Want to take the children away for a fun, low-budget but totally unforgettable camping holiday? Look no further than the South coast of England – to Kent. There is far more to do than you might think
When we first mentioned to people that we were going to Dover on holiday, I have to admit (and no offence to Dover) they thought it was a bit odd. People tend to think of it as "the place you go when you are going to France", not a destination in its own right. However, we were on a really tight budget and, with four children to amuse, wanted to go somewhere in England. It's ideal for people who are new to camping and like campsites run by local people rather than commercialised establishments.
Situated three or four miles from Dover, Martins Mill is a small village with a bus and rail service into the centre of town. If your children love trains, you can get a pitch at Hawthorn Farm (www.keatfarm.co.uk) with the train track running right behind it. (Don't worry – it's completely secure and there are only a couple of trains per hour!) The campsite takes caravans, mobile homes and tents (with or without electric hook-up) and is extremely friendly, clean and well organised. The shower blocks are well situated for each area and there are also washing-up areas. It is very reasonably priced, about £120 this year for five nights – with electricity.
So, why is this a "holiday on a budget" when there is nothing to do in the village? Read on for my bargains...
Dover Castle is at least a full day out (if not more) and is also part of English Heritage, so join as a family ticket-holder and you have the freedom to go back the next day as well – and visit any other English Heritage property in the UK any time. A day ticket costs £28 for a family, while family membership costs just £80 for the full year. There are interactive talks, lots of open space to run about in, plenty of picnic areas and underground war tunnels for that added excitement.
The White Cliffs, though part of the National Trust, have areas where you can go free of charge: small, unspoilt beaches with a little tea-hut and no amusement arcades – but with plenty of opportunities to go crabbing.
Diggerland is a bit of a drive away, and initially quite expensive. However, using your Tesco Clubcard vouchers (£4-worth of vouchers per free ticket) means the £15 entrance fee charged per person is no longer so daunting.
France – yes, that's right – is cheaper than most days out. Being so close to the port, you can get some great deals both as foot passengers and with a car (about £25 for the day). Kids will love the ferry crossing, and the beach at Calais is easy to find and has plenty of parking right up at the front. Mums and dads can also persuade the little ones that a quick 10-minute drive to the hypermarket is needed!
Romney/Dymchurch has a lovely miniature railway, which is quite expensive but worth the treat. If you want to avoid the cost (which we did last year), head straight for the beach. There's plenty of lovely sand, and crabbing opportunities as well.
All in all, we had our whole week away (Monday to Saturday) for less than £200 – which included a trip to France, Diggerland, Dover Castle and two different beaches. I call that a low-budget holiday for a family of six...