34 ultimate outdoor meet-ups
Walking is sooo Lockdown 3. We’re ready for some new outdoors activities with friends or family. Try one of these fresh ideas 2 hours drive from Leicestershire and Rutland.
Let’s Get Lost, Leicester
Flow and weave your way along the River Soar while exploring your natural surroundings on a kayak. Embrace the great outdoors, disconnect from social media and reconnect with friends and family on a Paddle to the Pub tour or a popular Twilight Paddle and watch the sun slip beyond the horizon.
A national dive and open swimming centre, Stoney Cove covers 13 acres and offers a 1,000 metre perimeter course in Leicestershire’s cleanest waters. It’s great for everyone including under-confident swimmers as it’s always fully manned with qualified first aiders. If you’re diving here, an underwater adventure awaits you where you can discover The Gresham Ship; an armed Elizabethan merchantman that sank over 400 years ago and a submerged aircraft cockpit wreck. Go on, take the plunge!
The Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre
An outdoor adventure playground spread across 15 acres in the heart of the city. Activities and experiences are designed to stimulate, educate and motivate. Choose from kayaking, climbing, canoeing, paddle board yoga and more.
Hick’s Lodge, Ashby de la Zouch
If you want to explore the area with a fresh two-wheeled perspective, rent out some bikes at Hicks Lodge in Ashby. They cater for everyone from budding to confident cyclists. Set in beautiful young woodland in the heart of the National Forest, it’s been designed with the whole family in mind.
Ashby de la Zouch Castle, Ashby
Owned once by Lord Hastings, Ashby Castle was actually built as a manor house back in the 12th century. Learn more about its colourful history and climb the Hastings Tower to enjoy the views from the top. Don’t miss the underground passage between the tower and the kitchen which kids will love before enjoying a picnic in the castle grounds.
Tropical Birdland, Desford
Enjoy close encounters of the feathered kind over at this outdoor bird sanctuary. Spread across 6.5 acres, you can walk through aviaries and a woodland trail before visiting The Parrot Path where you can really get up close and personal with the birds and even feed them. If you’ve got kids in tow with energy to still burn off, there’s also a huge play area.
Looking for some serious fun in the water? Slip, slide and splash around in a giant water obstacle course on Rutland Water. Take on the UK’s tallest obstacle, plummet from the giant slides or show off your flips and tricks as you fall from the Tornado Tower.
Rutland Water Sports
Love a water adventure? As well as being a haven for wildlife, Rutland Water is also a great place to try out a new water-based sport. Sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing or stand up paddle boarding. From beginner to expert, Rutland Watersports has it all.
Ever wanted to try axe throwing? Well you can sling, throw, toss your axe and so much more at this outdoor adventure centre where the fun isn’t limited to just the kids. All activities are done on a half and full-day basis and sessions are carefully planned and entirely bespoke.
Enjoy the local scenery on wheels and explore what lies within England’s smallest county. There’s two shops on Rutland Water so whether you’re starting on the South or North Shore, you’ll be in good hands and they have heaps of bikes for all riders from mountain to electric as well as hybrids and cruisers.
This should be at the top of your list if you’re a garden lover. With thirty eight individual ‘themed’ gardens across eight acres, there’s plenty to see and do here. Created by Geoff Hamilton for BBC Gardeners’ World, Barnsdale Gardens is Britain’s largest collection of individually designed gardens including a rose, Japanese, rock, knot, herb garden, orchard, woodland walk and heaps more. There’s also a variety of courses, plants for sale and weekend activities too.
Warwick Castle is raising its portcullis and welcoming guests back outdoors from April 12 with the launch of the much-anticipated Zog and the Quest for the Golden Star interactive trail. There’s plenty more to keep kids entertained, from the Horrible Histories® Maze to roaming castle characters and birds of prey. You’ll also be able to explore the 64 acres of beautiful grounds, including the Peacock Garden and enjoy some spectacular countryside views by climbing The Conqueror’s Fortress, the highest point on the estate. And if Boris says it’s OK a single family can also book a ‘knight away’ (sorry!) in a medieval-themed Lodge within the castle grounds.
Charlecote Park, National Trust
Spring has sprung! Charlecote Park may be renowned for its beautiful herd of fallow deer but it’s also proud to have one of the largest flocks of rare-breed pedigree Jacob sheep in the country today – and one of the few in-house lambing teams within the National Trust. You’ll see the lambs from this rare breed pedigree herd with their characteristic chocolate-blotch fleeces in the parkland of this Victorian home from early April. It was here that the very first managed flock were introduced into England 200 years ago by George Lucy from his European travels. You can download an easy 40-minute to 1 hr spring parkland walk here. Timed visits need to be booked in advance. Book here
Hatton Adventure World, shopping village, and drive-in cinema & diner, near Warwick
From 12 April, lots of small indies at this rural shopping village and family-friendly farm park attraction will re-open, joining Alfresco Garden Boutique & Farm Shop, Warwickshire Cycles, Granite Transformations and Alfie’s Café which have remained open. Hatton Adventure World will have its own Spring Arrivals Marquee, outdoor funfair rides, shows and spring nature walks. Plus you can book blockbusters at the drive-in cinema from 13 April including The Greatest Showman and Harry Potter. The site is linked to Hatton Locks and Hatton Arms by a delightful 1.5mile circular country walk across the private Hatton Estate and along the Grand Union Canal.
Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park
Explore some Art in the Park, a woodlands playground and peaceful green spaces in the stunning grounds of this 120 acre historic ‘Capability’ Brown landscape and lake, while the award-winning art gallery remains closed.
The Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham NEC
One for thrill seekers with a head for heights! Europe’s tallest high ropes will be reopening from 14 April at this outdoor adventure centre located in between Coventry and Birmingham, close to Birmingham Airport. The 60-minute High Ropes adventure is 65ft above ground with 36 obstacles to roam. It’s suitable for ages 8+ accompanied by an adult. The rest of their activities – including the Assault Course – are reopening from 20 May.
Delapré Abbey, Northampton
This stately, honey-hued landmark at the heart of Northampton is a treasure trove of art, history, intrigue and scandal and comes with 500 acres of parkland and gardens to explore. The grounds are free for anyone to visit and within walking distance of the town centre (worth noting that it’s free to park here too). With a lazy lunch or an al fresco afternoon tea at the Orangery Cafe thrown in for good measure, Delapré is a great place to meet up and mooch.
Evenely Wood Garden, near Brackley
The bucolic Evenley Wood Garden appears to be a magical wilderness but it’s really a very carefully curated woodland garden stocked to the brim with rare and unusual plants and suitably huggable trees. There’s an open sided wooden chalet cafe, Uncle Geordie’s Shed, with chunky oak tables and vintage china, where they serve homemade, organic dishes, local produce and gorgeous cakes, making this picturesque wonderland a fantastic place for a socially distanced gathering.
Boughton House, near Kettering
Known as the English Versailles, the gardens and park at the magnificent Boughton House are among the grandest in England. Make like Marie-Antoinette and let the kids eat cake in the beautifully landscaped grounds, which include a rather spectacular inverted pyramid. Recent and extensive garden projects have seen the reinstatement of hundreds of avenue trees and the restoration of beautiful waterways, reflective pools and the incredible Grand Etang with its 75ft. high water fountain, alongside the vast walled gardens, rose garden, sensory garden and lily pond. No shortage of glorious outside space to immerse yourself in here then and, of course, there’s the stable block tea rooms to nab the aforementioned cake.
Nene Wetlands Nature Reserve, Rushden Lakes
It might be Northamptonshire’s largest retail park, but if you look past the high street giants you’ll notice that Rushden Lakes is also home to the Nene Wetlands Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre, where you’ll find a whopping 270 hectares of outside space to explore including meadows, reed beds, woodlands and sculpture trails. It’s a great place for wildlife spotting and you can also hire a canoe or kayak to enjoy a paddle along the River Nene, or give your legs a workout on one of the pedalos on the lake and work up and appetite for some outside dining on the boardwalk.
West Midlands Safari & Leisure Park, Bewdley
This fantastic day out is a family favourite, with more than 165 species of animal to see, a drive-through safari and a mini theme park to explore. Reopening fully from 12 April, entrance to the park buys you so much fun, from Boj’s Giggle Park, the Sea Lion Show, Penguin Cove, the Aquarium, Meerkat Mayhem, Hippo Lake and much more. Watch daily feeds and animal encounters with the residents, then wear the kiddos out on the 20 adrenaline rides.
E-Bike Adventure, Broadway Tower, Broadway
Take the family e-biking around one of the most iconic landmarks in Worcs. Head to Broadway Tower where you’ll get breathtaking views for miles around as you pedal en famille around lovely Cotswolds trails. Due to reopen on 12 April (make sure to check ahead), the electric bikes can be hired from Tower Barn from 10am to 4pm daily, so no having to tussle with a bike rack before you set off! Book your slot online and when you’re all pedalled out, explore the Tower itself, the Nuclear Bunker, gift shop and grab some picnic snacks from the pop-up Shepherd’s Hut or Morris & Brown cafe.
Let’s go punting, Cambridge
Whether you know the pretty city of Cambridge or not, exploring it by punt is a must. You can take a guided tour, either for just your family or in a shared punt (made Covid-safe with screens) or you can brave steering your own. We recommend a tour guide, as they do all the hard work navigating you up the river, as well as regaling you with the area’s history, while you can sit back and enjoy the ride, perhaps with a glass of fizz! The views are simply stunning – perfectly manicured lawns and the amazing architecture of the majestic Kings College Chapel, and Trinity, St John’s, and Clare colleges plus the beautiful bridges. You can also take a punt towards Grantchester – the safer bet if you are self-guiding. Once past the busy city area, you can enjoy a picnic on the river bank, where many also swim (watch out for Newnham Riverbank Club who like to do it naked!) or maybe you will make it as far as the Orchard Tea Rooms, where Rupert Brooke and friends hung out, to enjoy a scone the size of your head to power you back to Cambridge. Book in advance with Scudamores or Rutherfords Punting.
The Botanic Gardens, Cambridge
Cambridge University Botanic Gardens has been in the news of late, with the blooming of the magnificent Moonflower. Now the garden is bursting with colour, incredible blossom trees, and these gorgeous rare tulips. Plus, there are over 80 species on display in the Alpine House, a collection that has its origins in the 1920s. The garden is open seven days a week, 10-6pm, April-September, and tickets must be booked online in advance. Take a picnic or grab a takeaway lunch from the Botanic’s fab café.
The Raptor Foundation, Huntingdon
Are you cuckoo about birds? Or maybe your kids are. Either way, a visit to this amazing conservation centre near Huntingdon could be just what you need when your wings have been clipped for the last few months. Open from 12 April, you can see a variety of eagles, hawks, falcons and owls that have been rehabilitated at the centre, plus there are regular – and very impressive – flying displays. You can also sign up for a variety of courses and activities including a Hawk Walk, where you quite literally take a hawk for a walk and experience the thrill of the birds flying back to your (gloved) hand. So egg-citing! (Sorry – bird puns are so hawk-ward!). After your bird-watching why not head to the nearby village of St Ives, where you could take a picnic lunch by the lovely River Ouse.
Wicken Fen, Near Ely
Wicken Fen is the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve and a great destination if you want to blow away the cobwebs and enthuse any budding David Attenborough’s in your midst. One of Europe’s most important wetlands, Wicken Fen has recorded more than 9,000 species including rare butterflies, dragonflies, birds, and plants. You view the marshlands via raised boardwalks and if you are fed up with your usual walks and landscape (who isn’t?), this is the perfect antidote and has an almost Scandi feel to it (think sweeping Wallander-esque marshlands). Take a picnic and binoculars. But, you’re also not far from the city of Ely, with its amazing cathedral (the ship of the fens) that can be seen for miles around – so leave time to pop into this picturesque market town and you might be lucky enough to catch one of its fab food markets.
Cotswold Country Park and Beach, Cirencester
Head to the largest inland paddling beach in the UK for some ‘Costa del Cotswolds’ fun. This brilliant, action-packed Country Park has a large, sandy lagoon for swimming and paddling, or hire one of the giant swan pedalos, row or electric boats for some laughter on the lake. There’s an inflatable aqua adventure park you can book ahead for, mini golf and – new for 2021 – are the VIP BBQs. From £30 you can book a private area and BBQ overlooking the lake and beach for the whole day – with a free bottle of Prosecco on arrival!
Cotswold Farm Park, Guiting Power near Cheltenham
There are all levels of farmyard cuteness going on at Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park and it’s a fabulously entertaining day out. Reopening on 12 April, head for the Animal Barn where you can sit and watch lambs being born, plus see piglets, donkey foals, calves, and herds of rare breeds. Kids can interact with the animals too, including the gorgeous native Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, then take them (your kids, not the pigs) to burn off all their energy at the Adventure Playground, Farm Safari, Tractor School or Giant Jumping Pillows.
Hatfield might not be the No. 1 destination on every tourist’s wish list, but did you know that the grand Hatfield House is one of the top film set locations for period productions in the UK? Most recently, Olivia Coleman’s Oscar-winning turn in The Favourite was captured in this wonderful Jacobean Manor, not to mention all those that came before, including Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Shakespeare in Love and even Batman. Who knew? Oh, and the actual Queen Elizabeth I spent much of her youth at Hatfield Palace (an older house on the grounds), and you can still (literally) walk in the footsteps of this epic monarch today. The park and woodland walks will open from 29 March with the gardens following shorty after on 3 April.
Visit Verulamium (St Albans)
St Albans was once one of the largest Roman cities in Britain – Verulamium. Grab a coffee and wander into the Roman Verulamium Park. On the far side is the Hypocaust (a Roman mosaic). From here head to the Cathedral – an amazing mix of architectural styles, with much of it built in the 11th century from Roman materials.
Stonor Park, Henley
Exhausted and happy kids, you say? I spy an easy bedtime coming right up. There’s a new adventure playground at Stonor Park and not only is it as magical as Hogwarts but it comes with very necessary coffee for the spectators (in the form of the cafe at the visitor’s centre). Wholesome fun for the kids and lunch sorted – it’s a win-win. Tumblestone Hollow is on the edge of Stonor’s woodland and is inspired by the stone circle found in the estate grounds. The wooden playground, designed for 4 to 12-year-olds, has high level walkways, climbing nets, look-out decks and bridges, all connected to a gnarled central tower.
Hide and seek was made for dilapidated churches and hours of play can be squeezed out of a sunny day and some tumbled-down walls, I kid you not. Wallingford Castle is opening on 1 April while the Abbey Buildings (and next door gardens) at Abingdon are open all year round. Head into the historic town afterwards for a takeaway cinnamon bun or party from award-winning The Orange Bakery.
Oxford Botanic Gardens
Are you overly familiar with every blade of grass in your local park? Of course you are. So here’s where to head for a change of scene. Oxford Botanic Gardens has been open to locals all lockdown and provides a very verdant afternoon out for those utterly bored of their own backyard.
If travelling under your own steam sounds like too much distraction from the important business of catching up, you could hire an electric boat. Wallingford’s Pure Boating is taking bookings from 3 April with boats for up to 11 people that you can drive down to Benson Lock or towards Moulsford. What better way to arrive at the Beetle and Wedge, two hours downstream, than on the water (though you’ll have to wait until they reopen their pods and terrace from 12 April if you’re hoping for riverside dining and a drink). Boats cost from £55 for an hour.