From a woodland hideaway log cabin to glamping by a glorious sandy beach, here are six brilliant ideas for close-to-home activity breaks that all the family will love
Words Rachel Webb
Anyone with children knows that the days of fly and flop are gone. Even if you find that perfect Mediterranean beach or idyllic rural gîte, it’s the getting there that reduces the allure, especially on a shorter break. Enter, the great British escape. Fair weather isn’t guaranteed, but with these spectacular locations, offering activities to appeal to all ages, the scene is set for a memorable break.
The ten locations offered by Forest Holidays include Argyll, Scotland, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire and Blackwood Forest in Hampshire – so options to take you across Britain. A small but perfectly formed site (just 16 cabins) in Beddgelert, Snowdonia opens this summer to bring North Wales into the mix.
Copper Beech cabins sleep four to six and have an open-plan living space, fully equipped kitchen and outdoor deck. Trade up to a Golden Oak cabin, sleeping two to eight, and you also have a log-burning stove and private hot tub. If you’re travelling with a large group or older children, Golden Oak Treehouses sleep up to 10 and include a separate ensuite bedroom located across a rope bridge.
It’s all about the great outdoors and, with bike hire available and lots of nature trails to explore, you can make the most of the wilderness. Forest ranger-led tours and activities are tailored for all age groups and you can also hire a personal guide. Children aged ten and up will love the after-dark tour, where you track nocturnal creatures using night-vision equipment, while the forest survival adventure is fun for all ages and includes foraging, fire lighting and building a shelter.
Good to know
Each location centres round a Forest Retreat or Forest Hub with café/restaurant, shop and information on local beauty spots and visitor attractions. An in-cabin chef experience is offered at all sites. Forest Holidays are all located on Forestry Commission-managed land and work together to manage sites sustainably.
Bluestone offers 500 acres of pine-scented forest and nature trails where you can let off steam. Off resort, you are close to the lovely market town of Narberth and the family-focused visitor attraction Folly Farm, while Pembrokeshire offers a treasure trove of beaches, ancient forts and wonderful produce.
Options range from dinky one- and two-bed cottages up to contemporary lodges, including one that sleeps 14. The four-bed detached St David’s Lodges sleep eight, and include a separate playroom. There’s an adapted lodge for guests with limited mobility and several single-storey options.
The Blue Lagoon offers balmy temperatures, a wave machine, rapids and flumes. There’s also an outdoor temperature-controlled pool and children’s play area. Land activities include everything from zip lines to rock climbing, kayaking and raft building. The Rangers-led programme includes the full gamut from bug hunting to archery and tree climbing.
Good to know
This is a car-free zone, making it a great place for family cycling (bikes and tag-alongs can both be rented). Hire an electric golf buggy if you want to really impress the kids.
As a pioneer in activity breaks, Center Parcs offer all the bells and whistles you need to keep children from toddlers to teens amused. With five locations, including Woburn, Sherwood and Longleat forests, it’s easy to vary the scenery if you’re a Center Parcs returner.
Options range from hotel and small apartment accommodation and family-friendly Woodland Lodges right up to swanky treehouses, with open-plan living areas, games dens and outdoor hot tubs. Children will love living in the trees, but the glamorous Waterside Lodges overlooking the lake at Elvedon, Suffolk will also earn their vote.
The Waterpark is each centre’s hub. Heated to 29.5°C year-round, it has enough flumes, waves and other watery distractions to keep children entertained all day. Hire a private cabana, replete with TV, refreshments and loungers for child or adult nap time. Outside, you’ll find RYA-led sailing lessons, paddle boarding and wind surfing. On dry land, activities include quad biking or more sedate exploration by segway, as well as nature watch-themed sessions for budding zoologists.
Indoor adventures range from climbing walls to pottery painting.
Good to know
Family-friendly dining is the norm, with play areas and even Apple Macs in some Center Parcs restaurants. You can order in and have food delivered to your forest home.
The tranquil waters and big skies of the Norfolk Broads are what Herbert Woods offers, with boats for hire, as well as quarters on shore close to the marina, many with moorings. The base is Potter Heigham, 12 miles north of Norwich, giving you access to the small communities and navigable rivers that criss-cross this unique landscape.
Boats range from a compact cruiser sleeping three to a four-cabin, three-bath Regal Light, sleeping eight-plus. On-shore cottages are ideal if you’re bringing your own boat, or want to combine day-boat hire with land-based exploration.
Water is the star, and there’s lots of it around these parts. You can hire paddleboards, canoes and kayaks or join a guided kayak adventure. Bring binoculars because the birdwatching is great, although you are more likely to hear the elusive bittern and cetti’s warbler than see them. The flat landscape is perfect for cycling and is a great way to explore the local landscape – bike hire companies are plentiful in the area.
Good to know
You don’t need any prior boating experience and will be given a tutorial before you start out. This is a top spot for fishing, but remember to buy a licence from the Post Office and read up on fishing regulations.
Hoseasons Go Active
The focus is on trying new things at Hoseasons Go Active. With 19 locations across Britain, from the Southern Highlands to North Cornwall, there’s scope for short breaks or longer holidays. Six of the sites are Go+, meaning laser clays and off-roading fun. All offer dedicated activity programmes designed for children aged three to seven.
This varies from site to site, but generally includes static caravans (which children will love) and some wooden lodges. Some sites include brick-built accommodation and apartments. Many options are family-sized, including living areas, multiple bedrooms, well-equipped kitchens, outdoor decks and hot tubs. At Battle, East Sussex, you can even hire a lodge in the rolling grounds of the 17th-century Crowhurst Park country estate.
Each Go Active site offers the same core activities. Water-based fun includes snorkelling, sea scooters and water walkerz (inflatable balls that enable children and adults to walk across water). Land-based activities include archery, fencing and body zorbs. Other activities are offered on a park-by-park basis, and include kayaking, mountain biking and abseiling. Finlake in North Devon has a new state-of-the-art waterpark, as well as zip wires, trapeze and treetop seesaws.
Good to know
Most locations are close to stunning coastline, making it easy to combine beach fun and supervised pool activity. The onsite Go Junior programme is a good way to encourage new skills – with swimming lessons and Balanceability cycle training on the menu.
Going safari ticks all boxes for children and Wild Luxury has also nailed the happy parents end with its superior Norfolk glampsites where kids can run around and parents can chill on a well-appointed deck. The two locations are The Hideaway, a quiet spot on a private estate where you will need a car to get out and about, and Thornham Bay close to the quiet beach of Holme Dunes and Thornham village.
Serengeti Lodges sleep up to six in comfort and combine the allure of canvas with all mod cons, including great kitchens with range cookers. Electric lights, power showers and flushing loos make this camping without tears. Younger children will love the beds in cupboards. Zambezi Lodges are located at The Hideaway only, sleep up to ten and have substantial living quarters as well as great decks to admire the clear night sky.
It’s go your own way here, and it’s the place to enjoy an old-fashioned beach holiday without crowds or the razzle dazzle of arcades. Thornham Bay is next to a farm where you can pop into the café or eat fish and chips at Eric’s. The village itself has an award-winning deli and three choice pubs. Get in the car and you can head out to some of Norfolk’s other fine beaches, including Holkham. Sandringham Estate has a country park with nature trails, while Snettisham Farm Park offers deer safari, horse and pony rides, and an adventure playground.
Good to know
The Hideaway is more remote, but ideal for supervising younger children as there’s space to run around but the site is well enclosed. A summer-only Wild Camp offers exclusive-use glamping for groups of up to 12 in swish sleeping tents with proper showers, an outdoor kitchen and giant barbecue on site.