Family summer holidays in the UK: Ideas to keep all ages happy at home

Don't despair if you haven't booked a family holiday abroad, there's plenty of fun to be had here. Chris Leadbeater is your guide

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The Independent Travel

The British weather is said to be many things, but "reliable" is rarely one of them. Nonetheless, there has been plenty of sunshine so far. Reason enough to ponder a holiday on domestic shores?

Here, we suggest a range of day-out and short-break options for those who feel 2015 may be a year for home comforts – either with children in tow, or as an adults only group. You can find further ideas at visitengland.com, visitwales.com, visitscotland.com and discovernorthernireland.com. And, if we get to the bank holiday at the end of August after six weeks of rain, then this feature never existed.

On the ropes

Finding ways to burn off children's seemingly endless energy can be tough, but there are new options this year. Conkers (01283 216 633; visitconkers.com) – an outdoor pursuits centre set in the Leicestershire part of the National Forest, near Moira – has just added a pair of rope courses to its facilities for archery, kayaking, orienteering and biking. The higher route (over-sevens only) hovers 30ft up and has 15 sections with climbing nets and lofty obstacles. The low version, for younger visitors, is a less stern test, 10ft in the air. The centre has also introduced new zipwires. Adults from £8.87, children from £7.23, families £32.95, some activities extra.

If you don't trust the rain to stay away, try Pensthorpe Natural Park (01328 851 465; pensthorpe.com; open daily, 10am to 5pm; adults £11.25, 3-16s £9.75), at Fakenham in Norfolk. This pocket of trails and woods is lovely in the sun, yet plausible in the wet, thanks to Hootz House, its new indoor hub of slides, rope bridges and tunnels.

Be a sport

It may be off season, but football is inescapable. Witness Waterside Holiday Park (01305 833 103; watersideholidaygroup.co.uk) in Weymouth has teamed up with Arsenal Soccer Schools to offer five-day coaching courses to resident children – 90 minutes' tuition per day, with the focus on passing and ball retention. These cost £85pp (ages five-18), with several dates over the summer. A seven-night break in a two-bedroom holiday home for a family of four in the week of 22 August starts at £1,120.

Families wishing to avoid excesses of temperature should head for CairnGorm Mountain ski resort (01479 861 261; cairngormmountain.org), in Cairngorms National Park, Scottish Highlands, which is open for summer. Cool enough that it still had snow on its upper contours earlier this month, this wintersports zone is accessed by a funicular railway (adults £11.50, children £7.50, families of four £34.50) which ferries passengers to 3,600ft. Here, you can take guided walks to the summit (adults £12, children £8) – or escorted mountain-bike descents (adults £35, children £25) which speed back downhill to Loch Morlich, with its wonderful beach.

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National Sea Life Centre (Roy Kilcullen Photography)

Water worlds

Keeping children busy does not have to be a constant bid to exhaust them. More gentle days out await at Bournemouth Oceanarium (01202 311 993; oceanarium.co.uk) – which will complement its main cast of reef sharks, lionfish, clownfish and otters with a new penguin enclosure on 25 July. As part of the build-up, Humbug – a giant penguin sculpture – is stationed in a "secret" location in the city this weekend. Those who post a photo of themselves with the creature on social media using the hashtag #BournemouthPenguin can win prizes including aquarium membership. Entry for adults from £8.95, children from £6.25, families from £24.95

Further fins and flippers swirl at the National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham (0871 423 2110; visitsealife.com/birmingham; entry from £12.50). This chorus line of seahorses, turtles and jellyfish will be accompanied until 31 August by a Lego exhibit where guests can create marine beasts from plastic bricks, then go on a hunt to find Lego creations hidden within the building.

Gruesome getaways

York Dungeon (0871 423 2260; thedungeons.com/york), may have misplaced both geography and history in its "Where's Jack?" extravaganza (25 July to 6 September), a search for London villain Jack The Ripper, but offers to make up in enthusiastic screams what it lacks in fact. Adults from £9.95, children from £7.95.

Elsewhere in Yorkshire, Whitby Abbey (01947 603 568; english-heritage.org.uk; adults £6.80, children £4, families £17.70), which appeared in Bram Stoker's Dracula, is staging child-suitable renditions of the tale (weekends until 31 August; adults £7, children £5, families £19). Children can also go back in time to the 14th century via "Hands On History Crew Go Gruesome" (weekdays to 4 September; £1 extra), an interactive glance at plague and medieval death.

At Warwick Castle (0871 265 2000; warwick-castle.com), "The Great Joust" – a feast of knights and horses – will run throughout August alongside Horrible Histories shows and dungeon tours. Adults from £18.45, children from £16.20, families from £53.55.

Past pleasures

The National Trust's inventive "50 Things To Do Before You're 11¾" (50things.org.uk) scheme encourages youngsters to try old-fashioned antics such as flying kites and making daisy chains – and embraces landmarks across the UK. Aberdulais Tin Works, a crucial slab of Welsh industrial heritage near Neath (01639 636 674; bit.ly/Aberdulais; daily 10.30am to 5pm; adults £4.50, children £2.25, families £11.25) is listed as perfect for 13 of these merry traditions, including leaf catching.

Seaton Delaval Hall, a dramatic 18th-century manor house in Northumberland with picturesque grounds (0191 237 9100; bit.ly/SeatonDelaval; daily 10am to 5pm; adults from £6, children from £3, families from £15), is good for various activities including tree climbing and conkers.

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Mad Hatter at Harlow Carr

Adventures with Alice

This is a major year for Alice In Wonderland, as Lewis Carroll's timeless tale turns 150. The anniversary is being celebrated in a blaze of colour by the Royal Horticultural Society (020 3176 5800; rhs.org.uk), which is staging Alice-themed events at four of its gardens.

Two, Hyde Hall, near Chelmsford in Essex (0845 265 8071), and Harlow Carr, in North Yorkshire (0845 265 8070) will host Wonderland nature trails, theatre workshops and jam-tart cookery fun. From 23 July and 25 July respectively, until 31 August; adults £8.95, children 5-16 £4.50, families £22.80.

Both Wisley, near Woking in Surrey (0845 260 9000; from 22 July), and RHS Rosemoor, at Great Torrington in Devon (0845 265 8072; from 25 July) will have Mad Hatter's Tea Parties as well as trails and activities. Rosemoor will also put on an exhibition of inspiring work by fabled children's illustrator Eric Kincaid. From 22 and 25 July respectively, until 31 August; adults £12, 5-16s £6, families £29.75.

Lewis Carroll based his heroine on Alice Liddell, daughter of the dean at Christ Church College in Oxford, where he taught. Real-life Alice enjoyed family holidays on the coast of North Wales, at Llandudno. The town recalls her summer days with its "Alice Trail" – which offers plenty of magic and white rabbits for young readers to trace (alicetowntrails.co.uk). Alice is also under the microscope at the evocative V&A Museum Of Childhood in east London (020 8983 5200; vam.ac.uk/moc; free). The Alice Look exhibition runs until 1 November, assessing how she has been portrayed in versions of the story around the world.

Something for the grown-ups

Not planning a holiday with children? There are ample ways to keep antsy adults entertained too. Why not hone your kitchen technique at Lucknam Park (01225 742 777; lucknampark .co.uk) – a five-star spa hotel at Colerne in Wiltshire – which has a six-month run of dates (July to December) at its cookery school (half-day sessions from £75, full-days from £175, the latter including lunch). Cooking Gastro is scheduled for 24 July, while Tempting Tapas is in the diary for 27 August and 26 September. Double rooms start at £275 in August, accommodation only.

And, if you really want to boost your skills, Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons – the fabled hotel-restaurant at Great Milton, near Oxford (01844 278 881; belmond.com), turns its focus to back-garden cuisine on 23 July, when its Raymond Blanc Cookery School hosts a Summer Barbecue Course. The price of £440 a head, including morning and afternoon tea, plus lunch, is definitely not cheap, but should result in you cooking the best burgers of your life.

If an elegant escape to the country appeals, check in to the Temple of Diana at Weston Park, in Shropshire, which opened to overnight guests for the first time this month and still has good availability over the summer. The grand 18th-century garden building, which still sports the original orangery, has been converted into a modern holiday home amid the estate's Capability Brown-designed grounds. A three-night weekend stay in August costs £1,301 through Rural Retreats (01386 897457; ruralretreats.co.uk); sleeps six.

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