The best British summer days out for the family

Mary Novakovich finds the best of British outings – from butterflies and beaches to igloos and jousting, plus, for the brave, some seriously scary stories...

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The Independent Travel


Model citizens

Join the animator of Fantastic Mr Fox for a special hands-on workshop at the MAC arts centre in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, on 2 August. Tim Allen, who has worked for Aardman Animations, will be leading a free model-making workshop for children aged six and above. At the end of the workshop, kids will have the chance to make their own animation using stop-motion software.

Cavalier approach

History is being brought to life all summer long at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire. This weekend, the Muskets & Masques event features a special appearance by “King Charles I” as kids are put through their paces at Cavalier School. On 24-25 August, the Grand Medieval Joust rounds off the summer holidays with a thrilling spectacle. And in Bolsover itself, the annual Food and Drink Festival takes place this weekend, showcasing the best in local produce.

Hide and seek

Take a magical mystery tour of Shugborough this summer on a new treasure trail. Dotted throughout the picturesque gardens in the 900-acre estate near Stafford are seven secret doors leading to hidden dells and dens. Afterwards, head to the Georgian farm and dairy to feed the calves. If you’re there on Thursday, 31 July, you can catch an outdoor performance of Peter Pan & The Lost Boys told through song, dance and – of all things – flying skateboards.

Make merry

The Robin Hood Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary next month, when from 4-10 August, Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire harks back to the day of the legendary outlaw. There will be jousting tournaments, falconry displays, craft stalls and drumming workshops, while costumed troubadours set the musical mood. Catch the twilight tales being told during a walk through the forest before an evening of medieval music with Robin Hood and his merry men.


On the ball

Get the kids ready for the return of the football season with a visit to the National Football Museum in Manchester. Entry is free, and there’s plenty to do for children of all ages. Those aged seven and over can test their footballing skills with a simulated penalty shoot-out, while the under-fives can play dress-up or settle down for story time in the soft-play area of the Discovery Zone.

Art of the matter

Grown-ups and children alike will fall under the spell of Liverpool’s Crosby Beach, home to one of the most ambitious art installations in the country. Antony Gormley’s Another Place consists of 100 cast-iron, life-size sculptures covering 3km of the shore and stretching into the sea. Look out for cormorants and curlews before finishing with a picnic on the sand dunes.


Green days

The 120 acres of the Yorkshire Arboretum are ripe for exploring this summer. This beautiful garden on the Castle Howard estates near York welcomes little explorers aged six to 11 every Monday for a day of activities while their parents can roam freely in the grounds. The arboretum also hosts Wild World Wednesdays, when kids aged four to 11 can discover the natural world during one-hour drop-in sessions throughout the day.

Freeze frame

If the summer temperatures start to rise, let the kids cool off – metaphorically – at the Arctic World exhibition at Weston Park Museum in Sheffield. After learning all about the animals, people and landscapes of the Arctic, children can have a go at building their own igloo. The museum also holds regular discovery days, when the whole family can get creative – inspired by its various collections.


Historic opportunity

Horrible histories or sweet fairy tales? You can get both at Burghley House in Lincolnshire this summer. An outdoor cinema will be set up in the beautiful South Gardens, where family-friendly films will be shown from 30 July to 3 August. If you’re made of firm stuff, you can follow a costumed guide through the occasionally grisly history of this Elizabethan marvel and the people who lived in it over the centuries – not always happily.

Carnival time

Wells-next-the-Sea on the North Norfolk coast is gearing up for its annual summer carnival, which runs from 1-10 August. It’s good old-fashioned seaside fun, with parades, fancy-dress competitions, live music, sandcastle contests, craft fairs, beach parties, a town crier competition, beer festivals, a teddy bears’ picnic and a raft race. Expect big crowds on 9 August, the day of the carnival parade and the arrival of the carnival queen.


Park life

Watch the sun set over Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford in the capital’s latest open-air cinema and urban park. Pull up a deck chair at Roof East, a former car park opposite Westfield Shopping Centre that’s now home to a film club showing modern and classic movies from Tuesdays to Saturdays. It’s putting on family activities during the summer holidays, as well as dance performances.

Act natural

New life is hatching among the giant skeletons of the Natural History Museum. The museum’s butterfly house has set up camp on its east lawn, where hundreds of tropical chrysalises have arrived from all over the world. If you’re lucky, you can watch these tiny creatures transform themselves into colourful butterflies and dusky moths. They’ll swoop and flit past you among the enclosure’s dense foliage as children learn all about their fascinating  life cycle.


In the swim

On a hot summer’s day, you  can’t beat dip in one of London’s lidos. Get up early to bag a spot  at Tooting Bec Lido, the largest freshwater open-air swimming  pool in the UK. North Londoners have long been paddling about  in the cool waters of Hampstead Heath ponds, while south Londoners can paddle in the Art Deco  Brockwell Lido in Dulwich Road.  If the weather is  a bit chilly, dive into the heated waters of London Fields Lido.


Isle be there

Celebrate 150 years of train travel in the Isle of Wight on 30 August. Railway stations all around the island will host events to mark the anniversary, with steam fairs and memorabilia stalls. Check out the vintage vehicles at stations including Shanklin and Brading, which will be in a festive Fifties mood. Tickets include unlimited rail travel on all Island Line services and the Isle of Wight Steam Railway.

Pirate copy

Arundel Castle in Sussex has nearly 1,000 years of history, and some of those can be celebrated throughout the summer. The medieval jousting tournament that started on Tuesday comes to an end on Sunday, but then events move forward a few centuries. On 31 July and 5 August, the history of the smugglers of Sussex is vividly told via exciting tales of the pirates that plagued the southern coast of England.


Gorge yourself

Dig deep at Cheddar Gorge during the nationwide Festival of Archaeology, which runs during the school holidays until 31 August. All summer long at Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge and Caves, cave guides dressed in deerskins will bring to life the skills of our Ice Age ancestors, including flint-knapping and fire-making. Other family-friendly activities will include cave painting, dressing-up, making pinch pots, quiz sheets and colouring sheets.


The high life

Give the kids a taste of mountaineering on a walk up to the highest point in the Brecon Beacons. At 886m, Pen y Fan might look a little daunting, but there’s a manageable four-mile circular walk from the car park that takes less than three hours – even with a rejuvenating stop for a picnic at the top. The views from the summit will be worth the effort.

Go wild

You can combine coast and countryside at Pembrey Country Park overlooking Carmarthen Bay. It’s easy to find a spot along Cefn Sidan’s eight miles of sandy beach. Or hike through one of the woodland trails looking for signs of local wildlife. For a more unusual summertime experience, try the dry ski slope and learn to ski or snowboard. End the day by zooming down Cobra, a metal toboggan ride.


Pedal power

Get out the bikes and explore the scenic trails of Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in Stirling. Within the 50,000 acres of this vast park are family-friendly bike paths that wind through the woods, past waterfalls and up towards Loch Ard, the source of the River Forth. Explore the eight-mile loop that offers glorious views of the loch and passes some of the forest’s fascinating sculptures along the way.

Life experience

Dive into Glasgow’s past at the Riverside Museum, which has been turned into a beach for the summer. Imaginative displays give a glimpse into life in the city in days past, including interactive streets that allow you access into shops dating from 1895. Climb aboard vintage trains and trams before touring the Tall Ship moored outside, which is the UK’s only floating sailing ship that was built in the Clyde. Admission to both is free.