Resistance proves futile as Grant Woodward and his family become Center Parc converts.
There was a part of me that was grudgingly resistant to the lure of a Center Parcs holiday.
It’s the same stubborn gene that kicks in whenever friends witter on about the amazing film they have just seen. With each breathless review and insistence that you simply have to go and see it for yourself, you’re less inclined to bother.
But having children does funny things to you. And as we pedal our bikes around the picturesque Centre Parcs site at Whinfell, nestled in Cumbria’s Eden Valley, the appeal of one of these breaks is readily apparent.
There is an air of tranquility as towering Scots Pine and Norway Spruce trees loom over us, providing a haven for the red squirrels that can be spotted darting through the woodland, much to our children’s delight.
And here, in a nutshell (if you will pardon the pun), lies the beauty of a Center Parcs holiday.
Though easily accessible by road, their sites have a knack of making you feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s a cocoon in which enjoying quality family time comes easily.
So popular are they that on the day we leave for our break at Whinfell Forest a few miles outside the Cumbrian town of Penrith, two sets of friends are setting out for Center Parc stays of their own.
And it’s soon apparent that this popularity is well-earned.
Many of the stresses and strains that can afflict your typical family getaway are neatly sidestepped on a Center Parcs break. It helps that once you have unloaded your bags and settled into your cabin, you take your vehicle to the on-site car park and leave it there for the duration of your trip.
Reassuringly for parents, Center Parcs are car-free zones – though you still have to keep an eye out for maintenance vehicles. Next it’s off to pick up your bikes which can be hired for £24 for an adult mountain bike down to £12 for a child’s version.
The children loved their pedal bikes with stabilisers. As for me, it was the first time I’d been on two wheels for decades. I soon got back in the swing which was just as well, because at 400 acres the site can seem vast. The good news, however, is that the network of cycle ways means everything is only a short pedal away.
Helpful too (for those whose sense of direction is as haphazard as mine) is the fact that there is plenty of signposting on hand to help you out.
Another quirk of a Center Parcs break is the white rubber wristband you’re given on arrival. This isn’t just your lodge key but also unlocks a locker at the swimming pool. And the pool complex – or Subtropical Swimming Paradise to give it its official title – is undoubtedly a big feather in the Center Parcs cap and a hit with the whole family, it provided plenty of fun with its waves every hour.
The well-equipped adventure playground also proved to be a popular stopping-off point, perfect for two little ones who love to climb and explore.
The beauty of a break like this is that you can choose to do as much or as little as you wish. There are countless activities to choose from, to suit all ages, with each carrying an extra charge on top of your accommodation costs.
The children had great fun at their football session in the site’s impressive leisure centre, while my wife enjoyed her pampering session in the adjoining Aqua Sana spa complex.
In the lodges themselves you have everything you could possibly need. They vary in price but our fairly basic lodge was still stocked with a fully equipped kitchen, dishwasher, flat screen television and DVD player.
As far as eating out goes, there are quite a few options although they can vary in the value for money stakes.
But the biggest selling point has to be the breadth of activities on offer – from quad biking and horse riding to kayaking and trekking through the trees on an aerial adventure course.
However, while these are optional extras, there is plenty on site to occupy the young and young-at-heart without having to pay additional charges.
At the end of a busy week away it was easy to see what all the fuss was about. Those Center Parcs fanatics were right all along.
• Whinfell Forest is set on the edge of the Lake District at Crosby in Eden, Cumbria.
A four-night, midweek break at Whinfell starts at around £359 for a two-bedroom Comfort Lodge in the winter and £859 for the busier summer holidays.
Activities start at around £5 per person. Spa packages start from £26.
Breaks and activity packages can be booked at www.centerparcs.co.uk.