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Staycation | 7 fabulous family-friendly days out in England

By Rebecca Miles – 10th June 2020

We were as pleased as punch to hear that the National Trust is starting to reopen some of its gardens and parklands, and over the next few weeks other attractions across the country (including zoos and safari parks from 15th June) are starting to tentatively open their doors on their outdoor spaces too.

And with unlimited exercise now allowed as well, there are some really fun family-friendly activities and days out available – we’re in for anything that expands our horizons again beyond our own four walls. 

So we’ve rounded up our favourite family-friendly days out and activities, from castles in huge grounds to paddling a Canadian canoe along the Thames, and have our wish list sorted for the next few weeks and months. 

NB Everywhere included below is either already open in some capacity or due to open around the beginning of July. Please check the venue websites before you travel.

Sacrewell Farm, nr Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

Animal petting at Sacrewell Farm

It’s clear to see why this place was named the best play area in England last year – Sacrewell Farm has one of the most inventive spaces we’ve ever come across. An immersive natural play area, it has stepping stones, bridges, dens to build and ropes to clamber over, all in the shadow of the 18th century watermill. 

Mix the day up by checking in on the farm animals (not just sheep and pigs but alpacas too), getting lost in the evergreen maze, playing Pooh sticks and rambling around the farm’s lands. 

Due to open from 4th July, for advance-booked entry at weekends only to begin with, admission will be reduced to £3.50 for adults (13+) and £2.50 for children (2-12) to reflect the fact that not all of the farm will be open initially. More info: https://www.sacrewell.org.uk/

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire

Fountains Abbey

An incredibly atmospheric place, Fountains Abbey is the largest monastic ruins in the country and you can almost sense the medieval monks going about their worship among the dramatic ruins. It’s great to see it on the National Trust’s list of places being reopened.

Explore the cloisters, play the biggest game of hide and seek and find the prison cells, before wandering down to the beauty of the Studley Royal Water Garden. Built in the 18th century, they were granted World Heritage Status in 1986 but have a history reaching much further back than that. The Benedictine monks originally changed the course of the river Skell before the canals, cascades and tranquil moon ponds of this scenic landscape garden were created over 300 years ago.  

Now open, but booking in advance is essential and tickets are released every Friday for the week ahead. Admission is £13 for adults, £6.50 for children (5-17); NT members get in free. More info: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey-and-studley-royal-water-garden 

Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk

Remains of Abbey of St Edmund in Abbey Gardens

Not the most obvious place, and we like it all the more for that, Bury St Edmonds is an historic market town surrounded by stunning Suffolk countryside, and just the place for a day out in the fresh air. 

Start at the West Stow Country Park with a walk around the lake before letting the kids run free in the adventure playground. There’s also a recreated Anglo Saxon village to explore, which is aiming to be open from early July.

Next move on to Nowton Park, with its maze of hornbeam trees and arboretum full of trees from around the world, before rounding the day off at Abbey Gardens, in the heart of Bury St Edmonds. Wander through the 1,000-year-old abbey ruins and don’t miss the wildlife feeding area to up close and personal with the local animals. 

Admission to these three parks is free and they are open, but some facilities may not yet be. More info: www.burystedmundsandbeyond.co.uk 

Canadian canoeing, Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Family in a Canadian canoe

What could be better than spending the day messing around on the river? And if you pick one of Moose Canoe’s large Canadian canoes, a family of four can comfortably all fit in one, easily socially distancing themselves from the rest of the world on the beauty of the River Thames. 

Launch from its base at Bisham Abbey (just near Marlow with free parking) and head upstream towards Henley-on-Thames, negotiating Temple and Hurley Locks on the way. There are plenty of picturesque places to tie up for a picnic on the banks, and lots to look out for, including riverside wildlife, the horses at Harleyford Estate and some stunning houses hidden among the trees. 

Full day Canadian canoe hire is £58 for two adults and two children (aged 4+). More info: www.moosecanoehire.com/ 

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

Bamburgh Castle

Seen from a distance the striking silhouette of Bamburgh Castle promises great things, and this former Anglo Saxon palace doesn’t disappoint. Rightly described as England’s finest coastal fortress, Bamburgh Castle is a place of awe and wonder. 

Dripping in history, it’s got all you want from a castle – a keep, crenelations, an armoury and blood-chilling dungeons – as well as location, location, location above one of the UK’s most impressive beaches. Take to the towers and get unbelievable views across the sea to Holy Island and the Farne Islands, and you might even spot a dolphin or two frolicking in the waves. 

Staff at the castle are working towards reopening on 6th July and will have social distancing and one-way systems in place through the staterooms. In the grounds, there’s plenty of space for everyone, and the team are aiming to run a few events over the summer, including  Anglo Saxon demonstrations of wood carving and metal making, and alpaca treks around the castle and beach. 

Open from 6th July, admission is from £11.16 for adults, £5.46 for children (5-18). More info: www.bamburghcastle.com/

Treasure Trails, nationwide

Children on a Treasure Trail

Just the thing for some local socially distanced exploring, there are over 1,200 Treasure Trails to do across the country, so it’s very likely there’s one near you. A self-guided adventure walk with themes including treasure hunts, murder mysteries and spy missions, the aim is to solve the clues and complete the operation. 

Lasting around two hours, each trail makes use of well-known local landmarks, signs, statues, monuments, images, engravings or any other unique or eye-catching features, and throws in plenty of history and trivia too.

Not just in cities and towns, they can be found in villages and beauty spots too – and when you’ve completed your Treasure Trail, submit the final answer on the website for the chance to be entered into the monthly £100 prize draw. 

Treasure Trail booklets cost £9.99 (plus P&P if required) and can be downloaded and printed at home. They’re suitable for up to five people and designed to appeal to all ages. More info: www.treasuretrails.co.uk/ 

Forest of Dean family bike trail, Coleford, Gloucestershire

Cycling in the Forest of Dean

Attractions are slowly starting to reopen in the Forest of Dean (so check here for the latest), including some bike hire shops – when booked in advance, so if you’re in the area you’re in luck. 

Our pick is the Pedalabikeaway Cycle Centre in the Cannop Valley as it’s at the beginning of the Forest of Dean Family Trail, an 10-mile circular route on a traffic-free path. It takes in some of the Severn and Wye railway line, passes coal mines and Mallards Pike Lake, and offers plenty of wildlife-spotting opportunities, including wild boar and roe deer. 

More adventurous types can head to the singletrack routes through the forest, or to the revered Verderers’ Trail, a swooping blue loop with a few tricky challenges. Pedalabikeaway offers advice on routes as well as bike hire, and its cafe is open for takeaways. 

A full day of bike hire starts from £19 for adults, £14 for children, and bike seats, tagalongs, trailers, e-bikes and technical mountain bikes are also available. More info: https://pedalabikeaway.co.uk/

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