“Greetings From Barry Island”

Butlins Barry Island holiday camp in Wales closed in 1986. This could well have been the end of my blog post right here if it not for the fact that Barry Island re-opened the following season in 1987. It continued to provide a ‘Butlins-in-all-but-the-name’ holiday in south Wales under the rather optimistic title of ‘Majestic Barry Island’ for another 10 years. So that’s a relief, isn’t it? It means we can continue…

Wayyy back in the exciting year of 1988 my brother was born and a mere 12 weeks after that my Mum, Dad, Grandma and Granddad decided it would be an excellent idea to all go for a fun-filled break to the Barry Island holiday camp. In an effort to get that true holiday experience down on paper for you (ok, a screen) I will write about my week in a ‘postcard’ format. Does anyone remember those images of beaches, castles and thatched cottages that our parents (mostly mums) used to write to family on? A wonderful twitter account exists that daily ‘tweets’ bits of these genuine old postcard messages. I must thank whoever does these tweets because a) they make me laugh and b) they gave me the inspiration to put together this post in the first place.

I’ve decided to write these to my Nana, just so they feel a little more personal and yes, these memories are all real, no ‘artistic licence’ here, thank you very much! Now shhhh! I’ve got my postcards to write….

Dear Nana,

The car journey for Worcester to Barry Island took such a long time, days and days, I think! We are in our chalet now, I like it because the carpet is a nice orange and brown colour and the walls are made of wood!

Dear Nana,

Grandma has had a busy afternoon here already! She has been running around the camp looking for cleaners as we have been given a dusty chalet. The first cleaner she captured and brought back here only had a broom which “Isn’t any good”  according to Grandma, but all is well again as the cleaner reappeared with a hoover. But sadly the hoover has broken wheels, so it doesn’t work very well, either.

Dear Nana,

We are having lots of fun in our chalet still! There is only one chair in here which doesn’t bother me as I like sitting on the bed better anyway. My Granddad doesn’t mind either, he’s set up a garden chair inside, brought from his own back garden at home. Maybe he know about the Barry Island Chair Shortage before coming here. Grandma went to use a payphone ages ago and she’s only just come back. She said there was a queue and the lady in front of her made a very long phone call to somebody to talk about a pair of trousers!!

Dear Nana,

We have enjoyed the evenings here so far, and I have been on the dance floor lots. Mum and Dad are a bit tired, maybe it’s because they have to carry my brother’s pram up loads of steps to reach the ballroom. I like eating crisps and drinking orange juice with little umbrellas in the glass! It’s better than watching television at night, which we can’t do here anyway because we can’t get a television picture in the chalet, mind you they haven’t given us a television either…

Dear Nana,

I have been to the funfair today with Grandma and Granddad. There are loads of rides here, I have been on a yellow ladybird which goes round in a circle, a purple sparkly rocket which goes round in a circle and even a car!! ….which goes round in a circle. There are also models of giant rabbits and cockerels, Barry Island is so exciting!

Dear Nana,

Out and about exploring the camp today. Mum and I found a play park, which you had to go down lots of concrete steps to get to. I like the flowers growing in the park, which mum is calling ‘weeds’ and she says the park is a bit ‘rusty’. I like the rusty swings and the rusty climbing frame and I have a new boyfriend here. I don’t know his name but he is wearing a colourful shirt… we have been on the rusty see-saw together and I am probably in love!

Dear Nana,

We are not in the camp today… we are just below it, by a big wall on the beach! It is lovely and sandy, Dad built me lots of sandcastles, it took him ages and then for some reason he was a bit disappointed when I squashed them all by flinging myself on top of them. I did it really quickly too!

Dear Nana,

Going home tomorrow but I would like to live here forever! I have been on the biggest slide in the world today, it’s lots of red and yellow slides all stuck together and at the top I could see our chalet, or one that looked a lot like ours. Grandma is very happy, she likes the Barry Island washing machines and has had lots of fun using them today. Me, Mum and Dad went on the chairlift. We got a very scenic view of the camp car park and I could see our red Metro down below us! I love it here!

I hope you got a little idea of what the old Butlins camp was like, or at least a glimpse into the mind of my 3 year old self! Since Barry Island’s closure in 1996 and it’s subsequent decay and demolition the camp has gained a kind of cult status. People who holidayed there discuss their memories on message boards, there are touching YouTube videos, with archive photos and footage of the camp in its heyday and redcoats from Barry Island reunite annually. Yes, the accommodation was really no more than a beach hut with beds in (and a chair, if you were lucky) and the dining experience gave teenagers a chance to experience wartime rations. But the camp is remembered by many who worked and holidayed there with warmth and affection and fun, something I have (so far) never heard or seen bestowed on a continental hotel package holiday. Barry Island we love you… and we miss you, and for all sorts of reasons we will never, ever forget you!





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