Winning tip: Green Britain centre, Swaffham, Norfolk
Here’s a place where you can climb up inside probably the only modern windmill in the world open to the public, and look out from its viewing platform, 65 metres up. You can watch the huge solar tracker following the sun across the sky, making clean energy. My family enjoyed finding out about the windmill blade that, according to some newspapers at the time, was struck by a UFO, and examining Greenbird, which is the fastest wind-powered vehicle on the planet. It’s a fabulous place where all ages can learn about renewable energy and eco-technology in a beautiful environment, wandering around organic orchards, gardens and wetlands. Our whole family loved it.
• Free except windmill tour (booking advised 01760 726100) adult £6, child £4 (2 adults 2 kids £18), greenbritaincentre.co.uk
Bounce Below, Snowdonia
If you want a visit to the centre of the earth with trampolines, slides, ladders and colourful lighting thrown in, head for Bounce Below in north Wales. My three nieces and I had an exhilarating time in a cathedral-size cavern for an hour and were totally exhausted at the end of it. It is also a great way of avoiding the rain and making sure the kids sleep at night.
• £25pp, junior bounce £12.50, spectator £5, booking advised, zipworld.co.uk
Ladram Bay, Devon
Park at Mutters Moor, Sidmouth, and have a family hike along the South West Coast Path to Ladram Bay. Enjoy free use of the great adventure playground with pirate ship, zipwire, agility course and a separate area for younger kids. The beach is great for rockpooling at low tide and you can hire kayaks for a paddle around the rock stacks. There is a brilliant indoor swimming pool (adult £4.50, child £3.50) with an interactive water play area. The cafe overlooks the beautiful bay and there are scenic picnic tables aplenty.
Rivington Pike, Lancashire
We stumbled upon this day out trying to find something cheap to do with two young children. My mum had mentioned Rivington Pike but I couldn’t see how it would keep the kids entertained. That morning we packed a picnic and headed up on what we thought would be just a quick walk up a hill, but even at the start of the journey there was so much to see and lots of adventure. There were different paths and hidden places covered by trees, time and the odd waterfall. We came across an abandoned zoo left for 90 years, a Japanese garden and an abandoned house before reaching the summit. We’ve been back and found many more things such as ruins and caves. There always seem to be more paths and more to look at. Overall you could not ask for more from a free day out.
Waterfall adventures, Brecon Beacons
In a less-visited corner of the Brecon Beacons is a young adventurers’ playground, ideal for teenagers. There are caves to explore, waterfalls to traverse and gorges to scramble. Adventures Wales (based at Pontneddfechan, near Neath) does professionally led gorge scrambling trips. Participants will jump off waterfalls, slide down rapids and climb gorges – all while being safely supervised by an experienced guide. It really is a thrilling, fun day out for the whole family. Just be prepared to get wet! For younger children, the walk alone is enough to excite and amaze. The footpath passes right behind one waterfall, a wonderful experience.
• Gorge scrambling £35pp, suitable for over-11s, adventureswales.co.uk
Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Doncaster
A wonderful day out beckons here. The zoo has evolved over the past few years and we love it. Even grumpy husband who balks at theme parks becomes fascinated by the African plains zone. Small ones love the meerkats, teenagers are fascinated by the lions rescued from Romania and everyone adores the polar bears playing in their lake.
• Adult from £15.50, child from £12.50, yorkshirewildlifepark.com
Hawkstone Park Follies, Shropshire
This 18th-century romantic masterpiece north of Shrewsbury is so much more than just a garden. It was created by the powerful Hill family, who purchased the grounds in Tudor times, with the aim of overwhelming their guests’ visual and spiritual senses. It was great to be able to bring our dog, too. The place appeals to all generations, with a magical walk through majestic woodlands and along precipitous cliff edges, discovering tunnels and ravines. The children loved being given torches to explore the tunnels and caves, whereas we adults loved the magnificent views. We did the longest walk, which took several hours, but included the white tower – a 30-metre high monument with a spiral staircase of 150 steps and a hermit’s lodge. There are short cuts for the weary walker on the way and plenty of picnic places. A brilliant day out.
• Adult £8.25, child £5.75, family of four from £21, hawkstoneparkfollies.co.uk
The Heights of Abraham, Derbyshire
Visitors reach this attraction in Matlock Bath by cable car, which travels two-thirds of a mile and 169 metres in altitude with spectacular valley views. Once up, there are ultra cool caves to check out, a tall Victorian tower to climb, viewing platforms, a Punch and Judy show, an opportunity for kids to make a free rubbing of their favourite fossil, and adventure playgrounds.
• 2 adults/2 children £46 incl cavern tour, adult £15, child £10.50, heightsofabraham.com
Dartmouth Park and Sandwell Valley Park, West Midlands
Dartmouth Park has an amazing array of adventure playground equipment, some of which I’ve never seen anywhere else, and a splash pad for water play, while adjoining Sandwell Valley also has a great adventure playground and an aerial high ropes course next to it (from £8pp), plus cycle hire, a restored Victorian farm and a RSPB visitors’ centre. You can walk the mile to the park from West Bromwich bus station or tram stop through the new town centre, and to top it all off, the ice-creams from the van are half the price they are in Birmingham!
Dinton Pastures, Berkshire
Amid the urban sprawl of the Thames Valley, there’s a surprising oasis of calm. This country park is a haven for wildlife and perfect for anyone who enjoys the outdoors and appreciates nature. There are 450 acres of parkland to explore, with lakeside walks, woodland, meadows, an adventure playground, picnic areas, bird hides, an award-winning cafe (the homemade cakes are delicious) and for the more adventurous, boating and Segway hire. So whether you’re a dog walker, a nature lover, a cyclist or a family on a day out, there’s something for all.
RSPB cruise and walk, Loch Lomond, Scotland
Cruise Loch Lomond and the RSPB offer a combined cruise and guided birdwatching tour along the banks of Loch Lomond. We joined the cruise in Tarbet, looking for osprey along the water and then the RSPB guide and volunteers took us on a guided walk through the reserve in Inversnaid on the opposite bank, near Rob Roy’s cave. The guides teach you to identify certain bird songs, and all about the flora and fauna – and just generally it’s a beautiful walk! There are hotels on both sides of the bank if you fancy some decent food, too.
• Adult £17, child £9, family £47, leaves Tarbet at 11.30am, next cruise 30 August, cruiselochlomond.co.uk