Winning tip: Crabbing on the Thames estuary
Have a free day out with the kids at Coalhouse Fort in East Tilbury in Essex. If you take bikes, start with a ride around the fort, then spend time in the playground, followed by a picnic on the green overlooking the fort (in the summer the ice-cream man is there, too). In the afternoon comes the best bit: crabbing! The fort has open days throughout the year (pay to enter), but the car park is free. There’s also a lovely family pub just before the fort, which does a great Sunday roast.
All beach bases covered, East Lothian
Home to the famous bridge to nowhere, Belhaven Bay is an unspoilt beach popular for surfing and paddleboarding. Situated at the start of the John Muir Way walking trail, it is also a nature reserve, teeming with birdlife. Add an adventure playpark, picnic spots and toilets, and there’s everything you could possibly need. And it’s all free, bar a £2.50 all-day parking charge.
A slice of the Med in Devon
Salcombe North Sands in Devon is a beautiful cove with great rock pools and a sandy beach – and lots of pretty shells to adorn sandcastles. For a bite to eat, head to The Winking Prawn right near the beach. On a hot summer’s day, it’s just like being in the Med, but even on a blustery spring day it’s fun.
Robin Hood’s Cave, Peak District
Craggy Stanage Edge is a natural parkour course offering unlimited adventure along the escarpment. Clamber down to Robin Hood’s Cave, hidden away in the cliff face, for the perfect side trip, and bring it to life with folklore tales of Robin of Loxley and Little John from nearby Hathersage.
Lamb birthing in Sussex
Perched on the sloping chalk shoulders of the South Downs above Shoreham lies the authentic working Coombes Farm (£5 adults, £4 children), which opens its doors every spring. Picnic among the daffodils while sun reflects off the channel and walk freely through the lambing sheds – if the timing’s right, children can marvel at a live birth. For £4 each, take a tractor ride over the Downs for crystal-clear views of the national park and sea. My one-year-old shook with excitement with every gear change. You couldn’t get closer to spring if you tried.
Tram rides and ferris wheels in Llandudno
The Victorian town of Llandudno offers one of my favourite days out. Escape the crowds by taking the tram up the Great Orme, then hike around the nature trail to be rewarded with beautiful heather and butterflies, and gorgeous views of Anglesey and the Isle of Man. After, take the tram, or cable car, back down and have an ice-cream on the pier while watching Punch and Judy slog it out. There’s also a giant ferris wheel that lights up at night. For food, head to the Cottage Loaf in Llandudno, or the Queens Head in nearby Glanwydden.
Gloucestershire’s magical woodland
With moss- and lichen-coated trees and rocks, winding pathways and fairytale bridges, it’s no puzzle why Puzzlewood (adult £8.50, child £7) has been used as a location for film and TV shows including Doctor Who, Merlin and Star Wars. A trip to this otherworldly wood in the Forest of Dean, Coleford, is perfect for triggering imaginations of any age. There’s also a cafe, a willow maze and farm animals.
Red squirrels and Wordsworth in the Lake District
Allan Bank in Grasmere, Cumbria, is among the most welcoming and family-friendly of National Trust houses – no teasels on chairs here! Daydream about Wordsworth and his family, who once lived here, or curl up with a book and a cup of tea while your kids get messy in the art room overlooking the lake, or explore the playroom. Watch red squirrels through binoculars, picnic in the deckchairs and take a trail through the beech woods. There’s a YHA just across the road for those wanting to make a weekend of it.
Tree houses and tulips, North Yorkshire
RHS Harlow Carr (family ticket, £32) near Harrogate, bursts into life with vibrant daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and Easter egg hunts. Woods offer bluebells, early rhododendrons, magnolia and space to run. Children are spoiled for choice: they can walk the Log Ness Monster, climb into Craggle Top Tree House, swing in the playground, spot birds and ducks, admire stream-side statues, wonder at the giant bee and say hello to the BFG. Refuel with Yorkshire ice-cream in the gardens or visit Betty’s tea rooms.
Orange rolling, Bedfordshire
Though the tradition came to an end some years ago, my favourite family Easter outing combined British eccentricity with religious roots. We would go to Dunstable’s Pascombe Pit to enjoy the Good Friday Orange Rolling, when locals and tourists gathered at the top of the hill, rolled oranges down the slopes and tried to catch them. The oranges represented the rolling away of the stone of Christ’s tomb and anyone who caught one would have a long – or even a second – life, according to folklore. Oranges replaced the more symbolic eggs as they didn’t break and could still be eaten after their downward journey.