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Barry Island Memories by David Hunt Back

When I was growing up, back in the mid seventies, my family and I would usually spend our holidays at Butlins holiday camps. I always look back at Barry Island being my favourite. We visited Skegness and Pwllheli but preferred Barry Island.

My dad used to drive us there from Surrey in the early morning, leaving before it got light. This wasn't difficult because I never got to sleep due to the excitement so I was always up and ready.  By the time we got to the Severn Bridge I knew my holiday would soon be starting, and that was very exciting for a child of six.

The first thing I always remember when getting to Barry was seeing the old railway yard full of disused steam engines. This to a child's eyes this was quite spectacular. Quite funny to think of know, as later in life I became a train driver. All the old steam engines have gone now.

Eventually we would arrive at the gates to Butlins, my holiday had begun. First we checked in at the reception in the Gaiety Arcade. After collecting our keys from the many hanging on the wall we would go and locate our chalet. We stayed in yellow camp first and then on other visits around Nell's Point in the red camp etc. I would be given my own chalet key, which was tied around my neck on a piece of string. I remember standing under the large white clock which stood over the road by the Princes Building. I tried to throw my key over it but it got stuck on the top and I had to tell my Dad that I had lost it. After being given my key I had the freedom of the camp. You couldn't get out so no harm could be done! Imagine that today.

I loved exploring and soon made many friends with other children around the camp. I used to join the Beaver Club, which was for the younger children. A hunt around the camp for Captain Blood was exciting. This always resulted in Captain Blood (a red coat in costume) being pushed off the top diving board of the outdoor swimming pool. The outdoor pool was where I first learnt to swim. It was very cold and scary if I remember.

In the mornings, after being woken up by the theme to Deer Hunter or Fleetwood Mac's Albatross played over the loud speakers, I used to sit in the chalet and watch all the big ships going past out at sea. Then when my parents and brother were ready we would go down for breakfast. Breakfast used to be served in large communal dining halls in the Princes Building. I remember sitting next to a red coat every day called Uncle Max. All the red coats were called Uncle or Auntie something. If one of the waitresses dropped some plates everyone used to cheer loudly. After breakfast the day was mine to do what I wanted.

I used to always go to the amusement arcade in the Gaiety Arcade. I would spend all my money on games like Space Invaders, Battle Zone, Phoenix and Pong. I also used to spend time on the different rides in the amusement park. These included the Helter Skelter and Peter Pan Railway.

The theatre was a place I liked to go to in the evenings. I would sit with my parents watching things like the red coat show or other children's entertainers. The discos in the Gaiety Ballroom were a favourite part of my holiday, dancing away to seventies Glam and the holiday camp rock and roll. A record I always remember being played at Butlins was Telstar by the Tornados. I used to queue up for a drink and while waiting to pay used to keep topping up the paper cup with more drink. I think most of the kids thought everything was free at Butlins.

I can remember the chairlifts with great affection. Approaching the chairlift station I can remember trembling with excitement as I saw the cabins glide out and up into the air. As you entered the station you joined a long or short queue depending how busy it was. There would be a couple of attendants ushering people into the cabins and making sure the door was safely closed. When we got to the front of the queue you stepped into your cabin and were sent on your way. Once you were free from the station all the noise stopped as you sailed quietly up into the air. Freedom! Looking down below you could see everything. The journey would take you from one side of the camp to the other. I always remember the warm summer air blowing through the cabin and the smell of sea air. Summers don't seem the same anymore. As you approached the towers you would rattle and bump over the pylon wheels which the cables ran along, always a fright. Then you would start to descend into the terminal station. The noise of the mechanical workings and peoples voices brought you back down to earth and the funfair.

The sad part always had to come, going home. But I always knew we would be back the following year.

Barry Island was one of my fondest childhood memories. I recently went back in 2003 and took some photos. These can be seen on this site. The camp today is sorry state. A sad ending for a place of so many good memories.

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