be said for it.