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The 50 Best spring days out

Stuck for something to do this Easter? Rhiannon Batten tracks down family fun for all budgets

Rhiannon Batten
Tuesday 03 April 2012 16:45

This week's panel:

Andrew Dixon is chief executive of Creative Scotland (;

Juliette Dyke is founder of Fresh Air Fix (;

Clare Gogerty is editor of Coast magazine (;

Richard Moss is editor of Culture 24 (;

Hannah Needham is founder of This Is Your Kingdom (

Rhiannon Batten can be found at


1. Jerwood Gallery

'Sitting smack on the seafront next to the fishing fleet and Hastings Old Town, with its vintage shops and foodie stops, the new Jerwood Gallery promises to bring a blast of culture to Hastings,' says Clare Gogerty.

Details: £7 per adult, £3.50 for children (

2. A bluebell spectacle

Hannah Needham suggests the ancient beech woodland of Micheldever is 'the place to go for a serious bluebell spectacle'. Depending on the weather, late April or early May should see spring's most eagerly awaited plant emerge in full force here. 'Visit on a sunny day and it really is quite magical.'


3. Keith Vaughan

According to Richard, Chichester's Pallant House is one of the best art galleries outside the capital, continuing to 'serve up an intelligent mix of temporary exhibitions and modern art' in West Sussex. On show now, until 10 June, is an 'excellent' Keith Vaughan retrospective, illuminating the peculiar talent of this Sussex-born genius.

Details: £7.50 for adults and £2.30 for children (01243 774557;

4. Tally Ho!

If you're looking for a more regal way to see London this Jubilee year, book in for a guided bike tour with Tally Ho! The company, launched just last year, whizzes visitors around the capital on vintage-style Pashley bicycles equipped with smart Brooks saddles. Options include a classic 2.5-hour central London ride and a 4.5-hour East Thames Amble but the Royal Loop is the one to book this spring. A four-hour trip around the city's best-known sights, it includes a pit-stop for tea and cakes.

Details: £34 per person, including bike hire (

5. Walk the Jubilee Greenway

'Mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee by walking or cycling London's newest route, the 60km Jubilee Greenway,' suggests Juliette Dyke. A circular route around the capital, taking in Buckingham Palace, Camden, Greenwich and Westminster along the way, the trail has been designed to mark 1km for each year of her reign. 'As well as passing close to London's major historic sights, the Greenway runs close to several Olympic venues,' she adds.


6. Unravelling Nymans

'The National Trust are evidently keen to change its demographic if this, the first in a series of three exhibitions of challenging craft and fine art practice, is anything to go by,' says Richard. On show at, and inspired by, Nymans, the restored gardens and romantically ruined West Sussex house that were once 'the bolt–hole of the theatrical Messel family,' the property's history 'will be teased out and subverted by a series of weird creations popping up everywhere from the house to grounds'.

Details: the exhibition runs from 1 May to 31 October; entrance costs £9 for adults and £4.50 for children (;

7. Willows Farm Village

The current holder of the National Farm Attraction of the Year award, this Hertfordshire centre promises a classic family day out. Animal feeding, adventure playgrounds, fun fair rides, falconry and tractor rides run throughout much of the year but if you visit before 15 April you'll catch the village's Easter Eggstravaganza with all sorts of extra bunny, chick and lamb related activities.

Details: from £12.95 (

8. Charleston Festival

This East Sussex literary festival is 'one for the grown-ups,' says Hannah. "Taking place in the beautiful grounds of Charleston House – once the bohemian country retreat of the Bloomsbury Group – it attracts a convivial crowd and is a great way to indulge in a few days where books, ideas and creativity trump the day-to-day grind".

Details: the festival runs from 25 May-3 June; tickets cost from £33 per day (

9. Tracey Emin

'Margate's favourite daughter holds her first major solo show 'She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea' in her home town's architecturally splendid (and free) gallery, The Turner Contemporary, from 26 May,' says Clare. Enjoy the art, then 'mooch around the independent shops in the Old Town or visit the arcane and mysterious Shell Grotto'.



10. Sustrans Easter Ride

'Burn off some of those Easter egg calories on this 10-mile family bike ride along the Exeter Ship Canal path,' recommends Juliette. 'Guided by Sustrans rangers, including three National Standard cycling instructors, the ride starts at 10am at Exeter Quay and will pass Riverside Valley Park and the Double Locks pub before finishing at Turf Locks.'

Details: the ride takes place on 14 April; suggested donation £2 per person and riders should pre-book (

11. Explore War Horse Country

'Spend the day hiking across the rugged landscape of Dartmoor National Park,' the backdrop to Steven Spielberg's War Horse, says Hannah. 'Having scrambled the heights of Haytor and Hound Tor, reward yourself with a slap-up lunch in the garden of the Rugglestone Inn. If you're lucky you'll be joined by the pub's two pet geese, who make particularly charming lunchtime companions.'


12. The Courts Garden

If you want to enjoy a 'picture perfect' picnic, you're sure to find a suitable spot at The Courts Garden, the grounds of an 18th-century wisteria-clad manor house at Holt in Wiltshire, suggests Hannah. 'This beautiful seven-acre 'secret' English country garden offers the perfect setting for the first picnic of the new season,' she adds, with its arboretum full of colour and spring bulbs blooming.

Details: £6.10 for adults and £3.05 for children (

13. World Pilot Gig Championships

The famously clear waters around the Isles of Scilly will be 'peppered with teams of six-oared rowing boats' in early May, when this historic boat race takes place, says Clare. Pilot gigs were one of the first vessels to be used as lifeboats but 'fiercely competitive teams now row between the islands, providing entertainment for onlookers on and offshore.'

Details: 4-7 May, the Scillies (

14. Jurassic Coast Earth Festival

Richard advises fans of the Jurassic Coast to visit this spring, when Dorset's shorelines will be livened up with a series of art, theatre and nature-based events that will continue throughout the summer. 'A giant, mechanised Jurassic sea lizard – inspired by a locally found fossilised pliosaur skull now at Dorset County Museum – will be prowling the South-West, just one of many free events with a family focus,' he says.

Details: the festival runs from 4 May to 16 September throughout the region (

15. 'Obby 'Oss Festival

If you're keen to experience a living local tradition, Clare advises heading to Padstow in Cornwall for this annual shindig. 'Two 'osses – facsimiles of horses with sinister masks and black capes – careen through town accompanied by dancers and much pagan merriment.'

Details: the festival takes place on 1 May in Padstow (

16. On your bike

An outdoor lunch and a pint of local Avocet ale at one of the few pubs in the country that can't be accessed by car is a good excuse for 'a leisurely cycle down the towpath of the River Exe, from Exeter, to The Turf Hotel, near Topsham,' says Hannah. 'The Turf sits in fantastic, sprawling grounds overlooking the Exe estuary and a tiny passenger 'ferry' from here will take you over to picturesque Topsham, with its lovely independent shops and quayside antique centre.'

Details: The Turf Hotel is around three miles from Exeter ( Ferry details are listed on the pub's website.

17. West Somerset Railway

Hop aboard this heritage railway line at Bishops Lydeard, just outside Taunton, and 'steam, Hogwarts Express-style, to the harbour town of Watchet,' advises Clare. 'Spend a day on the beach guzzling fish and chips. Then, on the return trip, alight at Stogumber station for a cream tea.'

Details: rover fares £17 per adult, £8.50 for children (


18. Swallows and Amazons

'The Canoe Man is on a mission to rekindle children's sense of adventure, with these new activity days based around the famous Arthur Ransome story,' explains Juliette. Starting out from South Walsham, in Norfolk, 'spend a day on the river exploring your surroundings, try your hand at archery and bushcraft and then finish up with a good old sing-song around the campfire'.

Details: the next adventure day takes place on 8 April and costs £35 for adults and £25 for children (

19. A Genteel Bicycle Ride

Join Beg Bicycles on Sunday 13 May for its Marvellous May Ride, advises Hannah. One of a series of monthly joy rides the company organises, it's 'the perfect way to explore the countryside outside Cambridge,' she says. 'This very British day out starts at 10.30am and concludes with a proper pop-up afternoon tea in a meadow, complete with gramophone soundtrack. Stopwatches are strictly banned.'

Details: the ride is free, with optional donations for the tea £7.50 per person (

20. Southwold Pier

'If only all piers were like Southwold's – elegantly designed, well maintained and with decent places to eat and shop,' ponders Clare. 'Best of all, though, is Tim Hunkin's ( Under the Pier Show with its ingenious, hand-built machines. These include 'Whack-a-Banker', which will keep everyone amused.'


21. Children's Food Safari

Designed with the virtuous aim of showing children the connection between the food they eat and the farms it comes from, these half-day safaris take place on a small holding outside Saxmundham, in Suffolk, giving them the chance to feed pigs, collect eggs, see beehives and explore a vegetable garden. They then get to make sausages, burgers and pasta with the fruits of their earlier explorations, to be gobbled up afterwards at a grand communal lunch.

Details: the next events run on 14 April and 9 June and cost £45 per child (

22. Egg Dancing at Blists Hill

'There are a few contenders for the epithet 'cradle of the industrial revolution', but the World Heritage Site surrounding Ironbridge Gorge, in Shropshire, has a rich industrial heritage that is difficult to surpass,' says Richard. Part of a weekend of traditional Easter events at the site, 'this unusual re-enactment at Blists Hill, the Victorian town at the centre of Ironbridge, dares townsfolk to dance, blindfolded, across a street while dodging a trail of eggs'.

Details: egg dancing takes place daily from 6-9 April at Blists Hill (

23. West Stow

One for ancient history buffs, over Easter weekend 'go back to the 7th century at the Anglo-Saxon village of West Stow, outside Bury St Edmunds,' with living history group, Centigas, recommends Richard. 'An expert team of bearded axe-wielding re-enactors will demonstrate weaving, dyeing, meal preparation, wood, leather and metalworking, arrow-making and, of course, the odd bit of combative dispute resolution,' he says.

Details: from 7-9 April; admission costs £7 for adults and £5 for children (

24. Malvern Spring Garden Show

For Hannah the start of spring means it's time to get back to work in the garden, 'and this Worcestershire spring garden show offers you all the inspiration you need,' she promises. 'An annual event, it takes place in a truly picturesque setting at the foot of the Malvern Hills,' and covers everything from show gardens to demos, talks and stalls.

Details: the show runs from 10-13 May at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern; tickets cost from £15 (

25. Feed the lambs

'Share the excitement of seeing a lamb being born at Cotswold Farm Park, Countryfile presenter Adam Henson's Gloucestershire farm,' says Juliette. 'The Demo Barn lets you get hands-on with seasonal farming activities, such as helping out with bottle feeding the lambs and, later in the season, baby goats.'


26. Toft Alpaca

'Join the Toft Alpaca team on their Warwickshire farm during shearing week for a textile making workshop and master a traditional craft,' says Hannah. 'As well as meeting the farm's 200-strong herd of alpacas you'll learn about the processing of fleece and be taught special felting methods.'

Details: the textile workshop takes place on 17 May and costs £50 per person (


27. Polly Morgana at the Victoria Gallery

'Ghost tours, sleepovers, screenings, after-hours parties, drunken pottery, space hoppers, secret tunnels... you can catch them all during the Museums at Night weekend, from 18-20 May, when museums across the UK open their doors after hours,' says Richard.


28. Haworth 1940s Weekend

It may be better known for its association with the 19th-century Brontës, but the West Yorkshire village of Haworth will be transported back to wartime Britain on 19 and 20 May as part of this much-loved local festival. 'There will be an evacuees procession, swing dancing in the park, a vintage market, vintage vehicle parade and an address by none other than 'Winston Churchill', all in aid of Help for Heroes', says Hannah.

Details: Haworth 1940s Weekend takes place on 19 and 20 May. Many of the events are free; dance tickets start at £5 (

29. Sea Odyssey Spectacular

In her previous UK appearance, in 2006, 1.5 million people watched the mammoth-sized marionette, The Little Giant Girl, parade through London. If you weren't one of them, catch her when she returns, this time to the streets and parks of Liverpool, says Richard. 'Leading street theatre company, Royal De Luxe, bring her back to tell a story of love and loss that commemorates the centenary of the Titanic disaster in the city where the ship was registered.'

Details: from 20-22 April across Liverpool (

30. Tatton Park Biennial

'Another year, another art Biennial,' shrugs Richard. Except that this Cheshire exhibition 'has successfully muscled into the increasingly crowded art festival scene with a Biennial that combines integrity with a sense of fun and adventure'.

Details: the Biennial runs from 12 May to 30 September (

31. Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Don't overlook this classic British seaside attraction, says Clare. 'Visitors may queue to ride Blackpool Pleasure Beach's Big One, the UK's tallest and fastest rollercoaster, but there are quieter and quainter attractions on offer – such as the beach's oldest ride, the Flying Machines, with its rotating retro rockets and a gorgeously decorated Carousel.'

Details: day passes bought start from £22 for adults and £17 for older children (

32. Miró at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Richard credits David Hockney, in part, with the current artistic renaissance sweeping across the Yorkshire landscape. 'There's no better place to fuse art and the rugged Yorkshire outdoors than at Yorkshire Sculpture Park,' outside Wakefield, he adds. 'As an extra inducement Joan Miró's first UK sculpture exhibition is currently residing in the site's impressive underground gallery and it's free to visit.'

Details: the Miró exhibition runs from now until 6 January (

33. Take the High Rope

The Calvert Trust specialises in providing outdoor activities for all ages and abilities at various centres throughout the UK. A huge range of pursuits is on offer but one of the most popular for 2012 is set to be the drop-in high ropes courses it's running at Kielder, in Northumberland, with hanging cargo nets, balancing beams and swinging logs.

Details: the first courses of the year run on 4 and 11 April and cost £10 per participant (

34. Scampston Walled Garden

This four-and-a-half acre garden was built in the 18th century as the kitchen garden for adjacent Scampston Hall but fell into disrepair after the Second World War. In 1999 Dutch plantsman, Piet Oudolf, was employed to create a series of garden 'rooms' within it.

Details: the first guided walk starts at 10.30am on 29 May and costs £9.50 per person (


35. WWT Caerlaverock

'Watching whooper swans feed at this Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust centre, along the Solway Firth, makes for an absorbing day out, especially when done from the comfort of a heated observatory or a snug wooden hide,' says Clare. 'As a wildlife bonus, listen up for the native natterjack toads: this is the time of year when they start to mate noisily.'

Details: £7.10 per adult and £3.50 per child (

36. Edinburgh Science Festival

Firewalking, an explosive live show from the BBC's Bang Goes The Theory, jungle safaris and 'aqua adventures' are among the events at 'one of the UK's biggest and most entertaining science festivals,' says Richard. This year's line-up 'offers plenty for kids and adults to be enlightened by'.

Details: the festival runs from now until 15 April at various venues across Edinburgh (

37. Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival

'Dumfries and Galloway was one of the first places I visited as Chief Executive of Creative Scotland and it reminded me of the creativity taking place here and around Scotland,' says Andrew. 'This is a fantastic festival featuring music, dance, theatre, literature, visual arts and film, plus a number of children's events. It leads into Spring Fling, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, with 76 artists opening their doors to the public.'

Details: the arts festival takes place from 25 May-2 June ( and Spring Fling from 2-5 June (

38. Muckmedden

New this year, this mountain bike event at Pitmedden Forest, on the Perthshire/ Fife Border, has been designed to highlight one of the (so far) lesser-known attractions of the Scottish trail riding scene. Taking place on 22 April, the family-friendly event ranges from races for the seriously competitive to skills training rides, with music and catering on site to jolly things along. Race entry closes on 18 April but non-riding spectators are also welcome.


39. Cream O' Galloway

Ice cream eating is one of Hannah's favourite pastimes now that the milder days are here but, to truly indulge, she suggests heading to the organic farm, Cream O' Galloway, to take part in its 'Scrumptious Ice Cream Experience'. A daily event, participants can 'learn about the making process whilst sampling a few of the company's 33 flavours. Amongst other things, you'll find out why their peppermint-choc chip isn't green and how they decide which flavours to make.' Pond-dipping, nature trails and other activities are also on offer.

Details: £4.50 per person (

40. Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival

At one of the UK's largest performing arts festivals for children, expect 'hundreds of young people enthralled by live performances in theatre, dance and family entertainment,' says Andrew. 'I really like that this festival connects with the younger generation, exciting them with the possibilities of performing.'

Details: the festival runs in various venues across Edinburgh from 7-14 May (

41. Corncrake chorus

With its eight distilleries and dramatic scenery, Islay attracts flocks of whisky lovers year-round. From April or May they're joined by migrating corncrakes. On 23 and 30 May, spend an afternoon exploring the RSPB reserve at Loch Gruinart and then up your chances of hearing the characteristic call of these famously secretive birds by staying on to join a guided walk onto the reserve's flats, followed by a dram of Black Grouse whisky at the visitor centre; though not one of the local tipples, it's a special blend that's sold in aid of its threatened namesake bird.

Details: the corncrake chorus walks start at 7pm and cost £3 per person (

42. Shetland Folk Festival

'This is special because it was set up by, and is run by, a fantastic community of volunteers who are all passionate about folk music and bringing the best of international, British and Shetland music to the isles,' says Andrew. 'Now in its 32nd year, the most northerly folk festival in the UK is stronger than ever and shouldn't be missed.'

Details: the festival takes place from 3-6 May with events and performances individually priced (

43. Puppet Animation Festival

Described by Andrew as 'an exciting festival of puppet theatre, transporting children and their families into the magical world of make-believe,' this celebration of animation takes place across Scotland from 24 March to 17 April. Highlights include a performance of Ailie Cohen's latest work, Cloud Man, at the Art Deco Rothesay Pavilion on Bute on 10 April.

Details: tickets to Cloud Man at Rothesay Pavilion cost £4 per person (01700 504250;


44. Titanic Belfast Festival

The multi-million-pound Titanic Visitor Centre opens in Belfast tomorrow, kicking off three weeks of events marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking. There are also plays, talks, films and concerts.

Details: entrance to the visitor centre is £13.50 for adults and £6.75 for children (02890 766399;

45. The Big Welsh Coastal Walk

The 870-mile All Wales Coast Path launches on 5 May, making Wales the first country in the world to have a formal trail all around its shoreline, says Juliette. 'To celebrate, Ramblers Cymru is holding a series of led walks along the path, suitable for all levels of fitness.'

Details: 5 to 6 May (

46. Shanes Castle Steam Rally

'Soak up nostalgia on 6 and 7 May,' advises Hannah. A celebration of steam tractors and other vehicles, plus classic car rally, 'a great spring day out for boys (and girls) who love super-size toys'.

Details: Shane's Castle is between Antrim and Randalstown. Entrance to the rally costs £10 for adults and £5 for children (

47. The Great Orme Cable Car

'Llandudno's open-sided Sixties cable car swings for an undulating mile over Happy Valley to the summit of the Great Orme,' says Clare. 'It's a great way to see Llandudno Bay and to live out any dormant James Bond fantasies'. Don't miss the resort's pier and tramway.

Details: cable car rides cost £6 per adult and £4 per child (

48. A Wild Taste of Spring

Rural skills course from TV presenter Kate Humble and husband Ludo at their Monmouth farm. Liz Knight, founder of Forage Fine Foods, and chef Katherine Marland show how familiar plants and flowers add to your cooking.

Details: starts on 14 April and costs £160 per person (

49. Hazelbank Beach

'Combat pollution with the Marine Conservation Society and Marks & Spencer on the Big Beach Clean-up,' urges Clare. At Hazelbank Beach, north of Belfast, do a few hours on 11 May, then tuck into free sandwiches and enjoy the shoreline.

Details: events at 50 beaches from 11 to 13 May (

50. Skomer Island

There are about 6,000 pairs of puffins on Skomer, off Pembrokeshire. Chicks hatch in May and June, cushioned by a blanket of bluebells. Eat fresh crab claws at the Clock House café in Marloes and an afternoon on one of the local beaches.

Details: boats from just outside Marloes £10 per adult return plus £10 landing fee (

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