Rediscovering the joy of the picnic

Wasps, rain, sand in the sandwiches... we use any excuse to avoid eating outdoors, says the National Trust. Now, it lists the 10 best places to dine <i>al fresco</i> in the UK

The clocks have gone forward, the evenings are lighter and days are growing longer. Spring is in the air: perfect time for a picnic. Well, in theory. For while the Great British Picnic is almost universally loved as an idea, in reality nearly two-thirds of people avoid eating al fresco for fear of wasps, dirt and bad weather.

A new survey by the National Trust, and revealed here exclusively by The Independent on Sunday, reveals that while 91 per cent of parents and their children say they love eating outdoors, 62 per cent are put off the idea by wasps and other insects. Over half – 58 per cent – worry about unpredictable weather, and 26 per cent fear getting dirt and sand in their food.

The YouGov poll of 1,995 adults, including 440 parents of children under 18, revealed that while 41 per cent of families were happy to picnic in August last year, only 13 per cent ventured outdoors in March, despite beautiful spring landscapes and weather.

As if external elements weren't enough to think about, some 66 per cent were worried about how to create varied and exciting outdoor meals, and almost a quarter are unsure about where they are allowed to picnic.

Fiona Reynolds, the National Trust's director-general, said the research has been conducted in the hope of reminding the public of the simple pleasures of a cheap and cheerful day in the countryside, scoffing snacks while lazing on a tablecloth under a tree.

"Picnics are something we're well known for in this country, but we don't need to wait for the summer sun to arrive," she said. "Spring is finally here and we have our extra hour's daylight – it's a great time of year to head outdoors and enjoy food with a view. Spending more time outside is also the perfect way to refresh and re-energise both body and mind."

The questionnaire also showed that 48 per cent of families welcome a change from eating at the kitchen table, and 60 per cent recognise the opportunity for fun and gossip while drinking al fresco, and a chance to fill their lungs with fresh air.

Despite all the apparent attractions, some 10 per cent say they have not eaten outside in the past year at all.

To combat this trend, the National Trust has compiled its own selection of the UK's top 10 picnicking spots for spring. They include the beauty of Kynance Cove in Cornwall, the serene landscapes and idyllic walks of Croome in Worcestershire, the lush greenery of the Kymin in Monmouth, and Florence Court in Northern Ireland, as well as coastal perches and dramatic mountain vistas.

Best places for a picnic...

1. Florence Court, Northern Ireland

A beautiful 18th century country house and park set beneath peaceful forests and hills of west Fermanagh. Among the Irish Yew trees and mountain views lie the Blacksmith's Forge, Carpenters Workshop and Sawmill.

2. Fell Foot Cumbria

Views of Lake Windermere and the Lakeland fells.

3. Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire

The Abbey ruins and Georgian water garden offer the dramtic location for al fresco eating alongside the river Skell.

4. Dunwich Heath, Suffolk

The area supports butterflies and birds, and holds a lookout for spotting porpoises and seals.

5. Box Hill, Surrey

Sunny slopes with sweeping views and quiet glades.

6. Tennyson Downs, Isle of Wight

An ideal walking and lunching spot, named after Alfred Lord Tennyson, who composed his famous poems in the 1870s while walking in the area.

7. Stourhead, Wiltshire

Spectacular landscape garden surrounded by stunning walks.

8. The Kymin, Monmouth

A 600ft hill overlooking the Wye valley.

9. Croome, Worcestershire

Serene landscape and lakeside including a myriad paths through 18th-century pleasure gardens.

10. Kynance Cove, Cornwall

Turquoise waves and clean white sand.

Flora and fauna to spot

Flowers The yellow stars of celandines appear along woodland lanes from late March. Primroses spring up on the banks of streams and the white stars of wood anemone carpets the woods around now. The blackthorn blossoms from early April, while the first bluebells start to appear in mid April. The distinctive yellow-green leaves of the oak unfurl in late April. Pink-white apple blossom can be seen from April and early May. Hawthorn blossom appears in hedges from mid May.

Insects The first butterflies to emerge among five hibernating species are: the comma, peacock, small tortoiseshell, red admiral and brimstone. Also the striking orange tip butterfly between mid April and late May.

Mammals Mad March hares, boxing and chasing as part of courtship, usually in arable fields. Baby rabbits from early May.

Birds The first fork-tailed swallows return from migration in mid April, as does the cuckoo. Ducklings from late April to late May. First fledgling blackbirds in mid May.

Amphibeans Frogspawn in south/lowlands.

Amy Meadows, Marketing manager

Amy, 37, lives in Poole, Dorset, with her husband Michael, also 37. He is an estate agent. They have two children, Freddy, six, and Rosy, four.

"We do picnics all the time. During the autumn we go out for picnics in the New Forest. We make up backpacks for the kids with tick boards for them to spot squirrels and different mushrooms before we sit down under a tree to have something to eat.

"I find that as long as they're well fed, kids will do remarkable things outside. My daughter likes marmite sandwiches, my son jam, if he's been good, and my husband has everything with pickle, mustard and chilli sauce. Mine are tuna and salad. The kids like to have their food in their own picnic box, which they carry in their backpacks.

"There's usually some cheese in there, yoghurt, some apples, oranges and grapes to keep them going. And there's got to be something naughty – crisps, ham, a lardy cake, malt loaf with lashings of butter or carrot cake. The kids have fruit juice, and my husband always has his flask of coffee."

Celebrity vox pop: What's your top picnic accessory?

"I'd take a guitar and maybe a sax to make some music, so we can all have a singalong. Good food. I remember going to Kew Gardens with my parents – my mum used to cook Jamaican-style rice and chicken."

Yolanda Brown, Jazz saxophonist

"I love a cold black-bean pepper stir-fry... A much talked-about dish I bring to picnics is my jelly-fish salad."

Ken Hom, Chef

"Tomato sandwiches. If you don't eat them all straight away they go soft, and then they are more delicious than anything else."

Nicky Phillips, Artist who has painted Princes William & Harry

"It has to be a Swiss Army knife. What if you forget your bottle opener or a knife? And if you meet a fisherman who needs his nets mending or a horse with a stone in its shoe, you can take care of that too. It's the iPhone of its generation."

Martin Dorey, Author & presenter

"Dolmades are perfect. They are brilliant finger food and so delicious. And a good game of rounders."

Harriet Quick, Fashion features director, Vogue

"The ingredients have to be easily transportable. I love crudités... Comté cheese and charcuterie, with mustard and homemade pickle, [and] the sound of a popping cork is always a must."

Raymond Blanc, Chef

"My favourite thing to take is my wife and kids! Definitely you need a jar of cornichons, the little baby gherkins. My daughter goes mad for those ... and some great bread."

Johnnie Mountain, Owner of the English Pig, in the City of London

"A bottle of Prosecco, a good group of friends, and for someone else to have packed an amazing picnic that I haven't had to touch."

Kay Barron, Fashion news editor, Grazia

"My favourite is a whole chicken that's been roasted with garlic and herbs under the skin. I like food that you can pull apart. We usually go down by the seaside so we can wash our hands in the water afterwards."

Brian Turner, Presenter, Ready Steady Cook

"On the very infrequent days where the weather is suitable, I think it's a cause for celebration. Out go the dry Scotch eggs, and in come West Country chorizo, homemade slaw, crusty bread and a chilled, crisp cider. Happy days!"

Dean Edwards, Broadcaster and MasterChef contestant

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