Traveller's guide: Easter outdoors
The school spring holidays have arrived, and with them the chance to make the most of longer days in the British countryside, says Rhiannon Batten
Saturday 09 April 2011
Aside from being a celebration of the Resurrection, these spring holidays are also about enjoying the rising sap, a chance to shake off the winter gloom and embrace the arrival of a new, sunnier season.
As we navigate the annual transition from Ugg boots to Havaianas flip-flops there's one trend that all but the most sensitive souls clamour to join as they leave winter behind: the shift from indoors to out. Whether you're spending the Easter break at home or you're heading off on a week away, there are plenty of ideas to help you make the most of the longer, lighter days, from al fresco day trips to more adventurous weekends in the wilds.
For families with younger children, Easter wouldn't be Easter without an egg hunt. One of the largest in the UK this year is the World of Beatrix Potter's Great Peter Rabbit Easter Egg Hunt. Kicking off on 21 April, visitors can join in the search for 100 handmade ceramic eggs that have been hidden throughout the Lake District. Participation is free (01539 488444; www.hop-skip-jump.com).
For eggy activities in Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland is hosting several family-friendly events, including an Easter Eggstravaganza egg hunt in Argyll Forest Park on 25 April, an egg-rolling competition at Galloway Forest Park on 24 April and a traditional egg hunt in the forests of Moray and Aberdeenshire on 22 April. Most activities cost £2-£3 per child (0845 367 3787; forestry.gov.uk).
If egg fatigue threatens to set in, head to Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire. On Easter Sunday and Monday special treasure hunts are being held here that involve spotting hidden acorns and fairies rather than eggs. There's plenty to entice parents too, with blossoming displays of narcissi and spring bulbs and a tearoom serving homemade food. Entrance to the gardens costs £5.75 per adult and £1.50 per child (01476 530063; eastonwalledgardens.co.uk).
With most British theme parks, activity centres and stately homes having re-opened their doors at the beginning of April there are also plenty of more permanent outdoor attractions to keep families entertained through the Easter break. Odds Farm Park, in Buckinghamshire, is an obvious spot for families at this time of year, with lambs, bunnies and chicks on hand for younger children to pet and crazy golf and go-karts for older kids. Entrance costs £9.20 for adults and £8.20 for children (01628 520188; oddsfarm.co.uk).
For families with small children in the South, however, all eyes will be on Peppa Pig World, which opens today at Paultons Park in Hampshire. As well as seven specially themed rides, "enchanted" buildings and play areas to explore, there's a café and ice cream parlour. Family tickets (two adults and two children) cost from £74 (023 80 814442; peppapigworld.com). Given the park's New Forest setting there are plenty of local outdoor events to tie in with a visit, including the "Pondemonium" play days taking place at Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve on 19 and 20 April, which costs £10 per person (02380 285102; hwt.org.uk). For more ideas see thenewforest.co.uk.
If you prefer the outdoors to come with its edges softened slightly, consider a one-night stay at Ashdown Park Hotel in East Sussex. Taking advantage of its proximity to Ashdown Forest (the "Hundred Acre Wood" of AA Milne's stories), and timed to coincide with the release of Walt Disney's film of Winnie The Pooh on 15 April, the hotel is offering themed "Tigger Escape" breaks this Easter. Prices start at £300 per family (two adults and two children) per night, including a map pointing the way to Winnie-the-Pooh themed sites scattered throughout the hotel's 186 acres of lawns, secret gardens, lakes and woodland trails.
You'll need to work off plenty of energy exploring the grounds since the break also includes a Pooh Bear afternoon tea for two children, dinner for two adults and breakfast (01342 824988; elitehotels.co.uk).
On your bike
Several new cycling initiatives are starting up this spring to tempt riders back into the saddle. In Derbyshire the electric bicycle network launches in the Peak District later this month, which aims to encourage those who are put off cycling by having to pedal up steep hills to let the electric bike take the strain instead.
Visitors will be able to hire electric bikes from hotels, self-catering cottages, B&Bs, campsites and tourist attractions, and will be able to charge them up at pubs, cafés and restaurants while they enjoy a pitstop. If the scheme is successful it will then be rolled out in Devon later in the year (electricbicyclenetwork.com or visitpeakdistrict.com).
You don't have to be in the countryside to enjoy the outdoors on two wheels, though. On 16 April Cambridge Bike Tours launches tours of the city by vintage bike (choose from New Hudsons, Raleighs, Kerry Britains, Hercules or a traditional postie's bike, or opt for a modern mountain bike). Itineraries on offer include tours around the city's ancient streets and trips into the surrounding countryside. Prices start at £20 for two-and-a-half hours (01223 366868; cambridgebiketours.co.uk).
If you have your own wheels, the Conkers Circuit is a collection of three new bike trails (from 1.75 miles to 4.5 miles) that loop around Conkers, the National Forest Discovery Centre in Swadlincote, Derbyshire (01283 551211; nationalforest.org). You won't need your own bike to explore them soon though, since the National Forest Cycling Centre will offer bike hire facilities and more trails to explore when it also opens there later this spring.
Keen mountain bikers north of the border are also keeping an eye on the Glentress Peel project. This new, sustainably built centre outside Peebles opens this spring, giving visitors to one of the UK's prime mountain biking locations a base camp to pedal out from. As well as showers, toilets, changing rooms, a bike hire centre and bike shop it will also boast a café and osprey viewing facility (01387 860247; forestry.gov.uk/glentress).
A sense of adventure
Easter is the perfect time to introduce children to outdoor activities, with a whole summer ahead to hone their skills. Several companies use the holiday as a chance to offer taster sessions for groups and individuals, including Dalesbridge, a campsite, bunkhouse, self-catering provider and B&B between the Forest of Bowland and the Yorkshire Dales (01524 251021; dalesbridge.co.uk).
From this spring it will be the base for the Dales Adventure Centre, giving guests the chance to try rock climbing, abseiling, caving, archery and tubing. Prices start from £25 per person for three hours and can be booked throughout the Easter period and beyond (07984 441201; thedalesadventurecentre.com).
If you can't get away with your children, Camp Wild in Devon is running an activity holiday camp from 11 to 16 April that costs from £38 per child per day, or from £350 for a five-night residential programme (01404 822188; escotcampwild.co.uk). At Plas-y-Brenin, in Snowdonia National Park, the idea is to get people out exploring the mountains in safety. To that end, it's running a Big Easter Family Fun Weekend on 23 and 24 April giving families the chance to try a range of adventure activities, from mountain biking, map reading and geocaching to kayaking, abseiling and bouldering. Simple walks are also included to give parents some battery-charging time. The weekend costs £200 for adults and £180 for children, including two nights' accommodation, meals, instruction and equipment hire (01690 720214; pyb.co.uk).
Also in Wales, Preseli Venture in Pembrokeshire runs a family holiday from 18 to 22 April that includes sessions on kayaking, coasteering and surfing, as well as evenings spent toasting marshmallows and an Easter egg hunt in National Trust woodland. The five-day trip costs £439 per adult and £349 per child, but if you book as a family of four one child goes free (01348 837709; preseliventure.co.uk).
North of the border, Wilderness Scotland also runs various family-friendly adventures. One of the most popular this year is set to be its Loch Morar Adventure Holiday, a private family trip in the West Highlands where guests get their own guide to tailor the week's activity to their interests. Choose from walking, canoeing, mountain biking and sea kayaking as well as plenty of Famous Five-style fun. Wild camping on an island overnight can also be arranged for an extra fee. Prices start from £499 for adults and £325 for children, including three nights' accommodation, breakfast, packed lunches, guiding and equipment (0131 625 6635; wildernessscotland.com).
Or try a new, self-guided walking and camping holiday along the routes of the original Lakeland Pack Ponies, with a pony to carry your bags. Running for the first time in the Lakes this Easter, there's no riding involved, just the chance to enjoy the pony's company. Stopping at a different Lake District campsite each night, you'll arrive to find a tent with camp kitchen, wood-burners and tea-lights ready to go. If you don't want to do your own cooking, the sites are also set close to traditional Lakeland pubs (packed lunches are provided each morning). Routes last from two to seven nights and prices start from £340 for a family of four for two nights (01229 716947; lakelandpackponies.co.uk).
Be a wild child
Enjoying the outdoors is as much to do with embracing the natural surroundings as it is about tearing around them on an activity trip.
Brockholes in Lancashire lies next to junction 31 of the M6 and opens on Easter Sunday. The 250-acre site bills itself as "a new kind of nature reserve"; an old quarry has been redeveloped to create habitats that will encourage different animal species. The reserve includes a large strip of ancient woodland, hay meadows and large wetland areas, with the River Ribble running along the edge of the site. There will be family-friendly and specialist hides for birdwatching, as well walkways and an adventure play area. A floating "visitor village" on the Meadow Lake provides a focus. Admission is free (01772 872000; brockholes.org).
The Easter programme at the National Wetlands Centre in Llanelli, runs from 16 April to 2 May with a new outdoor activity camp offering different events every day. Choose from bark and leaf rubbing to willow sculpture-making, tree identification, scavenger hunts and making bee and ladybird hotels. Entrance costs £8.20 per adult and £4.50 per child (01554 741087; wwt.org.uk).
If it's bluebells you're into rather than bugs, head to Capesthorne Hall in Cheshire on 24, 25 or 30 April. Not only will there be some of the best bluebell displays in the country but, in keeping with local fairy folklore, any child aged up to 11 wearing a fairy or prince costume can get in for free. Entrance for adults costs £4.50 (01625 861221; capesthorne.com). Anyone not within easy day-tripping distance of Cheshire can search the Woodland Trust's list of bluebell walks to find one closer to home (01476 581135; visitwoods.org.uk).
Or, to get your hands dirty rather than drift around in wings, Chard Reservoir, in Somerset, is holding a Junior Ranger Experience on 14 and 15 April. Anyone between 12 and 16 can join in, helping countryside rangers clear paths, manage scrubland and learn outdoor skills such as fire lighting, shelter-building and outdoor cooking. The two-day event costs £10 per person (01935 845946; southsomersetcountryside.com).
Escape the crowds
For a family break that makes the most of the outdoors in a less adrenalin-fuelled way, a visit to Lundy, pictured above, a two-hour boat ride from the north Devon coast, should hit the spot. With 23 idiosyncratic Landmark Trust self-catering properties to rent – from a lighthouse to a fisherman's cabin, plus a 40-pitch campsite – most preferences and budgets are catered for; camping starts at £8 per person (01628 825925; landmarktrust.org.uk).
Once there, walking, diving and wildlife watching are all possibilities (the island is home to wild ponies, Soay sheep and Sika deer), as is enjoying a pint of locally brewed ale in the island's pub. And, as overnight numbers are strictly limited, there's rarely too much of a scrum at the bar. For more general information call 01271 863636 or visit lundyisland.co.uk.
This year sees outdoor activity holiday specialists Outdoors@hay and other local operators launch a new Easter Outdoor Festival to highlight some of the joys of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Based in and around Hay-on-Wye and running from 22 to 25 April, the programme covers everything from mountainboarding and rafting to Easter egg hunts and lessons in "Hangi" pit cooking. Activities range in price, with plenty of free events included. For accommodation there's traditional camping (£6 per person) or you can up the comfort factor and book a tepee or bell tent (01497 820426; outdoorsathay.co.uk).
On the water
Hop up to Windermere for an Easter egg hunt by canoe. New this year through Low Wray-based accommodation provider, Long Valley Yurts, the evening trips are available between now and 25 April for £25 per person (children must be over four).
If that's over-egging the Easter theme, the company also offers moonlight canoe trips; for the same price participants head out on a late evening paddle around the lake before returning to Low Wray for hot chocolate and marshmallows around a campfire.
The company also offers activity trips such as rock climbing, abseiling, mountain biking and bushcraft skills days, which are available to everyone, not just those staying in the yurts (01539 731089; long-valley-yurts.co.uk).
More water-based Easter fun is on offer further north, courtesy of Aviemore-based activity specialists Full On Adventure (07885 835838; fullonadventure.co.uk). This Easter the company is launching the first river tubing Easter egg hunt on the Rothiemurchus Estate, in the Cairngorms National Park. Wetsuits, river tubes and all other equipment is provided. All you need to do is keep an eye out for eggs as you tumble past Scots pine, shoot over mini rapids or float down more gentle stretches of the River Spey. Prices start from £35pp for three hours.
For landlubbers, the same region is also hosting an Easter bonnet parade with a difference. Though it will be close to the end of the Scottish ski season, Cairngorm Mountain is holding a free ski helmet Easter bonnet parade on 17 April. Organisers are hoping to raise awareness of skiing and boarding with helmets, and prizes are on offer for the best decorated bonnet-helmet. Meet at the Day Lodge T-Bar at 3pm (01479 861261; cairngormmountain.co.uk).
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