Woolacombe has a special place in my heart and although I don’t feel I can visit again quite yet, it will be part of my future. Woolacombe has been a magical place for me for virtually all my life. I first visited at the age of 6 in 1967 with my family, and have done regularly throughout my life. I completely understand people’s view about the Narracott Grand building – and I feel the same – it is a blot on the landscape. But 45 years ago things were very different and as a 6 year old and for the following 7 years it was the perfect holiday destination for me and my 4 brothers and sister. The high standards of the hotel may have been lost on us but we loved the pool, the freedom we were afforded in the labyrinth of corridors to explore, and most of all the amazing beach (especially the stream). The times we spent damming up the stream, flying our kites, and playing in the sea were among the most special of my childhood. Amusing memories include us 5 lads (father and 4 sons) going on a fishing trip at Ilfracombe when the weather was too bad for the beach.
Unfortunately it was also too bad for 3 of them to avoid sea sickness – that left me (aged 11) and Steve (aged 7) free to eat all the packed lunches on the boat when the others had to be taken to shore to recover! To add insult to injury I caught the only fish – a conger eel which I am pictured with above – outside the Narracott of course! Equally funny but rather more distressing for me was the following year deciding to whack a golf ball as far as I could while on the putting green at Saunton Golf Club – only to see it fly through the clubhouse window and roll up to the feet of a group having a quiet cuppa.
I must admit to being mortified although probably not as much as my father who having heard the crash came rushing out from a post-round pint, to see the carnage which added significantly to an already expensive holiday. I remember regular complaints from other residents as well as compliments about our family. A generally well-mannered and amusing family (with a very cute younger sister) which did receive some nice comments. But equally the early morning games and messing about must have been horrendous for the people in the room below ours – all 5 of us in the same room messing about from 7.00am every morning – we loved it but the other guests had understandable cause to come and complain on many an occasion. When the 5 of us were older the family went on holiday to other locations but for me (and I think most of the others) no holiday was quite as good as those in Woolacombe. It won’t surprise you to know that I continued to visit as soon as I was old enough to travel independently and encouraged the others to come too – we enjoyed several fantastic long weekends in Woolacombe in the 1990s – again staying at the Narracott.
Although it was by then a tatty old hotel (a victim of cheaper holidays abroad), the magic and the memories remained. Tragically in 2008, the eldest of us 5 passed away at the age of 48 – a victim of cancer. Mark was the best elder brother we could have had – a father figure and a great companion throughout our lives – including on holidays at Woolacombe. I think of Mark when I think about Woolacombe – memories of happy carefree times when we were all young and healthy. In the early 2000s another generation of Thatchers were introduced to Woolacombe – my children Huw and Carys having wonderful holidays at what they called the ‘Grand Narracott’! While it wasn’t as grand as it once was, it seemed to hold the same magic for them as it had for us 30 years earlier. Other cousins have also had Woolacombe holidays – sometimes finding alternative more suitable accommodation – in any case the Narracott is no longer an option. Some of them still take holidays in Woolacombe or Mortehoe now. As a little boy Huw loved to chase his kite on the beach to catch the little man sliding down a separate string before it landed in the sand.
Huw and Carys also loved bodyboarding – even having silly names as young children for their bodyboards which was hilarious. Huw also loved the pitch and putt. Magical things to do at a magical place for magical holidays as young children – just like the 5 of us 30 or 40 years previously! Foreign holidays took over for a few years so we didn’t visit Woolacombe again until 2009 – by which time Huw was nearly 6 foot tall as a 14 year old and accidentally drove from the first tee on the golf course straight over the course so it bounced in the esplanade car park! That weekend was one of the most special weekends for us – back at childhood haunts. We had planned to visit again in July 2011 but unbelievable sadness was to hit our family in March of that year when Huw (a strapping and healthy 15 year old) suffered a brain haemorrhage and passed away while playing football. That’s nearly 5 years ago and I often think of Woolacombe – and think of the little boy chasing his kite, and also the strapping handsome teenager not knowing his strength on the golf course some years later.
I have found it too sad to want to visit Woolacombe since 2011 – but it’s such a special place, I will go again soon. I will be there again either next year or in 2017. I will take part in the half marathon or marathon – or a cycling event – the sorts of things many of us have been doing to remember Huw and raise funds for a brain injury charity over the last 4 or 5 years through the ‘Huw Thatcher Trust’. I will come to Woolacombe and cycle and run for Mark and Huw. I will smell the fresh sea air, enjoy the beautiful countryside, walk on the beach, and go far out into the sea where I first took Huw bodyboarding – and I will look back at the beautiful village of Woolacombe – thinking of two tall handsome amazing guys and the happy times we all had in Woolacombe…………………….with Mark and Huw Thatcher. I don’t know who to thank for these special memories apart from my parents of course – so to anyone who has helped maintain such a beautiful welcoming environment for family holidays – you have made it a perfect place for so many families and certainly helped create some of the most precious memories for the Thatchers.
Read more and help the Huw Thatcher trust, by visiting their website: http://huwthatchertrust.org