Dinah Hatch, wife of travel author Ben Hatch, has been dragged thousands of miles around France squashed into the family Passat along with her two children in the name of research. Here she takes control of the family’s travel plans and heads off to Forest Holidays’ Forest of Dean site for an altogether more relaxing break…
On any given Friday night, this is how you will find the Hatch family: Ben, aged 46, in an ancient kaftan drinking Pinot and slumped on the sofa complaining there’s never anything on TV, me (43) trying to sit down at 9pm but getting waylaid by the mountain of jobs in the kitchen and Phoebe and Charlie, aged 8 and 6 respectively, yelling at the top of the landing about wanting a bedtime snack and refusing to go to sleep.
But this particular Friday night, things were different. The Hatch family were instead to be found in the Forest of Dean, winding through English Oaks and Douglas Firs, examining animal tracks like Sherlocks of the forest and debating with a ranger whether a wild boar had been snuffling for dinner in the vicinity.
In past years we’ve had our fair share of travel adventures, thanks to Ben’s job as a comedy travelogue writer. For his recent book Road to Rouen we travelled 10,000 miles around France in an ageing Passat only slightly less fragrant than the bottom of our kitchen bin (why did I not ban Frubes in the backseat?) encountering a loony death cult, being attacked by a donkey, getting into a kerfuffle with a British spy and almost causing a traffic standstill in central Paris after incorrectly negotiating the Arc de Triomphe.
But this was an altogether more relaxing affair. There had been no airport queues to wait in, no passport panics to endure and no last-minute decanting of shampoo into 100ml bottles at the luggage scanner. In fact, so used to offspring paddies (or, the 2013 reboot of this, the Ipaddy – oh yes, Charlie has these on a regular basis) are we, that it was slightly unnerving to arrive at a holiday destination having experienced no more calamity than a 20-minute jam around Ross-on-Wye.
So here we were, watching the sun set over Gloucestershire, looking through the canopy for goshawks and peregrine falcons on a forest ranger tour of the woods and whispering when we thought we heard an adder rustling in the grass by our feet (yup, they live here, too). As we yomped through the forest, our ranger chatted easily about the flora and fauna that call the Forest of Dean home and when the tour finished, we wandered back to our cabin, the kids running on ahead wielding giant sticks and re-enacting Little Red Riding Hood with Charlie relishing his role as the big bad wolf.
The offspring tucked up in bed, we cracked open a bottle of fizz, threw on our swimming costumes and climbed into the hot tub next to our lodge and sank into the bubbles. The only sound we could hear was the occasional call of the buzzard and the nuthatches scrabbling up and down the tree trunks. We sat silently, sipping and smiling, until the hoot of an owl prompted us to get out before we turned into prunes. It was very hard not to feel pretty smug about this holiday choice as we sunk beneath crisp white cotton sheet and drifted off in the middle of the forest.
Saturday morning went well too. For “well”, read We Got A Lie In. The kids got up early, watched a bit of Cbeebies and then spent half an hour ferretting about in the complimentary games box, coming across Scrabble for the first time. This, we only realised when we opened our eyes to see PLEASE WAKE UP DADDY laid out in tiles at the foot of the bed. Well, you have to get up after that, don’t you?
Breakfast on the cabin terrace and then a splash about in the hot tub followed before we jumped on our bikes and headed to the Forest Retreat, the hub of the site with a little shop and café, where I sat and read the papers over coffee while Ben took the kids to the play park.
Having devoured the Saturday supplements, we set off to explore the area and alighted on the fabulous Puzzlewood just down the road. If you have never visited this 14-acre ancient woodland, think giant twisted yew tree roots clawing through the ground, strange winding mossy ravines and bizarre rock formations. It didn’t surprise me one bit to learn it’s where Tolkien was wandering when he came up with his mythical forests of Middle Earth.
After hiding behind rocks and cackling like witches, making out we’d spotted trolls at every turn and pretending to have discovered hidden more Roman coins (3,000 of them were found in a rock cavity in the 19th century) we retired to possibly the loveliest little pub in the known universe called The Ostrich Inn in tiny Newland, which sits opposite All Saints Church, known as the Cathedral of the Forest thanks to its enormous proportions.
And then home to chill. Back in our cabin, we switched on A Bug’s Life, settled down on the giant sofas and, each and every one of us, fell soundly asleep by the time Flik meets the circus bugs.
Road to Rouen is published by Headline and is available on Amazon here