96 ultimate outdoor meet-ups
Walking is sooo Lockdown 3. Come March 29, we’re ready for some new outdoors activities with friends or family. Try one of these fresh ideas from the Muddy counties.
BEDFORDSHIRE BERKSHIRE BUCKINGHAMSHIRE CAMBRIDGESHIRE CORNWALL DEVON DORSET ESSEX GLOUCESTERSHIRE HAMPSHIRE HERTFORDSHIRE ISLE OF WIGHT KENT LEICESTERSHIRE NORFOLK NORTHAMPTONSHIRE OXFORDSHIRE RUTLAND SUFFOLK SOMERSET SURREY SUSSEX WARWICKSHIRE WILTSHIRE WORCESTERSHIRE LONDON
Let’s go punting, Cambridge
Whether you know the pretty city of Cambridge or not, exploring it by punt is a must. You can take a guided tour, either for just your family or in a shared punt (made Covid-safe with screens) or you can brave steering your own. We recommend a tour guide, as they do all the hard work navigating you up the river, as well as regaling you with the area’s history, while you can sit back and enjoy the ride, perhaps with a glass of fizz! The views are simply stunning – perfectly manicured lawns and the amazing architecture of the majestic Kings College Chapel, and Trinity, St John’s, and Clare colleges plus the beautiful bridges. You can also take a punt towards Grantchester – the safer bet if you are self-guiding. Once past the busy city area, you can enjoy a picnic on the river bank, where many also swim (watch out for Newnham Riverbank Club who like to do it naked!) or maybe you will make it as far as the Orchard Tea Rooms, where Rupert Brooke and friends hung out, to enjoy a scone the size of your head to power you back to Cambridge. Book in advance with Scudamores or Rutherfords Punting.
The Botanic Gardens, Cambridge
Cambridge University Botanic Gardens has been in the news of late, with the blooming of the magnificent Moonflower. Now the garden is bursting with colour, incredible blossom trees, and these gorgeous rare tulips. Plus, there are over 80 species on display in the Alpine House, a collection that has its origins in the 1920s. The garden is open seven days a week, 10-6pm, April-September, and tickets must be booked online in advance. Take a picnic or grab a takeaway lunch from the Botanic’s fab café.
The Raptor Foundation, Huntingdon
Are you cuckoo about birds? Or maybe your kids are. Either way, a visit to this amazing conservation centre near Huntingdon could be just what you need when your wings have been clipped for the last few months. Open from 12 April, you can see a variety of eagles, hawks, falcons and owls that have been rehabilitated at the centre, plus there are regular – and very impressive – flying displays. You can also sign up for a variety of courses and activities including a Hawk Walk, where you quite literally take a hawk for a walk and experience the thrill of the birds flying back to your (gloved) hand. So egg-citing! (Sorry – bird puns are so hawk-ward!). After your bird-watching why not head to the nearby village of St Ives, where you could take a picnic lunch by the lovely River Ouse.
Wicken Fen, Near Ely
Wicken Fen is the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve and a great destination if you want to blow away the cobwebs and enthuse any budding David Attenborough’s in your midst. One of Europe’s most important wetlands, Wicken Fen has recorded more than 9,000 species including rare butterflies, dragonflies, birds, and plants. You view the marshlands via raised boardwalks and if you are fed up with your usual walks and landscape (who isn’t?), this is the perfect antidote and has an almost Scandi feel to it (think sweeping Wallander-esque marshlands). Take a picnic and binoculars. But, you’re also not far from the city of Ely, with its amazing cathedral (the ship of the fens) that can be seen for miles around – so leave time to pop into this picturesque market town and you might be lucky enough to catch one of its fab food markets.
If you haven’t yet been to the picturesque coastal town of Southwold you are in for a treat. Pastel-coloured beach huts line the seafront, and the town itself is bustling with lovely cafes, restaurants and shops. The Two Magpies bakery does incredible coffee and sweet treats and the smell of Adnams brewery wafts through the streets. In fact, you can take a tour of the brewery itself or head to the shop for some great wine and foodie shopping. And if you’re in shopping mode get some coastal chic from the brilliant boutique, Coleen and Clare. Lunch could be pasties or fab fish n chips from the Sole Bay, or when things are open, the rather lovely Swan Hotel. The pier is a must-see: a quirky and cool place with old-school fun (wall of mirrors!) and cheeky water fountains – and the brilliantly eccentric under the pier show (when everything is open again) will have you doing such madcap antics as experiencing the life of a fly in VR or exercising on a bed! Make sure to check out the harbour area, too – lovely fisherman’s huts and great views of Walberswick.
GoApe, Thetford Forest
We have been cooped up for far too long so how about doing something different and daring? Go Ape in the centre of Thetford forest is the adventure we all need in our lives after lockdown. The treetop adventure will have you and all the family (it’s suitable for anyone over 1m tall) doing Tarzan swings through the trees, gingerly navigating ‘stepping stones’, zooming across zip wires, plus plenty more devilish challenges. Get harnessed up for the ultimate family bonding experience. Once you’re don, the forest also boasts exhilarating bike trails, a Gruffalo orienteering trail, archery, bushcraft survival courses, and a forest segway tour.
Find Felixstowe between rivers of Orwell and Deben on the East coast – an Edwardian seaside town that is also Britain’s busiest port. History buffs will be in their element exploring the Languard Peninsula and the 18th-century fort, plus there are numerous Martello towers. Stroll along the promenade and take in the seafront gardens, watch the ships coming in, play in the arcades or try crazy golf, eat fish and chips, enjoy the nature reserve, and visit the Bawdsey Radar Museum (once open). You can also hop on the ‘foot ferry’ from the quaint sailing hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry (yes, the name of the village) to Bawdsey and buy fresh fish to take home for your dinner. We also love the look of the recently launched Beach Street – a collection of shipping containers housing some super cool street food, cafés, indie shops, yoga studio and kids’ climbing wall. Perhaps catch one of the Ibiza social brunches and you will feel like you’re properly on your holibobs!
Head to the beach
Being a coastal peninsular, the beach comes top of most lists, but with more than 200 to choose from, across 400 miles of spectacular coastline, making a decision can be tricky. The very best beaches are the ones that you have to work a little to find, or at least walk to rather than drive up. Some of our favourites a little off the beaten track are Lundy (near Polzeath) Polly Joke and the wild flower meadows at West Pentire, Nanjizal near Land’s End, Gwenver near Sennen and Lantic Bay between Fowey and Polperro. Other favourites include Gunwalloe, Coverack Harbour, Portheras Cove and Porthoustock on the Lizard and not just because Poldark swam at them, honest. Brood in tow? Check out our guide to the best kid friendly beaches in Cornwall including Porthmeor in St Ives (above).
On yer bike!
The best known cycling route is The Camel Trail, which is beautiful but not the only flat cycling trail suitable for a family ride. Also try the Coast to Coast Trail (11 miles) starting at Portreath on the north coast, to Devoran on the south. The route goes from the Atlantic to the channel, so you’re basically cycling across England in a couple of hours! More of a mountain biking type? The woodland trails at Cardinham and Lanhydrock are very popular. If it’s a track-type setting you’re after and you’ve got all the kit (helmets with face protection are mandatory, body armour recommended) you can book the Old Hill Bike Park near Wadebridge for a half or full day’s riding.
Ride the waves
Giving surfing a go is a must on a Cornish getaway (no, dipping your toes in wearing a wetsuit doesn’t count). George’s Surf School (above) at Polzeath is great for individual coaching, or there’s Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay and the Sennen Surfing Centre, near Land’s End. Try Stand Up Paddleboarding at Polkerris or Gylly Beach in Falmouth, and there’s also Cornish Rock Tours based at Port Gaverne, near Port Isaac, which will take you kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, coasteering or open water swimming. Check out Camel Ski School at Rock for waterskiing and sailing schools operate in Fowey, Rock, Mylor and Falmouth. Porthoustock, on the eastern side of The Lizard peninsular, is a great spot for kayaking.
Hever Castle, Hever
Hever Castle is set in rural countryside 30 miles from central London and three miles southeast of Edenbridge on the Kent/Surrey/Sussex border. Once – most famously – Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, it’s one of our favourite historic destinations. It’s not too big and sprawling, so easy to negotiate, and stands in a beautiful area that’s steeped in all that marvellous Tudor history. With stunning gardens and lots of year-round event, there’s plenty to do here. We especially love the play areas, which include Acorn Dell, a natural playground for toddlers and children up to seven years old, or for older children (7-14 years old) there’s Tudor Towers adventure playground consisting of a wooden, nine-metre tall castle to really fire their imagination.
Bewl Water, Lamberhurst
Bewl is a big, beautiful reservoir – the largest stretch of open water in the South East in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It offers a fantastic range of water sports – from canoeing, sailing and stand up paddleboarding – to name a few. It’s also extremely popular for cycling (around the perimeter) and offers everything from camping to outdoor cinema, oh, and a decent restaurant too! The Bewl Water Aqua Park re-opens on Mon 12 April for the summer season and is basically 3000sq meters of floating inflatable fun – consisting of two trampolines, monkey bars, flippers, slides, hurdles, springboards, overhang climbing frame, giant iceberg… you get the idea. It’s a great holiday activity for groups, families and children from 6 years old (there are some sessions times/restrictions for younger children).
Elmley Nature Reserve, Isle of Sheppey
Who needs to leave the country for a safari holiday when you have Elmley Nature Reserve in Kent waiting for you? OK, we are not talking lions, tigers and bears but since 1991, Elmley has been deemed a National Nature Reserve and is an internationally recognised site for the the conservation of rare birds, plants, animals and insects. With lots of wonderful options for luxury overnight stays – either for a romantic getaway or with 3,200 acres, Elmley provides a fab family retreat for a night – there is also a family-run farm with approximately 700 cattle grazing the pasture each year plus chickens, ducks and tractors to admire. Their Wildlife Tours are resuming from Mon 29 March, and the Reserve will be open every day over the Easter hols.
Top travel guide the Lonely Planet has released its first ever list of the nation’s most ‘memorable, beautiful, surprising and compelling sights’ – and Kent’s very own Bedgebury Forest sits right there in the list of UK-based experiences not to be missed. If you live in Kent, you’ve probably come across this local gem, technically called Bedgebury National Pinetum, *sniff* if we’re being proper about it. With walks, bike trails, Go Ape and more, if this place doesn’t tire them out, nothing will.
Wildwood, Herne Bay
One of our fave family days-out, Wildwood is due to re-open on 12 April. Positioned just outside Herne Bay, you can get to know over 200 native animals set in 40 acres of beautiful ancient woodland. Expect to see bears (although they are relocating to Devon any day), wolves, Arctic foxes, bison, owls, wild boar, lynx, wild horses, badgers and beavers – that’s just 10 of those 200! Stroll through the woodland, admire any new arrivals (how cute are these cubs, above?), check out the play areas – including Kent’s TALLEST drop slide, tree-top towers, wild fort towers, climbing frame and helpfully an under-5’s play area too. Plus there’s a tree trail for the kids as they’ve planted hundreds of new trees during lockdown so a good way to educate little minds.
Tornado Springs at Paultons Park, New Forest
Paulton’s Park has a brand new ‘world’ – and after a long-lockdown, families will be so ready for it. Opening on 12 April, Tornado Springs is a rootin’ tootin’ adventure ‘world’ set in the American heyday of the 1950s. Big and little kids will love catching up while trying out new rides and experiences like the spinning coaster, gyro swing ride and (a bit more our speed), a classic locomotive.
The Vyne, near Basingstoke
Plenty of places to enjoy a picnic and natter at this gorgeous, National Trust mansion in North West Hampshire. A favourite retreat for Henry VIII and his Tudor entourage, walk in Royal footsteps through ancient woodland, wetlands and gardens. Don’t miss spring blossom on heritage fruit trees in the orchard and beautiful spring daffodils in the walled and summerhouse gardens. Blooming lovely.
Lepe Country Park, Southampton
On the Southern fringes of the New Forest, Lepe coastal country park is the perfect spot to enjoy a clifftop walk beach-fix and fresh, sea air. Visit on a sunny day and find a spot on the mile-long beach. Then soak up some Vitamin D as you catch up over a coffee from the pine-fringed, architect-designed Lookout café.
Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Petersfield
Meet at Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield for fresh air, family trails, woodland play equipment and brilliant cycle and walking routes. If you fancy a challenge, the 271m Butser Hill is the highest point in the beautiful South Downs National Park. Hungry? Pick up a coffee and homemade cake to-go from the Beechwood Kitchen café. Delish.
Delapré Abbey, Northampton
This stately, honey-hued landmark at the heart of Northampton is a treasure trove of art, history, intrigue and scandal and comes with 500 acres of parkland and gardens to explore. The grounds are free for anyone to visit and within walking distance of the town centre (worth noting that it’s free to park here too). With a lazy lunch or an al fresco afternoon tea at the Orangery Cafe thrown in for good measure, Delapré is a great place to meet up and mooch.
Evenely Wood Garden, near Brackley
The bucolic Evenley Wood Garden appears to be a magical wilderness but it’s really a very carefully curated woodland garden stocked to the brim with rare and unusual plants and suitably huggable trees. There’s an open sided wooden chalet cafe, Uncle Geordie’s Shed, with chunky oak tables and vintage china, where they serve homemade, organic dishes, local produce and gorgeous cakes, making this picturesque wonderland a fantastic place for a socially distanced gathering.
Boughton House, near Kettering
Known as the English Versailles, the gardens and park at the magnificent Boughton House are among the grandest in England. Make like Marie-Antoinette and let the kids eat cake in the beautifully landscaped grounds, which include a rather spectacular inverted pyramid. Recent and extensive garden projects have seen the reinstatement of hundreds of avenue trees and the restoration of beautiful waterways, reflective pools and the incredible Grand Etang with its 75ft. high water fountain, alongside the vast walled gardens, rose garden, sensory garden and lily pond. No shortage of glorious outside space to immerse yourself in here then and, of course, there’s the stable block tea rooms to nab the aforementioned cake.
Nene Wetlands Nature Reserve, Rushden Lakes
It might be Northamptonshire’s largest retail park, but if you look past the high street giants you’ll notice that Rushden Lakes is also home to the Nene Wetlands Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre, where you’ll find a whopping 270 hectares of outside space to explore including meadows, reed beds, woodlands and sculpture trails. It’s a great place for wildlife spotting and you can also hire a canoe or kayak to enjoy a paddle along the River Nene, or give your legs a workout on one of the pedalos on the lake and work up and appetite for some outside dining on the boardwalk.
The Beth Chatto Gardens, Elmstead
Small (in terms of public gardens), but oh-so perfectly formed, the world-famous Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead, north Essex, have been attracting green-fingered visitors from across the country since 1960 – when the award-winning gardener Beth Chatto first begun to turn this once wild, overgrown seven acres of wasteland into a series of five inspiring outdoor spaces. Take your time wandering from the Water Garden and Woodland to Screen Garden and Reservoir – there’s beauty to behold at every turn.
Trekking the Thames Estuary Path
A 29-mile stretch along the Essex strait, The Thames Estuary Path wiggles its way through some of the county’s most dramatic landscapes, from a tapestry of mud flats in the south and Tilbury town’s industrial docks, to the sheaf of cockle-shed bays that bid the Thames goodbye in Old Leigh. Positively brimming with biodiversity, a criss-cross of bubbling creeks and clay-like marshes dominate this low-lying riverscape, but the walking trail is clearly marked out and (don’t worry!) you can easily break it up, too: stations along the London Fenchurch Street to Shoeburyness line serve to slice the route into manageable weekend romps.
Woburn Safari Park
It’s seems rather unlikely that one would stumble upon an all-singing all-dancing safari park just outside historic, elegant Woburn, but here it is. This Bedfordshire wonder, reopening on 12 April, offers both the Road and Foot Safaris (we know which one we’d prefer) and is a brilliant day out with the nippers in tow.
Canoe Trail, Bedford
Ever done a canoe trip with the kids? Take it from someone who has – it’s wet, tiring and one of the best days out ever! This family-fun business offers canoe, kayak, and SUP hire on the calm (thankfully) River Great Ouse. Take your pick from a relaxed and fairly dry canoe trip to soaking-wet fun on a paddle board.
Hatfield might not be the No. 1 destination on every tourist’s wish list, but did you know that the grand Hatfield House is one of the top film set locations for period productions in the UK? Most recently, Olivia Coleman’s Oscar-winning turn in The Favourite was captured in this wonderful Jacobean Manor, not to mention all those that came before, including Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Shakespeare in Love and even Batman. Who knew? Oh, and the actual Queen Elizabeth I spent much of her youth at Hatfield Palace (an older house on the grounds), and you can still (literally) walk in the footsteps of this epic monarch today. The park and woodland walks will open from 29 March with the gardens following shorty after on 3 April.
Visit Verulamium (St Albans)
St Albans was once one of the largest Roman cities in Britain – Verulamium. Grab a coffee and wander into the Roman Verulamium Park. On the far side is the Hypocaust (a Roman mosaic). From here head to the Cathedral – an amazing mix of architectural styles, with much of it built in the 11th century from Roman materials.
Cotswold Country Park and Beach, Cirencester
Head to the largest inland paddling beach in the UK for some ‘Costa del Cotswolds’ fun. This brilliant, action-packed Country Park has a large, sandy lagoon for swimming and paddling, or hire one of the giant swan pedalos, row or electric boats for some laughter on the lake. There’s an inflatable aqua adventure park you can book ahead for, mini golf and – new for 2021 – are the VIP BBQs. From £30 you can book a private area and BBQ overlooking the lake and beach for the whole day – with a free bottle of Prosecco on arrival!
Cotswold Farm Park, Guiting Power near Cheltenham
There are all levels of farmyard cuteness going on at Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park and it’s a fabulously entertaining day out. Reopening on 12 April, head for the Animal Barn where you can sit and watch lambs being born, plus see piglets, donkey foals, calves, and herds of rare breeds. Kids can interact with the animals too, including the gorgeous native Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, then take them (your kids, not the pigs) to burn off all their energy at the Adventure Playground, Farm Safari, Tractor School or Giant Jumping Pillows.
West Midlands Safari & Leisure Park, Bewdley
This fantastic day out is a family favourite, with more than 165 species of animal to see, a drive-through safari and a mini theme park to explore. Reopening fully from 12 April, entrance to the park buys you so much fun, from Boj’s Giggle Park, the Sea Lion Show, Penguin Cove, the Aquarium, Meerkat Mayhem, Hippo Lake and much more. Watch daily feeds and animal encounters with the residents, then wear the kiddos out on the 20 adrenaline rides.
E-Bike Adventure, Broadway Tower, Broadway
Take the family e-biking around one of the most iconic landmarks in Worcs. Head to Broadway Tower where you’ll get breathtaking views for miles around as you pedal en famille around lovely Cotswolds trails. Due to reopen on 12 April (make sure to check ahead), the electric bikes can be hired from Tower Barn from 10am to 4pm daily, so no having to tussle with a bike rack before you set off! Book your slot online and when you’re all pedalled out, explore the Tower itself, the Nuclear Bunker, gift shop and grab some picnic snacks from the pop-up Shepherd’s Hut or Morris & Brown cafe.
Go Boat, Kingston
Fancy a boating adventure? Head to the River Thames at Kingston where you can be the captain of your own GoBoat. No boating experience is needed as they’ll teach you everything you need to know before you set sail. It’s a great way to see London and Surrey from a whole different viewpoint whether you head downriver towards Teddington Lock or along the Thames River to Hampton Court Palace. Each boat takes up to eight beings, including children and dogs! Prices for one boat are £79 for the first hour; £119 for 2 hours; £159 for 3 hours.
Godstone Farm, Godstone
Godstone Farm has the most a-mah-zing outdoor play area – think zipwires, giant sandpits, slides and tunnels – and it’s worth paying the entry fee for this alone. The farm reopens on Mon 29 March for morning and afternoon outdoor play sessions, which must be pre-booked online. Pack a picnic and let the kids go wild – and if you’re lucky you’ll spot a lamb frolicking in one of the nearby fields. The Topshop is also open for hot and cold drinks, pizza, ice cream and snacks. The farm trail and gift shop reopen on 12 April. Tickets are £6 per person and include an ice-cream for the kiddos and a tea or coffee for adults.
This beautiful landscape garden, created by Charles Hamilton in the 1700s, has magical follies, a serpentine lake, a man-made crystal grotto and a gothic tower – although latter two remain closed at the moment. Most of the paths are paved, so it’s very accessible and there are plenty of spots for a picnic. During the Easter Holidays (from 2-18 April) there is a giant colourful Easter egg trail. Tickets must be booked in advance online. Adults £9, children £5 under-fives are free. The Easter Trail is included free with general admission.
Llama trekking, Merry Harriers, Hambledon
Fancy a day out trekking with llamas? The Merry Harriers pub in Hambledon, near Godalming, has a herd of 12 lovely llamas and they offer trekking days out into the pretty Surrey Hills. There are a routes to suit all levels of fitness, with most treks averaging around three miles. They’ll cater to almost any occasion – options include The English Picnic, Winter Morning and Summer Evening Treks with the llamas carrying the picnic hampers and guiding you along the stunning local trails of The Greensand Way. The pub also has rooms, as well as luxury shepherds huts, so you could make a weekend of it. Treks start at £55.20 for an adult and £27.60 for a child (8-15 years) for trek only.
Champers and Classics day out
Could there be a better combination? Iconic car, luxury picnic with champagne in the boot and the beautiful Surrey Hills to explore. We think not! RNG Classics and Lord Roberts on the Green have joined forces to launch Champers and Classics, cool self-drive days out. Collect your choice of classic car – a quintessentially British Mini Cooper, Rolls Royce or iconic Jaguar E-Type, or perhaps a Ferrari 308 – from Lord Roberts in Purley, then after a 20-minute car familiarisation session, head off on the open road. It’s brilliant for a special occasion … or just because we need a treat after months of lockdown! A day in a classic car starts at £99.
The South Downs
Glorious views, wide open spaces, the coast just below you and what feels like the world at your feet. The South Downs are the perfect place for a picnic, to blow the cobwebs away, for a hike or bike ride, or just to escape the stresses of everyday life and get up there where the air is clear. Bring a flask and a picnic – there are no shops or cafes up here although you’ll find plenty of ice cream vans in the warmer months at some of the busier car parks. Head up from any one of the innumerate footpaths or bridleways, if you’re going by car: Devil’s Dyke or Ditchling Beacon in Brighton, Cissbury Ring in Worthing, Chanctonbury Ring near Steyning and Whiteways at the top of Bury Hill near Arundel all have parking.
The hub that is Brighton beach is a big lure and one of the many reasons Brighton was recently voted the best place to live in Sussex by Muddy readers. Walk, cycle, skate, scoot or run for miles along the famous front or head to Undercliff Walk (closed between the marina and Saltdean due to erosion). Expect the bustle of stalls, activities, vendors, foodie haunts, cool bars and entertainment to reopen as we remerge from lockdown. From 26 April, you’ll also be able to check out the city’s first permanent food hall on the seafront.
You have to hand it to Legoland for continuing to come up with ways to sell the Lego dream to under-10s in ever-inventive new ways. This year’s newest attraction is Mythica – a brand new world in a parallel universe, including three new rides, where LEGO creatures come to life. It doesn’t open until 29 May, so you’ll have to make do with Ninjago World, DUPLO Dino Coaster , Haunted House Monster Pasty, Lego Miniland, which took three years to complete and all the other favourites. Opens 12 April.
Thames Lido, Reading
Many reasons to head to Reading right now, Banksy’s latest artwork on the wall of Reading Prison, bit of shopping and stroll around the Abbey Ruins, before heading off to the super-cool Thames Lido. If you fancy pootle up and down the outdoor pool, it opens to members from 29 Mar and non-members from 12 Apr with outdoor dining. The whole restaurant will reopen from 17 May.
Swinley Forest, Bracknell
Fresh air, forest bathing and fun all neatly packaged up at Swinley Forest in Bracknell. Enjoy a sedate walk through the stunning woods, or crank up the adventure with an adrenaline-fuelled Segway tour, hire bikes and run the mountain bike trails or tackle the Go Ape course – a fun-filled hour exploring the canopy, trailblazing and tackling obstacles, finishing on the zip wire. Opens 29 March.
Highclere Castle, Newbury
The biggest star of Downton Abbey? No, Carson it’s not you or the Earl of Grantham’s labradors (they come a close second though) – Highclere Castle takes the crown. The house remain closed, but you can mooch around the Capability Brown gardens before settling down on your picnic blanket for a champagne afternoon tea on 12 and 19 April. You’ll have to wait until summer to enjoy the full Highclere experience. From £84 for two.
Cliveden National Trust
There’s a mahoosive 376 acres to explore – and there’s always something to see here whatever the season. Stroll through the formal gardens, stomp through the woodland and, if you’re super-keen, hike down to the river. Just brace yourself for the uphill climb. During the Easter holidays, the annual egg hunt will be back and we highly recommend getting on the water and booking a boat trip (open from 12 Apr). Advance booking is essential.
Stanlake Park Estate
This is a Berkshire hidden gem. Stanlake Park Estate has a long and colourful history dating back to the Tudor period but in recent times, it has made a name for itself as a superb vineyard producing quality English wines. The tours will allow you to waft among the vines, taste the goods (samples are generous… taxiiiiiii), plus there’s a well-stocked cellar shop, wine bar and garden where all the wines are available by the glass with no restaurant mark up. Tours resume in May.
If your kids are sick of walks, one that involves a picnic and play with an alpaca might just entice them off the sofa. How can you say no to that face?! The Walk & Picnic costs £38 (two people per booking), Picnic & Play with the alpacas – £65 (up to six people). Various times and dates are available at Mortimer Alpacas. You can also book private sessions for groups and/or birthdays. Bookings are being taken from 12 April.
Paddle tours, Newbury
Test your sense of adventure and your balance on a SUP tour of the Kennet & Avon Canal. Wild Paddle Berkshire is sightseeing with a difference. The difference being you’re on a paddle board and there’s a risk of getting wet… Run by Lara and her expert team, the tours set off from both Newbury and Kintbury locks and are perfect for beginners to the more skilled. It’s a unique and tranquil way to see this beautiful part of Berks. Bookings from 3 April.
Go Ape, Exeter
Little monkeys been missing the zip slides? Go Ape! on Haldon Moor near Exeter are taking bookings from 29 March. Book the brave into the Treetop Challenge (min age 10 years) which lasts 2-3 hours and culminates in a hair-raising 200m slide over the Scot’s pines, or for under 10s (over 1m tall) it’s the one-hour Treetop Adventure where you can walk through the tree canopy and take a free-fall on the Tarzan Swing. Bring your bikes and a picnic as there are cycle trails through the woods to explore too.
Royal William Yard, Plymouth
Plymouth’s historic Royal William Yard has everything you need to shop, mooch, dine out and drink cocktails, not to mention awesome waterside views over Plymouth Sound, Drakes Island and Cornwall beyond. It’s a Grade I Listed ex-Naval victualling yard, so plenty of period architecture to fascinate the historically-minded, but with enough of a cool, modern vibe to keep the young ‘uns happy. Stay and drink in the historical vibe or if you’ve got time, check out Firestone Bay (bring the ‘kini if you like a wild swim), stomp the coastal walks nearby or you could even hop on a ferry over to Cawsands.
Exe Estuary Trail, Exeter
Bring your walking boots, the dog, the bikes or your paddleboard. This waterside trail along the bucolic banks of river takes you along the flat, from the city’s buzzing quayside, with its excellent coffee shops and eateries, to the mouth of Exe estuary. It’s a favourite walk with locals, due to two excellent pubs en route, both with big socially-distanced beer gardens, The Double Locks and The Turf Locks. Only open from spring to autumn, the family-run Turf cooks up a brilliant weekend barbecue and what makes it even more special is it can only be reached by foot or boat. Exclusive, in a rustic, Devon way.
The spectacular three-mile long, 400 foot deep Cheddar Gorge started forming a million years ago as melting glacial waters eroded the limestone. Today, wild white goats cling to the sides of the steep cliffs but there’s a less precipitous, four-mile National Trust route for you to follow here.
The Newt, between Bruton & Castle Cary
Splash out on a visit to Somerset’s swankiest country estate, The Newt. Exquisitely laid out gardens and grounds (much of it in homage to the apple and in particular, the cider apple), woodlands with tree top aerial walkway, lakes and more as detailed in our review here. The farm shop, outdoor snacks and picnics from the Cyder Bar are available from now; outdoor breakfasts and lunches from the Garden Cafe from Mon 12 April. At £30 per person, it’s pricey but that gives you a year’s garden membership and is sure to entice you back.
Cycling around the Avalon Marshes, near Glastonbury
On yer bike to explore the otherworldly Avalon Marshes– wetlands, wildlife, vast skies and infinite horizons – on the Somerset Levels and moors. Super flat and criss-crossed with cycle routes down quiet lanes, droves and cycle paths, getting around using pedal power is a doddle.
SUP in the city of Bath
Every kind of paddle boarding – sit down, stand up, on a giant paddle board, with your dog (not compulsory) – with outdoor experts Original Wild on the river Avon in the centre of the World Heritage City of Bath. Why not do a spot of sightseeing as you go? From Sat 17 April.
Dunster Castle, near Minehead
As seen on George Clarke’s Channel 4 series National Trust Unlocked, Dunster Castle, perched high on a wooded hill, went from a Norman motte and bailey castle to 19th-century country house in 900 years. Expect terraced gardens with Mediterranean and subtropical plants, a historic working watermill and panoramic views over the Bristol Channel and Somerset countryside. Bring a picnic.
Sea kayaking along the Dorset coast, Studland
Grab a kayak and weave in and out of sea stacks, into caves and under arches along the Dorset coast, including Old Harry Rocks near Swanage. Fore Adventures organise sea kayaking, kayak foraging (for edible seaweeds, shrimps and crabs) and kayak fishing from their base on the Studland shore.
Visit Sherborne’s two castles
Make like a knight among the ruins of the 12th-century Old Sherborne Castle, once leased by Sir Walter Raleigh (of tobacco and potato fame) and now owned by English Heritage. Open from Mon 29 March. Raleigh later built himself a new pad next door: the 16th-century Sherborne Castle (above) which has gorgeous Grade I listed landscape gardens designed by Capability Brown. Open from Thurs 1 April.
High rope trekking near Charmouth
Try high rope trekking with 11 different stage elements and three zip wires at The Tunnel Treetops. Set in 15 acres of woodland just outside the seaside village of Charmouth, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the course is suitable from 6 years upwards.
Swans at Abbotsbury Swannery, near Weymouth
The only managed colony of nesting mute swans in the world, Abbotsbury Swannery was established by Benedictine monks in the 11th century to provide swan meat for their banquets. These days, some 600 swans come and go as they please, start laying eggs around March and hatch super cute cygnets from mid-May – a truly amazing sight. The Abottsbury Subtropical Gardens are next door and you can get reduced admission for both. Open from Mon 12 April.
Extreme Sports, Blandford Forum
Race super fast single seater dirt buggies around hairpin bends, chicanes, fast straights and corner slides, and quad bikes along 20 miles of extreme track with 45-degree banking chicanes and a 30m ski jump drop (eek). These and other activities are at farm-turned-outdoor-activity-centre Gorcombe Extreme Sport. Dirt buggies are avialable for children aged six and over, quad bikes from 12 years. Call 01258 452219 to book.
A Day by the Sea in Cromer
Head to Cromer (an hour north of Norwich) for a blast of salty air and mooch round town before it all goes bonkers in summer. Last year the spring weather was fab-u-lous but who even cares? We’re just thrilled to be out. Pack a picnic, fly a kite and go trad with sandcastles, sunset fish and chips and towering ice creams from No.1 Cromer. Or catch the town’s new wave with some lip-smacking Nash Falafel vegan dirty sweet potato fries – extra sriracha obvs – and a lush cocktail from The Gangway, re-opening for take aways on the 12 April with a pop up weekend beer garden at North Lodge Park.
Feeling chilly? Make friends with the weather and grab hot caffeine with a shot (rum please) from North Sea Coffee, where everything is sourced from local indie businesses. And when the sun shines, I’m going to sit on the strand with a long lost mate, glass of cool white wine (model’s own) and a dressed crab. Ooh, it’s so deliciously civilised I might even get dressed myself.
A 2020 YouGov poll found two thirds of us tuned into the dawn chorus to soothe pandemic anxiety. Sleep? What’s that? So if you’re a newly fledged twitcher, Norfolk is paradise. There are fantastic Norfolk Wildlife Trust sites at Cley Marshes, Foxley Wood and Hickling Broad and world renowned RSPB big hitters like Titchwell Marsh and Snettisham Nature Reserve. As well as barn owls gliding low over saltmarshes and jewelled kingfishers glinting on the Broads, there’s a wealth of special species like marsh harriers and bitterns – boom! The lovely Snettisham Rose & Crown should be opening for outdoor food and drink from 12 April and children are very welcome. So mini Chris Packhams can perch on a bench and discuss citizen science, while you stare into the distance with a massive gin and wonder wtf just happened.
Normal in Norwich
Time to reclaim what Virginia Woolf called the “champagne brightness of the air and the sociability of the streets”. Let’s go to town. No matter if shops are still closed, I haven’t stepped on a pavement for months (rural life) so I’m going to slide into my DMs (pink, actually) and walk the Fine City’s springtime streets. Tombland, Elm Hill, along the river, all around the Lanes and into the market for a Bun Box bao bun (how I’ve missed those pillowy joys). Savour a proper filter coffee from the Little Red Roaster (Stall 53, Row B – follow the gorgeous aroma), then head up Timber Hill to Re.source for some vegan Kimcheese (haven’t tried it yet, just love the name). And onto the Book Hive for something sensational to read in the bath. It’s click and collect only right now. Ring Henry with your literary list and he usually gets what you want to the book shop for the next day. So much friendlier than ordering from that other place, isn’t it?
Let’s Get Lost, Leicester
Flow and weave your way along the River Soar while exploring your natural surroundings on a kayak. Embrace the great outdoors, disconnect from social media and reconnect with friends and family on a Paddle to the Pub tour or a popular Twilight Paddle and watch the sun slip beyond the horizon.
A national dive and open swimming centre, Stoney Cove covers 13 acres and offers a 1,000 metre perimeter course in Leicestershire’s cleanest waters. It’s great for everyone including under-confident swimmers as it’s always fully manned with qualified first aiders. If you’re diving here, an underwater adventure awaits you where you can discover The Gresham Ship; an armed Elizabethan merchantman that sank over 400 years ago and a submerged aircraft cockpit wreck. Go on, take the plunge!
The Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre
An outdoor adventure playground spread across 15 acres in the heart of the city. Activities and experiences are designed to stimulate, educate and motivate. Choose from kayaking, climbing, canoeing, paddle board yoga and more.
Hick’s Lodge, Ashby de la Zouch
If you want to explore the area with a fresh two-wheeled perspective, rent out some bikes at Hicks Lodge in Ashby. They cater for everyone from budding to confident cyclists. Set in beautiful young woodland in the heart of the National Forest, it’s been designed with the whole family in mind.
Ashby de la Zouch Castle, Ashby
Owned once by Lord Hastings, Ashby Castle was actually built as a manor house back in the 12th century. Learn more about its colourful history and climb the Hastings Tower to enjoy the views from the top. Don’t miss the underground passage between the tower and the kitchen which kids will love before enjoying a picnic in the castle grounds.
Tropical Birdland, Desford
Enjoy close encounters of the feathered kind over at this outdoor bird sanctuary. Spread across 6.5 acres, you can walk through aviaries and a woodland trail before visiting The Parrot Path where you can really get up close and personal with the birds and even feed them. If you’ve got kids in tow with energy to still burn off, there’s also a huge play area.
Looking for some serious fun in the water? Slip, slide and splash around in a giant water obstacle course on Rutland Water. Take on the UK’s tallest obstacle, plummet from the giant slides or show off your flips and tricks as you fall from the Tornado Tower.
Rutland Water Sports
Love a water adventure? As well as being a haven for wildlife, Rutland Water is also a great place to try out a new water-based sport. Sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing or stand up paddle boarding. From beginner to expert, Rutland Watersports has it all.
Ever wanted to try axe throwing? Well you can sling, throw, toss your axe and so much more at this outdoor adventure centre where the fun isn’t limited to just the kids. All activities are done on a half and full-day basis and sessions are carefully planned and entirely bespoke.
Enjoy the local scenery on wheels and explore what lies within England’s smallest county. There’s two shops on Rutland Water so whether you’re starting on the South or North Shore, you’ll be in good hands and they have heaps of bikes for all riders from mountain to electric as well as hybrids and cruisers.
This should be at the top of your list if you’re a garden lover. With thirty eight individual ‘themed’ gardens across eight acres, there’s plenty to see and do here. Created by Geoff Hamilton for BBC Gardeners’ World, Barnsdale Gardens is Britain’s largest collection of individually designed gardens including a rose, Japanese, rock, knot, herb garden, orchard, woodland walk and heaps more. There’s also a variety of courses, plants for sale and weekend activities too.
Uncover the story of Stonehenge in the extraordinary atmosphere of this World Heritage Site. It’s the best known prehistoric monument in Europe, no less! A fabulous day out for all. For something really special, book a VIP treat and go inside the stones with Stone Circle Experience: an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime gig.
Bowood House, Calne
Discovery waits around every corner at the gorgeous Bowood estate, with 100 acres of beautifully landscaped ‘Capability’ Brown Parkland and, especially for Mudlets, an adrenaline-fuelled Adventure Playground featuring a life size pirate ship plus a soft play area for the younger children. Day Visitors are now able to visit Bowood House & Gardens by purchasing a ticket online in advance. Access will be controlled using a timed, wristband system – wristbands will be allocated at admissions on arrival, giving each family the chance to access the Adventure Playground for two hours during the course of their visit.
Chiltern Open Air Museum
Museums and galleries have their hands tied at the moment but by virtue of being outside, the fabulous Chiltern Open Air Museum is opening its grounds and gardens on 26 March to stroll around with five friends or another household (although the shop will not be trading until 12 April).
Campbell Park, Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes can also claim to be home to some excellent municipal green areas. Campbell Park – laid out as a cultural centre point for the city – has water features, public art, cycling trails and the Grand Union Canal running through it – plus the famous Light Pyramid.
Willen Lake, Milton Keynes
Hardy souls might consider the spring sunshine an invitation to don a wetsuit (or not, if you’re totally bonkers) and hit the water… it’s all yours, ladies. Open water swimming, the runaway sporty success story of the pandemic, is on at Willen Lake (a lesser-known hotspot) with sessions running on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury
Ah, the National Trust, where children under-5 go free and frazzled parents weep quietly in gratitude. Buckinghamshire’s jewel in the crown, the stunning Rothschild Waddesdon Manor, is welcoming visitors into the garden and grounds and from Easter Weekends will officially be opening for the year. For the little people there’s an amazing outdoor playpark, open 10am to 5pm (entry is included with tickets).
High rope courses are open again from 29 March and are a fab option for a reunion to remember whether you’re aged 6 or 66. The are Go Ape courses at Wendover Woods is open from 29 March and is great for groups of mixed ages because it has woodland bike, walking and running trails and the new Wendover Woods Café with a warming takeaway menu. Those who’d rather keep their feet on the floor could try a Nordic Walking session with Ridgeway Nordic Walking – definitely the easier option for a good old chinwag. The Gruffalo Activity Trail will also keep the minis amused.
Stonor Park, Henley
Exhausted and happy kids, you say? I spy an easy bedtime coming right up. There’s a new adventure playground at Stonor Park and not only is it as magical as Hogwarts but it comes with very necessary coffee for the spectators (in the form of the cafe at the visitor’s centre). Wholesome fun for the kids and lunch sorted – it’s a win-win. Tumblestone Hollow is on the edge of Stonor’s woodland and is inspired by the stone circle found in the estate grounds. The wooden playground, designed for 4 to 12-year-olds, has high level walkways, climbing nets, look-out decks and bridges, all connected to a gnarled central tower.
Hide and seek was made for dilapidated churches and hours of play can be squeezed out of a sunny day and some tumbled-down walls, I kid you not. Wallingford Castle is opening on 1 April while the Abbey Buildings (and next door gardens) at Abingdon are open all year round. Head into the historic town afterwards for a takeaway cinnamon bun or party from award-winning The Orange Bakery.
Oxford Botanic Gardens
Are you overly familiar with every blade of grass in your local park? Of course you are. So here’s where to head for a change of scene. Oxford Botanic Gardens has been open to locals all lockdown and provides a very verdant afternoon out for those utterly bored of their own backyard.
If travelling under your own steam sounds like too much distraction from the important business of catching up, you could hire an electric boat. Wallingford’s Pure Boating is taking bookings from 3 April with boats for up to 11 people that you can drive down to Benson Lock or towards Moulsford. What better way to arrive at the Beetle and Wedge, two hours downstream, than on the water (though you’ll have to wait until they reopen their pods and terrace from 12 April if you’re hoping for riverside dining and a drink). Boats cost from £55 for an hour.
Warwick Castle is raising its portcullis and welcoming guests back outdoors from April 12 with the launch of the much-anticipated Zog and the Quest for the Golden Star interactive trail. There’s plenty more to keep kids entertained, from the Horrible Histories® Maze to roaming castle characters and birds of prey. You’ll also be able to explore the 64 acres of beautiful grounds, including the Peacock Garden and enjoy some spectacular countryside views by climbing The Conqueror’s Fortress, the highest point on the estate. And if Boris says it’s OK a single family can also book a ‘knight away’ (sorry!) in a medieval-themed Lodge within the castle grounds.
Charlecote Park, National Trust
Spring has sprung! Charlecote Park may be renowned for its beautiful herd of fallow deer but it’s also proud to have one of the largest flocks of rare-breed pedigree Jacob sheep in the country today – and one of the few in-house lambing teams within the National Trust. You’ll see the lambs from this rare breed pedigree herd with their characteristic chocolate-blotch fleeces in the parkland of this Victorian home from early April. It was here that the very first managed flock were introduced into England 200 years ago by George Lucy from his European travels. You can download an easy 40-minute to 1 hr spring parkland walk here. Timed visits need to be booked in advance. Book here
Hatton Adventure World, shopping village, and drive-in cinema & diner, near Warwick
From 12 April, lots of small indies at this rural shopping village and family-friendly farm park attraction will re-open, joining Alfresco Garden Boutique & Farm Shop, Warwickshire Cycles, Granite Transformations and Alfie’s Café which have remained open. Hatton Adventure World will have its own Spring Arrivals Marquee, outdoor funfair rides, shows and spring nature walks. Plus you can book blockbusters at the drive-in cinema from 13 April including The Greatest Showman and Harry Potter. The site is linked to Hatton Locks and Hatton Arms by a delightful 1.5mile circular country walk across the private Hatton Estate and along the Grand Union Canal.
Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park
Explore some Art in the Park, a woodlands playground and peaceful green spaces in the stunning grounds of this 120 acre historic ‘Capability’ Brown landscape and lake, while the award-winning art gallery remains closed.
The Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham NEC
One for thrill seekers with a head for heights! Europe’s tallest high ropes will be reopening from 14 April at this outdoor adventure centre located in between Coventry and Birmingham, close to Birmingham Airport. The 60-minute High Ropes adventure is 65ft above ground with 36 obstacles to roam. It’s suitable for ages 8+ accompanied by an adult. The rest of their activities – including the Assault Course – are reopening from 20 May.
We might not be leaving the country this year but, under the red and gold lanterns of Chinatown and surrounded by an unfamiliar alphabet, you might be able to pretend. It’s a bit of a walk from Marylebone and Paddington stations, but we’ve all become excellent walkers anyway, and there’s so much to nose at on the way you’ll hardly mind. Once there, tuck into a well-deserved mountain of dumplings: Dumplings’ Legend is rumoured to be the best, but you’re unlikely to get a dud anywhere. Then don’t miss the opportunity to peer into the bakeries, full of ornate mooncakes. If you seek out Chinatown Bakery you’ll be rewarded with the strangely mesmerising machine in the window, which makes waffles in the shape of fish, then fills them with custard. Definitely one for the ‘gram.
Within 15 minutes’ walk from Paddington Station is Little Venice, a pretty stretch of canal full of bobbing coloured houseboats that’s surrounded by posh Victorian houses and lots of greenery. Meander along, convincing yourself that life on a houseboat would be utterly charming (until you eat a dodgy curry, that is), and admiring the scenery. It’s also a pleasing place to cycle, free of cars, if you feel like renting ‘Boris’ bikes. For lunch, grab an excellent salad and baked goods to go from Raoul’s Deli on Clifton Road.
Just a hop, a skip, and a jump away from Marylebone station (or a 20-minute walk from Paddington) is Regent’s Park, currently full of blossom and manicured spring flower beds, and surrounded by Nash’s picture-book Regency terraces. But keep going, across the road and into Primrose Hill, and you can see a tremendous view of the London skyline. A great opportunity to impress (ie, bore) any kids with how many iconic buildings you can point out. Grab something for lunch from one of the many restaurants, delis, and cafes on Regent’s Park road, eyes peeled for any passing celebs. There’s good portable stuff from Greenberry Cafe (bacon baps, cheese toasties, a changing selection of salads, cakes) or, come 12 April, tuck into excellent Greek food from Lemonia in their heated and covered outdoor seating area.
Kings Cross to Camden Town
Walking in a rural paradise? So over it. Instead, start off by grabbing something to eat at Coal Drops Yard next to King’s Cross station (the sandwiches at Sons + Daughters are famous for a reason, FYI). Maybe linger a bit, to grab a drink from one of the many bars — just a little pick-me-up, you know how it is. Then, head down to the water’s edge and wander along the canal, past the lock, noting the fabulously expensive luxury flats made out of old gas holders along the way. Within 25 minutes (or more, depending on how much you ate) you’ll have reached Camden Town, where you can climb up to street level and go nosy around Camden Market, with all its strangely enticing tat.
Hampstead Heath and Village
From Kings Cross station, and via the 46 bus, it’s 20 minutes to Hampstead Heath (get off at the Royal Free Hospital). Walk up Parliament Hill to see the full glory of the skyline; it’s one of the highest natural points in the city. From there, it’s a highly pleasant 20 minute walk across the lush Heath up to Hampstead Village, where you might peep a celeb local like Ricky Gervais. You can count the blue plaques of past famous residents as you go: Constable, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Orwell, John Keats. Get yourself tea and cake to go from Burgh House, or a fine French lunch from La Cage Imaginaire.
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