Mother Nature’s finest – the best free days out for kids
So you’re looking for the best free days out with the kids for free? Then look no further than good old Mother Nature and the great outdoors.
The kids are off school and it’s all too easy to head to your nearest theme park and spend a small fortune on just a single day out, when there are over six weeks to get through (argh!). We live on and island that’s rich with stunning scenery all around, so here are some suggestions to inspire you to make the most of all that Mother Nature provides, with free days out and cheap activity suggestions you can add on for you and the kids this summer.
Coast and Beaches
Summer holidays at the seaside traditionally mean sandy beaches and ice creams. Nothing beats making sandcastles and burying your siblings in the sand somewhere like our ‘cover photo’ to this article, which shows Viking Bay in Broadstairs in the heart of Kent’s Thanet area. And of course, it’s free to pitch up with your windbreaker, buckets and spades. Just those extra little activities like bouncy castles and swing boats will cost you – and don’t forget ice cream money too!
There are also plenty of wild beaches around the country, with rock pooling and beach combing galore. From Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, the Jurassic Coastline more than merits its World Heritage Site status. You can enjoy fossil hunting on Lyme Regis’s exhilaratingly windswept Monmouth Beach. And Durdle Door is a true gem. Part of the privately owned Lulworth Estate, its hidden bay with the famous limestone arch is open to the public and it’s free to visit (with a small car parking charge).
Sporty kids will love the child-safe waters of Cornwall. If your miniature surf dudes and dudettes are beginners, it’s best to get lessons at one of the many surf schools in Devon and Cornwall. But if your little ones are already adept at hanging 10 on their boards, take them to a place like Sennen Cove near Land’s End, where they can catch endless waves whilst you keep and eye on them from your sunny spot on the white sand beach.
Forest and Woodlands
Forest and woodland walks are something we do best in the UK. There might be more than 60 million of us living here, but there are still acres and acres of fabulously green forest and woodland to explore. A veritable hive of wildlife activity, you can see Mother Nature at its finest with flora and fauna galore at any of the many nature parks and reserves around the UK. Nothing can beat a spring walk when the ground is a carpet of bluebells, or swishing through the crisp golden leaves that have fallen on a fresh autumn morning.
The most famous forest in England is probably Sherwood Forest. Inspired by tales of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, youngsters will love exploring Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. Make sure you follow the way marked trail amongst the leafy glades of this former Royal hunting forest to the Major Oak. This world-famous oak tree is at least 800 years old. You won’t be able to do any tree-hugging though, as the circumference of its trunk is 10m!
Little ones are sure to be inspired by the tales of Robin Hood and his merry men and archery lessons can be booked in enchanted woodlands (including Sherwood Forest) around the country for very reasonable prices. For just £20, your budding bow boys and girls will be able to learn to handle a bow and arrow to take aim at the targets. And not only that, but archery is considered a very beneficial sport for the little ones. And if they’re utterly enchanted by woodland, another brilliant activity to do is a family bushcraft course, where you all get to spend time together learning how to forage, build shelters and make fires in the great outdoors.
Lakes and Lochs
If you’re not heading to the coast for your holidays, make the most of all the reservoirs, lakes and lochs we have in abundance. You’ve all heard of the ‘big hitters’ like the Lake District and the famous Lochs of Scotland. Whilst they are utterly stunning, you don’t have to join the tourist throng to be able to enjoy a shoreline, or even travel too far to get to one.
Seek out your local reservoir. Reservoirs like Bewl Water in Kent and Rutland Water in Rutland near Leicestershire are all managed and run by the local water companies. Most are well-maintained with pushchair and wheelchair accessible paths around the water, cycle trails (with cycle hire places on site), children’s playgrounds and, of course, tea rooms at regular intervals for that well-deserved cream tea. Access is usually free, with just car parking payable.
Again, many lakes and reservoirs offer paid-for add-ons that the whole family can enjoy together. It might be a fishing lesson on a gently bobbing boat in the middle of the lake, or a wind surfing session on the water, but you don’t have to spend any money to enjoy the tranquility. We highly recommend taking bikes and a picnic!
Rivers and Canals
At a time when industrial Britain was manufacturing at full pelt, the rivers and canals served as an important transport network for the movement of goods around the country. They were often muddy, bustling and noisy places of hard work. Nowadays its lorries and the motorways that take the strain, leaving the car-free rivers and canals to become a peaceful haven.
The Canal and River Trust looks after over 2000 miles of freely accessible waterways in England and Wales. It’s estimated that there are over 35,0000 narrowboats, barges and boats on the country’s rivers and canals – and that all provides great free entertainment for little and big kids alike. Your mini skippers will love helping at the locks, as the boaters open the sluices, wait for the water levels to equalise and then open the big oak lock gates – often ably assisted by enthusiastic youngsters.
Wherever there’s a lock it’s a place fascinating to watch (and help) boats going through – and there’s very often a good canal side pub nearby for well-earned refreshments after. If you’re looking for a unique day out by the water, try Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal – the longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel in the country that runs underneath the Pennines. There’s also the impressive boat lift at Anderton on the River Weaver in Northwich and the unique swinging viaduct on the Bridgewater Canal in Barton upon Irwell. If you want a whole flight of locks, try the five at Bingley Rise in the Yorkshire Dales, the 10 at Foxton Locks near Market Harborough, or even the 16 locks of Caen Hill in Devizes.
Hills and Mountains
If there’s a hill or even a little mound around – climb it. You’re sure to know of a park near you where you can get higher up and enjoy fabulous panoramic views. It’s great exercise, it’s free and all your efforts will be rewarded with those stunning vistas. We’re not talking serious hill walking, hiking or even mountaineering where you’ll need all the gear and some idea, we’re talking more like your local country park. Take a camera, take binoculars, pack a picnic and see what you can see.
And you don’t have to travel hours and hours all the way out to the hidden depths of the countryside. If you’re in London spend a day at lovely Alexandra Palace. If you’re in Birmingham head to Lickey Hills for great views across the city and towards the Malvern Hills. And not far from Sunderland is Herrington Country Park. Enjoy the free activities here (where even the parking is free) then tackle the steep climb to Penshaw Monument, the 70ft high folly on the hill that gives far-reaching views. (And on certain dates the folly, which is maintained by the National Trust, is open so you can take the secret spiral staircase to the top!).
Whilst trekking up to the top of any steep slope might take a bit of effort, there are easier ways to come down. You could zorb it back down (that’s where you’re inside a big plastic ball and get rolled back down the slope), or you could move your exploring up a gear with a Segway tour around Alexandra Palace or any of the other countryside venues in the UK!
Days out with the kids this summer needn’t cost the earth. Explore the coast, countryside, hills, forests and in-land waters of the UK for some fabulous free days out with the kids for all the family to enjoy together. And if you do want to add an activity at these locations, there are plenty that won’t break the bank from sailing and fishing, to zorbing and Segwaying.