Independent Families: 'Where in the UK can I take my daughters for wintery activities?'

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The Independent Travel

Q.My two daughters, aged nine and 12, want to try some winter activities during the Christmas holidays. Ideally, they'd like some snow (not necessarily skiing), but I am afraid of flying so that rules out going abroad. Can you suggest something for us to do in the UK, perhaps in Scotland? We're based near York, but I don't mind taking the train or even driving. There will be four of us in the party.
D Holmes, Wetherby

A. The Cairngorms (01479 873535; www.cairngorms.co.uk) in Scotland is Britain's largest and newest national park and is ideal for a family activity break. Snow cannot be guaranteed in December, but there is normally enough of a scattering to give a wintery feel. The Cairngorm mountain range stretches for 50 miles, with almost 50 peaks over 3,000ft and several over 4,000ft. It encompasses a range of landscapes and wildlife and is home to 25 per cent of the UK's threatened bird, animal and plant species.

Aviemore is located within the park and is a good base, because it's easy to get to (five to six hours by train from York) and has lots to do in the vicinity. Most trains from York to Aviemore require a change in Edinburgh; GNER (08457 225225; www.gner.co.uk) offers a saver return for £154.70 for four people with a family railcard. Once there, you can hire a car with MacDonalds (01479 811444). Four days costs £120.

Aviemore is not the most beautiful of Highland locations; as with many winter sports resorts, a lot of rather bleak building has taken place. But a comfortable and convenient place to stay is the Aviemore Highland Resort (0845 608 3734; www.aviemorehighlandresort.com), just a short walk from the station. It has four hotels and a handful of woodland lodges. You can use the restaurants as well as the leisure facilities, which include a pool, outdoor playground and a children's zone with computers and games.

The best hotel for families is the Academy; it has been recently refurbished and has particularly spacious rooms. You could head up as soon as the schools break up; a three-night break from 20-23 December costs £75 per night, room only. All four of you could stay in one room or book two rooms. Alternatively, there is a "Twixmas" break from 27-30 December. This is a more expensive option, at £55 per adult per night and £30 per child, including breakfast. Scottish school holidays start later than in England, so the week before Christmas is a good time to visit when prices are lower and the attractions are quiet.

The resort uses the outdoor activity specialists G2 (07946 285612; www.g2 outdoor.co.uk), which can create a programme in the mountains for your family such as kayaking, canoeing, hill walking, rock climbing and mountain biking.

The Cairngorm Funicular (01479 861261; www.cairngormmountain.org) - about nine miles from Aviemore - is the highest and fastest mountain railway in the UK and whisks you from 2,090ft up to 3,600ft in about three minutes. At the top there are plenty of runs for skiing and snowboarding, but it's worth heading up the mountain even if there isn't enough snow, to sit on the restaurant's outdoor terrace, sip hot chocolate and soak up the views. The winter season starts on 17 December. Trains run from 9am; the last one down is about 4pm. A return journey costs £8.50 for adults; £5 for under-16s.

Ski lessons are available on the mountain through The Ski School (01479 861319 or 07881 988 480; www.theskischool.co.uk). Four-hour group lessons cost £63 per adult and £55 for children, including lift passes and hire of boots, skis and poles. Jackets and trousers are available for hire from £11 for adults and £7.50 for children. Goggles and gloves cost £3 per pair. Zippy Snowboarding School (01479 861319 or 07887 941 355; www.learn2snowboard.co.uk) offers similarly priced packages for snowboarding.

You could also try a sled-dog experience at the Cairngorm Sleddog Adventure Centre (07767 270526; www.sled-dogs.co.uk), which is about three miles from Aviemore. This experience allows you to be hands-on with the dogs (there are 32 at the centre), giving them water in preparation for the trip, helping to harness them and then setting off into the forest for about 50 minutes. For a family group of your size and ages, you will need to be accommodated on two dog sleds. This costs £35 per person and ends with a warm drink and a visit to the small museum. Booking is essential.

Another fun family trip is to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre (01479 861228; www.reindeer-company.demon.co.uk), where you can see Britain's only herd of reindeer roaming free in the mountains. There is a daily visit to the reindeer, weather permitting, departing from the centre at 11am. Under the supervision of trained guides, visitors are able to feed and stroke the animals. Prices are £8 for adults and £4 for children under 16; family tickets cost £20 for two adults and up to three children.

Further information about the region can be obtained from Visit Scotland (0845 2255 121; www.visitscotland.com).

Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail crusoe@independent.co.uk

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