Wet, wet, wet;Body amp; Mind

10th April 1998 at 01:00
Okay, so it might rain this Easter. But instead of staying indoors and moaning about April showers, why not look on the bright side: water can be a lot of fun. In the first of two articles on the wonders of wet weekends, Susan Young takes a trip to the Oasis holiday village

Calling a water-based holiday complex Oasis when it is situated just outside the Lake District - surely England's wettest area - might seem a little perverse. But the title is not meant to be taken literally. The message is that here is an oasis of calm, shelter and relaxation.

"When you enter Oasis, you enter a totally different world," the brochure gushes. "A world that is a far cry from the stresses and strains of everyday life. A world where you can refresh your body, mind and spirit in a natural environment. Where you can take time out to do all those things you've been promising yourself for so long . . ."

Oasis has been designed along similar lines to Center Parcs, the better-known Dutch import. The ingredients are the same: swimming and water-play facilities in a subtropical glass building, with a selection of cosy cottages for accommodation. Add a few more sporting and leisure facilities (mostly indoor), ban cars and hire out bikes. Result: total relaxation.

Well, that's the theory. Relaxation seemed an elusive goal as our party, complete with two young and hungry children, struggled to find its way from the car park to the Butterfly Centre - home of the swimming pools and eateries - with the aid of a small and inadequate map. We met many other equally baffled new residents that day (Oasis seems to make it a point of principle not to sully its roads with too many signs).

But we found the pool - eventually. Water is the whole point of Oasis. There are warm pools to float about in - occasionally enlivened by a wave machine - and a lazy river circuit in which swimmers are pulled and splashed by invisible currents. Outside there is a more vigorous version of the river, with a rapids run, but it was out of action for the week of our stay.

A highpoint of the Sherwood Forest CenterParc, which we visited (without children) a few years ago, was the steaming outdoor bubbling pools and falls, down which swimmers bobbed, splashed and floated back into the main swimming area. Presumably the Oasis version is similar.

If a couple of hours lolling round in water and whirlpools, admiring rocks and tropical greenery, seems too sybaritic, there is a selection of slides to liven things up. There's nothing quite like whizzing round a waterflume, in and out of darkness, ending with a ruthlessly efficient sinus washout on landing, for making you appreciate a gentle swim.

You need the excuse of a small child to enjoy the warmest pools, which are set aside for babies and their parents. Nothing as dull here as paddling pools: there is a selection of small slides and tubes, with a puddle-deep bubbling pool and others in all shapes, depths and sizes.

It is hard to do anything too fast or strenuously in the pools, which, combined with the car ban on the site, ensures that holiday life moves at a relaxed pace. Everything takes that bit longer to do, or is more complicated to plan. You did an efficient megashop at an offsite supermarket? Jolly good, but now you have to find a way of getting all those carrier bags back from the car on your bike and keeping them out of the front wheel. It's little challenges like this which put Oasis-land at such a refreshingly far remove from everyday life.

Then there is the mud, of which there are two sorts to be found: expensive and relaxing, or free and cold. We enjoyed rather more than expected of the latter, as it poured for the four days of our stay. Even if you manage to avoid cycling through muddy puddles yourself, it's a fair bet someone else will manage to get you.

The paid-for mud is a different matter altogether. It's a special treatment (one of many, such as reflexology, on offer) called Rassul, which comes in three colours and was sampled by our companions.

Our friends - who arrived back three hours later incredibly relaxed and marvelling at the softness of their skin - were given three small pots of muds in varying shades of brown, each for a different part of the body. They were left to anoint each other with the gunk, which they found particularly enjoyable for some reason.

That was then the real fun started. There were two special tiled chairs to sit on, above which were steam jets and shower heads. They would, explained the therapist, get nine separate blasts of steam to soften the mud, and then a cold shower to wash it all off. Linda was not too sure about this. "There was something about the way these shower heads were just above the chairs that seemed a bit sinister. And I defy anyone to keep an accurate count of puffs of steam."

Cleansed and invigorated, they then enjoyed a swim in a warm outside pool under the stars, before donning the layer upon layer of woollies and waterproofs necessary for the cycle ride back to the chalet, acquiring more (authentic Cumbrian) mud en route.

Of course, it is possible to enjoy a more energetic break: there are facilities for all sorts of racquet sports, for example. Sailing and windsurfing are also on offer, but not in winter.

Given reasonable weather, the Oasis site is an enjoyable place to cycle or walk, particularly the nature reserve. A high point of the week was spotting a red squirrel - only the second I have ever seen - outside our chalet. The brochure reveals that the 400 acres are home to badgers, tawny owls, pine martens and deer. Rangers are on hand to give information about the conservation programme.

One of our friends also barbecued a full meal in the pouring rain, aided only by a golf umbrella. Not something you'd do at home, but then that's the fun of being on holiday.

So who are these water holidays for? Children of all ages, particularly if you want to enjoy all mod cons, except the car, at a slightly slower pace than normal. Teachers tired of other people's children might find the numbers of tots at Oasis something of a busman's holiday.

And although Oasis is ostensibly child-friendly (baby pools, soft room, day nursery), it is not so entirely parent-friendly. Our chalet, for instance, had light switches and an internal phone at toddler height, and no way of blocking off the kitchen and outside doors, the handles of which were easily within a child's reach. With older children this would be fine, but on a four-day break with an 18-month-old you could spend a lot of time yelling "No!". And that ain't relaxing.

Still, gripes aside, a remarkably modest price bought five days' splashy happiness for a pair of toddlers and four parents. Just don't forget your waterproofs.

Prices start at pound;139 for a weekend in a one-bedroomed apartment in early December and can go as high as around pound;800 for a four-bedroomed de-luxe lodge in August. Tel: 0990 086000 Next week Coasteering in Pembrokeshire

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