Monday, 23 July 2012


I have been reading about inclusive Utopias, ones that are open to all and provide a welcome to those damaged by or lost in modern society, in 'Utopian Dreams' by Tobias Jones; an account of his journey to discover another, better way, of living. Simultaneously, we found ourselves beaten by the wind and rain in the unprecedented storm clouds that have hit the UK of late and camping was no longer a solution. So we choose to spend some time in Centre Parcs in Cumbria.

 This Utopia costs money and perhaps even causes more social ills than it solves, but it was a solution to our personal immediate needs. But I found a lot to admire here and learned a little about how our lives could look if only things were organised a little differently.

 When we arrived at Whinfell we thought we would certainly want to escape the village and had planned trips to Penrith and the beautiful surrounding countryside; however in reality we drove up to the wooden house, unpacked our bags, parked the hire car back at the edge of the park and didn't see it again for five days.

 We marvelled, of course, at the clean and organised kitchen and the en-suite bathrooms after having only a share of showers and an outdoor sink for the past weeks. We then visited the huge glass dome with a swimming pool, flumes, slides and river rapids set within a tropical garden. The place was buzzing with people: children, couples and groups of all ages and many with disabilities. There was so much to do and see. In this paradise alone our son spent nearly five hours a day. He was determined to make the most of every moment.

After all the noise and chaos of the 'village' we retreated to the truly impressive stillness of our temporary home. Centre Parcs has been established long enough for the woodland to dominate again. There are hares bounding past and red squirrels knocking pine cones from the great height of the cosseting green canopy above. Families of ducks play in the most unpromising little puddles. We were situated in a closely built cul-de-sac but it was actually tricky to make out any neighbours from the windows. Cars must be parked away from the houses except on moving day and even the bikes cycle only on the main thoroughfares.

 In the silence and stillness of the house, with the aid of a giant blackboard we planned all our activities.

 There was so much to try. We choose zip-lining (plummeting down a line between trees), ceramic painting, badminton, windsurfing, perhaps the most wonderful was the horse-riding. The stables are set overlooking the surrounding fells.

 As with the most sci-fi of Utopias however, even the tress were not quite as they seemed!

 My souvenirs will be fresh ideas: the possibility that a community can hold many people and offer much to occupy them in a small area, yet offer them stillness and a retreat from noise. My other will be this - a huge canvas printed with a large photograph of a tranquil forest. Huge enough to lose oneself in.

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