Although circumstances certainly do change after kids come along, Kate Lewis highlights some glorious spots in the UK that are perfect for families to find their own adventures and reminds us that becoming a parent does not mean you have to hang up your adventure boots
Enjoying adventures when you have children is not just achievable, it is fantastic fun, can open your eyes up to new experiences and is a great bonding experience too.
Camp out under the stars in Cambridgeshire
Camping under canvas is lovely enough, but not much beats the thrill of snuggling up in a bivvy bag under the stars in the fresh air. Wild camping is not legally allowed in England, other than in Dartmoor National Park. You can skirt around this technicality by hiring out the National Trust’s remote Wicken Fen campsite for a night or two to experience true getting-away-from-it-all. It’s based on the charity’s oldest nature reserve, and one of Europe’s most important wetlands, which is home to a variety of wildlife such as bats, badgers, birds and dragonflies. The campsite consists of four open-fronted shelters, a firepit and compost toilet. There are no access roads, so you must trek two miles with your gear to reach it, but, of course, that’s part of the adventure.
Where? Ely, Cambridgeshire.
Age ranges? All ages.
Low carbon transport? Waterbeach is the nearest train station, though you need to walk in two miles from nearby Anglesey Abbey to reach the campsite. Parking is available at Anglesey Abbey.
Other ideas? The RSPB run a series of sleepouts at some of their reserves.
Forage for food by sea kayak in Dorset
Somewhere along the years, we’ve lost our connection with the land and the food it produces. So imagine voyaging out onto open (but calm) waters in Dorset by sea kayak in search of wild food. The small team of passionate and knowledgeable outdoor enthusiasts at Fore Adventure allow you to do just that, plus a heap of other innovative wild food and coastal adventures. Go free diving and snorkelling in search of sea vegetables as well as exploring Old Harry Rocks and the Dorset coastline from your kayak. Environmental conservation and protection is at the front of this outfit’s mind, and they aim to inspire others to connect with nature at a deeper level.
Where? Studland Bay, Dorset.
Age ranges? Best suited to eights and over.
Low carbon transport? Head to Poole mainline or Parkstone by rail, then take a bus and the chain ferry from Sandbanks across to Studland before hiking up the coast to Studland Bay.
Other ideas? Join a land-based foraging course.
Go on an island adventure in Northumberland
There are over 6,000 islands in the British Isles. Most are tiny or uninhabited, but many are easily accessible and make an epic family adventure. During the summer, 28 Farne Islands see a staggering 150,000 pairs of breeding seabirds, including the much-loved puffin, plus razorbills, arctic terns, guillemots and eider ducks. Grey and Atlantic seals can easily be seen bobbing about in the water too, and they also use the islands as a breeding site. Over 1,000 pups are born here each autumn.
A British jewel of conservation, Sir David Attenborough described the National Trust-owned islands as his favourite place in the UK to see wildlife, and it is a fantastic place for kids to learn about the birds and the bees at close range. The Farnes also have strong Celtic roots and are a fascinating place to uncover stories about ancient Christianity and isolated island life.
Where? Farne Islands, Seahouses, Northumberland.
Age ranges? All ages.
Low carbon transport? Chathill, Alnmouth and Berwick are the nearest train stations but require a taxi to get to Seahouses harbour. Then take a ferry across to the islands.
Other ideas? There are plenty more UK islands that are family-friendly such as Looe in Cornwall, Brownsea in Dorset, Lundy in Devon, Lihou or Herm off Guernsey, Northey in Essex, Thorney in Sussex, Llanddwyn off Anglesey, Flat Holm near Cardiff and Samson, part of the Scilly Isles.
Scramble across rocks in Wales
For a true heart-in-mouth adventure, coasteering is hard to beat. Coasteering involves hopping across rocks and scrambling around cliffs before jumping off them and swimming into coves and inlets. A bit like extreme rockpooling! It’s an exhilarating way to learn about and understand the interface between the sea and the land. TYF run coasteering adventures for families to explore the gorgeous Pembrokeshire coastline safely. They provide all the gear and knowledge. Screams, shrieks and adrenaline rushes are self-served.
Where? Pembrokeshire coastline, Wales.
Age ranges? Eight plus.
Low carbon transport? Take a train to either Haverfordwest or Fishguard. Bus services run regularly to St Davids.
Other ideas? TYF also organise other heartstopping activities such as kayaking, surfing and rock climbing.
Scale the heights of a mountain in the Lakes
Kids like the challenge of climbing and scaling a dull hill is often met with less moaning than a flat walk with jawdropping views. Turn that yawnsome hill into a magnificent mountain and you’ve got a magical day out for all the family. Loughrigg Fell in the Lakes is an ideal first-time mountain to scale with kids as it’s not too high at 1,099 feet but has fabulous summit views and lots of nooks and crannies on the way up and at the top to explore. Involve your children more by giving them the responsibility of map or compass reading.
Where? Loughrigg Fell, Ambleside.
Age ranges? All ages.
Low carbon transport? Take the train to Windermere then a bus to Ambleside. Some good advice for public transport around the Lakes can be found on the Lake District tourist board website.
Other ideas? Sugar Loaf in Monmouthshire, Snowdon in Wales, Haytor in Devon, Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons, Mam Tor in Derbyshire and Stickle Ghyll in Cumbria are other popular mountains for little legs to climb.
Explore the Isle of Wight on wheels
A visit to the Isle of Wight is like stepping back to a gentler version of England, yet don’t be fooled. This island packs in an enormous amount of opportunities for outdoor adventure, cycling being one of them. It is often dubbed the ‘bicycle island’ because of its appeal and ease for cyclists. The Red Squirrel Trail takes in 23 miles of smooth, mainly traffic-free trails across the isle’s best landscapes – from marshy wetlands to its beautiful coastline. Add in a couple of nights camping alongside the ferry ride across and you have a super weekend-long family adventure.
Where? The trail runs from Cowes on the north coast down to Sandown and Shanklin on the south coast before looping back up.
Age ranges? All ages.
Low carbon transport? Ferries to Cowes cross from Southampton.
Other ideas? Many more family-friendly cycle routes can be found on The Smaller Explorer blog.
Swim with wild seals in Devon
We live on an island and are surrounded by the sea, yet know so little about our underwater world neighbours. Change that by zipping up your wetsuit and embarking on one of Wild Frontier Charter’s award-winning trips out to Lundy Island to swim with wild seals. This is a truly immersive adventure where you’ll spend the morning bobbing about diving or snorkelling in the island’s marine nature reserve observing these slippery characters in their natural environment. The afternoon is spent on Lundy Island looking for puffins and other seabirds before heading back to the mainland. Not only that, but dolphins are also often spotted on the boat journey out and back. Wildlife heaven.
Where? Off Lundy Island, Devon.
Age ranges? From three plus, though more suited to older children.
Low carbon transport? Boats depart from Ilfracombe harbour. The nearest train station is Barnstaple. Buses run regularly up to Ilfracombe from Barnstaple.
Other ideas? For more seal spotting from a distance, try Blakeney in Norfolk.
Survive in the wilds of Dartmoor
Go back to basics. Hide all the smartphones and channel your inner Ray Mears on a wild weekend with the family out in Dartmoor learning how to build fires, forage for food, make dens and hike in the dark. Wild Wise run a series of other wild family adventures too including wolf tracking in Cornwall, night canoeing and camping by the River Dart in Devon and hiking though remote spots on Dartmoor to enable children and adults to gain a deeper connection to nature.
Where? Woodlands in Dartmoor National Park, Devon.
Age ranges? All ages.
Low carbon transport? The closest train stations to Dartmoor include Exeter, Newton Abbot, Totnes, Ivybridge and Plymouth.
Other ideas? Wild Things offer a similar experience in Moray Firth in Scotland.
Spot whales and dolphins in Cornwall
There’s something deeply special about stepping off land and onto a boat in search of adventure. This wildlife watching boat trip from Marine Discovery will take you out into the Cornish waters to look for dolphins and porpoises. It’s also one of the best spots to spot minke and humpback whales, basking sharks and even leatherback turtles. Marine Discovery has won the Responsible Whale and Dolphin Watch Operator of the year in the past. They use boats with quiet engines and sail power to minimise environmental pollution, use less fuel and keep habitats undisturbed, and educate visitors about our UK marine wildlife. Kids can even take the helm and have a go at sailing.
Where? Penzance, Cornwall
Age ranges? Six and above.
Low carbon transport? Take the train to Penzance station.
Other ideas? Dolphins can also be spotted off the coast of Cardigan Bay in Wales.
Go stargazing in one of the UK’s most remote regions
Kielder Water in Northumberland is a must-do for any family. This huge man-made reservoir and forest is jam-packed full of outdoor adventure such as cycling, hiking, sailing, ziplining, kayaking, swimming and horse riding. The region is also known for being one of the most remote places in the UK, and so is one of the best places in the country (and the world; the park has been awarded Gold Tier Dark Park Status by the International Dark Skies Association) to see the starlit sky due to the minimal light pollution. You only need venture into the forest a mile or so for things to feel much wilder. There are trails galore to follow as well as eight bothies for overnight stays and designated wild camping spots. The park is also home to the Kielder Observatory, with plenty of events to please starry-eyed families.
Where? Kielder Water, Northumberland.
Age ranges? All ages.
Low carbon transport? The nearest train station is Hexham. Buses run from Hexham to Kielder regularly. Transport details can be found on the Kielder Water website.
Other ideas? Other great places for gasp-worthy views of the stars include Exmoor National Park, Devon, North York Moors National Park, Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula in Ireland, Galloway Forest Park in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland and the South Downs National Park.