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The best and most surprising family days out

Editorial Feature

We’re all ready to put some miles between us and our familiar four walls and head out onto the open road. In that spirit of adventure, Checklist has been looking at some unusual and surprising destinations that offer something for every member of the family.

Let’s face it, no one expects a beach in the middle of the Cotswolds. And when was the last time you came across crab-racing in the middle of London? Or, for that matter, cows mooching along a beach? Read on to discover where you can find all these things, as well as an amphitheatre by the sea and whole world of adventure and magic high up in the treetops.

Cotsworld Country Park and Beach

Driving along country lanes in the heart of the Cotswolds, it’s hard to believe that there’s a sandy beach around the next bend. To a landlocked Midlands dweller, the discovery of the Cotswold Country Park and Beach, over 60 miles from the nearest coast, is a surprise to say the least. The 150 lakes, covering 40 square miles, were created around 40 years ago, following gravel extraction from the site. The lakes then filled with natural, crystal clear groundwater and sand was imported to create two, soft beaches – the main beach and a beach lagoon for children.

Whether relaxing with friends and family on the main beach beside the swimming lagoon, or gliding across glassy water by kayak, pedalo, paddleboard or electric boat, the UK’s largest inland paddling beach offers the full seaside experience. What child could resist the Aquaventure inflatable assault course? Or for those who don’t want to get their feet wet, pedal karts of mini golf?

When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the café or hire a BBQ pitch. You can even bring the dog! Booking is required.


Creekside Discovery Centre

Creekside Discovery Centre is a charity working in one of the most biodiverse landscapes in London. Where the Thames meets the river Ravensbourne, the site once supported myriad trades and industries, from chemical works to tidal mills and slaughterhouses, as well as mud larkers and the Victorian ‘toshers’, who scoured the sewers for anything of value. Today, the centre is a unique, urban haven for both wildlife and people from all across London. The only Thames creek, where, for the two hours of low tide and with the help of a guide, you can safely wade, exploring the rich biodiversity of the river bed.

The centre was opened in 2002 in response to the intensive regeneration the area was experiencing, to try to save some of the local wildlife as well as the creek. The creek’s waters, muddy banks and flood-defence walls are now home to shrimps, crabs, fish, birds and over 300 species of wildflowers. The site’s industrial roots are in evidence wherever you look. London’s first passenger railway crosses the creek and Bazalgette’s Greenwich Pumping Station is next door

The centre runs low tide walks and family events, from crab and duck racing to bug hunting and scavenger hunts throughout the year (weather dependent). Waders and mud sticks are supplied, but bear in mind you need to get onto the river bed safely, so comfortable clothes (preferably something you don’t mind getting splashed with mud) are recommended. Walks last about 1.5 to 2 hours.

Many events are free or subsidised. All events are booked online via the website.


Sandwood Bay

This one’s definitely an outing for the committed, but it’s a must for anyone embarking on the North Coast 500 tour. Often cited as mainland Scotland’s best beach, Sandwood Bay is shining proof of the saying that nothing worth having comes easy. Having arrived on the north-western tip of Scotland, the journey is still not over. You can’t drive to Sandwood Bay, but rather have to park at Blairmore car park (donations in the honesty box go towards cleaning of the car park and toilets) and walk or cycle the 4.5 miles to the beach.

The walk takes a little over an hour walking at a steady pace and it’s an easy trek, along sandy paths. En route, nature puts on quite a show. Look out for wild orchids, deer, wildcats, white-tailed eagles and as the sea comes into view, seals bobbing between the Atlantic rollers that race into shore to pound the sand. The entire walk is spectacular but the final descent down rolling hillocks towards the mile-long beach is spectacular and if you’re lucky, you’ll even see northern Scotland’s shaggy emblem, the Highland cattle grazing on the dunes. The magical beauty of the place has inspired local folklore rich in tales of mermaids and the ghosts of shipwrecked sailors.

The beach is never very busy. After all, no one on the sand hasn’t trekked that long journey from the car park at Blairmore. Pack a picnic and make a day of it. As you sit on the sand, looking out towards the great cliffs rising into sea stacks guarding the bay, you might have to pinch yourself and blink to remind yourself that flash of a mermaid’s tail is almost certainly a seal or a piece of flotsam…


Minack Theatre

The stunningly beautiful Minack theatre is a must-see for any visitor to Cornwall.  Perched on rugged cliffs over-looking the spectacular panorama of Porthcurno Bay, you might think ancient Greeks had carved the amphitheatre from the granite.  In fact, less than a century ago it was a rough gully of gorse and heather dropping dizzily down to the sea.  The theatre was the brainchild – and the life’s work – of Rowena Cade. Brought up in a genteel Edwardian family in Cheltenham, the Minack’s ‘master builder’ moved to Cornwall, buying the Minack headland for £100. 

In 1930, Rowena offered an open-air theatre company the use of her cliff garden for a performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and needed to create a practical acting area and somewhere for the audience to sit. Using hand tools (and the occasional stick of dynamite) to shape the theatre sitting above the waves, Rowena and her helpers cut up the rocks and manhandled them to make the first terraces on the steep cliff-side. Building the Minack took Rowena the rest of her life.  Most of the structures are created from concrete mixed with sand from the beach, which she herself carried up the cliff in sacks. 

Each year, over 200 live performances are staged at the Minack, including plays, musicals, opera, music and children’s events.  Tens of thousands of people come to experience a show at the cliif-side theatre beneath the stars. The Minack runs a full season of theatre and music. Booking required. For details of upcoming production, please visit the website.


BeWilderwood (Cheshire and Norfolk)

A treetop wonderland to give every member of the family a bird’s eye view of the great outdoors, BeWilderwood has two woodland centres – one in the Norfolk Broads and another deep in the Cheshire countryside. So, whether you’re holidaying in the east of England or venturing up to the north-west, your family can explore the decidedly different and it has to be said, somewhat wonky world, of BeWILDerwood.

There’s a jam-packed day of entertainment for the whole family, with hours of fun, exploring a world in the forest canopy. Clambering into treehouses, whizzing down super slides, swinging together on giant swings and zipping along extra-long zip wires, it’s as high octane as it is high wire! For those who are more comfortable with their feet closer to the ground, there are interactive storytelling shows and creative craft activities to join. Based on the magical and enchanting books by author and creator Tom Blofeld, the setting for the book, A Boggle at BeWILDerwood gives children the chance to follow in the footsteps of the lead character Swampy. Wherever you look, there are hints of the curious characters including Boggles, Twiggles, and even a vegetarian Crocklebog.


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Liz Henry

Liz’s background is in magazine publishing, having edited and written about every subject imaginable. Checklist’s Family editor has a passion for animals, wildlife, and the countryside. So whether she is horse-riding, watching ex-battery hens discover grass and sky for the first time or just admiring her three-legged cat sprint diagonally across the lawn, Liz’s happy place is anywhere that animals are.

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