This is the perfect museum for kids. There is a lot there, an aquarium, a natural history museum and a music gallery, but all on a fairly small scale. Most importantly they understand that children need to do more than look, they need to touch, play and get involved, and here they can. There are magnifying glasses in the aquarium, quirky instruments to play in the music gallery, and fabulous and free creative activities and story-telling sessions. When you have exhausted all on offer inside you can stroll through the pretty gardens and visit the small menagerie.
This is truly one of Manchester’s hidden gems, tucked away in the city’s Northern Quarter. Housed in a Victorian Police station, built in 1879 and in use until 1979, the Police Museum contains one of the finest collections of police paraphernalia in the country. The museum’s array of police vehicles, equipment and uniforms are a particular draw, with most visitors unable to resist the temptation of trying something on.
The building has retained its original Victorian cells, complete with wooden pillows and a birching stool, giving visitors a glimpse of the less celebrated side of Manchester’s history. Parents can rest assured that children will be on their best behaviour, as those that are not may face the discomfort of having a pair of historical handcuffs demonstrated on them.
This place is great for adults too. While the children are busy locking themselves up, adults may also find themselves in cramped surroundings – the Greater Manchester Police Archives are held at the museum and an interesting afternoon can be spent researching your family’s criminal past.
Admission is free, but the museum is only open on Tuesdays, 10.30am - 3.30pm. Last admission is at 3pm. It is recommended to allow 1.5 hours for the visit.
GMP Museum & Archives, 57a Newton Street, Manchester, M1 1ET.
+44 (0)161 856 3287
Theatre of kinetic sculptures by Eduard Bersudsky. The models are made up of carved figures and pieces of old scrap which mechanically move to music in a short 35-minute show accompanied by classical and Scottish celtic music. Grotesque, Tim Burton-like figures and animals toil in their ceaseless lives. Quirky and unique, the joy is in identifying the "junk" - old typewriters, sewing machines, bottle openers - and watching the imprisoned mechanical mice, ever struggling. Children go free when accompanied by an adult.
Trongate 103, Glasgow, G1 5HD
+44 (0)141 552 7080
The Booth Museum Brighton is a small quirky little gem of a museum for kids and grown ups alike. It was built in 1874 by an ornothologist to house his collection of stuffed British birds, but the collection grew to over half a million specimens from the rest of the the world. Currently on show there is Life in Death: The Victorian Art of Taxidermy, an exhibition highlighting the popularity of taxidermy in the 19th century.
It's an excellent, unusual, and sometimes slightly creepy view of animals in glass boxes a good way to spend an afternoon, and best of all it's free!
Not located in the centre of town but opposite a large park also easy to park the car or coach nearby (unlike the rest of Brighton ). When you are done looking at the exhibits you can let loose in the park across the road.
Booth Museum of Natural History
194 Dyke Road, BN1 5AA
Google map: tinyurl.com/35lmwys
Your average local - but with over 30 ciders on offer! It's a nice little place nestled down by the seafront, the kind of place filled with regulars at all hours. Divided into two sections - an old school style pub section and a 'games room' style area at the front - it's a lovely pub. Be fine for the family or for a sociable pint - it's not rowdy but it's not boring either. But the real appeal is the cider. You name it, they've got it. From local concoctions like the lovely Florence Somerset Scrumpy (the patron's beverage at bargain prices) to your Swedish perries and even a 15% perry, the menu keeps changing.
Smack in the middle of Hoxton’s urban sprawl, the Geffrye Museum’s elegant 18th century almshouses are set behind a verdant front lawn and backed by historic walled herb and flower gardens. Indoors, period rooms extend chronologically, each full of furniture, ceramics and paintings, illustrating the history of the British middle-class interior from the 1600s to the present. The contemporary wing introduces a light-filled cafe with views onto the gardens, serving modern British fare, a book-filled shop, and the first of several children’s activities spaces. Beyond the Quiz Desk, ‘Feely Box’ (!), and tables teeming with children colouring, completing quizzes and reading lies 20th century Britain, as well as spaces for workshops, seminars and temporary exhibitions. A vibrant and community-orientated venue for young and old alike, it truly draws its period rooms into present-day London.
Hunter Collection in the Royal College of Surgeons. A smallchild friendly museum with a high gross factor which will thrill toddlers to teens! Adults will be fascinated as well. Ancient pickled specimens in bottles from Cookes Voyages etc, huge preserved elephant to the honey bee, videos of key hole surgery alongside a simulator. Magnificent sculpture, extraordinary portraits of various diseases and injuries and a quite beautiful art treasure of the human circulatory system pinned onto a panel! Both ancient and Contemporary exhibits. Years later my boys are still talking about the museum and love taking their friends there when visiting London. All for free as well and in the historic Lincolns Inn Fields. So central but so tranquil.
Inspire is a different kind of museum, one where children and adults can explore science through fun hands-on activities. stimulates curiosity and interest in science and technology. They have fun making projects. Our grandchildren, aged three and six, loved the experience. It is suitable for older children too.
The Aire and Calder navigation runs from Leeds to Goole, and its towpath forms part of the Transpennine Trail. For several miles the canal runs alongside the river Aire, to Thwaites Mill in the suburb of Hunslet. Strange to think that the 21st-century office and factory workers walking its banks are treading the same towpath as their Victorian forebears. Lads from Hunslet, all tattoos and LUFC shirts, fish from the banks. The waterways are home to kingfishers, otters, herons, and me. Without this peaceful retreat from factory life, I would go insane.
Thwaites Mill, Hunslet, LS10 1RP
The most spectacular canal walk in Britain is that along the Llangollen Canal, from either Chirk or Froncysyllte, to the Horseshoe Falls at the
head of the canal. Starting at Monk’s Bridge, adjacent to the B5070 just south of Chirk, the canal first turns north across the Ceiriog valley on a massive aqueduct, and plunges immediately into Chirk Tunnel. There is a
further tunnel at Whitehouses, before the canal turns sharply at Froncysyllte onto the magnificent Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – undoubtedly the first wonder of the British waterways. This gives dramatic views up and
down the Dee valley. From here to the Horseshoe Falls the canal clings to the northern bank of the valley, through Llangollen itself and on to the falls.
Travel back in time with a walk through the industrial revolution. The grime, noise and smoke are gone but the mills remain along the water’s edge, now luxury homes, artists’ studios, or new businesses. There’s a plethora of pubs en route, and if you tire you can step aboard a canal boat at Uppermill to travel beneath the towering viaducts. At Diggle, beautifully crafted lock gates mark the start of the longest, deepest, highest canal tunnel in Britain, which emerges on the other side of the Pennines. You can rest up on the fabulous green at the Diggle Hotel (01457 872741), or chill out with Grandpa Greene’s sumptuous ice-cream (grandpagreenes.co.uk) locally whipped up in this still industrious village.
The Double Locks Hotel is not easy to find but it has long been a special favourite of mine. You need to determinedly drive through an unappealing industrial estate then turn down an inconspicuous lane that gives no clue to your final destination and then finally over a canal bridge almost too narrow to take a family car. However once there, few would deny that the Double Locks has been worth persevering for and we have returned a number of times since first discovering it almost 20 years ago.
When I say the Double Locks is hard to find, I mean it is hard by road. In truth, it is perfectly located for visiting by boat or via an easy walk or cycle ride from Exeter Canal Basin just one and a half miles away. And this is what makes it so appealing - its one of those tucked away places that encourages you to leave the car behind and explore by more traditional means.
And if you insist upon seeking it out by car, well, that is almost an adventure in its own right...
Double Locks Hotel
Exeter, EX2 6LT
Picture Solihull and you think of new housing, not canals, or indeed Africa! But walk along the peaceful Stratford-Upon Avon Canal from the Drawbridge Inn to Bridge 10, enjoying the wildlife. Then saunter along Tythe Barn Lane in Shirley to Akamba (akamba.co.uk), a very unusual garden centre, to enjoy a glass of wine or a coffee as you listen to African music in a secluded seating area surrounded by towering palms and banana plants - and even a lifesize gorilla and a (smaller) giraffe. Its Solihull but not as we know it!
Tythe Barn Lane, Shirley B90 1PH
Nearest station is Whitlocks End
Upmarket renovated pub in city centre right next to the Theatre Royal. Excellent but not cheap food, decent choice of beers and good wine list. Set menu at lunch is good value. So close to the theatre the bell rings in the bar!
This is the highest navigable aqueduct ever built and is recognised as a masterpiece of civil engineering. Built by Thomas Telford and William Jessop between 1795 and 1808, it forms part of an 11-mile canal system that was recently placed on the World Heritage list of sites of Outstanding Universal Value. You can go across by barge or on foot, but be careful - the River Dee below seems an awfully long way down!
Trevor Basin, Llangollen, Denbighshire
The tourists might flood the cobbled streets and closes around the castle, but some of locals' favourite walks in Edinburgh are along old railway routes, the Water of Leith and the Union Canal. The Union Canal starts a few minutes' walk west from the Castle. Down the walkway at the side of the Cargo Bar you’ll find Edinburgh Quay and the cobbled path that starts a 32-mile journey to the Falkirk Wheel. You can walk, cycle or take a canal boat, and the ever-changing path will quickly take you past the industrial remnants of the inner city, to a tranquil walk past the back of tenement gard to open fields and beyond. You’ll meet ducks, swans, canoeists, walkers and cyclists, maybe even a fox or deer, and there’s many an inn for the weary to rest. About three miles in there’s the Water of Leith Visitor Centre (waterofleith.org.uk), seven miles and the fields open out, you’ve left the city behind and just about to happen upon the Canal Centre at the Bridge Inn (bridgeinn.com). Stop at the Bridge inn for a picturesque view over the canal and some freshly cooked food or cask ales. Get the 48 bus back from here or, if there’s no stopping you, go on another 10 miles or so to Linlithgow and the second of two aqueducts. From Lithlithgow you can catch a train back to Edinburgh.
Start at Fountainbridge, beind Cargo Bar in Edinburgh Quay.
Cornwall is arguably best off-season, and self-catering accommodation is nicer during the odd rainy day. My top tip is to stay slightly out of the town centre (it’s quieter), and the best I’ve found is Four Shores, a Victorian terraced town house, five minutes' walk from the beach. Or ten minutes if you’ve just eaten your second cream tea of the day. Four Shores is one of the most comfortable and best equipped houses I’ve stayed at. There are two double and three single bedrooms, with more showers and WC’s than you can flap a wet towel at. There are quirky details I love: stained glass doors, window seats for people watching, a store room for surf boards and a cute patio. It’s perfect for families and friends, but there is also the chance off-season for couples to enjoy the property at special rates.
01736 798478, fourshores.co.uk
Head south to Cornwall to find a real gem of a canal walk. Bude Canal is different from other canals. Lobster pots are strewn across the bank, seagulls fly overhead, and the Atlantic salt gets deep in your lungs. Wander on a sunny day towards Summerleaze beach, as you head through lock gates onto the golden Cornish sands. The canal is a secret haven from the crowds, with a sea view! Ice creams on the beach finish this perfect summer stroll.
One of Stoke-on-Trent's (very few) redeeming features is its canal network. Walks along the Trent and Mersey to Stone or the Caldon to Leek both feature a wealth of interest in terms of industrial heritage, attractive countryside, canal-side pubs and regular bus services for the return journey.
Even if you don't want to do the whole length of the trail, a proper hike from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, try a quiet afternoon wander from Didsbury to Chorlton Water Park in search of wildlife, or a pub meal by the open fire in the historic Jackson's Boat, where they will even fix your bike for you, or hire you a new one.
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