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Summer family fun in the National Forest & Beyond

Tuesday, 23rd July 2013

School’s out, hols are here, how to keep the kids happy all summer? See our ten great experiences around The National Forest & Beyond for some of the freshest, most imaginative and exciting things to do. Meeting dinosaurs, pond dipping, cycling; living in a tree house or travelling through a giant telescope – there’s just no time to be bored. And with so many free activities, family-friendly deals and superb value breaks, you can enjoy far more for less.

1.       Free to enjoy

Share great adventures without hitting your wallet – we’ve lots of green spaces that are free to explore.* Bring your bikes to Hicks Lodge Cycle Centre, near Ashby de la Zouch, and spin along 9 miles of safe, off-road woodland trails: take it gently or go for jumps, berms and bumps.

The 1.5-mile walking trail at Broombriggs Farm, Woodhouse Eaves, reveals what makes a farm tick. Or range free at 830-acre Bradgate Park, on the edge of historic Charnwood, where 560 million-year-old rock outcrops, roaming deer, Tudor ruins and a folly stretch your imagination as well as your legs.

* Modest car parking fees apply.

2.       Buzz on a budget

Enjoy more, pay less with our brilliant deals. Download discount vouchers for thrilling places like Ashby de la Zouch Castle, Calke Abbey, Conkers, Crackpotz Ceramic Cafe, Snibston, and Swadlincote Ski & Snowboard Centre. Go car-free and carefree on our re-launched summer Hopper Bus between Leicester and Burton upon Trent, giving discounts to major attractions en route plus easy access to lovely walking and picnic stops.

Also stay longer for less cost, on a Stay, Play, Explore family short break – 4-star overnight accommodation with breakfast for a family of 4 and a choice of 3 activities: cycle hire, tobogganing, outdoor pursuits, ten pin bowling, or cinema.

3.       Celebration of all things wood

Do real stuff in the great outdoors at the National Forest Wood Fair*, the most fantastic full day out for all the family on Bank Holiday Monday (26 Aug). Our annual celebration of all things timber, trees and woodcrafts is action packed, as lumberjacks and chainsaw carvers send the sawdust flying. Have a go at eco art, cheer on the log to leg race, hitch a ride on a tree lift and hear stories from the Wild Man of the Woods. The new Forest Food Festival overflows with scrumptious local goodies.

*Buy discounted advance tickets online – just £20 for a family (2 adults, 3 children). Why not stay over and make it a short break treat – see the website for fantastic deals on accommodation.  

Throughout summer you can also book woodland fun and parties with Greenwood Days, Staunton Harold. Let the kids loose willow weaving, shelter building or woodland stool making – there’s nothing like the satisfaction of creating a mini masterpiece.

4.       Wild at heart

Let the kids get their hands and knees grubby: give them a passport back to nature. At Conkers, near Swadlincote, there’s 120 acres of forest and lakes where they’re free to be themselves with holiday activities like pond dipping and bushcraft, raft building and squelching through mud on the Barefoot Walk.

Or go bird and wildlife spotting at Rosliston Forestry Centre, then up the ante with laser games and archery, or book young adventurers into the Out and Active holiday club for exhilarating but safe challenges like climbing. Free family discovery walks at the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Wood, near Heather, every Wednesday during school hols, are another fun combo, of picnics, looking for wildlife, nest making and more.

5.       Crazy for creatures

Dinosaurs, llama trekking, pig racing – animal encounters always put smiles on faces. They’ll be talking for weeks about their Dinosaur Explorer Tour at Twycross Zoo, near Measham, an amazing chance to get up close to terrifying T-Rex and his life-like animatronic pals. Dinosaur Valley is here until 15 September, so catch it while you can!

Also meet the animals, from sheep to Shetland ponies, at National Forest Adventure Farm, on the Robinson family farm at Tatenhill. There’s never a dull moment, with Agrilympics, the Pig Grand National and a maize maze. Or be calmer with a llama, grooming, feeding and exploring the countryside with friendly Mustard, Ande and co. at National Forest Llama Treks, Barton under Needwood.

6.        Let the sparks fly

Keep curious minds busy all summer at places that fire the imagination. Nitty-gritty tales from former mine workers enthral on colliery tours at Snibston, Coalville; and there’s plenty to get your hands on in galleries exploring light, transport and inventions – travel through a giant telescope or lift a mini!

Go off on another tangent at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas. Download a Doodle Book full of challenges to take with you, while the Kids’ Guidebook is ideal for I-spying different trees – over 50,000 trees are planted here – and learning about events behind the memorials. The Wildlife Watch Group for 8 to 14 year-olds does all sorts, from snail racing to otter watching.

Another day, plunge into the Garden of the Imagination, created especially for the school holidays at Calke Abbey, Ticknall. Discover secret places, explore the wild grass labyrinth, hide in a giant willow sculpture, be a busy bee. You might even tick off one or two of the coolest “50 things to do before you are 113/4”.

7.       Whoosh & roar!

Enjoy the whoosh of steam or roar of motorcycles, each guaranteed to raise the pulse. First up, a trip through historic Leicestershire countryside on a steam-hauled train or 1950s railcar of the Battlefield Line, then rummage around the memorabilia-packed John C Jacques Railwayana Museum at Shackerstone Station. Synch your visit to the Great Central Railway – Britain’s only double track main line heritage railway – with a Teddy Bears Picnic or to meet Peppa and George.

Donington Park, Castle Donington, is a place to return to again and again, to wow and phew at high-octane motorcycle, truck and sports car racing. Get the best view in the house with a School’s Out! Family Hospitality Package – one child (up to 8yrs) goes free per paying adult (£99).

8.       Outdoors – indoors

We don’t mind rain: it keeps our Forest fresh. And you can enjoy the great outdoors – indoors. At Conkers Discovery Centre, explore the life of a British woodland through more than 100 interactive exhibits in seasonal zones: dare you to take the simulated tree-top walk! You’ll find lots for tots too, like Billy Bonkers activity play in the Waterside Centre.

Set the giggle-ometer to ‘max’ in the gigantic Play Barn at National Forest Adventure Farm where little ’uns can clamber around safely in the ball pool and big ’uns (hold your breath) can dive down demon slides. On a different tack, tours of the National Brewery Centre museum, Burton upon Trent, are fascinating for all ages, highlighting the crafts and people that built Burton’s brewing reputation.

9.       Events to make summer last

End your summer hols on a high – our events calendar makes the final weeks extra special. The National Forest Wood Fair (26 Aug), of course, is a must, and Gladefest II (31 Aug) is ideal to talent spot local bands – then re-visit the al fresco stage of The Glade at Rosliston Forestry Centre for Last Night of the Proms (7 Sept). Or enjoy the dazzling Festival of Fireworks at Catton Hall, it’s out-of-this-world spectacular (7 Sept).  And do save some energy for the National Forest 10k and Fun Run, Conkers (15 Sept), the latter open to youngsters aged 4 to 14yrs to whiz around a 1-mile trail.

10.   Six summer dream stays

From tree house to narrow boat – where you stay is at the heart of a short break adventure. And we’ve magical, award-winning, quality accommodation for all sorts of dreams and budgets.

Let them sleep in the tree house at Dandelion Hideaway, Osbaston, vintage glamping at its imaginative best. Discovery Trunks in canvas cottages provide all you need to explore your surroundings on the farm – binoculars, magnifying glass, jam jar – or join farmer John on a guided tour. Nature also sets the rhythm when you stay in a Forest Lodge with the option of activities like archery on your doorstep at Rosliston Forestry Centre.

Or dip your toes in a water adventure holiday combining a stay in a luxury waterside lodge at Mercia Marina, Willington, with narrow boat hire from Shakespeare Line. Aqua Narrowboats will get you afloat in 5-star comfort here too and they’re offering up to 15% off weekly and short break hire on the last remaining boats from 20 July to 20 August.

Come and go as you please, self-catering with the National Trust, perhaps at quirky Ticknall Lodge, or 18th-century Southwood House Farm on the Calke Abbey Estate (sleeps 14, with room for 2 dogs – go with friends!).

And you can share extraordinary adventures at ordinary prices at new eco-friendly YHA National Forest, Moira: get evening meal, overnight stay, family day pass to Conkers, all for just £80 per night (2 adults, 2 children; £10 per further family member). Or simply stay and step straight into the woods outside: breaks that make you feel really alive.