Our first Real Family Holidays experience ended in tears!

Our first Real Family Holidays experience ended in tears!

The bat detectors – Our Little Man with his new friends, enjoying the included bat walk activity. 

Real Family Holidays centre, Start Bay, Devon

There were lots of tears at Real Family Holidays’ (RFH) Start Bay centre in Devon – but only as everybody left.

The friendly, compact nature of the centre meant we got to know the other eight families staying during our five days very well, without the presence of each other ever feeling intrusive. The centre is perfectly equipped, the location is beautiful and – if our experience is anything to go by – the people you’ll meet will make your stay.


The adventure begins long before you arrive at the Start Bay centre as you wend your way through tiny country lanes to find it. There are some beautiful views of rolling countryside before the sea comes tantalisingly into view. Expect a couple of hair-raising moments whenever you have to pass a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction though!

At the centre, the enclosed garden proved an instant hit with all the young arrivals who were playing together within minutes, safely and happily running around, getting to know one another. With an exciting low ropes course, a vast bug hotel, campfire circle, ancient looking tree too tempting not to climb and den complete with table tennis, there was loads to ignite the imagination and all a step outside the recreation room and kitchen, where tea, coffee and squash is constantly available. Bliss.

Add into the mix a home-cooked evening meal within a couple of hours of arrival and it’s fair to say our Real Family Holiday was off to a promising start.

On the menu: cottage pie and mixed vegetables or vegetarian pasta bake and salad

The garden at Real Family Holidays’ Start Bay centre, Devon


Any day that kicks off with a full English cooked by someone else and with all the washing up sorted by them too has the makings of a great one and so it was with Day Two of our Start Bay stay. No sooner had we finished eating and made packed lunches from the huge variety of wraps, sandwich fillings and pasta on offer, with fruit and cake to boot, than we were back out in the garden.

Today’s free activity – a team challenges icebreaker – was definitely as much for the adults as it was for the kids. Within minutes the grown-ups were on the path to being as firm friends as the little ones already were – working together to solve the sports day-style challenges and heaving with laughter along the way. It was a fabulous case of the simple things being the most enjoyable as we took part in a human marble run, using lengths of gutter and a plastic bowling ball, and figured out how to ease the pieces of a giant floor puzzle into a square, among other games.

Beautiful weather made for a perfect afternoon spent lazing on the magnificent arced stretch of Slapton’s fine shingle beach. With the clear blue water and sky to match, you could be anywhere in the world.

On the menu: Beef and vegetarian lasagne, vegetarian tart, wedges, salad

The family team challenges were a fun and fab icebreaker


Making the most of some of the attractions on the doorstep of the Start Bay centre, we opted to spend the day in beautiful Dartmouth, soaking up the scenery, watching the car ferry trundle back and forth and, importantly, crabbing. With 15 crabs netted on one lower of the bucket, this was very much a highlight for our seven-year-old son!

The evening’s activity back at Start Bay was a late one by necessity – bat watching. Heading out from nearby Slapton Ley Field Studies Centre (a five-minute car ride from Start Bay), our Real Family Holidays guides led the children in a few fun games to get things warmed up – subtly imparting knowledge about bats, their diet, habitat and tools for communication along the way. The bat tracking devices that later amplified the bats’ sonar were greeted with great excitement.

Earlier in the week, more than 100 bats were counted flying out from the first roost we went to, in the eaves of a holiday home in the picturesque village. Sadly, there wasn’t such a huge display for us but even the dozen or so bats we spotted and the sounds they emitted through the tracking devices led to great excitement from all. Though they were trumped a little by an unexpected bonus when we spotted glow-worms shimmering in the verges during our walk between roosts.

On the menu:  pizza and chips, potato salad, salad

Dartmouth, just 20 minutes from Start Bay


There was never a shortage of food at Start Bay and the catering team could not have been more accommodating, providing a great variety of adult and kid-friendly options and more than willing to cater to specific requirements in addition.

The morning’s activity – Survive in the Wild – was one I’d particularly been looking forward to, knowing my son would be entranced by being taught how to start fire with flints. He was – and so was I! Den building, the smells of the wood and the fire lighting were fantastic engaging fun, keeping the pre-schoolers and pensioners amongst us equally enthralled. The sense that all the guides are truly passionate and knowledgeable about the environment and their great skill at offering just enough information to make the activities educational without the kids ever really realising it, really made the activities for me. Though, again, an unscheduled addition to the trip, caused equal amusement, when on the return short walk, we got a close-up view of a sheepdog rounding a flock with mixed success!

In the evening, the great beauty of our Real Family Holidays trip, was summed up in half an hour. Throughout the week, the children, with no adult guidance, direction or input, had taken it upon themselves to script, act, film and edit a mini-movie on an iPad one of them had brought along. They then laid on a premiere. They wrote the names of each child and grown-up on pieces of paper and laid them out on the seats in the recreation room before gathering us all together. The mini film was beamed onto the whiteboard and they’d done an incredible job. A dozen or so kids, the eldest of them 11, had created a mini movie from nothing and got the whole contingent of guests gathered to watch together.  After only four days together there was a great sense of community amongst all our families and, right off the top of my son’s holiday highlights list, was the friends he’d made.

On the menu: ratatouille or chilli with rice or wedges, nachos with cheese and sour cream or sausage rolls

The amazing film premiere organised by the children


It was with genuine sadness that we left Start Bay and all the lovely families we met there. A glance around the recreation room on that final morning saw a handful of children sitting together colouring, others playing table football and the older ones swapping contact details to ensure they stayed in touch. They had all enjoyed every second of having so many playmates available at all times. Saying goodbye to them really did generate the only tears Our Little Man cried for the entire trip.

We rounded off our stay with one final activity – Seashore Adventure – which saw some fun games down on the beach, building our own islands out of rocks, seaweed and sand and a discussion about the geography, plus another opportunity to light a fire and toast some marshmallows above it.

As had become customary, an unscheduled extra was one of the highlights when we saw a gannet swoop down over the sea and dive down into the water to catch its breakfast. Only seconds earlier, tutor Tom had drawn everyone’s attention to the bird and said that it could well carry out that manoeuvre.

It’s fair to say that having completed our first Real Family Holidays trip we’ll not only be promoting them this summer but long into the future. Our family and friends will get sick of hearing about them!

See five fab things about RFH Start Bay below.

Beautiful Slapton beach


Five great things about RFH Start Bay:

Twinned toilet
  1. The small centre is compact enough for children to have independence moving between the recreation room and enclosed garden.
  2. The RFH team are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and accommodating.
  3. The walls are filled with posters and displays of bite-sized facts that engage children and encourage discussion and education. The displays included the history of the building – an old school house once hit by lightning and that of the area and the infamous and tragic events at Slapton Sands during the Second World War. There was all the conservation and environmental information regarding food miles, water conservation and recycling you expect from the charity behind RFH – Field Studies Council. And my particular favourite, a framed certificate above one of the toilets telling that it was twinned with a latrine in Cambodia!
  4. The enclosed and engaging garden and all it has to offer.
  5. Something all RFH centres have in common – the incredible location.


As suggested at Start Bay, how many can you do?

Find out a bit more about how we came to be spending the summer touring Real Family Holiday centres in: Why we’re advocating a holiday firm we’re yet to use

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