UK family days out: Top spots for fun

There's no excuse to be bored this summer. Every patch of grass in Britain will be hosting some jolly seasonal distraction. Ian McCurrach picks the best


SOUTH WEST

1 Sculpted walks: step out on the England and South Wales border and take in the Forest of Dean sculpture trail. Enjoy a three-mile amble along the walk, which features unique works by artists such as Liza Gough Daniels. Other attractions include a steam railway, caves, a model railway, museums and mazes.

Where: Speech House Road, Broadwell, Coleford, Gloucestershire GL16 8BA (01594 833057; visitforestofdean.co.uk; forestofdean-sculpture.org.uk).

When: daily, dawn to dusk.

Cost: free.

2Eden Project: for the first time this summer, experience the sights, smells and sounds of a jungle at night in the world's largest indoor rainforest. Live world music, dance and storytelling will be staged for three nights a week in the Humid Tropics Biome. Make headdresses and paint yourself with (removable) tribal art.

Where: Eden Project (01726 811911; edenproject.com).

When: open 9.15am-6pm (last entry 4.30pm). Cost: adults £13.80, children £5, under fives free, £3 per person discount if you arrive by bike. Family (up to five) £34.

3River Parrett Trail: the Dorset and Somerset borders are the setting for this nature trail. The 50-mile walk can be broken down into easy sections through woods, orchards and wetlands, and past cottages and churches.

Where: for a leaflet visit riverparrett-trail.org.uk or enjoyengland.com/ outdoor.

When: anytime.

Cost: free.

SOUTH EAST

1 Seven Sisters Sheep Centre: it has more than 40 breeds and the largest collection of sheep in the world. Townies can meet all the animals, take tractor rides, see sheep being shorn and milked, and learn how cheese is made. Cows, goats, pigs and chicks are all up for hugs.

Where: Seven Sisters Sheep Centre, Gilberts Drive, East Dean, East Sussex BN20 OAA (01323 423302; sheepcentre.co.uk)

When: weekdays 2-5pm, weekends 11am-5pm.

Cost: adults £4, children £3, family (two adults and two children) £13.

2Marwell Zoo: set in 100 acres of parkland surrounding Marwell Hall, the zoo has more than 1,000 animals, including big cats, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, rhino, hippos and birds. There is also a children's corner, miniature railway and road train, penguin world, tropical world and the world of lemurs.

Where: Marwell Zoo, Colden Common, Winchester SO21 1JH (01962 777407; marwell.org.uk).

When: daily 10am-6pm.

Cost: adults £13.50, children (aged three to 16) £10, family (two adults, two children) £45.

3Lee Valley Park: it offers countryside, wildlife and sport on the edge of London. Listen to the birds, watch out for otters and squirrels and visit the dragonfly sanctuary, or take a leisurely bike ride through the park and visit some heritage sites.

Where: Myddelton House, Bulls Cross, Enfield, Middlesex EN2 9HG (01992 717711; leevalleypark .org.uk or enjoy england.com/outdoor).

When: Phone ahead for opening times.

Cost: adults £2.50, children £1.90.

SOUTH COAST

1 Jurassic Coast: the coast stretches along 95 miles of the Dorset and Devon seashore. Look out for dinosaur footprints and fossils in the limestone cliffs and coves. Don't miss the visitors' centre at Charmouth, which offers guided fossil walks and themed weeks.

Where: Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, Lower Sea Lane, Charmouth, Dorset DT6 6LL (01297 560772; charmouth.org).

When: daily. Marine Week runs from 7 to 13 August.

Cost: centre free, fossil-hunting walks: adults £7, children £3.

2Riding in the New Forest: go riding in William the Conqueror's hunting ground and take in the array of wildlife on offer. Can't ride? Try Western cowboy-style, it's easier for beginners than conventional English riding. Suitable for all ages.

Where: Burley Villa Equestrian Centre, Bashley, New Milton BH25 5SQ (01425 610278; burleyvilla.co.uk).

When: daily 10am-7.30pm, closed Mondays and Friday afternoons.

Cost: from £27 an hour.

EAST

1Walk with Constable: Put yourself in the picture and walk in the countryside captured in many of John Constable's paintings, such as Flatford Mill. Take in the trees, rivers, sounds and light captured on canvas by one of the great British artists.

Where: Flatford Mill, East Bergholt, Suffolk CO7 6UL (01206 298260;

nationaltrust.org.uk)

When: daily 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm guided tours organised by The National Trust.

Cost: £2.50, children free, booking ahead advised.

2Play croquet and bowls in style: in the grounds of Blickling Hall, a grand Jacobean pile with towering turrets and Dutch gables. During the summer play croquet and bowls and follow the trails around the lake and through woodlands.

Where: Blickling Hall, Blickling, Norwich, Norfolk NR11 6NF (01263 738030; nationaltrust.org.uk).

When: House open daily 1-5pm, not Tuesday. Gardens open 10.15am-5.15pm.

Cost: adults £8, children £4, family £20.

MIDLANDS

1 Walking with llamas: set off en famille on a four-mile trek through Northamptonshire with a herd of large and docile llamas. Options include a picnic trek, an on-farm trek, and a half-day experience.

Where: Catanger Llamas, 18 High Street, Weston, Towcester, Northamptonshire NN9 8PU (01295 768676; llamatrekking.co.uk).

When: all summer.

Cost: from £50.

2Malvern Hills: head for the Malvern Hills for fresh air and inspiring views. Outdoor pursuits here include kite flying and mountain-bike trails. Malvern itself has plenty to keep the whole family occupied with its museums, galleries, theatre and shops.

Where: Council House, Avenue Road, Malvern WR14 3AF (01684 862151; malvernhills.gov.uk).

When: all summer.

Cost: free.

3Kenilworth Castle: visit England's largest ruined castle and see where Edward II signed his abdication, where John of Gaunt created the banqueting hall and where Elizabeth I spent a fortnight with her favourite, Robert Dudley, in 1575.

Where: Castle Green, Kenilworth CV8 1NE (01926 852078; english-heritage.org.uk).

When: daily 10am-6pm.

Cost: adults £5.90, children £3, family £14.80.

4Hartshill Hayes Country Park: 136 acres of woodlands and open hillside overlook the Anker Valley and alleged site of Queen Boudicca's defeat by the Romans. There are also three waymarked walks and an adventure playground for children.

Where: Hartshill Hayes Country Park, Oldbury Road, Hartshill, Nuneaton CV10 0TE (024 7639 5141; enjoyengland.com/ outdoor).

When: all summer.

Cost: free.

NORTH EAST

1 Honeysuckle Farm: this open farm covers 46 acres of grassland and has a selection of animals and farming exhibits. Shire horse cart rides, goats, calves, pigs, horses and a working collie are all on show. Don't miss seeing how Jersey ice-cream is made.

Where: Honeysuckle Farm, Bewholme Lane, Hornsea HU18 1BY (01964 533873; honeysucklefarm .fsnet.co.uk).

When: daily 10am-5pm.

Cost: adults £3, children £2.50.

2Segedunum Roman Fort: discover what life was like on Hadrian's Wall, with displays of unearthed finds and computer interactives. Also explore the fort's buildings, including the commanding officer's house and headquarters, the hospital and soldiers' barracks.

Where: Segedunum Roman Fort, Buddle Street, Wallsend NE28 6HR (01912 955757; twmuseums.org.uk/ segedunum).

When: all summer.

Cost: adults £3.95, under 16s free.

3Kirkleatham Owl Centre: the centre is a family-owned and managed birds of prey centre with an emphasis on owls. More than 100 birds are on display and, weather permitting, there are free flying displays every day. Highlights include meeting baby owls and vultures.

Where: Kirkleatham Owl Centre, Kirkleatham, Redcar TS10 5NW (01642 480512; kirkleatham owlcentre.co.uk).

When: Tues-Sun 10.30am-5.30pm.

Cost: adults £3, children £2, family £8.95.

NORTH WEST

1 Beatrix Potter: next year's big biopic Miss Potter starring Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor is tipped to be the hit of the year. Filming has just finished in the Lake District so get ahead of the pack and check out all the movie's locations. See the new 15ft bronze statue that features characters from the 23 tales and take in The World of Beatrix Potter.

Where: The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction, Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria LA23 3BX (015394 88444; hop-skip-jump.com).

When: 10am-5.30pm daily.

Cost: adults £6, children £3.

2South Lakes Wild Animal Park: see tigers, snakes, giraffes, bears, penguins, primates, lemurs and kangaroos. Watch tigers hunt for their food by climbing a 20ft pole, and see the lions compete for their meat. The home of the Wildlife Protection Foundation has free-roaming animals and foot safaris for visitors.

Where: South Lakes Wild Animal Park, Broughton Road, Dalton-in-Furness LA15 8JR (01229 466086; wildanimalpark.co.uk).

When: daily 10am-5pm (last admission 4.30).

Cost: adults £10.50, children £7.50.

3Formby Red Squirrel Reserve: this nature reserve is home to many red squirrels, which are no longer a common sight in the UK. National Trust wardens welcome visitors and advise on walks in the pine woods, dunes, picnicking and the best walking routes to the nearby shore.

Where: Formby Red Squirrel Reserve, Victoria Road, Freshfield, Formby, Liverpool L37 1LJ (01704 878591; nationaltrust.org.uk).

When: dawn to dusk, daily.

Cost: free.

NORTH

1South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum: helicopters, light aircraft, jet engines and flight simulators all take to the air at the museum. Set on a former Second World War flying base, the museum has interactive computer displays to keep young and old entertained.

Where: South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum, Dakota Way, Airborne Road, Doncaster Leisure Park DN4 7FB (01302 761616; aeroventure.org.uk).

When: Wed-Sun 10am-5pm.

Cost: adults £4, children £1.50, family (two adults, two children) £8.00.

2Harlow Carr: the Royal Horticultural Society's most northerly outpost is set over 58 acres. The seven "Gardens through Time" reflect the history of gardening over 200 years, and a "Family Fortnight" runs in August with activities for everyone. Feeling peckish? Don't miss the garden's branch of Betty's Tea Room for a Yorkshire Fat Rascal.

Where: Harlow Carr, Crag Lane, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG3 1QB (01423 565418; rhs.org.uk).

When: daily 9.30am-5pm, Family Fortnight is from 15 to 25 August.

Cost: RHS members free, adults £6, children £1.60.

SCOTLAND

1 Moray Firth Sea Adventures: North 58° Sea Adventures provide a unique marine wildlife watching experience. Several tours are offered, from gentle cruises taking in the coastal scenery to a white-knuckle ride on the Buccaneer speed boat.

Where: North 58° Sea Adventures, 8 Quayside, Banff AB45 1HQ (01261 819900; north58.co.uk).

When: daily, depending on sea conditions.

Cost: from £12.

2Red Deer Trails: join a guided tour along Galloway Forest Park's Red Deer Trail into the heart of the animals' natural habitat and make friends with the shy, graceful creatures. The deer often approach visitors and eat out of their hands.

Where: Red Deer Range car park, Galloway Forest Park, near Newton Stewart (01671 402420; forestry.gov.uk).

When: Tues and Thurs 11am & 2pm, Sun 2.30pm.

Cost: adults £3.50, children £1.25, family up to four, £8.

3Montrose Basin: Montrose is located at the mouth of a large tidal lagoon, which is now a leading wildlife sanctuary. Activities on offer at the visitor centre include outdoor art, educational jigsaws, quizzes and microscopes to see creatures in the mud.

Where: Montrose Basin Visitor Centre, Rossie Braes, Montrose, Angus DD10 0TJ (01674 676336; swt.org.uk/wildlife/ montrosebasin.asp).

When: daily 10.30am-5pm.

Cost: adults £3, children free.

NORTHERN IRELAND

1 Cycling routes: get up close and personal with Irish scenery while cycling around the rivers and lakes of the border territory. New for summer are four one-day circular routes of about 20 miles, ribboning along quiet country lanes. Bikes can be hired locally.

Where: extensions of the famous Kingfisher Trail; for map and leaflet visit Sustrans, the charity of the National Cycle Network (0845 113 0065; sustrans.org.uk)

When: anytime.

Cost: map and leaflet, price £5.99.

2Glens of Antrim: the Glens of Antrim host the 16th annual Heart of the Glens Festival in August. This community event offers a range of activities, including a craft fair, the Lurig mountain run, a festival of food, and fireworks displays.

Where: Cushendall, County Antrim, information from Festival Office (028 2177 1378; moyle-council.org).

When: 4-13 August.

Cost: free.

WALES

1 Talyllyn Railway: this world-famous narrow-gauge steam railway passes through some of the best scenery Wales has to offer. With more than seven miles of track and seven stations, passengers have plenty of opportunities to stop off on forest walks and take in local attractions such as the Halo Factory Shop where honey ice-cream is made.

Where: Talyllyn Railway Company, Wharf Station, Tywyn, Gwynedd LL36 9EY (01654 710472; talyllyn.co.uk).

When: daily, 10am-5pm.

Cost: adult day rover ticket £11, children £2.

2Coed y Brenin Mountain Biking Centre: Coed y Brenin offers some of the best mountain bike tracks in Britain. There are trails suitable for all fitness and skill levels and a new visitors' centre opens next weekend, which includes a café, information point, showers, toilets and bike wash.

Where: Coed y Brenin, Dolgellau LL40 2HY (01341 440666; beicsbrenin.co.uk).

When: bike hire daily 10am-5pm.

Cost: bike hire from £18.

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