Sunday, 08 March 2015
If you already feel like you are couped up indoors with your tot while the winter draws in, perhaps it's time to start thinking about a great big outdoor adventure
Studies by the University of Essex have shown that as little as a five-minute ‘dose
of nature’ can improve self-esteem and boost your mood. So, whether you’re tempted by
a last-minute back-to-nature getaway, or simply a brisk stroll around the park with
the buggy, autumn is a glorious season to
get outside and hit the nature trail. And, of course, if your cheeky rascals are running around chasing dragonflies, making daisy chains or jumping from haystacks, they’re getting valuable exercise and fresh air, too.
Why go If you want to camp but don’t want the hassle of pitching a tent with tired and hungry children in tow, this could be the answer. Pre-erected canvas tipis are dotted around this former quarry that now has a wild lake, woods and pastureland. Cars are banned in the camping area, making it child-safe and a world away from modern life.
Best for Swallow and amazons adventure. Older children will jump at the chance to row or canoe across the lake, while dad will want to assert his authority by starting the campfire.
Brownie points The tipi ‘village’ area is great if you’re going with friends as you can be tipi neighbours.
Mum Katherine says ‘The tipis were reassuringly large, so we could fit in an inflatable bed, and they were well spaced out – it felt like we were alone with the stars at night.’
Joe, aged 10 says ‘Fishing on the lake was ace and I really liked making hot chocolate on the campfire.’
Why go For the luxury of a hotel and
the convenience of a self- catering holiday, Natural Retreats provide fantastically smart eco-cabins surrounded by meadows. It’s a walker’s paradise, with trails criss-crossing out over the Yorkshire Dales from your door.
Best for Eco-chic. There’s not a hint of hemp sandals and lentil bakes here. Your tots will love watching bunnies that bound about in front of your outdoor deck.
Brownie points The dial-a-chef service who’ll come and cook for you in your cabin for an evening, and the efficient babysitting service if you want to go out.
Dad says ‘This was perfect with a baby,
as we didn’t have to worry about sterilising bottles or the room getting too hot or cold, like we would with a camping holiday –
and the grandparents loved it, too.’
Baby’s verdict ‘Flossie loved watching the rabbits running around outside our
door and it was a luxury to be able to let
a toddler potter about without any fear of
cars or other dangers.’
Details We stayed at the Richmond site in North Yorkshire. Choose from six sites nationwide; naturalretreats.co.uk
Love on the farm
Why go Featherdown farms’ cabin-tents offer the best of both worlds for families of all ages. The sleeping-under-the-stars adventure of camping, along with the comfort of real beds, a wood-burning stove, proper duvets and a loo that flushed – oh, and room to stand up, too! Best for The good life – collect eggs from the hen house, cook your lunch outside on the barbecue, see the cows being milked and play with lambs running in the field. brownie points The on-site honesty shops, where you can buy local and organic provisions, mark-up what you’ve taken and pay at the end of your stay.
Mum says ‘The tent next to us had young babies who loved the freedom of playing in the grass, and our girls played on the rope swing and fed the animals in the petting farm at least ten times a day!’
Kids’ verdict ‘I cried when I had to leave Belinda the blind sheep. She was my friend and I liked to feed her special food.’ (Ivy, six )
‘I liked the chickens and collecting eggs, and sleeping in the secret cubbyhole bed with my sister.’ (Poppy, four )
Details We stayed at Park Farm, Oxfordshire. Choose from 30 UK sites; featherdown.co.uk
Far from the madding crownIf you’re pining for a wild, romantic break, Geaglum cottage and gypsy caravan won’t disappoint. Nestled near Upper Lough Erne in Derrylin, Northern Ireland, it’s a fairy tale spot to kick back and watch the world go by – with the charming town of Enniskillen just 20 minutes up the road.
Best for A step back in time. The tiny thatched cottage, which sleeps three (plus cot), is a doll’s house of
polka-dotted and quilted treasures, and the caravan, complete with double bed and working stove, provides extra magic.
Details For this and over 90 similar properties, visit underthethatch.co.uk
Fun in the forest
Why go For a fantastic back-to-nature trip that offers both adventure and a bit of luxury, try Forest Holidays. Cabins set in ancient woodland offer all you need for a relaxing break, including an alfresco hot tub.
Best for Would-be Robin Hoods. There are loads of cycle trails and woodland walks as well as adventure playgrounds that are suitable for all ages. Or join one of the rangers for a guided tour and find out about the plants and wildlife that live in the forest.
brownie points We love that you
can have groceries delivered to your
cabin for your arrival, send out for pizza
if you’re having a lazy night watching
a movie, and indulge with one of the
in-cabin spa treatments – there’s one tailored to pregnant and post-natal mums.
Mum says ‘The children loved the freedom of being able to explore the woodland wilderness all day, but it was
also great, as a mum, to be able to tuck them up in very modern, comfortable beds when they’d tired themselves out.’ (Rachel)
‘I liked the squirrels who came to see us.’ (Sage, two) ‘The best bit was being in the hot tub in the middle of a forest.’ (Louis, nine)
Details We stayed at the site in Sherwood Forest. There are an additional six sites around the country; forestholidays.co.uk
All-weather action at center Parcs
Why go If your idea of a holiday doesn’t involve cooking, and your take on nature includes a natural spa treatment, then Center Parcs will take the stress out of the great outdoors for you. The myriad of organised activities means that no family member ever gets bored.
Best for Kids who want to take advantage of oodles of activities, from segwaying to swinging through the trees on zipwires. They’ll also appreciate big-name eateries like Strada, Starbucks and Café Rouge. And the kids’ club is a godsend when you want a bit of time out.
Brownie points Having plenty of indoor options for when it rains – think waterparks, bowling, racket sports, pool and Nintendo. A vast range of places to eat – and even takeaway services delivered direct to your lodge.
Dad says ‘We loved being out in the fresh air, cycling and staying in a forest (but with the comfort of ordering a curry take-out!).’ (Andrew)
Kids’ verdict ‘My favourite was the big slide in the pool and when the ducks and the little deer came. (Josh, four)
Details We stayed at Elveden Forest, one of the four forest locations in the UK; centerparcs.co.uk
Tipi or not tipi-outdoor camping in Cornwall
Glam and eco at the same time in North Yorkshire
Fun with Belinda the sheep
Geaglum Cottage in Derrylin, Northern Ireland, complete with gypsy caravan
Cycle trails, woodland walks and adventure playgrounds in Sherwood Forest
Relax after a day of adventure at Centerparcs