Saying goodbye to Butlin’s

After 11 trips to Butlin’s over a period of 12 years, I think we’ve reached the final chapter. We’re ready to close the book, put it on the shelf and start creating a new set of adventures.

It’s not quite end-of-an-era stuff. No tearful, slow-mo farewells. No soaring string accompaniment against the backdrop of a setting sun. But it’s mighty close.

From 2010 to 2022

The first time we went to Butlin’s, we only had the two boys with us. Isaac was two; Toby barely three months. We spent five days at Butlin’s Minehead managing naps and nappies, doing the gentlest children’s rides and introducing Isaac to the amusement arcade (where it took him about two minutes to work out how Deal or No Deal works).

Little did we know that this would be the first of many trips. 2012 was Kara’s first visit (as a six-week-old). 2019 marked our tenth consecutive year. We booked what had become our customary Bognor Regis long weekend for October half-term in 2020. But we did it with the suspicion that our kids were close to outgrowing Butlin’s and that this might be our last visit.

Then Covid hit. We pushed our 2020 booking back to October 2021. And then back again to July this year. With the children now 14, 12 and 10, that nagging feeling had grown into near-conviction. More than just the passage of an additional two years, we had spent 2021 stepping up to Alton Towers and Thorpe Park. Butlin’s older, tamer fairground rides had – like their paintwork – lost a lot of their lustre.

From excitement to nostalgia

That’s not to say the kids weren’t keen to go back to Butlin’s. They absolutely were excited. But in previous years, each visit brought a step forward. More grown-up activities. Graduating from kiddie shows to more family/adult ones. Driving the dodgems unaccompanied. Being allowed – the boys, at least – to venture off without parental supervision.

This year, the anticipation was more nostalgic: taking a step back into a world which had shrunk while they had grown.

In the past we had had to drag the kids away from their favourite rides and arcade machines, now they tired of them after a few goes. We did the pub quiz together as a family (and won). Even our annual mission to accumulate enough arcade tickets to trade in for prizes worth more than 99p felt a bit meh.

Yes, it was still fun. We had a lovely break. And we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But at the same time, as we drove out of the resort and headed for home, there was no looking back, either literally or figuratively. For the first time in years, we hadn’t booked our next visit before leaving. We hadn’t even discussed it.

It was unspoken, but I think we all knew the score. We’ve had a great run at Butlin’s and had some fantastic times that have tracked the development of our children. But it’s time for us – all five of us – to move on.

Thanks for the memories, Butlin’s. We will undoubtedly miss you. But now it’s adieu rather than au revoir.