Paper: remember what that is? If you’re anything like us, an over-reliance on Google has left your map-reading skills in tatters. You’ll be keen to resurrect them, no doubt, and brush up on your compass technique while you’re at it. And where better than the undulating fields of Llanarthney in Wales? Join Hawk Adventures’ two-day extreme walking break and you’ll get a crash course in mountain navigation.
Then take on the slopes and summits of Garreg Lwyd and Foel Frait by starlight, followed by the caves and waterfalls of the Carmarthenshire countryside the next morning. If that sounds a bit tame, try the new UK trip from stellar expedition outfit Secret Compass. The clue’s in the name – the gritty details are hush-hush, but what we can tell you is that you’ll be taking part in an adrenaline-fuelled jaunt across the ridges and peaks of the Brecon Beacons National Park. What are you waiting for? It’s Wales’s Year of Adventure after all.
How: Hawk Adventures offers two-night extreme walking weekends from £200pp, hawkadventures.co.uk. Ramp it up a bit with a Wales-based adventure with Secret Compass from £250pp, taking place from 16-18 September, secretcompass.com
Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District
Once you’ve honed your skills above ground, take things to a deeper level and head into the damp, dark recesses of the UK with a new caving course from Lost Earth Adventures. Burrowing deep beneath the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District, you’ll be kitted up in bang-on-trend caving gear (boiler suits, head lamps, helmets) before slithering and crawling your way through the ancient limestone passageways, rock formations, underground rivers and tight crevasses of middle England, including the ominously named ‘suicide cave’. It’s a bargain, too – a full-day adventure costs from just £35. We love a cheap dirty weekend. Who’s with us?
How: Lost Earth Adventures offers full-day courses from £35pp, lostearthadventures.co.uk. Sawday’s offers a collection of cosy cottages and farms to get your well-earned kip in afterwards, sawdays.co.uk
Scotland may not immediately conjure up images of white-sand beaches and turquoise water, but that’s exactly what you’ll find in the distant Outer Hebrides. Forget about those balmy Thai islands and whisky buckets this year and instead try the Scottish islands with, er, whisky flasks.
You’ll be paddling your way by sea kayak through one the UK’s most remote and picturesque spots, with wild stretches of deserted sand on the islands of Uist and Harris acting as your wild, wind-swept campsites each night.
Confidence on the water would be handy, but your ability to Eskimo roll – that’s flipping yourself upright again should you capsize – is not required. Errrr, phew?
Forget about those balmy Thai islands and whisky buckets this year and instead try the Scottish islands with, er, whisky flasks
How: Wilderness Scotland offers five-night kayak and camping trips from £825pp including all meals and equipment, wildernessscotland.com
Head for the coast…
The transformation of Whitstable from sleepy Kentish seaside town to must-visit destination for trendy Londoners who want to eat Michelin-starred food in a pub overlooking the sea (turns out it’s not too much to ask) has been swift.
If you’re yet to visit, join the throngs – they’re on to a good thing. There’s a thriving arts scene, and plenty of galleries to explore, plus a castle and the historical harbour where you can buy lots of delicious things at the fish market.
If you’re yet to visit, join the throngs – they’re on to a good thing. There’s a thriving arts scene, and plenty of galleries to explore
And speaking of fish (well, seafood), Whitstable is perhaps best known for its Oyster Festival, which takes place from 23-29 July, and attracts around 80,000 visitors, all keen to join the festivities celebrating the love-’em-or-hate-’em shellfish.
Back on the beach, it’s pebbles only, miles and miles of them, punctuated by wooden groins and the odd stretch of brightly painted beach huts.
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Looking for a coastal destination with some serious ‘traditional seaside’ credentials? Grab your bucket and spade and head to Scarborough, which has been attracting fish and chip-loving holidaymakers in their droves since the 1600s.
While the first wave of visitors to this north Yorkshire beachside town were lured by the supposed healing properties of its thermal waters, people now head to its sandy beaches (of which there are four) to indulge in traditional seaside pursuits such as rock-pooling, donkey rides and losing 50 quid’s worth of 2ps in an arcade.
Indulge in traditional seaside pursuits such as rock-pooling, donkey rides and losing 50 quid’s worth of 2ps in an arcade
Away from the shore, there are the ruins of 11th-century Scarborough Castle to explore, a Sea Life Centre and – opening this summer – a new Alpine-themed waterpark called Alpamare, which will have a heated pool (should the notoriously un-tropical North Sea prove to be just a bit too bracing).
Sailing, windsurfing and kayaking are all available, and you can learn to surf, too, before rewarding your efforts (or rebuilding your pride) in one of the pubs overlooking the harbour. Oh, and as the song says, are you going to Scarborough Fair? Your answer should be yes, as this three-day art and music festival is returning after an 18 year hiatus, from 27-29 May – with a line-up including Everything Everything, Billy Bragg and Lianne La Havas.
Pentle Bay, Isles of Scilly
At first glance, Pentle Bay looks a bit more Tobago than Tresco, but this picture-perfect sandy stretch on the Scilly Isles’ second-biggest island is much closer to home. Located 30 miles south-west of Land’s End, the beach is backed by dunes, which give way to fine white sand and very clear, turquoise-tinted waters. Aside from its obvious aesthetic credentials, Pentle’s secluded location – it’s on the opposite side of the island to where the boats come in – make it a peaceful place to spend a few hours, too.
Over on Tresco’s north coast, the terrain gets a bit more rugged, should you need reminding that you’re not in the Caribbean after all…
How: Fly to the Scilly Isles from either Exeter, Newquay, Penzance or Land’s End from £140 return, islesofscilly-travel.co.uk. The New Inn is a popular place with both islanders and tourists. Rooms from £60 per night, tresco.co.uk
Start a party…
Liverpudlians don’t just party, they PARTY. Preparations start early (heated rollers on the train up north is a prerequisite) and bar crawling in mega heels is standard. Tough enough to join them? Try Alma de Cuba, a converted church with a Latin vibe, or Berry & Rye, a moodily lit speakeasy-style place hidden behind a nondescript black door.
For proper Liverpool boozers, sink some suds around Mathew Street – also known as the Cavern Quarter – where you’ll also find live bands and regulars nursing pints. If you’re anything like us, your night will end with cheap rounds of Jägerbombs in Heebie Jeebies. Please, don’t make us grow up.
How: For a Beatles-inspired bedroom try the Hard Days Night hotel, nightly rates from £72 per room, harddaysnighthotel.com. For functional yet cool try Aloft Liverpool, with nightly rates from £65 per room, starwoodhotels.com. Book in advance with Virgin Trains for the cheapest tickets, virgintrains.co.uk
If there’s ever been a place that’s synonymous with having a good time, it’s Glasgow. Don’t believe us? Well, the facts speak for themselves: Scotland’s liveliest city is home to the longest pub bar in Europe, found in the 170-year-old Horseshoe, slap-bang in the centre of town.
Glasgow isn’t all about old-school pubs, though – head to the bohemian West End area, and specifically Ashton Lane. It’s a cobbled backstreet strewn with fairy lights and lined with quirky independent bars including The Lane, which has the Grosvenor cinema attached (yes, you can take your drinks in).
Back in the thick of it, basement venue King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut – where, in 1993, a music exec called Alan McGee first laid eyes on a new band who went by the name of Oasis – still offers a varied line-up of gigs most nights of the week, as does the legendary Barrowland.
Over in the swish Merchant City, beautiful people head to the likes of Tellers at the Corinthian Club, where you can quaff cocktails under chandeliers.
Over in the swish Merchant City, beautiful people head to the likes of Tellers at the Corinthian Club, where you can quaff cocktails under chandeliers
Still going strong? Head to Subclub, the longest-running underground dance club in the world, with one of the best reputations. And if you’re feeling peckish on the way home, try one of Glasgow’s specialist late-night foods, such as the ‘pizza cone’ (sorry not sorry).
How: EasyJet flies from London Gatwick to Glasgow from £55.98 return, easyjet.com. Citizen M is centrally located, stylishly decked out, and good value for money, with rooms from £71 per night, citizenm.com
Follow your stomach…
With a stellar reputation for farming, fishing and brewing, it figures that you’ll eat and drink well on a trip to Suffolk. But just how well? Let’s start with the cider. Not just any old cider – the much-celebrated Aspall’s and Adnams are brewed here, although the latter is better-known for its beers (and rather nice they are too). Dingley Dell pork is another wildly successful Suffolk export, and you can also find locally-produced salami, wine, and cheese. Basically, all the good things.
Such is the high level of produce coming out of this part of the world, there’s a festival dedicated to all its lovely bounty – the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival, which is held in the Snape Maltings (appropriately constructed for malting barley to brew beer). The festival – which takes place from 24-25 September – will bring together 90 of Suffolk’s best food and drink producers. All you need to take is your appetite.
How: Get the train from Liverpool Street to Ipswich from £66 return, before catching a connection, nationalrail.co.uk. Secret Meadows take camping to a new – and luxurious – level, from £89 per night, secretmeadows.co.uk
Guernsey, Channel Islands
When you think about it, of course Guernsey should be home to fantastic food and drink – being in between the UK and France means, in theory, it should have the best of both. Like a brie-filled Yorkshire pudding, or something.
But anyway, we digress – this little Channel Island is full of good things that are edible and quaffable, and the Guernsey International Food Festival proves it. From 23 September to 2 October, this celebration of local produce takes place, highlighting the exports we know about – fabulous seafood and all the lovely dairy products from the island’s famous cows – to the ones we might not be quite so familiar with: locally-brewed beers and cider.
Don’t leave without trying a couple of local specialities, either. Guernsey Gâche is a fruity, citrus-studded sweet bread, while a Guernsey Bean Jar is a stew of beans, beef shin, ham hock, onions and carrots that’s cooked in (you guessed it) a jar. Yum. You can also take a Tasty Walk – a route designed to help you uncover some of the best local foods and sights.
When you hear ‘Manchester’, football and music might be the two things that first spring to mind, but this lively city is home to a food and drink scene that’ll whet the appetite of even the most jaded of palates. There’s a few exports from London – that’ll be Dishoom, Iberica and Hawksmoor – which is all well and good, but it’s the places specific to Manchester you should head for.
From high-end British dining at Simon Rogan’s The French and swanky place-to-be-seen Manchester House, to a mind-boggling array of brews at hip hangout Pont Street Beer House, all food and drink bases are covered in the city, and its casual dining scene is about to get a boost with the arrival of B.Eat Street – a brand-new ‘street’ filled with food stalls, bars and cafés in the central Deansgate area that’s due to welcome diners any day now.
Over in the Northern Quarter, local favourite Solita – home of the Big Manc burger – is a must-visit for fans of American fare, while the First Floor Bar at Cane & Grain is a stylish New York speakeasy-style destination serving fantastic cocktails.
How: Travel with Virgin Trains from London to Manchester Picadilly from £72 return, virgintrains.co.uk. Roomzzz aparthotel combines boutique hotel with serviced apartment, from £99 per night for a studio, roomzzz.com
Kick back and relax…
St Ives, Cornwall
St Ives is as pretty as a picture, so it makes perfect sense that it’s home to a Tate gallery, which is re-opening this May. Away from the winding streets of the centre of town, the refurbished Tate overlooks St Ives’ sandy beach and provides a serious dose of culture on a textbook stretch of Cornish coastline.Away from the art, the town centre offers an impressive array of artisan producers selling their wares – head to one of the traditional bakeries (our fave, Ferrell SH & Son, looks like it’s been on its corner spot since the dawn of time) to grab a saffron bun or five, choose an ice cream a from Willy Wallers, or pick up a pasty from Pengenna’s and stroll to the harbour-front to watch the boats bobbing.
A half-hour drive down the coast is Gwithian beach, a stunning expanse of golden sand where you can take a lazy (or strenuous, depending on your energy levels) walk
A half-hour drive down the coast is Gwithian beach, a stunning expanse of golden sand where you can take a lazy (or strenuous, depending on your energy levels) walk through the dunes and nature reserve, before retreating to the Red River Inn for a steaming bowl of Cornish mussels and a locally-brewed beer, or head to Bamaluz beach, a pretty and secluded spot next to St Ives that’s the perfect place in which to get away from it all.
How: Travel to Penzance with Great Western Trains, then hire a car and drive to St Ives, gwr.com. Push the boat out at Beachspoke’s Black Moon cottage, which sits on the seafront between St Ives and Gwythian. Prices from £200 per night, beachspoke.com
Nothing will make you relax more than sopping your way through warm pools of water. No really, the Romans didn’t build their ancient baths for the fun of it – the Roman Baths were not just for functional cleaning, but for soothing the limbs after a long day of spear-throwing and wrestling.The thermae pools of Bath are a destination in themselves, but for maximum privacy and chill factor, book yourself into the Gainsborough Bath Spa, the first and only hotel in the UK to have access to healing thermal waters.
Your spa journey will begin with a consultation before you’re sent off to heat up in sauna, steam room and spa pools in a bath circuit that replicates the city’s former residents.
Elsewhere the enormous Georgian-style bedrooms (high ceilings, bay windows) will be hard to drag yourself away from – but do try, as Bath does chilled city breaks exceptionally well.
Bring the whole family…
Pack up the kids and your finest sailor suit (strictly optional), and head to Oxford for a canal cruise on a barge. Ok, so ‘cruise’ might sound a bit grand, but actually, meandering down Oxford Canal’s 78 miles of pretty waterways, flanked by rolling countryside, weeping willows and quaint villages, sounds pretty much like the good life to us. Younger ones – and yes, probably older ones too – will get excited at the novelty value of sleeping below deck on a barge, and can spend the days above deck pretending to be pirates (or is that just us?).
Younger ones – and yes, probably older ones too – will get excited at the novelty value of sleeping below deck on a barge, and can spend the days above deck pretending to be pirates
What makes it a particularly good outing for families is that everyone can muck in – navigating, cooking, planning and offering obligatory cheery greetings to anyone you sail by (it’s a sociable kind of affair). Once you’re on board, you’ll be gliding past an ever-changing scenic backdrop – and if you get tired of that, moor up alongside a country pub for a lazy lunch. It’s a recipe for family holiday success.
The New Forest
Can camping ever actually be an enjoyable experience with kids in tow? Will sleeping under a blanket of stars (or, as is much more likely, drizzle-soaked canvas) ever measure up to a week’s all-inclusive at a Spanish beach resort? Of course it will. Or at least it will if you go down the ‘glamping’ route.
Canvas Retreats will tailor-make your camping break in the New Forest, and their tents will blow your mind – and, even more importantly, your family’s. Not only are their bell tents enormous, but they come complete with a kitchenette, lounge area, carpets and (insert drumroll here) beds. Yes – real, sturdy, comfy beds, made from actual wood and made up with Egyptian cotton sheets and feather duvets. You can use your pimped-out pad as a base for bike rides, trekking on horseback, and exploring the New Forest’s 219 square miles of epic countryside, where you might bump into one of the resident pigs, cows or ponies.
How: It’s about a two-hour drive from London down to the New Forest – or trains to Brockenhurst are even quicker. Canvas Retreats, from £295 for a weekend. canvasretreats.co.uk
Woburn Forest, Bedfordshire
Ahhh, Centre Parcs, the place that childhood holiday dreams were made of (what, you DIDN’T want to spend a week splashing about in a pool that was in a futuristic-looking dome that itself was in the middle of a forest? What. Ever).
But what sounds particularly exciting, even to those of us who haven’t qualified as a ‘child’ since the early nineties, is the site’s Subtropical Swimming Paradise
This self-catering holiday haven’s formula is still going strong, and the latest destination to join the Parcs’ family is Woburn Forest near Milton Keynes, where you can spend the week embarking upon all manner of pursuits, from quad bike safaris to raft building, via laser-clay shoot outs (and what isn’t improved by lasers and clay?), pottery painting and meeting baby owls.
But what sounds particularly exciting, even to those of us who haven’t qualified as a ‘child’ since the early nineties, is the site’s Subtropical Swimming Paradise, which looks like the Walkie Talkie’s Sky Garden, but on the ground, surrounded by trees, and much, much more fun. It’s so extensive that it has its own map, which will guide you to the indoor rapids, outdoor pool, flumes, a canyon ride, mini jet skis… We could go on, but space is limited. And we need to go and find our armbands.
How: Travel by train with Thameslink Great Northern from St Pancras to Flitwick and get 10% discount on your ticket. See thameslinkrailway.com for details. Centre Parcs Woodland Lodges are great for families. Prices start at £499 for a weekend break, based on a family of four sharing. centreparcs.co.uk