A leap of faith…. backwards at Center Parcs Holland
For some reason I have chosen to throw myself off a high tower. Backwards.
“Just a little further back, back back. Now put you heels over the edge.” says Marion, the instructor in charge of launching people from the top of the climbing wall and onto a wire that drops steeply off the tower and out over a lake.
I try not to look down at the water. As Marion pulls straps and ropes around my body and attaches me to the wire, I wonder if anyone has ever bolted at this stage. I decide to ask her, just to see what my options are.
“They try.” she replies. But I just give them a little push. Like this. One two three…” she puts two hands on my stomach and shoves me off the edge.
A peaceful place for family action
The zipwire is just one of the activities we are having a go at, at the Center Parcs Holland Het Heijderbos in the South East Netherlands. We have a cosy cabin in some peaceful woodlands yet are only a short drive from the bustle of Venlo where thousands are enjoying a different Theatre of Nature at the 2012 Floriade.
We only have two days around visiting the Floriade to enjoy Center Parcs, and despite the peaceful setting there is no end of family action on offer. With the help of the park staff we carve the days into chunks of mini adventure; paintballing, painting, wild water rafting, biking, swimming, exploring the jungle dome, all linked together with plenty of walking around the park. We’d love to have a game of laser squash but we really don’t have the time.
I’ve never stayed at a Center Parcs before. I’ve a strong independent spirit and never really been one for organised fun, and think as a family we tend to enjoy our adventure experiences more hard boiled. But here in the woods in Holland, it’s hard to resist adding our tandems to the myriad crazy and conventional wheels that people are using to get around. It’s appealing to take a wander before bedtime to the lake we can see from our cabin window. It’s easy to entertain the kids; they’d spend all day in the free aqua dome if they could; or in the jungle dome, where flamingoes silently oversee young explorers tackling rope bridges without parents holding their hands.
A relaxing car free experience.. well almost
I can immedately see why families like Center Parcs. It’s a little taste of adventure without risk. My kids go rafting down a wild water course, but there are guides in the water to right them if they go over, and I can relax with a book. Hannah joins a class of Dutch children who all ‘wannabe a painter’ but a man in a green wig and a spongy costume is on hand to make her feel comfortable and provide a muse. Let’s face it, a man in a green wig is an oddity whatever culture you are from, so the kids are all in this together.
I must admit at this point that our entry into Center Parcs wasn’t quite so relaxing. We overshot reception and the car park and ended up driving around the park in the car. Now if it had been just an another Dutch car we might have shrunk down into our seats and hoped no one would notice us. But with tandems and bike on the roof, a huge Thule Back Up box on the boot, our website branding all over the doors and a GB sticker slapped on our tail, we looked like a support vehicle for the Tour De France British team.
Anonymity was a lost cause. And as everyone else biked happily around, (happy that is until we crossed their path) the British biking family weaved in and out of them belching out carbon. Too posh to push around on two wheels or too stupid to read the signs? You decide.
But this mishap was short-lived. It didn’t take us long to relax into the car free experience and three days later we are reluctant to leave. In Holland, land of the cyclist, Center Parcs is probably not the car free oasis it is in England. After all, here everyone pedals to work, unusual two wheeled contraptions are the norm, and flat green spaces are everywhere. But even here it’s nice to have a completely (well almost completely) car free space. It’s good to send your kids to a playground on their own and know that they’ll be safe from the hazards of the street. It’s even better to be able to send them wild water rafting or off into the jungle without any worries.
Perhaps we’re softer than we think
Perhaps we are more of a ‘soft adventure’ kind of family than we thought. Do we really care how packaged up our nature is if it is done well and we can still appreciate it? Center Parcs throws up some interesting questions. I consider them as I climb the stairs inside the climbing wall for one last go on the zip wire. Marion grins as I pop my head up through the trap door at the top. “Ready for something a bit more challenging?” she asks. A bit more challenging than throwing yourself off a tower backwards onto a long wire running across a lake while the wind is getting up? I can’t imagine what would be more adrenaline filled; until I see Stuart hurtling down on his last go of the session. Why can’t the Wickes family just fit in and be conventional?
When the world drives, we cycle. When the world bikes, we bomb around in a banned car. When the world zip wires, we try to do it upside down. I tell Stuart that convincing the world you are zip wiring on one leg, just to avoid looking like a soft adventurer at Center Parcs, is the road to ruin. But he doesn’t care. He swaps his zip wire harness and helmet for his trainers and heads off for a last minute game of laser squash before we leave the park. He’s probably brought his own light saber, just to ensure he stands out.
This post is part of our 2012 Adventure Islands Season. We spent summer 2012 exploring Iceland and The Faroes, researching what’s on offer for adventure seeking families. We’re grateful to Smyril Line for help with transport, to Berghaus and Thule who helped equip us for the journey. And to Center Parcs who provided accommodation and activities to enable us to bring you this story. All experiences, views and opinions are however, as ever, our own.
You can see a map of our journey on The Family Adventure Project Punkt! and view some exclusive behind the scenes photos and video of what we got up to.