Gavin Havery revisits the countryside caravan park of his childhood and finds it much changed

A QUARTER of a century ago, my parents used to bring us down the A1 from Tyneside to Akebar Park every fortnight in our old tourer. We stopped coming to this idyllic part of the world when I was about 16, and now I have children and a caravan of my own, I have been longing to show them where I spent many happy days as a youngster.

The pool bar and tennis court are no longer there, but the stone-built reception area, the three red telephone boxes and the Friar’s Head restaurant remain. Then there are the luxury holiday homes and lodges, not just static caravans, but high-end lodges worth roughly the same as my modest terraced house.

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Fortunately, there is still room for the noble tourer and in the second week of the Easter holidays, we rolled in and pitched up next to the play park, which is a dramatic improvement on the swings and grassed area for jumpers-for-goalposts football we enjoyed.

With so many obstacles and pieces of equipment Tilda, six, and four-year-old Finn thought they were Ninja Warriors, and quickly made new friends with the kids who have seasonal pitches and leave their vans all year round, just as I did all those years ago. They also squealed with delight as we plodged up the stream, before riding around on their bikes, flying kites and playing rounders on the large play field in front of our set-up.

As a teenager, trips off the park were limited, but the tourism industry has become far more sophisticated and there are now plenty of great days out within a 25-minute drive.

On our first full day we visited Thorp Perrow, a seven-mile drive on country roads which took us 15 minutes. We loved ambling through the woodland and gardens where each corner turned offered another breath-taking view. There is an impressive collection of birds of prey and the children were smitten by the mob of wallabies, which were more than happy to be petted in return for a handful of feed.

We heard great things about the Forbidden Corner, some nine miles and 20 minutes in the opposite direction, which was our destination on day two, but some had warned that given the age and sensitive nature of my two, I should exercise some caution.

They loved it at the start. They were delighted by the burping mouth entrance, the woodland walks, the statues that wee'd at you, the three bears sculpture, but I think the tipping point for Tilda was the legs sticking out of a wall, prior to descent into a cave with a spooky voice. Lots of other kids loved it and I wish we could have seen more; I vowed secretly to return when they are a little more up to it. For those with older children, or adults who fancy seeing something a little out of the ordinary, it is well worth a look.

Instead, I took my two to Brymor Ice Cream Parlour for a luxury pudding and a play on their park to forget about their ‘trauma’. It seemed to work.

We fared better the next day as we headed some 11 miles away to Bolton Castle, one of the country’s best preserved medieval castles, which from its top has stunning views the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It was completed in 1399 by Sir Richard Le Scrope, chancellor of England, and a third of its rooms remain intact with restored gardens and a maze. Here we saw more birds of prey and had a go at archery.

For our final day, as far as the kids were concerned, we had saved the best for last with a 25-minute ride to Lightwater Valley. Never, as a child, was I ever more excited to go anywhere. Fairground rides at the Hoppings on the Town Moor in Newcastle were often longingly looked at, but never ridden, and the same is true for my two.

At Lightwater Valley you can go on as many times as you like, free. For the kids it was like being in a land at the top of the Faraway Tree. Once they got over the shock of Trauma Tower, the Falls of Terror, the Flying Cutlass and the Labybird rollercoaster, they wanted to go on again, and again and again. So they did. We walked around for seven hours, pausing only for a short while to refuel and so Finn could climb through every piece of the Angry Birds play equipment, before leaving exhausted, but happy.

Akebar Park is nestled between the charming market towns of Bedale and Leyburn on A684, easy to get to from the A1 and is a perfectly pleasant site for tents and tourers. And as well as being the ideal base for exploring the glorious Yorkshire Dales, the Friars Head is the best onsite restaurant I have encountered.

I have a feeling we are going to be regular visitors once again.

FACT BOX

Akebar Park, Leyburn, DL8 5LY. T: 01677-450-201; W: akebarpark.com

Touring prices, person per-night: Adults, with electrics, £10, £7.50 without. Children £5. Adults, with electrics, £12 on bank holidays, £10 without, and children are £6 with electrics, £5 without. It £5 for an awning, £3 for an extra car and £1 for a dog.

Lightwater Valley, North Stainley, Ripon, HG4 3HT.

Over 1m £20, Under 1m £5, Senior citizen £8, Uniformed service and students £18, Disabled and carer £18.

Bolton Castle, near Leyburn, North Yorkshire, DL8 4ET. T: 01969-623981. W: boltoncastle.co.uk

Adults £8.50, Concessions £7. Gardens only, includes boar park, falconry flying display, birds on weather, bee observation hive children's trail, local rare breed sheep, including Wensleydales. Adults £4, Concessions £3.

Forbidden Corner, Tupgill Park, Coverham, Middleham, Leyburn, DL8 4TJ. T: 01969-640-638

Adults £12, Senior Citizens £11, Children, £10.

Thorp Perrow Arboretum and Bird of Prey Centre, Bedale, DL8 2PS T: 01677-425-323 E: enquiries@thorpperrow.com

Adults £8.90, Concessions £7.90, Child (four-16) £5.60