School holidays special: Days out around the UK

You don't have to go too far afield this summer to take a break. Make the most of a weekend, or shape a whole staycation around some fun events. Simone Kane picks her favourites from across the country
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The Independent Travel

Throughout August at various locations, English Heritage is putting on Time Travellers Go days to allow children to get creative, handle artefacts, play games and listen to stories, immersing themselves in themes such as the Romans, pirates, and Roundheads and Cavaliers (englishheritage.org.uk/timetravellersgo).

At the Royal Gunpowder Mills, Essex, special events from this Saturday to 30 August include First World War drill displays, battlefield archaeology, an English Civil War skirmish and Medieval Jousting (royalgunpowdermills.com). And Sherwood Forest will come alive with jesters, jousters, music and theatre from 2-8 August, when the Robin Hood Festival celebrates the life of the famous outlaw (nottinghamshire .gov.uk/robinhoodfestival).

Swashbucklers should hit Hastings in Sussex for Pirate Day on 6 August to join a Guinness World Records attempt to gather the most pirates in one place, as well as take part in a lookalike contest and singing sessions (visit1066country.com). Camarthen's Merlin Festival, on 14 August, celebrates the town's links with the legendary wizard. It features a Wizard Academy and Arthurian stilt-walkers (discover camarthenshire .com). Or you could take part in a Vintage Train Day at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, Yorkshire, on 1, 8 and 15 August (kwvr.co.uk).

Many National Trust properties allow visitors to try their hand at a sport: practise your croquet skills at Castle Drogo in Devon or serve up a winner on the tennis court at Hidcote in Gloucestershire (nationaltrust.org.uk). On Lusty Glaze beach in Newquay, Devon, daily Junior Baywatch sessions teach kids how to spot and avoid dangers and to understand lifeguards' flags (adventure-centre.org/junior baywatch). On various dates from 2 to 25 August the Blue Planet Aquarium in Cheshire is putting on Bubblemaker dives (blueplanet aquarium.com), which include the thrill of swimming alongside three-metre-long sand sharks.

Leading Lake District adventure operators are offering families the chance to try a range of activities at affordable rates over the summer: half or full-day sessions include canoeing, rock-climbing, gorge scrambling, clay-pigeon shooting, mountain boarding and more (destinationcumbria.co.uk). Explore the beauty of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) reserve at Welney in Norfolk by boat on one of its Canoe Safaris, taking place from 14 and 15 August (wwt.org.uk/ summer). And meet the jockeys competing in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire on 7 August, where children's entertainment and a concert will be part of the fun (ascot.co.uk).

From tomorrow until 3 September the Rosliston Forestry Centre in Derbyshire is organising daily drop-in activities from 2pm to 4pm, including archery, wildlife-watching sessions and laser combat (rosliston forestrycentre.co.uk). Bushcraft is on the agenda at the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland on 21 and 22 August. Families will learn fire-lighting, shelter-building, outback cooking, animal tracking and wood-carving, culminating in the building of a wilderness home (bushcraftventures .co.uk). Meanwhile, at Darwin's home, Down House in Kent, English Heritage is marking National Allotment Week from 9 to 15 August by encouraging people to take home and sow popular Victorian vegetable cultivars (english-heritage.org. uk/darwin).

Kids will use CCTV to watch the Puffin Parade on Coquet Island Nature Reserve at the Northumberland Seabird Centre tomorrow, then make a puffin to take home. (visit northumberland.com). It's a Shark Summer at Sea Life London Aquarium from now until 31 August, with talks and feeds, themed face-painting and activities and a quiz trail (sealife.co .uk/london). The Irish Astronomical Association is putting on a Solar Sensation at WWT Castle Espie in Northern Ireland on 15 August. It will allow participants to see the sun in a whole new light (wwt.org.uk/summer).

Kensington and Chelsea hosts the InTRANSIT festival until 1 August. Events, including Bicycle Thieves – which urges you to grab a bike and join a BMX chase – will transform public places in the London borough (rbkc.gov.uk/intransit).

In North Yorkshire, Feva has a family focus from 13 to 22 August, with creative classes, concerts, dance and treasure hunts (feva.info). Leicester's De Montfort Hall will reverberate to the sound of Summer Sundae from 13 to 15 August, offering comedy, a beach area and a space-themed Kidzone (summersundae.com).

The sky above Ashton Court will be heavy with hot-air balloons from 12 to 15 August, when 150 of them take part in Astra Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. Events include the musical Night Glows (bristolballoon fiesta.co.uk). Punch and Judy, games on the beach, rock-pool safaris and clifftop rambles ... the Spittal Seaside Festival brings a programme of family entertainment to the Northumberland town from 14 to 15 August (visitnorthumberland.com). Down south, the Royal Navy will be on high alert at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard from this Friday to 1 August, when the Navy Days festival gives visitors access to serving warships and crew, as well as military displays (navydaysuk.co.uk).

Pitch up at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire, on 1 August for a performance of Frances Hodgson Burnett's children's classic The Secret Garden, played out in the abbey grounds (nationaltrust.org.uk). Meanwhile, Rudyard Kipling's Sussex home, Batemans, will be putting on a Just So Story Day and Jungle Book Days on 10, 17 and 18 August (nationaltrust.org.uk). Nottinghamshire's Newstead Abbey will host a fun adaptation of Roald Dahl's kids' favourite, James and the Giant Peach on 20 August (newstead abbey.org.uk).

Bring a blanket for an open-air evening screening of Tim Burton's magical interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, which takes place on 28 August in the grounds of the Trentham Estate in Stoke-on-Trent (trentham.co.uk). And the forests of Cumbria will be strangely alive from Wednesday to Friday, when the Into the Woods Tour sees performers pop up between the trees to entertain families with special shows (lakesalive .org). Merry men and women and other outlaws should head to Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire on 29 August, to see a musical adaptation of Robin Hood (visitwinchester.co.uk).

There are plenty of opportunities to get the kids to try something different this summer. Visitors to the Dundee Science Centre before 30 September can take a journey through a new collection of space-inspired activities and exhibitions in the Sensational Summer of Space, including a starlit venture through the new planetarium (sensation.org.uk). Throughout the holidays, the Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Shropshire are running a huge number of activities for families, including Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Detective Weekends (ironbridge.org .uk). Thumbs at the ready: kids can grab their handheld consoles and head to the National Media Museum in Bradford, which is holding a Nintendo DS World Record attempt this Wednesday (nationalmediamuseum.org.uk).

Meanwhile, any budding rock stars in your family can get down to one of the Brighton and Bristol Institute of Modern Music summer schools, in Bristol and Brighton from 2 to 19 August. Led by rock musicians, the focus is on vocals, bass, drums, keyboards and guitar (bimm.co.uk). Prefer photography? Then join in the Family Wildlife Photography course at WWT London on 3 August (wwt.org.uk/ summer). Meanwhile, Manchester's Chinese Arts Centre is supporting its current exhibition with a choice of two family workshops – brush painting on 28 August and calligraphy on 4 September (chinese-arts-centre.org).

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