Julia Hartley-Brewer

Staycations are second best – why won’t we admit it?

Staycations are second best – why won't we admit it?
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The vagaries of the great British summer are uncertain enough without a deadly pandemic and lockdown thrown into the mix.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has revealed that, while there is still 'a lot of uncertainty' about booking holidays at home or abroad, he has already booked his own summer break in Cornwall.

Frankly, if I wasn’t already put off the idea of a summer break in Blighty, the prospect of bumping into Matt Hancock and his knobbly white knees while paddling in the chilly Atlantic surf was the final nail in that coffin.

I have the most wonderful childhood memories of holidays in the golden age before foreign package holidays were even a glint in Michael O’Leary’s eye. Two weeks every August spent at the Cornish seaside, self-catering (of course), eating damp corned beef sandwiches on a pebbly beach and freezing in lumpy beds at night.

My husband still looks wistful whenever he talks about his childhood holidays in a caravan in North Wales. Periodically, he will suggest we re-live the experience. Periodically, I suggest we get divorced.

Because childhood memories are exactly what they should remain.

The much-vaunted summer 'staycation' is now the oh-so-fashionable 'must have' for the well-heeled Metropolitan classes. Indeed, so desperate are we to make our peace with not going abroad this summer that the Greater Yarmouth tourism board has rebranded its coastline as 'the Norfolk Riviera'. 

Travelling abroad was once a luxury only the very rich could afford. As soon as the world was opened up to everyone, with cheap trips to the beach for a few hundred quid, foreign holidays became somewhat infra dig. After all, what sort of ghastly proletarian wants to have to layer on sun cream rather than layer on jumpers and waterproofs while on vacation?

Well, this prole does.

I love my country, but I live in it for 46 weeks of the year, so is it really so terrible to admit that, when I go on holiday, I want to spend a few weeks somewhere — anywhere — else?

This is a green and pleasant land but one of the main reasons it’s green is because it rains a lot of the time (see also: tropical rainforests) and I’m afraid the 'pleasant' thing doesn’t really make up for the dreary grey skies, cold windswept beaches, chintzy hotels, terrible service and even worse food on offer in most of our resorts.

The realities of a British summer holiday just don't live up to the fantasy. It fundamentally comes down to the weather. A bucket and spade holiday is far more fun when it's not bucketing down.

It’s not just about the weather though. I love my fellow countrymen and women but I'm also quite happy to escape from them (and they from me) for a few weeks to enjoy the pleasant hubbub of French, Italian or Spanish voices in a busy restaurant or bar.

Then there’s the small matter of cost. Unless you're in a static caravan (shoot me now) or a cheap B&B, any half decent hotel or rented house in a picturesque holiday destination at home will cost you infinitely more than a cheap package deal overseas.

Which is why, of course, the glamorous sophisticates of London enjoy waxing lyrical about their oh-so-basic little million-pound hideaway on the coast.

The last time my family and I had a holiday in Britain, we packed up the car for a five hour journey to spend a week in a self-catering cottage in Cornwall (the same time it takes to the South of France, I helpfully pointed out at least once an hour). After a few nights sleeping in every item of clothing we'd brought to stave off the damp and the cold, we declared defeat and we headed back home to the joys of a king size bed and central heating.

No, the great British staycation is not for me. When it comes to this summer’s holiday, I’ll take my chances on a Covid flight to the sun — and a cast-iron guarantee that I will be spared the sight of Matt Hancock in his Speedos.