Nostalgic? Four writers reveal why the best holidays are a trip down memory lane as they share their experiences of returning to childhood haunts

  • Bella Pollen used to live in New York and visited the city together with her father
  • William Leith took his son to Northumberland to show him how the world was
  • Arifa Akbar and her mother visited Margate, where they used to go to on holiday
  • Daisy Waugh went to a restaurant in France her family first visited back in 1962

Bella Pollen, 57, gave up her award-winning career as a fashion designer to become a successful novelist. Her latest book, the memoir Meet Me In The In-Between (Picador, £8.99), is out now. She is married with four children.

When I was a child living in New York, my father bought a Lincoln Continental Special from the widow of an art collector whose paintings he had valued for Sotheby’s. The old collector had revered the car and never took it out in the rain.

The Lincoln, one of only 50 ever made, had pristine ivory paintwork and coffee leather interiors.

My father dubbed it the Great White Monster, and at weekends liked to cruise us upstate through the fall leaves, tap-tapping his cigarette ash out the window.

Bella Pollen grew up in New York and went back to the city together with her father on a nostalgic holiday (pictured)

One day, he ran over a skunk. The smell permeated every upholstered pore of that beautiful car, and thereafter began our love affair with the train.

Grand Central Terminal is the world’s most romantic station. Built by the Vanderbilt family during New York’s golden age, it’s a paean to the grandeur of architectural imagination.

Now, on Friday nights, instead of piling my brother, sister and I, bickering, into the car, my mother would herd us towards the four-faced clock of the cavernous marble concourse, where we’d peer through commuter legs for the sight of Dad hurrying towards us, straight from the office.

  • Worried about baring your bingo wings on the beach? At last,…

    ‘Emmy wanted me to meet someone’: Widower, 33, who found…

Share this article

My father’s lawyer Jay Wolf and his wife Betty became our adopted grandparents while we lived in New York. The first time we went to visit them on Long Island, my father told us we were staying with a family of wolves.

I vividly remember being perched beside my siblings on the red leather seats of the Metro North line, wotndering whether we’d be eaten or not.

Grand Central became the beginning and end of all our weekend adventures. ‘New Rochelle! Larchmont, Mamaroneck!’ The guard would stand at the entrance of the carriage and shout destinations as we ate blueberry doughnuts and read Batman comics.

She revealed how the experience of New York was bittersweet without her mother, who died last year

When we were older, our parents took us to the station’s Oyster Bar, where we sat goggle-eyed while shouting white-aproned chefs hustled along, stirring clam chowder and prising open shells.

If it’s pure nostalgia for me to revisit New York with my father, it’s still bittersweet for us without my mother, who died last year. Everything my family enjoy doing together began in this city. Movie double bills, hot dogs by the fistful, cruising around museums deciding which pictures to hide in our coats.

We start by doing things that remind us of Mum — revisiting our old apartment on 92nd Street. Breathing in the musty scent of the Central Park Zoo. We go to Nightingale Bamford School — ‘Aha, so this is where you went,’ my father says — but inevitably gravitate towards Grand Central.

It’s a long time since I swung through those big brass and glass doors with either parent. We wander slowly round, gazing up at the blue-and-gold vaulted ceiling, admiring the stone acorns carved above the track entrances, gobbling shad roe in the Oyster Bar.

Somewhere in the labyrinth of the lower floor, we fall into conversation with an old janitor, sweeping up for the day.

‘I’ve worked here for 53 years and still find it a thrill,’ he says. ‘You know they tried to close it down in the Seventies, but Jackie Kennedy saved us. Made the building a landmark. Oh, it was a terrible mess then, grimy and neglected.’

‘Still magnificent though,’ my father interjects. ‘Oh, sure,’ the janitor says, leaning on his broom. ‘But not many people remember those days now.’

Because he is feeling sentimental, Dad gives my hand a squeeze. ‘We do,’ he says. ‘We remember.’


Author William Leith, 58, lives in Sussex and has one son.

I wanted to show my 13-year-old son what the world was like when I was a boy, so I decided to take him to Northumberland — a place full of old things, I told him. Saxon churches, Hadrian’s Wall and ruined castles. When I was his age, even the newer things, the fishermen’s huts and ice-cream parlours, seemed old-fashioned.

There’d be beaches, dunes and a chance to see seals. ‘They’re much more like dogs than you’d think, but with no legs,’ I said.

We drove up in August. The weather was brisk, not stuffy or balmy like the South of England. We arrived at the village of Seahouses. It was just as I remembered — a nip in the air. We went straight to the beach. I knew the water would be cold or very cold.

William Leith went on holiday to Northumberland with his son, to rekindle some of his childhood memories

Beadnell Bay is spectacular: miles of pale sand. In France, it would be packed. Here, there were some joggers, dog walkers and one or two families. We took our shoes off. The water was not cold, or even very cold — it was petrifying.

My son loved it. As a kid, this had been the point. Northumberland is austere. It’s a challenge. ‘We’re coming back here tomorrow to swim,’ said my son. ‘Maybe,’ I replied. ‘Not maybe, Dad. Definitely.’

I knew swimming in the North Sea would be an indescribable ordeal — and hilarious and wonderful. In the morning, the sky was blue with a hint of purple. A Nordic August day, the best weather in the world. Unless you’re planning to swim. Seahouses hadn’t changed much. Stone buildings around a harbour, a little fishing fleet, an ice-cream parlour, a couple of tinkling amusement arcades. But now they sell wetsuits in the gift shop.

He took his son to Beadnell Bay, somewhere he had visited himself as a child (pictured as a toddler)

Back at the bay, my son jumped into the waves. I waded in up to my waist. Then a bit more. Through my wetsuit, the water was still alarmingly cold. My God! We were laughing our heads off. Freezing water is a sort of drug. ‘It’s been scientifically proven,’ I said.

Later, we took a boat trip to see the seals, which live on the Farne Islands, tiny rocky outcrops whitened with guano. Gannets and cormorants shot towards us and smashed into the water, sometimes surfacing with fish. Seals lay in groups of ten or 20, growling.

‘See,’ I said. ‘Dogs with no legs.’

Afterwards we went to the beach and paddled a kayak out into the bay as the skies turned to grey.

He shared his experience during the holiday and said that not much had changed from his childhood 

We drove to Craster and walked to the castle. There are a few broken turrets, but most of it is gone. We tried to imagine what it would have been like when it was built 700 years ago. Horses. Swords. Suits of armour.

There’s an English Heritage hut selling snacks, drinks and postcards. But that’s it. Nothing much has changed since I was my son’s age. But the austerity of Northumberland, scarcer now, makes it feel odder — in a good way. I’ll save the Roman wall for next time.

William stayed at The Bamburgh Castle Inn (from £104, based on two sharing, He kayaked with KA Kitesurfing (


Arifa Akbar, 46, is a writer who edits the online magazine Boundless at She lives in London.

If the past is a foreign country, as L.P. Hartley said, that was literally the case for me. I was born in London, but my family shuttled back and forth to Lahore, in Pakistan, until I was almost six, when we settled back in Britain.

Until then, my holidays had been in the Murree Hills, a hill station. As a child I had vivid recollections of mountainous vistas.

The trip to Margate was very different, with delightfully exotic rituals: the preparation of sandwiches the night before the journey; stone-skimming loved by my brother; tumbling on soft sand; the buying of fishing nets and the disappointment at never catching fish; the taking off of socks and shoes, and running away from waves.

Arifa Akbar visited the sea in Margate, Kent with her mother, as a reminder of the childhood holidays she spent there

My family began going to Margate when I was nine or ten, then we went almost every summer, into my teenage years. My parents simply wanted us — my older sister Fauzia, younger brother Tariq and me — to see the sea. We dodged the pebbles of Brighton for silkier sands and fewer crowds.

We’d catch a rattling train to the Kent coast, ice-box in tow, squealing with excitement and ploughing into our lunchboxes as soon as the whistle blew at King’s Cross, even though we’d just had breakfast.

When we drove there, we’d sit in a hot Ford Fiesta, the bonhomie of the trip invariably wearing off and turning into sulks — sometimes not just between us kids, either.

In our teens, my sister and I would raise our eyebrows when our parents announced a trip, as if to say, ‘Oh God, are we really going to Margate again?’ But it would only take a sighting of the coast to turn us into excited kids again. We’d count down to arrival, waving at Ramsgate and Broadstairs. It felt like we were partaking in a very English tradition.

She revealed how her family began going to Margate when she was nine or ten, and went almost every summer into her teenage years

I always thought the beach on Margate Main Sands was empty, bar the odd dog walker, but my mother, Bela Akbar, 74, remembers it differently. ‘We’d have to get there early to lay down our picnic blanket and guard the patch for the rest of the day, as the beach could get packed,’ she says.

None of us ever got into a swimming costume. To us, Britain was never hot enough for that — we knew how to keep cool in subcontinental heat. I stopped going on the family trips when I left for university, aged 18.

Returning, I couldn’t have guessed at the town’s gentrification. Its streets are no longer filled with chippies, bucket-and-spade shops and supermarkets, but now teem with galleries, boutiques and fashionable cafes that even beguile my hard-to-impress mother.

The sun bounces off the glass architecture of the Turner Contemporary gallery, where we stop for coffee. Yet pockets of the older, shabbier town remain — high-rise blocks, an old-school chip shop.

Pictured is Arifa’s brother Tariq, aged 12 in the photo, he is now a 43-year-old oil industry analyst

The Margate we knew and loved is still there, tucked between vegan cafes and crowds of hipsters.

We have lost most of the photos of our family trips over the years. There is one of Tariq, now a 43-year-old oil industry analyst, sitting on the beach in a baseball cap. Another of Fauzia at 12, her bobbed hair pinned at the sides, holding a fishing net. And one of me next to her, dressed in a pink jacket identical to hers.

She looks so vital and alive that it takes my breath away to remember that she died of TB just over two years ago, at the age of 45.

My mother looks impossibly young, and my father, 87, who has advanced dementia, looks impossibly healthy. Those trips to Margate were sunny days, lost but not forgotten.

My mother and I returned alone. But if our family has changed shape and diminished, there is some solace in seeing the sea and sand unchanged.


Novelist and tarot reader Daisy Waugh, 51, is the granddaughter of Evelyn Waugh and daughter of Auberon Waugh. She lives in London with her husband and three children.

It was my mother who discovered it. Directed to L’Entrecote in Toulouse by a distant French cousin, she took my older sister there in a carrycot. That was in 1962. My family has been going ever since.

As the natives know (there’s a queue outside, seven days a week), this inexpensive, one-dish restaurant is the most delicious one in the world.

Novelist and tarot reader Daisy Waugh, 51, took her husband to L’Entrecote restaurant in Toulouse, France

My husband Peter and I recently returned to L’Entrecote for the first time in 21 years. Nothing had changed. Same yellow tablecloths, same tartan wallpaper, same brisk French service, same salade aux noix first course, same steak and chips with the same fameuse sauce secrete for main. The Parisian who opened the first L’Entrecote and created said sauce bequeathed its secrets to his children, who created near-identical chains.

One son opened a restaurant in Toulouse (and expanded to Bordeaux, Nantes, Lyons and Montpellier.) A daughter took it to London, New York, Bahrain and Mexico. Why they had to start separate chains remains a mystery: a secret-sauce-related French family feud, perhaps.

The sauce is so exquisite that 50-odd years ago my parents used this restaurant as the fulcrum around which to search for a holiday house.

They bought a ramshackle farmhouse a 40-minute drive away, and our trips to Toulouse, and L’Entrecote, three or four times each summer — to buy satchels for school, to celebrate exam results; any excuse, really — are a highlight of my childhood.

Daisy hadn’t visited the restaurant in 21 years but revealed how her family had been going there since 1962

And not only mine. I am one of four siblings, all of them greedy. I once caught Sibling X sobbing on the last night of a holiday, as it was going to be another ten-and-a-half months before our next visit to L’Entrecote.

Sibling W seduced one of the waiting staff to try to get hold of the sauce recipe. But the sauce is made off-site, in top secret laboratories, and even loved-up staff couldn’t provide it.

Sibling Z plus friend (note the tactful avoidance of age and gender in these reminiscences) stopped off at L’Entrecote en route between Italy and Spain, on a teenage inter-railing adventure, and never actually left.

After a week eating L’Entrecote’s steak frites twice a day, they essentially ran out of money. On the last day, having worked through the set menu, they realised that if they walked to the station, and didn’t eat until they got home to the UK, they had just enough to start the menu again.

These forgotten stories came flooding back at L’Entrecote last week. Peter and I chortled over the greed of my siblings while licking our platters clean and ordering profiteroles.

We were only in Toulouse for 24 hours, and planned museum visits the next day. But you can find museums anywhere. Not so the Toulouse L’Entrecote. It seemed silly to fight it.

By 12.30pm we were back at the front of the queue, discussing whether we’d have space for profiteroles, or if the slightly smaller chocolate mousse might be a more realistic option . . .

Daisy stayed at Grand Hotel de L’Opera (; (£17 set menu).

Source: Read Full Article