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The 50 Best summer days out

Come rain or shine, Sarah Barrell discovers the most diverting excursions that the UK has to offer over the coming months

Sarah Barrell
Thursday 01 August 2013 18:54

The experts:

Matthew Oates - Author, naturalist and broadcaster working with the National Trust,

Martin Dunford - Rough Guides founder and managing director of Cool Places,

James Berresford - Chief executive of VisitEngland, the English tourist board,

Helen Brocklehurst - Editorial director at AA Media.



“Brighton has plenty to do whatever the weather,” says James. “Enjoy the beach and pier if the sun is shining, but the shopping and Brighton Pavilion are fantastic alternatives. This August, don’t miss Brighton’s Sand Sculpture Festival featuring over 20 giant works of art, or duck into the Jeff Koons exhibition.”


“Having worked with Aardman Animations on our Wallace & Gromit campaign, I can’t wait to check out the new Gromit Unleashed,” says James. “The free public arts trail features 80 giant sculptures of Wallace’s beloved dog, designed by the likes of Paul Smith, Cath Kidston, Harry Hill, and Aardman’s own Nick Park. And why not combine your visit with the Bristol Balloon Fiesta?”

8-11 August,

Cambridgeshire, Wicken Fen

“With over 8,400 species of wildlife, Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve is my idea of paradise,” says Matthew. “From dragonflies and warblers to the grazing herds of Highland cattle, you’re always guaranteed a wonderful wildlife-focused day out.”


“Leave Marazion at low tide and walk the causeway to St Michael’s Mount,” suggests Helen. “Home to the family of literary novelist Edward St Aubyn, the castle, gardens and priory church will keep you busy for hours then head back to enjoy Marazion’s art galleries and dinner at up-and-coming Ben’s Cornish Kitchen.” Families: don’t miss out on Cornwall’s much-loved Pirates Day on 26 August.

Cornwall, Lizard Point

“The UK’s most southerly point, I love Lizard’s dramatic cliffs and wildlife walks,” says Matthew. “It’s also fantastic for some of the National Trust’s ‘50 things’ activities, spotting birds, hunting for insects and even seeing seals in the coves.” Kayaking day tickets cost £40.


“Heaven for walkers and cyclists, Cumbria is now catering for the couch potatoes, too, albeit with an outdoorsy twist,” says James. “Several locations are part of the Eden Arts Picnic Cinema season, which screens films in the locations in which they were shot. Watch Sightseers screening in Keswick’s Pencil Museum (3 August).”


“Chatsworth House is a great day out by any standards,” says Martin. Thought to be the inspiration for Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Chatsworth has events to celebrate this year’s 200th anniversary of the book’s publication.

Derbyshire and Peak District

“White Peak is a glorious area to visit in the summer, packed with stunning scenery and wildlife,” says Matthew. “The area is rich with daleside grasslands and woodlands and also includes several other wild spots such as Manifold Valley, Dovedale and Ilam Park. Entice kids out on a walk through Ilam with Family Explorer Trail maps for £1.


“Arriving at Palace Green in Durham is a bit like stumbling on a giant’s castle in toy town,” says Helen. “Visit the beautiful Norman Cathedral during matins or evensong, then cross the Green for a tour of Durham Castle. See the Lindisfarne Gospels at the Palace Green Library (until 30 September).”

Durham Heritage Coast

The last colliery on the Durham Coast closed at Easington 20 years ago this year. “With a long association to the Durham mining industry, there are few stretches of British coastline that have undergone such dramatic changes over the last century,” says James. “I love the rare orchids and amazing cliffs – and to get refreshed from a blast of sea air.”


“Take a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine on The Watercress Line in Alresford,” says Helen. “This heritage railway line offers Thomas-themed activities and steam train rides (10-18 August). Alresford itself is a beautiful Georgian market town with good places for coffee or a light lunch. Then take a stroll around the watercress meadows.”

Isle of Wight

“Being slightly warmer than mainland Britain, the Isle of Wight is ideal for butterfly spotting,” says Matthew. “The Glanville fritillary is found on the island in early summer and almost nowhere else in Britain. For a lovely walk plus advice on where and what butterflies to spot, download a five-mile butterfly trail from the Trust’s website.”


“Scotney Castle has a mix of influences spanning centuries,” says Matthew. “It has a fantastic Victorian country mansion, the ruins of a 14th century castle (complete with moat), gardens, parkland, woodland and a hop farm. It’s also in one of the UK’s best dragonfly habitats, home to an incredible 23 species.” In August, Scotney’s Picnic Theatre stages classics such as Romeo and Juliet and Sherlock Holmes under the stars.

Adults £9.10, children £4.60 and families £23,


“If you fancy an urban fix, the Leeds Carnival is pretty special,” says Martin. “It attracts around 100,000 every August bank holiday – enjoyably busy but without the crush of Notting Hill.”


“Few cities have reinvented themselves as successfully as Liverpool,” says Helen. “Don’t miss the Tate Liverpool, set in a converted Albert Dock warehouse, home to one of Britain’s biggest modern art collections, and Edward Lutyen’s masterpiece, the crypt at the Metropolitan Cathedral.” August celebrates Liverpool’s musical heritage with two major festivals: The International Music Festival (24-25 August) and Beatleweek (21-27 August).

Liverpool, Formby

“Glorious Formby beach is always well worth the trip,” says Matthew. “The coastline between the sea and town offers fantastic walks through the woods and sand dunes, and I love trying to catch a quick glimpse of the red squirrels and natterjacks. Whether you want to walk, run or ride, there are events for everyone over the summer months.”

London, Orleans House

“Undiscovered by many Londoners, Orleans House Gallery (free entrance) sits just outside Richmond on the Thames,” says Helen. “The gallery’s permanent exhibition, set within the 18th century house, is relatively compact, but as well as regular exhibitions there are numerous workshops to suit all ages, from lively pre-school drop-in sessions to life drawing classes for adults.”

Middlesex, Osterley Park

“With an astonishing array of meadows and old trees, it’s hard to believe Osterley is in west London,” says Matthew. Late August sees the country show come to town.

Adults £9.95, children £5 and family £24.75,


“Pensthorpe wildlife and nature reservation has a new two-acre activity area set around woods, fields and streams,” says James. “Called WildRootz, it’s an innovative way to combine play with the great outdoors.” Another inventive Norfolk adventure playground is Bewilderwood. “I can hear you groaning at an adventure park,” says Martin. “But Bewilderwood really is better than most, a gentler version of all those forest zipwire and wooden walkway experiences, with a storybook theme and an eco-ethic.”

Norfolk Broads

“I reckon the Broads’ gentle beauty is best enjoyed in a Canadian canoe,” says Martin. “Try one of The Canoe Man’s tours spotting otters and other wildlife plus one-day bushcraft trips and wild swimming.” One-day bushcraft tours, from £45 per adult, £35 per child.

Wild swimming from £15 per adult, free for children (under 16),

Northern Ireland, Co Down

“Murlough National Nature Reserve has one of the loveliest sand dunes and shorelines in the UK,” says Matthew. “And nearby Castle Ward on the entrance to Strangford Lough is superb for wildlife excursions.” Water lovers should try the Dead Men’s Tales Lough Tour (4 and 18 August), a boat trip around Strangford uncovering its murky smuggling history.

£7.30 adult, £3.65 child, £18.25 family. Lough tours: adults £17, children £12.

Northern Ireland, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

The world’s biggest Samuel Beckett bash (22-26 August) features an impressive roster of stars that dig the Irish scribe, including Winona Ryder, Frank Skinner, Clive James and Miranda Richardson. Expect theatre, dance, music, mime and more, plus field trips to see Beckett’s work in such dramatic settings as “the purgatorial waters of Lough Erne”, and the Marble Arch Caves.

Nottinghamshire, Sherwood Forest

“Robin Hood is one of our most famous characters whose legend is celebrated every year at the Robin Hood Festival,” says James. “It’s a free event in Sherwood Forest with jousting, archery, falconry and general medieval revelry.” 5-11 August,

Rutland Water

“Every year, thousands migrate to Rutland Water for the annual RSPB Birdfair, and you’d be well advised to join them, even if you’re not an avid twitcher,” says Martin. “The event gets bigger every year, there’s loads of bird-watching celebrities and nature luvvies but above all it’s a celebration of our relationship with the great British countryside.

16-18 August,


“Kid yourself you’re a 1930s toff for a day on Orient Express’s Northern Belle,” says Martin. “The train tours the best of the Scottish countryside at a suitably gentle pace, giving you the chance to elegantly appraise the scenery, whatever the weather, while tucking into an excellent four-course lunch.”

Scotland, Arran

“The Brodick Highland Games are in Arran and thus not strictly in the Highlands,” says Martin. “But it’s a fabulous, truly Scottish occasion, with a real carnival feel and offering an opportunity to let your hair down with the locals.”

10 August.

Scotland, Edinburgh

Take time out from Edinburgh Festival’s performing arts for some fine arts. “The National Gallery sits majestically on the Mound,” says Helen. “It houses Scotland’s national art collection, along with work by Botticelli, Raphael, Raeburn, Titian and Monet.” Or get out of town entirely. “The Water of Leith path follows the river to Leith,” says Martin. “The King’s Wark is as cosy an old waterfront boozer as you’ll find.”;

Scotland, Mull

“How about a watery wildlife trip?” says Martin. “There’s little better than getting out on the waters around Mull to spot porpoise, dolphins, whales and sharks against a suitably epic background.” Try local tour company Sealife Surveys.

South Devon

“Coleton Fishacre is the definitive wildlife garden, in a sheltered combe on the Devon coast,” says Matthew Oates. “Good for butterflies.”

Suffolk, Minsmere

“Summer in Minsmere offers sightings of young avocets, bitterns, and other waders,” says Helen. “Plus stunning purple heather and rare flowers, too. One of the RSPB’s biggest and most accessible reserves, it’s superbly set up for twitchers with a slew of activities happening in August.”

Coastal foraging from £50 per person,

Wales, Anglesey

“The largest of Edward I’s ‘iron ring’ of castles in Wales is now a World Heritage Site: Beaumaris is considered by many to be Britain’s most perfect medieval castle,” says Helen. “With swans circling its moat and the imposing symmetrical towers, its military architecture is aweinspiring but look for equally amazing views across the Menai Strait to Snowdonia.” Beaumaris Medieval Festival (24-26 August) brings colour to the castle, with knight school, a dragon land-speed race and a jester workshop.

Wales, The Gower

“The Gower is amazing with varied geology and topography, a superb coastline with definitive sandy bays and beaches with towering cliffs,” says Matthew. “The Trust’s holiday cottage, The Old Rectory, sits on the edge of Rhossili beach where you can view one of the best sunsets in Britain.”

Wales, Torfaen

“The Big Pit National Coal Museum is pretty fab, for both kids and grown-ups and, what’s more, it’s free,” says Martin.


“Follow the route of next year’s Tour de France Grand Depart that takes in the Yorkshire Dales from Leeds to Harrogate,” says James. Or go off piste: mountain biking in Dalby Forest – it’s amongst the best tracks in the world. Dalby Bike Barn has rentals for all ages, and social rides on Tuesdays in August.;


Across UK

Cycling fans can celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Tour of Britain this year by visiting one of the locations through which this famous cycle race passes. It starts with the Grand Depart in Peebles on the Scottish Borders, then pedals through the heart of the Lake District, Stoke-on-Trent, Wales, Dartmoor and Surrey before racing across the finish line at London’s Whitehall.

15-22 September,


“Perhaps the best-visited UK annual event of them all takes place in September,” says Martin. “Blackpool Illuminations’ big switch-on draws a crowd of 20,000-plus and cleverly extends the season into the autumn.”

30 August – 10 November,


“Cornwall will be enjoying the limelight this September, when Richard Curtis’s new film, About Time, is released,” says James. “It was shot largely on location in the area.” Some of the county’s other pictureperfect film locations include Vault Beach, near Gorrant Haven, and Portloe, too.


“Bess of Hardwick, one of Elizabethan Britain’s most powerful women, set out to build the most beautiful house in the country in the shape of Derbyshire’s Hardwick Hall,” says Helen. “From a small dowry, she went on to marry four times, finally becoming the country’s wealthiest woman after Queen Elizabeth. Her stamp is everywhere at Hardwick, and her extravagant use of glass was a great influence on London’s Crystal Palace.” Learn Elizabethan dance steps at Bess’ Court (17 September).

Isle of Wight

“A new dinosaur trail, with a free smartphone app guide, stretching from Yaverland to The Needles, will take in the key fossil sites,” says James. “And a new app really helps bring the experience to life – take photos of yourself literally walking with dinosaurs.”

Kent, Sevenoaks

“Knole’s Jacobean state rooms exude a gracefully fading glory,” says Helen. “And in the sound of quietly ticking clocks, a sense of time and timelessness that perhaps influenced Virginia Woolf when she visited novelist Vita Sackville-West. Still the family home of the Sackville-Wests, the property is managed by the National Trust.” Seasonal tours include country walks to see the rutting deer. They are descended from herds belonging to King Henry VIII.

From £4.50 per adult, £2.25 per child and £11.25 per family,


Some 750 of the capital’s bestloved buildings, institutions and architectural icons unlock their doors, gardens and gilded balconies for public access during Open House London – all for free. This year’s list has yet to be released but highlights from 2012 included Lloyd’s of London, Portcullis House, The Royal Courts of Justice and 30 St Mary Axe – aka The Gherkin.

21-22 September,


“Ludlow’s annual food festival is now in its 20th year and is a must-do for anyone who’s still in any doubt about the quality of English food and drink,” says James. “It’s the perfect chance to try then buy local produce, and taste some of our best home-grown ciders, beers and wines.”

13-15 September,

North Devon

“My best UK holiday memories usually involve frolicking in dunes and few beat magnificent Braunton Burrows near Croyde, North Devon,” says Martin. “It’s not only like a massive mini Alps of sand (30m dunes, whose diversity of flora is a unique UK Unesco Biosphere Reserve) but close by is perhaps the UK’s finest chippy – Squires in downtown Braunton.” Go in September to capture the last of the summer warmth with lots of dunes suntraps which are ideal for picnics.

Northern Ireland, Co Antrim

Embrace autumn’s encroaching chill with a glass of warming whiskey. “Not far from Northern Ireland’s most famed tourist attraction, the Giant’s Causeway, you’ll find Old Bushmills Distillery,” says Helen. “And a visit here is the perfect way to spend the rest of your day (especially in rainy weather). Ireland’s oldest whiskey distillery (complete with a ghost) dates back to 1608, and the distillery’s 12-year-old single malt is available for sale only in the shop.”

Peak District, Buxton

“Buxton is a striking town in the heart of the Peak District – a very picturesque place for cyclists and walkers to stop and enjoy some creature comforts,” says James. “Combine a trip with its Peak District Cycling Festival (7-15 September).”

Scotland, Rothiemurchus Forest

“Rothiemurchus Forest has to be one of the best and most accessible outdoorsy things to visit in Scotland,” says Martin. “It has a pick of everything from gentle walks around the loch to gorge walking and swimming, rafting and kayaking, mountain biking and pony trekking.”


“If you’re hankering for a country day out, Barrington Court has a splendid Tudor manor house and fantastic garden,” says Matthew. “Seeing butterflies on buddleias, families flying kites and children running wild on the lawns signals summer’s in full swing. And Barrington’s cider is harvested from apples grown in the old orchard.”

Adults £12, children £6 and family £30,

Suffolk, Aldeburgh

“With the centenary of his birth, it’s all about Benjamin Britten in his native county, Suffolk, this year,” says Martin. “The Red House, his home in Aldeburgh, is open again after a lengthy restoration, with his composing studio recreated as it was in the 1960s, as well as a new exhibition of his life. On Saturdays until the end of September, the house opens between 2-5pm for free-flow browsing, rather than the standard pre-booked tours.”

Wales, Afan Forest Park

“This south Wales park is a bit of a favourite with Cool Places,” says Martin. “It has no less than five mountain bike trails reckoned to be among the best in the country as well as gentler cycling for all the family along the valley floor and along old railway lines, plus 14 waymarked walks.”

Wales, Carmarthenshire

“Wales’ National Botanical Garden is a Cool Places favourite, too,” says Martin. “Not only because it can be glorious on a good summer’s day, but with the world’s largest glasshouse, it’s pretty impressive on a bad one, too.”

Best for... Exotic plants

Coleton Fishacre - Replete with plants from the Mediterranean, South Africa and beyond, paths weave through glades, ponds and lookout points with stunning sea views

Best for... The Beach

Brighton - Check out the pier or pull up a deckchair. This August also sees Brighton’s annual Sand Sculpture Festival featuring 20 giant works of ‘sand art’.

Best for... All weathers

National Botanical Garden, Carmarthenshire - With 8,000 plant varieties, 560 acres of countryside and the world’s largest glasshouse, it takes some beating

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