My vacation on plan B? Instead of a chalet in France I got wet in a tent in Norfolk


I think it was shortly before the lookout flew into a South Downs twister that I glanced at my phone and allowed myself one last glimpse of The Perfect Red-Shuttered House in France where I was supposed to be.No, I am telling a lie. It was when the tent leaked so catastrophically, the mattress turned into blotting paper and during a long night awake it was wetter inside than outside.

Last weekend, I should have been in Brittany with my family, drinking a glass of chilled cider and watching the bottlenose dolphins breaking the waves off Pointe Saint-Mathieu.

Instead, I found myself in a field in East Sussex, grappling with the elements. And, by any measure, lose.

I hasten to add that I love camping. I enjoy the homecoming rhythm of the day, the cameraderie of marshmallows and wine around the fireplace, even the crackling of summer showers once I’m tucked away in my sleeping bag.

But last weekend, when half the country was bathed in sunshine, I was in the other half, beset by high winds and pouring rain.

I am not a sissy. On previous trips, I woke up to find the dog’s basket afloat (still containing the dog) and the groundsheet strewn with worms.

Over the years I have managed wasp stings, a bitter disappointment when the “local” pub turned out to be eight miles instead of eight minutes, and somehow I Made dinner when we forgot the stove.

But it’s hard to triumph over adversity and keep everyone’s morale up when your thoughts drift across The Channel to what might have been, if 2020 had gone as planned.

I understand that losing a fortnight in France barely fits on the hell vacation scale. But I’ve been obsessed with The Perfect Red-Shuttered House ever since I booked it last September, after what felt like weeks of research online.

You may have understood that my annual summer stay matters to me. A lot. We only go overseas every two years as we love our exhilarating trips to the Scottish Isles and it is important that children experience the beauty of Britain.

Going to Europe is therefore a big problem; hence the need to define the destination and accommodation in September. My tastes aren’t lavish – the family budget doesn’t extend to extravagance at the problem – but they are precise.

Back when the pandemic started, I steadfastly refused to cancel my reservation, secretly swearing to paddleboard across the English Channel if necessary, floating dogs, children and suitcases behind me.

But the French owner of the house was more circumspect and decided to cancel on her side. Deflated doesn’t begin to describe my initial reaction. But within days I had booked us a break in Norfolk for the next month.

Camping was an added pleasure to distract us from our thoughts on Brittany. And, in a fun way, it worked. After the gazebo collapsed and the tent abandoned the ghost, the house seemed like the sweetest place in the world.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here