How to improve holidays with children

Hey mum, Let's be the kings of the castle

How do you fancy a weekend in the countryside, once Christmas is out of the way? It'll give you a rest from all that shopping, if nothing else, and a bit of post-turkey fresh air maybe just what the doctor ordered for your pasty-faced brood.

I'm up for it, but my die-hard inner-city dudes need a bit of persuading to get them interested in the big green space outside London. For Patrick, the thought of being anywhere that is not within walking distance of at least two branches of JD Sports makes him nervous ("How do they cope, Mum?") and Stan would much prefer to spend his weekend in Woolies. But I've told them to pull themselves together: after all, it's important to see how the other half lives, even if it's just to pity them for their lack of access to tacky discount shopping centres.

I'm determined to prove to my kids that they can enjoy themselves out of their natural habitat. The trick is to find the right accommodation, somewhere that will keep them busy enough to allow them to let go of their concrete jungle roots for a while, and I reckon the best way to do this is to impress them. For starters, I could give them a glimpse of regal life by taking them to stay in the Augill Castle (01768 341937; stayina castle.com), a wonderfully family-friendly country hotel complete with turrets and towers to explore. Set in its own slice of Cumbria, there's plenty of room for little ones to run amok in safety, as well as a whole host of indoor activities: they can hang out with other imported city kids in the games room, play team games or let off some energy on the trampoline.

The owners positively welcome children and have thoughtfully provided plenty of activities to keep them amused, so that you get the chance to soak up the atmosphere (as well as the rather good food and wine).

Talking of country castles, there's one in Devon that deserves a mention too. Bovey Castle's gorgeous setting (01647 445016; bovey castle.com) on Dartmoor will kindle those mini-imaginations because they'll never be stuck for something to do. There are ball games, pony-trekking jaunts, painting sessions and videos, as well as a supervised kids' club, the Bovey Rangers, for them to get stuck into. You can also book lessons in activities including archery, music and golf - I challenge any child to be bored.

But for a real taste of high country life, you have to go to Scotland, where Gleneagles awaits (0800 3893737; gleneagles. com). If it's good enough for MPs to have their very important summits, it's good enough for my sprogs - and they'll certainly be kept happy. Younger guests - officially known as "Gleneaglets" - can partake in a wide range of pursuits, including trail riding, junior golf, off-road Jeep driving and falconry. Now if that can't beat traipsing round our local shopping centre on a Saturday lunchtime for excitement, then nothing can.

Katy's top tip

For a truly relaxed atmosphere and all the grandeur of a Baroque Cornish mansion, check out Fowey Hall (01726 833866; foweyhallhotel. co.uk). This is child-friendliness with knobs on: they'll provide babysitters, all the clobber you need, as well as qualified nannies, play dens, puppet making, croquet games on the lawn ... You name it, they'll do it.

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