The 50 Best; Didn't we have a lovely time...? Bank-holiday excursions

Bank-holiday excursions

It's bank-holiday time, and stretching out before you is a long, hot summer of lazy picnics, sun-soaked trips to the seaside and carefree days out with the kids. (Well, you can dream, can't you?) This week, Nikki Spencer comes up with the perfect cure for the summertime blues

THE EXPERTS

Susy Smith is editor of Country Living magazine, the June issue of which celebrates "National Picnic Weekend", which runs from 5-6 June.

Catey Hillier is editor of the glossy Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine.

Catherine O'Dolan is deputy editor of Junior, "the world's finest parenting magazine", and has a three-year- old daughter, Grace.

Chris Davies works for the Marine Conservation Society, which has just published The Good Beach Guide on the Internet (at www.goodbeachguide.co.uk).

Caroline Stacey writes on restaurants for The Independent magazine.

Simon Calder is travel editor of The Independent and a frequent broadcaster

THE WATER MEADOWS, WINCHESTER

"The combination of historic architecture and lovely landscape makes this an inspiring spot at any time of year - in summer it's idyllic," says Susy Smith. You can cut down to the riverside walk from the bridge by Winchester City Mill, and either picnic in the island garden at this National Trust property or head downstream to the water meadows.

Where & when: Winchester City Mill, Bridge St, Winchester (01962 870057); you can picnic for free anytime, but the mill is open 11.30am-4.30pm Wed- Sun & Bank Holiday Mondays.

How much: adults pounds 1, children 50p (for the Mill).

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EARTH CENTRE, DONCASTER

"It may sound a bit dull, but actually it's very exciting, and kids love it," says Catherine O'Dolan of this environmental "theme park" built on a former colliery. There are exhibitions, gardens and play areas. You are encouraged to use the vacuum toilets, which have signs saying "Thank you for your contribution". The waste is then broken down using bacteria. "It sounds disgusting, but that's what kids like," adds Catherine.

Where & when: Earth Centre, Denaby Main, Doncaster (01709 513933); daily 10am-6pm (last entry 4pm), until 8pm during summer hols.

How much: adults pounds 8.95 (pounds 4.95 if you don't arrive in a car), children pounds 4.95.

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SKEGNESS

"This is one of the cleanest places on the East Coast to enjoy a dip in the sea," says Chris Davis, who describes Skegness as "the epitome of the British seaside resort". It retains many charms from its knotted- hanky heyday: "donkey rides, Punch and Judy and summer beach games entertain the children as they have done for years". At night, between July and October, the whole place twinkles enchantingly with 25,000 lightbulbs.

Where & when: Skegness, Lincs (tourist info: 01754 764821); daily, times vary.

How much: beach free; pay per ride at the funfair.

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ALDERNEY

"Take a trip to the island before 11 August, and close your eyes and imagine what it will be like when the total solar eclipse passes overhead," suggests Simon Calder. That day apart, Alderney, measuring just 3.5 x 1.5 miles, is probably the quietest of all the Channel Islands. To explore the white-sand beaches and cliff trails you can hire a moped or a bike, or take the Alderney Railway.

Where & when: Alderney, Channel Islands (tourist office: 01481 822811); Channel Hoppers (01534 639111) run day-trips from Torquay every Fri & Sun. Boats leave at 8am, arriving back at 8pm.

How much: adults pounds 29 return, under-14s pounds 17.40.

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CARLTON HOUSE, LLANWRTYD WELLS

"A little town that time forgot," is how Catey Hillier describes Llanwrtyd Wells. It's actually Britain's smallest town, surrounded by stunningly beautiful countryside famous as the home of red kites. Catey suggests combining a day's walking or a scenic drive with lunch or dinner at Carlton House, where you can tuck into Modern British food.

Where & when: Carlton House, Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys (01591 610248); open all year (except for a fortnight at Christmas), booking essential.

How much: lunch about pounds 15 for three courses; dinner pounds 16.95 for two courses, pounds 19.50 for three.

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CLUMBER PARK, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE

Plenty of picnic space here: Clumber Park boasts 3,800 acres of National Trust parkland, woods and farmland. "Hire a bike and find a secluded lakeside or shady woodland spot," recommends Susy Smith. The house was demolished back in 1938, but there is still a Gothic chapel and a Victorian walled garden to visit. There are two cycle trails of 5 miles and 13 miles, for which you can hire child-carriers and trailers as well as tandems - as long as you have some form of identification.

Where & when: Clumber Park, Worksop, Notts (01909 476592); daily 10.30am- 5pm. How much: cars pounds 3, pedestrians free, bike hire pounds 8 a day.

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COLLEGE FARM, FINCHLEY

"Not a place to spend the whole day, but you could use it as a bribe after a shopping trip to Brent Cross or Ikea, as it's just off the North Circular," suggests Catherine O'Dolan. On the first Sunday of every month, this rare-breeds farm has a Country Fair with a merry-go-round, puppets and donkey- and horse-drawn-carriage rides. They also do cream teas every Sunday from 2.30pm."My daughter Grace loves it here," says Catherine.

Where & when: College Farm, 45 Fitzalan Rd, London N3 (0181-349 0690); daily 10am-6pm; Country Fair 1pm-6pm.

How much: adults pounds 1.50, children 75p (pounds 2/pounds 1 for Fair).

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ST IVES, CORNWALL

"With six great beaches in the local area, St Ives is one of the best seaside retreats in the UK," declares Chris Davis. "From great surfing beaches to quiet secluded coves, this tucked-away corner of Cornwall has something for everyone," he adds. It may be a bit crowded around 11 August, for the eclipse, but there are plenty of other things on offer throughout the year, including the Tate Gallery and the Barbara Hepworth Gardens.

Where & when: St Ives, Cornwall (tourist info 01736 796297; Tate & Gardens 01736 796226). Tate Gallery & Gardens Tue-Sun 10.30am-5.30pm.

How much: joint ticket (Tate and Gardens) adults pounds 3.30, children free.

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LILLE ON EUROSTAR

"The best shopping and eating to be had within two hours from London," is how Simon Calder describes this historic French city. You can shop at the elegant Printemps department store or at one of the many small markets, and visit the Palais de Beaux Arts, to view masterpieces by Rubens, Goya and Monet. The city was also the birthplace of De Gaulle.

Where & when: Lille, France (French tourist info: 0891 244123); Eurostar from Ashford or Waterloo (0990 186186).

How much: Eurostar day returns pounds 190 during the week, but only pounds 59 at weekends.

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THE RIVERSIDE, DORSET

"Homely staff, but seriously classy food near the seafront," says Caroline Stacey of this restaurant in West Bay, which has been providing top-notch seafood to locals and visitors for the last 35 years. The menu usually includes lobster, oysters, monkfish and John Dory. There is a small lawn area where you can eat out in nice weather. Owner Arthur Watson recommends "lunch with a bottle of wine, then stretching out on the beach and having a lovely dream".

Where & when: The Riverside, West Bay, Bridport, Dorset (01308 422011); Tues-Sat lunch & dinner, closed Sun eve & Mon except Bank Holidays. How much: around pounds 20-pounds 40 for three courses. HAM LANDS, SURREY

Ham Lands is "much less well known, smaller and therefore less crowded than Richmond Park, but very near it", according to Susy Smith. Either cross the footbridge from Teddington by the Anglers pub and walk along the towpath towards Richmond, or turn left on emerging from the 17th-century National Trust property, Ham House, and the heath starts just beyond the playing fields. If you don't fancy the walk, you can also picnic in the meadow in the front of the house, but you must pay an entrance fee.

Where & when: Ham Lands, Richmond, Surrey (0181-940 1950); picnic anytime on the public land beside the river; house, Sat & Wed 1pm-5pm; gardens, 10.30am-6pm daily except Thur & Fri. How much: Ham Lands, free; Ham House & gardens, pounds 5 (pounds 1.50 gardens only).

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BLUEBELL RAILWAYS, SUSSEX

"It just sounds so pretty, and children adore it," says Catherine O'Dolan of Britain's earliest preserved steam railway, which passes through woodlands full of bluebells in late spring. It's an 18-mile return journey, and you can stop off at stations on the way. Sheffield Park Station (about half a mile from the National Trust gardens) also has a museum, restaurant and gift shop. They have numerous special events and a Golden Arrow Pullman Dining train, which runs on Saturday nights and Sunday lunchtimes.

Where & when: Bluebell Railway, Sheffield Park Station, nr Uckfield (01825 722370; Pullman reservations 01825 722008); May-Sept daily 11am-4pm every hour from Sheffield Park Station.

How much: adults pounds 7.40, children pounds 3.70, plus a reduction scheme for local residents.

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BIGBURY-ON-SEA, DEVON

Lying on the coast between Plymouth and Exeter, Bigbury-on-Sea "is one of my personal favourite beaches," says Chris Davis, who recommends it for "stunning scenery and clean bathing". Essentials are catered for with toilets, a cafe and a beach shop, and a restaurant, and at low tide you can walk out to the famed Art Deco hotel on Burgh Island in the bay (above), where non-residents can have lunch and evening meals (01548 810514). Or at high tide, take the sea tractor, a strange Heath-Robinson affair that travels through the water.

Where & when: Bigbury-on-Sea, South Devon (tourist info 01548 853195); anytime.

How much: free, but charges for parking.

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DUN LAOGHAIRE, IRELAND

If you go on a day trip from Holyhead, "don't bother heading into Dublin. The port of Dun Laoghaire has plenty to offer, especially for those on the James Joyce trail," advises Simon Calder. Joyce lived for a short time in the Martello Tower at Sandy Cove, where he set the opening scene of Ulysses. The tower is now the James Joyce museum, with letters, photographs and personal belongings. Much more than just a ferry terminal, Dun Laoghaire (pronounced "dunleary") has colourful and elegant terraces, and the East Pier is popular for promenading.

Where & when: Dun Laoghaire from Holyhead on Stena Line (above) (0990 707070); daily from 4.10am.

How much: usual foot-passenger fare is pounds 22, but the special duty-free fare, until 30 June, costs pounds 15 in the week, pounds 18 at weekends.

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DUNDAS ARMS, BERKSHIRE

"Fantastic setting and nice food, says Caroline Stacey of this old bar and restaurant where you will find a "hearty home-counties clientele" tucking into venison casserole, or smoked haddock and saffron risotto. A great place for combining a stroll along the towpath with a good meal on the patios overlooking the River Kennet on one side, and the Kennet and Avon Canal on the other - but don't expect Sunday lunch. "It's our day of rest," declare the owners, although the bar is open.

Where & when: Dundas Arms, Station Rd, Kintbury, Berkshire (01488 658263); bar open daily; bar food lunch & dinner daily except Mon eve & Sun; restaurant Tues-Sat 7pm-9pm.

How much: bar, pounds 3.50 for soup, around pounds 11 for main courses; restaurant, about pounds 25 a head.

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GOATHLAND, NORTH YORKS

"Catch the Pickering steam train and alight at the charming station of Goathland," advises Susy Smith. "The village is right in the heart of the North Yorkshire Moors, so take any path and find a patch of springy heather and a couple of sheep with which to share your picnic." The producers of TV's Heartbeat picked this beautiful village as the location for the fictional village of Aidensfield, but it's even more attractive in the flesh.

Where & when: Goathland, nr Whitby, North Yorks (North Yorkshire Moors Railway: 01751 472508); trains travel the 18-mile route from Pickering to Grosmont daily until Nov, first departure 10.20am.

How much: adults pounds 9.20, children pounds 4.60.

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WHITSTABLE, KENT

Now so trendy that it has been featured in Vogue, this coastal estuary town is a firm favourite with the fashion mag's junior editorial team, who covet its beach huts. Caroline Stacey is a fan of the Royal Native Oyster Store, a handsome fish restaurant popular with families, which is right on the pebble beach. If you want to stay overnight, try the fishermen's huts on the beach, refurbished by the hotel and now very popular with families. If it's raining, the same company is quids in, as it also runs the local cinema.

Where & when: Whitstable, Kent (tourist info: 01227 275482); Royal Native Oyster Stores (01227 276856), Tue-Sat lunch & dinner, Sun lunch only.

How much: Royal Native Oyster Stores, about pounds 30 for three courses, half portions for children.

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NEWCASTLE ON GNER

If you live in the South-East, Simon Calder suggests you get on a train from King's Cross and head to Newcastle for the day: "The train swoops past Antony Gormley's gigantic sculpture, The Angel of the North, shortly before crossing the Tyne." If you fancy something a bit livelier, GNER also do a Track One Night Out ticket, which combines a rail ticket with entry to two Newcastle nightclubs for just pounds 19. You have to travel back before 9am the next morning, presumably having partied all night.

Where & when: Newcastle by GNER (0345 225 225); daily from 6.15 am.

How much: advance returns from pounds 30, Night Out tickets pounds 19.

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LLANDDWYN BEACH, ANGLESEY

"With its long ribbon of sand backed by forest and 5km of high dunes, and its spectacular views across the mountains of the Lleyn Peninsula dipping into the horizon, Llanddwyn is one of the finest beaches in Britain," declares Chris Davis. It's a great place for watching seals basking offshore, and you can explore the lighthouse keeper's cottages on the point. No dogs are allowed.

Where & when: Llanddwyn beach, Newborough Forest, Anglesey (tourist info: 01248 713177); anytime

How much: pounds 2.50 charge for Forestry Commission car park.

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NORTHCOTE MANOR, LANCS

"This big, old, country-house restaurant at the foot of the Ribble valley is Michelin starred, but don't let that put you off," says Catey Hillier, "they do a real bargain lunch for just pounds 16." The menu includes dishes such as celeriac and lovage soup, or braised chump of lamb with Anna potatoes and pickled red cabbage; you can finish up with iced apple crumble with cinnamon syrup. The hotel - run by chef/patron Nigel Haworth - is open to non-residents for both lunch and dinner, and you can combine a visit with a walk or drive around places like Clitheroe and Whalley.

Where & when: Northcote Manor, Langho, nr Blackburn (01254 240555); ring for opening times. How much: pounds 37 for set gourmet dinner menu.

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MUSSENDEN TEMPLE AND DOWNHILL CASTLE, CO DERRY

Susy Smith recommends taking the A2 coastal road from Coleraine to Downhill, where you will find this 18th-century ruined palace in a spectacular clifftop location. The National Trust estate includes numerous picnic places: choose between a walled garden, woodland or cliff walks, or nose round the celebrated Mussenden Temple, which was built by the energetic Earl-Bishop Frederick Hervey and is now used to stage summer concerts.

Where & when: Bishop's Gate, 42 Mussenden Rd, Castlerock, Coleraine, Co Derry (01265 848567); daily 12-5pm (not Tue) to end Aug.

How much: free.

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LAUDERDALE HOUSE, N6

The regular Saturday-morning kids shows here are adored by Catherine O'Dolan and her daughter Grace, who also love feeding the ducks on the two ponds in surrounding Waterlow Park, with its panoramic views over the capital. You can combine a visit here with lunch in the cafe or an exhibition in this community arts centre, or wander up to the shops and restaurants of Highgate village. And there is always the historical/morbid fascination of Highgate Cemetery nearby - if your kids are in to that sort of thing.

Where & when: Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill, London N6 (0181-348 8716); Sat children's shows 10am & 11.30am, closed Mon & some Sat afternoons.

How much: shows pounds 3.50 for adults, pounds 2.50 children. 23

REIGHTON SANDS, N YORKS

Reighton Sands is a rural beach with a large expanse of sand at the southern end of four-mile-long Filey Beach. It's a firm favourite with families, walkers and naturalists, according to Chris Davis. The unspoilt beach, which has basic facilities such as a cafe and toilets, is backed by towering cliffs, and offers magnificent views of Filey Bay and Filey Brigg. For a more substantial bite to eat, head for the pubs in Hunmandy, or into Filey itself.

Where & when: Reighton, Filey Bay, North Yorkshire (tourist info: 01723 512204); anytime.

How much: free.

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OSTEND BY HOVERSPEED

"A much-maligned resort in a much- ridiculed country," says Simon Calder of Ostend. "The cognoscenti, however, appreciate the place for the gem that it is." Much more than just a ferry terminal, Ostend offers museums and galleries, Leopold Park's green spaces, an aquarium and designer shops. You can tuck into mussels and chips at any number of restaurants. Belgians crowd onto the beach here, although water is rarely warm.

Where & when: Ostend, Belgium by Hoverspeed from Dover (08705 240241); seven return departures a day from 4am; journey time 2hrs.

How much: pounds 8 for foot passengers, pounds 10 on Sat; car plus two passengers pounds 40 (pounds 50 Sat) - upgrade to first class for an extra pounds 15.

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THREE TUNS, SHROPSHIRE

"This warren-like pub in a lovely town on the Welsh borders serves huge portions of much-better-than-usual pub grub," says Caroline Stacey. They also brew their own beers, such as Offa's Ale and Bellringer, and every July the small market town hosts a beer festival. The menu is all freshly home-cooked food, with local, often organic, produce for dishes such as beef in Three Tuns ale served with garden potatoes, and grilled goat's cheese with red-onion marmalade. Offa's Dyke and the Long Mynd are within a few miles.

Where & when: Three Tuns, Salop St, Bishop's Castle, Shropshire (01588 638797); daily 12noon-2.30pm & 7pm-9.30pm (Sun till 9pm) for food.

How much: main courses pounds 5-8.

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PONT ELAN VALLEY, WALES

"Take the old Aberystwyth mountain road to a bridge at the top of a Victorian dam where there are picnic tables," suggests Susy Smith, although she says it is even better if you climb the hill back towards Rhayader - "This takes you into a natural amphitheatre from which there are great views of the surrounding countryside."

To find out more about the area, call in at the Elan Valley Visitor centre, which is on the B4518 three miles from Rhayader in the Elan Valley.

Where & when: Elan Valley, near Rhayader, Wales (visitor centre 01597 810898); visitor centre open daily until Nov.

How much: free.

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EUREKA!, HALIFAX

A giant mouth that you can climb inside to find the wobbly tooth, and a huge tongue that you can stroke are just some of more than 400 interactive exhibits at the UK's first museum for children. Catherine O'Dolan thinks it is a brilliant place. "I've been to museums like this in America, and it's good that we have them here now," she says. Situated right by the railway station and just off the M62, Eureka! runs a changing programme of family workshops and events, including summer activities in the park. And then, of course, there are the joys of Halifax (above) itself.

Where & when: Eureka!, Discovery Rd, Halifax (01426 983191); daily 10am- 5pm.

How much: adults pounds 5.75, under-12s pounds 4.75; under 3s free, pounds 18.75; Saver ticket (4 persons, 2 over 12).

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WOOLACOMBE SANDS, DEVON

Another of Chris Davis's favourite beaches in Devon is the two-and-three- quarter-mile stretch of golden sand backed by sandy hills and the Woolacombe Downs in North Devon. The beach attracts a combination of surfers and families, and there are cafes, shops and other facilities in Woolacombe village. The beach is surrounded by National Trust land, and you can go on tractor cart rides to Bull Point Lighthouse to see the seals in the summer.

Where & when: Woolacombe Sands, Woolacombe, North Devon (tourist info centre 01271 870553); you can visit the beach anytime.

How much: free but some parking charges.

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ISLE OF WIGHT

Simon Calder advises taking a ferry across the Solent from Portsmouth to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. "It was 30 years ago this year that Bob Dylan and 150,000 people descended on the island for its festival," he says. "Not too much else has happened since." As well as the regatta (31 Jul to 8 Aug) over the summer, the island plays host to dozens of special events - including an International Garlic Festival (21 & 22 Aug), as the pungent bulb is grown commercially here. (Incidentally, a favourite picnic spot for Susy Smith is St Catherine's Lighthouse, at the southernmost point of the island.)

Where & when: Wightlink runs day trips (0990 827744); 35min sailings daily 6am-11pm from Portsmouth; for more info on the island, call 01983 813800.

How much: foot passengers only, pounds 7.

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CAFE GANDOLFI, GLASGOW

"A brilliant city with so much going on," says Catey Hilliers of the 1999 City of Architecture and Design (above). After you have checked out the museums, galleries and buildings, head for Cafe Gandolfi. "It has gigantic wooden furniture, but it's still comfortable and welcoming, and is a great place to just hang out," says Catey. Snack on coffee and a sandwich or tuck into one of the cafe's substantial special dishes, known as Gandolfi Standards: Cullen Skink, perhaps, a fish soup made with haddock, cream and potatoes, or Stornoway black pudding with mushrooms and pancakes.

Where & when: 64 Albion St, Glasgow (0141-552 6813); Mon-Sat 9am-11.30pm; Sun 12-11.30pm.

How much: soups pounds 2.30, main courses pounds 7-pounds 12.

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TATTON PARK, CHESHIRE

"One thousand acres of rolling parkland, lakes and fascinating gardens set around an impressive and well-furnished stately pile," is how Susy Smith describes this largely 18th-century National Trust property. Wander round the inside the house and peer into the 16th-century Old Hall, or walk one of the paths around the lake. They don't like you to take food into the formal gardens, but you can picnic anywhere in the park. There is also an adventure playground with a picnic area and places where you can have barbecues, if you're careful.

Where & when: Tatton Park, nr Knutsford, Cheshire (01625 534400); park daily 10am-6pm.

How much: pounds 3 per car to enter the park, pedestrians free; house pounds 3 per adult, pounds 2 children.

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BOWMANS GREEN FARM, ST ALBANS

You can spend a whole day on this working farm, according to Catherine O'Dolan, who particularly liked the shops, workshops and the cafe. The farm plays host to lots of school visits, and you can watch milking everyday as well as sheep shearing from this weekend onwards. There is also a huge bouncy castle, a barbecue area, and you can buy day fishing tickets for the lake. Couples have even been known to get married here (it has a licence for civil ceremonies).

Where & when: Bowmans Green Farm, Coursers Rd, London Colney, St Albans, Herts (01727 822106); daily 10am-5.30pm.

How much: adults pounds 3.75, children over three pounds 2.75.

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DURDLE DOOR, DORSET

Famous for Durdle Door Arch, a rock formation that is one of the wonders of the British coastline, this is a great place for diving, snorkelling and rock-pooling in fantastically clear, blue sea. A heritage centre in the popular holiday village of Lulworth Cove explains the geographical history of the area; the village also has a useful number of pubs and small hotels that serve food. Inland, at East Lulworth, is a privately- owned castle with a chapel and children's farm that are open to the public.

Where & when: Durdle Door, near Lulworth, Dorset (nearest tourist info centre: 01929 552740); anytime.

How much: beach, pounds 2-pounds 3 daily for parking; heritage centre, free; Lulworth Castle, adults pounds 4, children pounds 3.

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AIR DAY-TRIPS TO EUROPE

Travel company Aeroscope run day-trips at weekends on air routes used mostly by business travellers during the week: so on a Saturday or a Sunday, you can pop over to Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Rome (above) or wherever for a spot of lunch and some sight-seeing - but instead of paying top whack, you cough up just over pounds 100. As Simon Calder says, "part of the thrill is comparing what you paid with regular travellers."

Where and when: Aeroscope (01608 650103) flies mostly from Heathrow & Gatwick, Sat & Sun from 7.30am; flights back from 6pm. You must book far enough in advance to enable your tickets to be sent out to you.

How much: day-return flights from pounds 95 inc tax. 35

THREE HORSESHOES, NORFOLK

Gas lamps and homemade lemonade are the things about the the Three Horseshoes pub that Catey Hilliers remembers with greatest fondness. And the food, which, like the surroundings, is traditional English: lots of fish and pies, but strictly no chips. The pub is a short distance from the coast, so Catey recommends combining a pub lunch with a walk on Holkham beach (above) or a visit to The School House Gallery (01328 820457) at Wighton, where the sculptor Henry Moore once lived.

Where & when: Three Horseshoes, Warham, nr Wells-Next-the-Sea, Norfolk (01328 710547); daily, lunch 12noon-2pm, dinner 6.30-8.30pm.

How much: soups pounds 2.40, main courses pounds 6-pounds 8; lemonade 80p for half a pint.

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ORCHARD TEA ROOMS

War poet Rupert Brooke lodged in Granchester vicarage while a student at King's, and it was his time in this pretty village that inspired the lines: "Stands the church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?" If it's a picnic rather than honey you're after, try the Orchard Tea Rooms. Susy Smith says it is in a "wonderful, romantic setting" on the banks of the River Cam, and though the Rooms won't let you picnic in the orchard itself, you can hire a punt here (above) and picnic while floating along the river.

Where & when: The Orchard Tea Rooms, 43-45 Mill Way, Granchester, Cambridge (01223 845788); daily 10.30am-5.30pm; extended in summer.

How much: punts pounds 9 an hour, from the tea rooms.

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HARRODS, SW1

"Children love Harrods: they really enjoy looking at all the lovely things on sale," says Catherine O'Dolan. She recommends a trip to the childrens' department on the fourth floor (above), which plays host to various special activities and events at weekends and during school holidays. But be warned: she recently discovered that there is a dress (or rather a "don't undress") code for children. "When my daughter, Grace, decided to strip down to her vest and pants so she could try something on on the shop floor, she was told to use the changing room," she reveals.

Where & when: Harrods, Knightsbridge, London SW1 (0171-730 1234); Mon, Tue, Sat 10am-6pm; Wed-Fri 10am-7pm.

How much: free.

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WHITE SANDS BAY, SCOTLAND

"An attractive, compact beach with fine golden sand, bounded by a rocky shore with excellent swimming - if you can brave the fresh North Sea," says Chris Davis. Halfway along the coast between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh, it is a popular weekend spot for daytrippers; on summer's evenings, local people tend to drive out here after work. On the beach itself, there's no cafe, only a few picnic tables, but four miles away in the village of Dunbar you'll find pubs, hotels and restaurants. If it's raining at the beach, Dunbar even has a swimming pool.

Where & when: White Sands Bay, nr Dunbar, East Lothian (tourist info: 01368 863353); anytime.

How much: free.

39

DIEPPE

"Another eclipse venue," says Simon Calder, "but with rather better restaurants." Take a day trip to Dieppe on Hoverspeed's new Superseacat, which takes just under two hours from Newhaven - with departures from as early as 7.30am in summer you can be in Dieppe in time for morning coffee. As well as a wide choice of restaurants, Dieppe is an official City of Art and History, with fine churches, narrow streets and the impressive Castle Museum.

Where & when: from Newhaven on Hoverspeed (08705 240241); daily except Tue eve from 7.30am, return at 8pm or at 6.15pm in high season.

How much: foot passengers from pounds 8 weekdays & pounds 12 at weekends until 30 June; day-trips with a car from pounds 45.

40

LE GALLOIS, CARDIFF

This brother-and-sister-run restaurant caught the attention of Catey Hillier, who says she was impressed by the food, the prices and the service. The menu includes spicy red mullet soup with coconut, cumin and carrot, or roast fillet of cod with hot mustard mash. Catey recommends combining a meal here with a walk around the city, taking in William Burgess's Victorian Gothic castle, and Sophia Gardens, an extensive park by the River Taff.

Where & when: Le Gallois, 6-8 Romilly Crescent, Canton, Cardiff (01222 341264); tourist info: 01222 227281; Tue-Sat 12noon-2.30pm & 6.30pm-10.30pm.

How much: set menu lunch, pounds 8.95 for two courses, pounds 10.95 for three, evening average pounds 30 a head.

41

OBAN, SCOTLAND

"Explore the pretty fishing town of Oban, and then climb the hill to view the extraordinary McCaig's Tower at close quarters," suggests Susy Smith. "Enjoy your picnic on the grass surrounding the folly while wondering what inspired the building of it and why it was never finished." An added bonus are the marvellous views of the town down below, the ferries coming and going into the bay, and, on a clear day, the island of Mull in the distance.

Where & when: Oban (tourist info: 01631 563122); anytime.

How much: free.

42

LONDON TRANSPORT MUSEUM, WC2

"This is a great place for kids who are mad about vehicles," says Catherine O'Dolan, who likes the interactive nature of the exhibits. The museum celebrates not just the history but also the future of the Capital's transport system, with all the vehicles that have ferried the citiy's population since 1870 on display. Over holidays and half term, they have regular story-telling sessions, along with themed activities for different ages.

Where & when: London Transport Museum, 39 Wellington St, London WC2 (0171- 379 6344); daily 10am-6pm except Fri (11am-6pm).

How much: pounds 4.95 adults, pounds 2.95 children, under-5s free.

43

RAMSGATE, KENT

"A great place for a family day out, with lots of activities to keep the kids occupied," says Chris Davis of this brick-built, largely Victorian seaside resort perched on a cliff. Chris particularly recommends taking a walk around the picturesque harbour and surrounding promenades, but on rainy days, or when you want some time away from the beach, there's also a motor museum and maritime museum to visit. Over the summer there are numerous special events, including a veteran car run from Chatham dockyard to Ramsgate on 6 June, and, in July, Ships' Open Days around the harbour.

Where & when: Ramsgate, Kent (tourist info: 01843 583333); anytime.

How much: free, except for parking.

44

ISLE OF MAN

"The Isle of Man is a day-trip-sized place," says Simon Calder, "which you can reach, travelling from Liverpool by Seacat, in about two and a half hours." The 33.5-mile-long island has numerous sights worth visiting - including an award-winning Viking Heritage Centre - but the more-Irish- than-Ireland scenery is itself reason enough to come. Once in Douglas, take your pick from a variety of different modes of transport including coach tour, car, train or tram.

Where & when: to book day-trips from Pierhead, Liverpool call 0151-236 2061; Isle of Man tourist info 01624 686801; day-trips currently run from July every Thur, Fri, Sat & Mon departing 11am.

How much: adults pounds 25, children pounds 13.

45

MARTIN'S, EDINBURGH

Catey Hillier recommends climbing to the top of the Scott Monument for an outstanding view of Edinburgh, before heading back down to Martins restaurant, a two-storey house tucked away in an alleyway. Martin Irons, who has run the business for the past 16 years with his wife Gay, is passionate about Scottish produce. Popular dishes include pan-fried fillet of sea bream with chillied (sic) aubergine, herb couscous, asparagus and sweet pepper sauce, followed by lemon mousse with rhubarb-and-mint ice cream.

Where & when: Martin's, 70 Rose St, North Lane, Edinburgh (0131-225 3106); lunch Tue-Fri 12noon-2pm, dinner Tue-Sat 7pm-10pm.

How much: pounds 32-pounds 34 for three courses.

46

CLIVEDEN, BUCKS

This was the former home of the Astor family, and scene of Profumo's cavortings in the Sixties. Susy Smith recommends working up an appetite by walking through the grounds of the National Trust estate and down to the bank of the Thames, where you can enjoy a lavish picnic ("champagne and strawberries are a must," she says). End the afternoon with tea in the hotel's conservatory - or stay for one of the theatre productions in the gardens (from end June), then dine in the restaurant.

Where & when: Cliveden, nr Maidenhead, Bucks (01494 755562); grounds daily 11am-6pm. How much: adults pounds 5, children pounds 2.50, under-5s free for the grounds, pounds 3/pounds 1.50 for the woodland car park with picnic area.

47

EDINBURGH ZOO

Catherine O'Dolan recommends Edinburgh's zoo for a family day out. Here, you'll find beasts of every shape and size, from the large (rhinos, giraffes and gorillas) to the small (brightly coloured "poison arrow" frogs from South America). Make sure you don't miss Europe's largest penguin colony: there's a penguin parade every day at 2pm. In the holidays and at weekends, the zoo runs animal-handling classes for children; on hotter days, children can cool down in a water-fountain maze.

Where & when: Corstorphine Rd, Edinburgh (0131-334 9171); daily 9am-6pm. How much: adults pounds 6.80, children pounds 3.80, under-3s free, family ticket pounds 19.

48

RHOSSILI BAY, SOUTH WALES

A very rural spot - you have to climb quite a few steps to get down to sea - but it's worth it when you get there. This 5km sweep of golden sands on the famed Gower Peninsula is noted for being an excellent surfing beach. At either end, rock pools abound with marine life. This is, according to Chris Davis, a perfect place to "escape and relax".

Where & when: Rhossili Bay, Gower Peninsula, nr Swansea (tourist info: 01792 361302); anytime.

How much: free, but charges for parking.

49

CONCORDE TO NEW YORK

The ultimate day-trip: leave Heathrow at the civilised hour of 10.30am, and arrive in New York at 9.20am, ready for a morning's shopping, an early lunch and a return flight that gets you back to London at 10.25pm. Perks include fast-track check-in and complimentary seat back-pack. When you arrive at JFK, you even get to use the new Conran-designed lounge. Sadly, the pounds 6,000-plus price tag means the man in the seat next to you is more likely to be a suit with a laptop than a fellow daytripper with nothing more than shopping on their mind...

Where & when: Heathrow to New York on Concorde (0181759 5511); daily from 10.30am. How much: pounds 6,046 plus pounds 52.50 tax.

50

KRISTIAN'S, NORTH SHIELDS

"Walk along the quayside, look at the boats, visit the fish market, then come here for a fish-and-chip lunch," suggests Catey Hillier. Kristian's has won numerous awards (lauded by the Northern Echo); eat in, or buy from the takeaway next door. To work off your lunch, follow the trail from North Shields all the way around the coast to St Mary's lighthouse on the north side of Whitley Bay, taking in Cullercoats and Tynemouth en route.

Where & when: Kristian's, 2-10 Union Quay, North Shields (0191-258 5155); tourist info 0191-200 5895; Mon-Sat 11am-9pm, Sun 11.30am-4.30pm.

How much: cod & chips to take away pounds 2.80, eat in pounds 3.80; children's portions available.

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