The last town we drive through before reaching Cropton Forest is Pickering, the sign for which stirs uncomfortable memories. ‘Something odd,’ I murmur, but then I stop as the memory crystallises into shape.
Pickering. The last name of a brawny blonde labourer who always turned up at Young Farmers’. He was the one you had to snog at the end of a party if you hadn’t found anyone else.
‘What?’ says Stephen, as we drive over the crest of a hill. The North York Moors is suddenly rising before us.
‘Nothing! Golly! Look at the hill!’
Poor Master Pickering. I hope he’s happy, somewhere, not still cow-eyed and slack-jawed at the bar, hoping it’s his lucky night.
We’re winding through Cropton village now, dark-stoned houses with jolly orange-red roofs. The dogs are sitting up in the back, sensing the end of the long journey. The children have taken off their head-phones, bored with DVDs, and we all lean forward, peering from the car windows, searching for a signpost. The Sat Nav counts us down with smug efficiency.
I say for the hundredth time: I hope it’s going to be nice. We have bad form for British holidays, especially ones where we’ve taken the dogs. When the children were little, we never had any money, and we did everything on the cheap. We once took our German Shepherd (Archie) to Devon, and stayed in some tin-hut type chalet with the most terrible smell. It had black mould ringing the smeared windows, like eye-liner on an ageing raver, and human-hair balls beneath the children’s beds. The owner met us with the key, and to take our money (‘Cash only, dearie’). She had a blonde candy-floss beehive and insisted on telling us that the guests before us had left a giant poo in the middle of the floor. They hadn’t had a dog. As soon as she had gone, we ran to the on-site shop and bought three bottles of bleach, a mop and a scrubbing brush. Whenever we have tough times in our house, we always console ourselves that at least we’re not in the Tin Shack.
It’s starting to spit with rain with rain as we follow the signs and turn left into the woods. We drive up a rough Tarmac road, and a sign welcomes us to Forest Holidays. We pull up next to a house and courtyard area, all pointing and talking at once.
‘Go on, then,’ says Stevie, leaning back and shutting his eyes. ‘Go do your stuff.’
The children and I jump out, staggering as we shove our feet into trainers, trying not to squash the spears of new daffodils.
‘Look, Mummy! Bikes!’
The courtyard area has a bike-hire shop to the left, and those lovely chunky hard-wood tables and chairs up the centre. The weather has turned them that soft silver, and I briefly imagine sitting at one with a coffee and the paper. Reception is up a couple of steps, in the little on-site shop. We go in, and are instantly welcomed by a team of smiling out-doors types in green fleeces.
‘Hello,’ we say back. ‘Hello, hello.’
I sign us in as the children roam the shop, louder with each new discovery. ‘Pencils!’ ‘Jam!’ ‘Mummy! They Make Pizzas Actually Here!’
‘Anything you need, or want to know,’ I’m told. ‘You just need to ask.’
I can’t think of anything sensible, and we say thank you, thank you, and run back out to the car. We pile back in, waking Stephen up and sending the dogs scrabbling with excitement. Stevie starts the car and we roll slowly round the one way system, looking for our cabin. Cabin 29. We keep stealing little looks at each other. It’s so nice. All so nice. The cabins are arranged on a short of sprawling figure-of-eight, with plenty of space between each one. Smoke curling from chimneys tell of wood-burners, and quite a lot of smart cars are parked on the bends of the eight, away from the cabins themselves. A cock pheasant struts out in front of us as we climb a slight hill, and Pants erupts into a series of howls.
‘We know,’ we tell him. ‘We’re nearly there.’
We find Cabin 29, and race with the key. Ellie spends at least five minutes trying to open the door, sending the rest of us into orbit with frustration. Finally, she gets it open and we all crowd into the hall. It’s so warm, so clean and Scandi-style, like the very best sort of ski-chalet.
‘Dogs’ll be in here then,’ says Stevie. The children kick off their shoes (which they never do at home), and run into the living room. We hear their cries of delight and follow them in. There’s a big, curving sofa, big enough for all of us, and the whole of the back of the cabin facing the trees is glass.
‘Hot tub!’ we shriek. ‘And look at the fruit bowl, and the map, and we’ve got two loos – two loos darlings – and look at the lovely kitchen with gas, and oh my goodness, look at the picnic table and the woods and IT’S JUST ALL SO NICE.’
Stevie and I go into domestic mode, unloading the car, taking the dogs for a run (straight into the woods) un-packing everything, immediately, bustling with the kettle and making hot drinks.
A Forest Ranger with a pony tail comes to talk to us about heating and how to work the telly (which sorts out our Wifi), then gives us a whole load of brilliant places to go and visit.
‘You must go to Whitby,’ he says. ‘Best scampi in England. Seriously.’ We write a list as he talks, and he shows us where to go on our map. The children ask him about the pizza we can order.
‘We’ll go up to the shop, later,’ I say.
The ranger grins. ‘You can order it from your telly-‘ The children are in raptures.
Later that night, after we’ve stuffed ourselves silly, marked up maps, hot-tubbed and we’ve opened a bottle of wine, Stevie and I lean together on the long sofa. I tuck my feet up, away from Pants and his loving nibbling. Dora is fast asleep on the rug, exhausted by the car.
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘This is going to be a brilliant week.’ Stephen is scrolling through the lists of films for the children. I nudge him. ‘Don’t you think?’
‘Going to be brilliant here. At Cabin 29.’
Stevie stretches out his arms and yawns loudly. He’s grinning, his face mischievous. ‘Yeah. It is. It’s all right, suppose.’ He gives me a sly look. ‘Just about beats the Tin Shack.’
I punch him, aiming for a dead-leg, and the children tell us to shush, just shush, they’re watching their film.
This is the second of a set of posts, written about our family holiday in North Yorkshire, as guests of Forest Holidays (part of the Forestry Commission for England). All opinions and views are my own.