Not just a 'hidden gem' of a moated castle set in luscious north Oxfordshire parkland, but the site of Civil War conspirations, sieges and battles, and the setting for the film Shakespeare in Love. Broughton Castle is still occupied by the Saye-Sele family and lowers its drawbridge on selected days from Easter onwards. June and July always promise a myriad of events, from corricle racing on the moat to Shakespeare productions in the parkland, and this is also the time when the walled garden is in full rose-scented bloom.
Even the kids will be awestruck by these atmospheric ruins, still standing after over 2,000 years of worship. Legendary burial place of Arthur and Guinevere, it’s the perfect place to play kings and queens and summon up the mysteries of the past. With plenty of space for picnics in 36 acres of tranquil parklands, this is an oasis of calm for stressed-out parents seeking spiritual sanctuary. Did Joseph of Arimathea, the Virgin Mary’s uncle, come to the Abbey? Did he plant the Holy Thorn Tree, which has a flourishing sapling in the Abbey's grounds? Lively costumed guides and intriguing relics help you make up your own mind. Modern marvels include café, museum, shop.
Forming part of the Llangollen canal the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct spans 305m (over 1000 feet) connecting the towns of Froncysyllte and Trevor in north Wales.
Used by canal boats year round, the workmanship of Thomas Telford and William Jessop's early nineteenth century engineering feat can also be enjoyed by pedestrians on the adjacent towpath, a sheer drop above the river Dee. For the experience, likened by some as being suspended in mid air, of traversing this canal, tour operators and boat hire are available from Llangollen wharf. The site is well catered with an information centre, toilet and café facilities as well as disabled access.
Supported by nineteen hollow masonry columns, practical arcades which taper at the summit and are cemented together with lime and ox blood, this narrow cast iron trough measuring just 3.4m across and 5ft 3ins deep served the passage of barges between communities, linking the river Severn at Shrewsbury with the Dee at Chester. The aqueduct holds 1.5 million litres of water and takes around two hours to drain.
Pronounced 'pont-ker-suth-tee', this Grade I listed aqueduct is the longest and highest in Britain at 35m (126 feet). It was recognised with World Heritage status in 2009 and is one of the seven wonders of the British Inland Waterways System. Now a popular visitor attraction in the summer months, it provides an elevated perspective of the surrounding area which can be enjoyed at a leisurely pace as ever-changing painted narrow boat designs catch the eye and chats with colourful characters aboard can be had.
Llangollen Rural, Denbighshire LL20
Google map: bit.ly/fQbNbn
For solitude and spirituality there is no place like Hyddgen, just east of Aberystwyth. This is where, in the year 1401, 120 of Owain Glyndwr’s wild rebels beat 500 of the King's troops, soldiers from England reinforced by Flemish mercenaries. It is a lonely place and when the mist comes down you could still find yourself as disorientated there as King Henry’s soldiers must have felt six centuries ago. To experience Carn Hyddgen’s magnificent views over Nant-y-moch and the Pumlumon hills, make sure to go there now, before it is too late! There are plans afoot to send in an army of 64 giant wind turbines, one and a half times the size of Big Ben. Owain, where are you?
Walking down into the steep-sided valley that houses Robert Owen's Utopian mill town is like walking into Brigadoon. The town is dramatically situated on either side of the River Clyde and has been painstakingly restored to its 19th-century appearance. Kids will delight in the rooftop gardens and the Interactive Gallery of sound, sense and colour. Nature lovers can take a 30-minute stroll to the lovely upstream waterfalls. Don't miss the Annie McLeod Story, which provides an overview of village life that simultaneously manages to be both delightfully informative and pretty darn creepy. Part museum, part living history attraction, and part beauty spot, New Lanark tells a rare uplifting history of industrial Britain.
It is so easy to imagine this as a fort - it's an energetic climb to the top then the children can storm the gates. It's an easy walk round the perimeter ring among the trees, you can see for miles around and picture the people inside.
Historic hand carved tunnels which lead to rockpools and blue flag beaches.
Best to go here when the tide is low giving you a better chance to see a wider variety of 'creatures'.
Also not very far from the tunnels is the Watermouth Castle. As well as the castle and dungeon there is a theme park, gardens and maze.
Excellent fun for all ages, all year round (they'll open up for groups out of season if you book ahead), whatever the weather and for only a few quid. Cold and wet outdoors? Head for the indoor play area, built to take adults so they can squeeze through the tunnels and down slides with their children, which is so much more fun than standing on the sidelines. If the weather's half-decent go for the outdoor adventure playground, an amazing structure between the trees and the ice-cream factory with something for everyone: a tower with amazing views over the surrounding countryside, bridges, chutes and a maze. And if that's not enough then there's the possibility of creating your own ice-cream (costs extra), although one may have to curb the adults enthusiasm for alcohol-based desserts if the kids are to get a look in - they didn't when we were there!
Muddy Boots started as a farm shop, selling veg, fruit, jam, honey among others. There is a large cafe with kids' menu, children's entertainment in the form of a tractor track/quad train, a large jumping pillow, gyro cars, grass sledging, turf boarding and indoor and outdoor play areas! Fantastic fun for all the family, leave Granny and Mummy in the cafe while the kids go and explore. Great food for everyone and activity galore to speed all day.
There is also pottery area where kids can paint there own designs from plates to money boxes.
Muddy Boots, Balmalcolm Farm, Balmalcolm
Fife, KY15 7TJ
It's a great family day out which happens over Easter weekend. The trails are all over the country and Ham House is so easy to get to and makes for some really stunning photographs.
The entertainment works for the whole family with loads of activities, interesting areas to explore and lots of great play areas. Kids can enjoy face painting too!
The Strangest Place In The World - A labyrinth of tunnels, chambers, follies and surprises created in a four acre garden.
I recommend it because it is so unlike anything else and it keeps everyone wondering whats around the next corner, it's for all ages, very memorable.
This is a good all round family experience. They have lots of animals from around the world and tonnes of experiences to engage in.
Chester is a great place for any family to spend a day, or even a few days. It is easy to reach and there are many family activities in and around the city.
Chester Zoo is just five minutes drive from the city centre and makes for a great day out. It is one of the best zoo's I’ve visited in Europe with many large enclosures and a sky train that allows you to view many of the animals from a unique perspective. Tip: Arrive early - the zoo is pretty big and can easily fill the whole day to see everything.
Staying on the animal theme, the Blue Planet Aquarium is about 10 minutes drive from the city centre. This is one of the largest aquariums in the UK and has two amazing underwater tunnel experiences. This is a great idea for any ‘wet’ days as it is all inside!
The Aquarium is located along side the Cheshire Oaks retail park, with lots of restaurants and a huge cinema to keep you entertained well into the night. Tip: this is also a great place to get some credit-crunch retail therapy underway, with many designer brands and hugely discounted prices – stock up your summer wardrobe.
For a more historical day out, you can explore the roman side of Chester. You can take a walk around the original city walls, taking in many of the sights of the city and views across north Wales. Stop off at some of the small shops and restaurants on the two-mile round trip. There is also the cathedral, Roman amphitheatre and many historical buildings in the city centre, including the original two-level medieval high streets. If you looking for a more relaxing day, try a ‘Roman High-Tea’ cruise along the canals (pick up the boat from next to the Mill Hotel). Tip: you can get a great (free) map from the city tourist office in the centre of town which highlights many of the historical buildings in the city and walking routes to take.
For a more relaxed day you should head down the small hill to the banks of the river Dee (also on the wall walk), where you can sit in riverside pubs and cafes enjoying the views, or take a relaxing river cruise on one of the river boats.
Upton-by-Chester, Chester, CH2 1LH
Google map: bit.ly/dQCALy
Blue Planet Aquarium
Longlooms Road, Ellesmere Port CH65 9LF
+44(0)151 357 8804
Google map: bit.ly/h1Rheh
A fantastic very child friendly beach. The name alone puts junior members of the group in a giggly and good mood before you even get there. This is only enhanced by a beautiful, never very busy, beach with several areas to explore - small caves, a deeply shelving area with fantastic waves, an enormous shallow stretch for perfect paddling and headlands and freshwater streams to follow for an adventure. Two cafes perched above the beach provide reasonable snacks and meals and loo facilities. Lifeguard facility at most times and care should be taken to observe their flag system and advice. Parking in a pay carpark near the beach or in Llanes.
Google map: bit.ly/gEVqvv
Forget the rush to Futuroscope; these two contrasting centres offer a wonderful focus en route to South West France, the Dordogne or the Loire Valley. The Puy du Fou is an exciting, informative, historical kind of a theme park, where you can wander into a show in the Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre, complete with its lions, then on to the Medieval or 18th century village, the Viking Village or the display of dozens of birds of prey, flying spectacularly over you heads in a castle setting. There are lots more settings, with additions being made each year. The highlight in the evening is the 'cinescenie'. An outdoor theatre gives seating across the lake of the chateau. From here, you are treated to a history of the region, through its villages, told by present-day villagers, including children, exquisite horses and hundreds of farm animals. The show is unforgettable. Two days here are really needed to cover the whole park well. These will be busy, fun and hectic days.
So, what better to follow those days, than a day on the Maris Poitevin, just a little further south. This is a wild area of marshland, which has developed over the past thousand years and is now known as 'Green Venice' , reflecting the green of the willow on the banks of the canals and dykes. You can hire a flat-bottomed rowing boat or take an escorted boat trip. Maps and life jackets are provided, routes are discretely signposted, the banks are lined with wonderful trees, bushes, flowers and occasional sightings of otters and other wild life. Nothing to do but relax and enjoy the gentle lapping of the oars through the still water of the narrow marshland canals. A wonderful start or end to your holiday!
BP25, 85 590 Les Epesses, France
Google map: bit.ly/f1DPm8
The Maris Poitevin is a watery expanse to the west of Niort. The small town of Coulon offers a good base and accommodation.
Google map: bit.ly/herlui
Beynac is a beautiful little village on the banks of the River Dordogne. It has several cafes, restaurants and shops. There are also some great places to hire a canoe from and the best part is they will take you upstream in a minibus and you go with the flow back to the starting point. Last year we hired two canoes and we took two children aged five and seven, and Grandma came too. It really is a great way to spend the day. Once you get back to Beynac, you can enjoy a well earned Kir in the riverside cafe.
Beynac, Dordogne, Aquitaine in France. It is about seven miles from Sarlat and 30 miles to Bergerac, both of which have an airport and cheap regional flights from the UK.
Google map: bit.ly/gQDa2W
As far as I know, British weather doesn't really allow us to have outdoor waterparks like Aqualand but it's worth heading to the continent just for them. In particular, Aqualand St Cyr is a great way to spend a hot summer's day if you want to be away from the chaos of Med beaches. There are rapids, pools of all sorts for over excited kids but also a great creperie and 'espace détente' where parents can rest.
Mas des capellans, 66750 St Cyprien
Google map: bit.ly/dLPDm9
ZAC des Pradeaux
83270 ST CYR SUR MER
tél : 0044 4.94.32.08.32
fax: 0044 22.214.171.124.02
On the way from the UK to Paris, in the department of the Oise, this lovely family theme park is a welcome stop-over if you want to break up your journey. It provides entertainment for the whole family (lots of different rides) and unlike its bigger 'rivals' Eurodisney or Asterix Park, no queues and you can have your own BBQ!
The prizes are very reasonable (under £10 per person) and the food on site is excellent. A grand day out!
60650 Saint Paul,
+33(0)3 44 82 20 16
Google map: bit.ly/eDVb3z
For a really different day out with the family in France I recommend the Puy du Fou historical theme park. It is in the Vendee and easy to get to from the coast or from Paris. We were on holiday on the Ile d'Olleron, another gem of a place, and we travelled early in the morning to spend the whole day there. You need to do that because there is just so much to see and do: a Viking long boat, a huge gladiator battle, dancing falcons and a battle of the keep re-enactment, among other things. The highlight is the cinescene in the evening which features, allegedly the largest stage in the world, with over 1000 locals acting and at least 400 fireworks nightly. The best thing is that our family party ranged from ages eight to 80 and there was something for everyone. We all thoroughly enjoyed it and that is despite the fact that it rained from the moment we got there, until the moment we left, and everything was in French.
I recommend Parc Asterix on the outskirts of Paris, just off Junction 7 of the A1 from Paris to Northern France and Calais. It was the best park we had visited in France, and that includes Disneyland Paris and Futuroscope. My family (two adults, three teenagers) thought it was brilliant - a great selection of rides that covered four different time zones in Asterix’s adventures. The rides vary from gentle to the terrifying (with lots of choice in between) and there lots of shows and animations too. The cafes are good, and there are shady places for picnics as well. It was quite easy to walk around – not too huge. We used Tesco vouchers for advance entry which helped our holiday budget, and have been twice now (2007 and 2009). Our accommodation was at a nearby Novotel (there are other chain hotels in the area) but there is public transport from Paris. For us it was a good couple of days on the end of our holiday, but could make a good mini break if you live in the south of England.
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