The sweet nostalgia of childhood family holidays

The sweet nostalgia of childhood family holidays

Now, here's the problem. When you live in THE most land-locked city in Britain, i.e. Birmingham, you can look at holidaying in two ways.

1. We can go ANYWHERE, since we're not near the seaside to the north, south, east or west. OR...

2. We should take our beloved children on an aeroplane to somewhere sunny and exotic. It's what modern families in the 1970s are doing now.

OR you can ignore both of those and go to Wales.

Wales, Wales, Wales. My parents were relentless in their exploration of this rainy paradise from about 1968 until I was old enough to afford my own air fares.

And yet, looking back, these are the memories which come immediately to mind when I recall my childhood. There is a photo of me and my older brother in the sands at Newport in Pembrokeshire in 1970. I was 3 years old and just pre-tomboy by the looks of the chic, retro, towelling bikini.

I don't remember it raining all the time. It certainly didn't seem to keep us away from the beach. My overwhelming recollections are those of sun-filled, barefoot days on the sand, picnics and flasks, racing through the prickly sand dune grass to find the most giant dunes to jump and roll down.

We always had a party of around 7, plus dog. My mum and dad, we kids, my aunty and the two nans. The latter would install themselves with deck chairs and blankets close to the minibus and help themselves to tea on tap.

Meanwhile, the 'youngsters' would pile on to the beach for game after game of Bowls, launching the colourful green, red and yellow balls across the wet sand. When we were done with that it would become a French Cricket match. I invariably lost and sulked, but the memory that has stayed with me for 40 years is a good one.

And then there were the rock-pools. The bright orange coloured nylon line, tightly wound around a stick or a piece of wood. My dad and brother could easily be absorbed in this passtime for hours on end, forgetting the picnic and the rising tide, and finding solace in the rhythm of the waves and the stillness of the pools they left behind.

I, of course, was afraid of everything. The seaweed, the tiniest of crabs, even the fish gasping for air as my brother hauled them out of the sea. I was truly in awe of the way he used to gently and efficiently use his small fingers to remove the hook from the fishes mouths, and how he irritatingly, yet skillfully picked up even the most monster-like of crabs from the rear without getting pinched. He regularly made me scream and run. He would place his hands into the rock pools beneath the seaweed and under the rocks. Even sitting here today this makes my skin creep. How did he know what was under there?!! This adoration of my big brother seemed to grow into tom-boyishness for a few years. As one picture ably demonstrates, I even dressed like him. Yes, that is me and I am a girl (left). My elfin haircut clearly didn't help.

Buckets and nets in hand, we would head off as the tide began to recede to see what nature had left for us. Bait would be found 'a la nature' and usually came in the form of unsuspecting limpets who were sunbathing and minding their own business on the rocks. Relaxed, until my gallant brother took his great hoof of a foot to them and, like removing a child's plaster before they realise it's happened, he would heel them off the rock and into his bucket. Out would come the penknife (even at 6 or 7 he was trusted implicitly with this lethal weapon) and the limpet would be hooked onto the line as a delicious crabby breakfast.

Hours (and usually a couple of pees into the more deserted of pools) later we would emerge triumphant. The bucketed cache would be admired by the women-folk and eventually they would be released. This was, of course the scariest part as my brother would ensure the crabs crawled toward my unsuspecting rear. Vigilance is a lesson I learned early in life, thank you bro.

So, tell me this.......if I am so jaded by Wales and all her great beauty, why is that, shortly before my mum's death in 2006 when I took her on a final retreat for a few days, did we decide to go to Wales? The Gower Peninsula to be precise. The moment we arrived I knew the reason why. This is God's Own Country. It has majestic beauty, dramatic scenery and beaches to die for. As a parent, you can't make the sun shine, but you can choose carefully how you create daily events that will last a lifetime in the memories of your children.

And not just a lifetime. For 2 out of the past 3 years I have again chosen to holiday in Wales with my own young family. It rained a lot and yet I hanker for it because it has rejuvenated those memories for me. The sweet heart-tug of nostalgia is always present when I am there. It has become incredibly important to me to introduce my boys to the experiences of freedom and outdoors that we had as kids. So we rock-pool. The paraphernalia may have changed somewhat since 1970 (little white nets on the end of the orange twine - who knew?) but the sensations are just the same. OK, so I feel the cold now, but my kids don't. Perhaps they will look back in 30 years and tell their kids that it was always sunny when we went to Wales..........and that mummy is no longer afraid of crabs.

Read more of Helen's life adventures at It's free to make your own lifeline and capture the memories of your family life stories on a multimedia timeline.

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