Six weeks of school holidays: 42 ways to spend 42 days around the UK

Sarah Baxter
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Listen. You can almost hear that last school bell clanging, sending its jubilant reverberations into the warm, possibility-filled air... The sprawling six weeks of the summer holidays – all 42 glorious days of them – are almost upon us. Indeed, for schools in Scotland, Northern Ireland and private schools across the UK, they’re already here. 

At times it seems as though these six weeks of youthful freedom will last forever. So what on earth are you going to do with them? Whether you’re a beach fiend, thrillseeker, wildlife fan, fun-loving family or adventurous explorer who wants to make the most of the (fingers crossed) good weather, we’ve come up with a few ideas to fill your days. And if you’re stuck in the office through it all? Why not take on your favourite activity, be it theme parks, beaches or history, and tick off one a week?

School's out for summer Credit: www.shoot360.co.uk

Beach

1. Appreciate art and aerobatics in Bournemouth, Dorset

Bournemouth seafront has turned into an al fresco art gallery this summer: the Selfie Wall Trail, 11 multicoloured murals painted between Sandbanks and Southbourne, encourages both photography (enter the #loveselfiewalls comp) and prom walks. Combine it with Bournemouth Air Festival, an aerial extravaganza of wingwalkers, Spitfires and the Red Arrows.

2. Paddle and play at Lansallos, Cornwall

Many enticing coves crinkle Cornwall’s coast, not least the lovely trio of Lansallos, Lantivet and Lantic Bay. Ramblers can link them via the South West Coast Path (celebrating its 40th birthday in 2018), while kids will love Lansallos: a play trail of see-saws and wobbly walkways runs from car park to sea and, on Thursdays throughout the summer holidays, rangers lead free beach-based fun.

Ramble past Lantic Bay Credit: ian woolcock/ianwool

3. Try beach volleyball in Brighton, East Sussex

Rather than simply laze on the sand, have a go at beach volleyball. Yellowave Beach Sports is running holiday taster sessions for young newbies. Hour-long classes include a mix of games, drills and skills, all played on soft, safe sand. 

4. Beach-bathe in Bath, Somerset

Don’t let the lack of seaside deter you from beach-lolling in Bath. The Georgian city is coming over all Caribbean this summer, with hammocks, cabanas, palm trees, al fresco games and a beach bar serving margaritas taking over Royal Victoria Park. 

School's out for summer Credit: www.shoot360.co.uk

5. Surf off Benone Beach, Co Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Blue-flagged Benone is one of Ireland’s longest beaches. Lifeguards, on duty daily from July to August, make it extra safe, while Long Line Surf School runs surf and stand-up paddleboarding lessons; especially good for children (and peace-seeking parents) are its Kids Big Day Out sessions: seven-and-a-half hours of supervised surf tuition, swimming and games.

6. Explore the Thanet shore, Kent

Investigate the beaches of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs with a Coastal Explorer kit. The backpack is full of equipment – from fishing nets and magnifying glasses to cloud charts and binoculars. There are also trail maps, marine ID gear and instructions for making sundials and sand art.

Ramble past Lantic Bay Credit: istock

History

7. Fool around at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Voted Heritage UK’s “Best Family Day Out 2018”, Alnwick is further upping the ante with a summer of weekly changing menu of fun. For instance, visit July 29-Aug 2 for Fools’ Week to see fire-eating jesters and learn circus skills. Or go Aug 11-19 for Medieval Week, to meet the artisans and falconers of the Middle Ages.

8. Rummage with the Romans, London 

Vestiges of Roman Londinium still lurk under the metropolis, and Andante Travels’ What Lies Beneath days offer a rare chance to enter this 2,000-year-old world. Explore the Museum of London’s Roman Gallery with experts, then delve underground for special access to Cripplegate Fort and Billingsgate Roman Baths.

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9. Peel back the layers at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

In 2018 Historic England named Chatsworth one of the country’s top 10 heritage sites. And it’s looking better than ever, having just emerged from a decade-long restoration. The Chatsworth Renewed exhibition goes behind the scenes, showcasing previously hidden crannies; kids can follow a restoration trail, make an urn and handle old artefacts. 

10. Join the joust at Hever, Kent

Watch history in action: Hever Castle, one-time home of Anne Boleyn, is hosting a series of jousts. Armour-garbed knights will do battle both in the saddle (with 13ft-long lances) and on foot, to plenty of medieval fanfare. 

11. Brave the battle at Thirlestane Castle, Scottish Borders

Travel to Thirlestane to travel back in time. The Sealed Knot re-enactment society will retell Scotland’s Civil War story via a thrilling skirmish of musketeers and pikemen. Also, meet in-character weavers, bakers and apothecaries at the living history camp to learn about ordinary 17th-century life.

Head to Alnwick Castle for Fools’ Week Credit: Getty

12. Sail with Captain Cook in Whitby, North Yorkshire

Coinciding with the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s first Pacific expedition in the Endeavour (built in Whitby), HM Bark Endeavour, a full-scale replica, will open as the town’s newest visitor attraction. Step aboard to learn about Cook’s discoveries plus all aspects of 18th-century naval life, from sailing skills to scurvy.

Learning experiences

13. Become a space cadet in Winchester, Hampshire

Opening on Friday, Winchester Science Centre’s Explorer: Space zone is an immersive journey through the solar system. Get hands-on with meteorites, stardust and moon landers, watch a live show about satellites and try programming a Mars rover or making and launching a rocket.

14. Attend knight school at Harlech Castle, Gwynedd, Wales

Handsome Harlech has been lording over the Welsh coast since the 13th century – but this summer it’s in need of some new defenders. Local re-enactors, the Ardudwy Knights, will be on hand to teach kids the skills required to make it as a medieval soldier. 

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15. Find out about food at Tatton Farm, Cheshire

Opened in July, Tatton Farm’s new field-to-fork attraction – a Horrible Histories-style Slaughterhouse, complete with (fake) blood and  offal – will teach kids exactly where their food comes from, warts and all. Also, see the freshly renovated  mill in action and meet the working farm’s rare breed pigs, lambs and cows. 

16. Contemplate humanity at the Horniman, London 

The Horniman Museum, with its eclectic treasures and glorious gardens, may be south London’s best free day out – especially since its World Gallery opened in June. It has an anthropological collection of more than 3,000 objects and addresses contemporary issues such as migration and climate change. 

Visit Whitby to see the HM Bark Endeavour Credit: Getty

17. Embrace people power in Manchester

Do something meaningful with your summer: head to the People’s History Museum, which tells the story of British democracy and aims to inspire visitors to actively fight for social justice. The Represent! Voices 100 Years On exhibition reflects on those who campaigned for better representation, most famously the suffragists and the militant suffragettes. It marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, and questions how far we’ve come since. 

18. Cast a line, countrywide

Fancy fishing but don’t know your hook from your sinker? The Let’s Fish! campaign is encouraging more people to attempt angling with free sessions across the Canal & River Trust network, from Birmingham to the Trent and Mersey Canal. Qualified coaches teach the basics and provide bait and equipment.

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Outdoor activities

19. Canoe across Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is riddled with canoe trails. Stick your oar in at a Just Turn Up session in Belfast, before striking out on a longer expedition – maybe parts of the gentle, river-running Blackwater Trail (12 miles/20km) or island-dotted Lough Erne Trail (31 miles/50km).

20. Cycle the Swale Trail, Yorkshire

New for 2018, this largely off-road 12-mile (20km) cycle route cuts through spectacular Swaledale, passing flowery meadows, woodland and waterfalls. It’s suitable for families, especially the easy section from Low Whita to Gunnerside; pause at the tea room here before deciding whether to attempt the steeper Keld section.

Explore the Horniman Museum

21. Try everything (for free) in Falmouth, Cornwall

Zumba, tennis, rowing, climbing, dance, mountain biking, skateboarding, paddleboarding, parkour, even circus skills – try them all, for free, at ZestiFAL. Falmouth’s celebration of living a healthier lifestyle encourages people of all ages to give something new a go.

22. Hit the slopes in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire

If it’s scorching (or raining) outside, head into the Snow Centre for some unseasonal ski action. The UK’s largest ski lesson slope is running half-price classes for beginners, from age four to adult, until Aug 31. Skis, boots, poles and lift passes are included.

23. Fatbike over the dunes in Bridgend, Wales

Tackle Merthyr Mawr, Europe’s second-highest dunes, by fatbike. These cycles with 3in-wide tyres are perfect for splashing along Porthcawl’s coast and going up and down sand mountains so impressive they featured in Lawrence of Arabia.

Dip your paddle in Lough Erne Credit: Getty

24. Snorkel the seas, Scotland 

Explore the diversity of sub-aqua Scotland on a snorkel trail. The Scottish Wildlife Trust has created guides to 15 sites (nine around Ullapool, six on the Isle of Harris) to help you identify underwater species, from sea squirts to periwinkles; July-Aug is peak time for basking sharks hereabout, too.

Theme parks

25. Spin out in Blackpool, Lancashire

Blackpool Pleasure Beach has just unleashed ICON, the UK’s first double-launch rollercoaster, which delivers Lewis Hamilton-like levels of g-force. It joins The Big One (the UK’s tallest rollercoaster), Revolution (the UK’s first looping rollercoaster), and Infusion (the UK’s first looping rollercoaster over water).

The beach at Falmouth Credit: IAN WOOLCOCK - STOCK.ADOBE.COM

26. Play with Peppa at Paultons, Hampshire

New animal experiences abound at Paultons Park. Discover cartoon creatures at the park’s extended Peppa Pig World: you can now ride a treetop monorail and take a swirly boat trip to Pirate Island. Then visit Little Africa, also new, to meet real-life critters and walk through a free-flying aviary. 

27. Become a master builder in Birmingham

Opened in early July, Birmingham’s Legoland Discovery Centre offers an interactive indoor distraction for your under-10s should the summer prove soggy. Kids can explore Miniland (made from 1.5 million bricks), watch 4D Lego movies and get creative at Master Model Builder workshops.

The dunes of Merthyr Mawr Credit: RICHARD SELF / EYEEM

28. Go green in Gwynedd, Wales

In 2018 Greenwood Family Park celebrates 25 years of eco-focused fun. Voted one of the world’s greenest attractions, it has planted more than 10,000 trees since 1993; it also recycles waste and features solar-powered rides. Walk the Barefoot Trail, ride the people-propelled Dragon Rollercoaster, and take a spin in the new Woodland Rover four-wheel drives, which kids are allowed to steer.

Antigua? Nope. Scotland. Where you can head out on a snorkel trail this summer Credit: Getty

29. Visit a classic on the Isle of Wight, Hampshire

Blackgang Chine, the UK’s oldest amusement park, celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2018 – every Monday and Wednesday, July 23-Aug 29, it will hold a birthday bash with cowboys, fairies and fireworks. Travel to the park for less with Wightlink’s Kids Go Free offer: two children travel free with every adult foot passenger day-return ferry ticket.

30. Escape from medieval Norwich, Norfolk

Created in collaboration with curators at the Museum of Norwich, The Merchant’s Vaults is a new historically accurate escape game – a test of brain power played out in the museum’s 14th-century undercroft. Take on the challenge – you have an hour to avoid being flung into a medieval debtors’ prison! – while getting a real history hit. 

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Walks

31. Amble all over Dartmoor, Devon

Spend nine days exploring the tors, wetlands, forests and ancient remains of Dartmoor National Park on foot: the third Dartmoor Walking Festival includes a full programme of ranger-led hikes, children’s strolls, archaeological visits, long-distance challenges and accessible walks organised in partnership with Disabled Ramblers.

32. Trace the Pembrokeshire coast, Wales 

If you averaged 20 miles a day you could walk the entire 870-mile (1,400km) Wales Coast Path in your 42 days. But perhaps more realistic is a section. Try a lovely Pembrokeshire loop, combining Stackpole Head (pausing on your way to admire Lattice Windows, the natural stone arches below you), Barafundle Bay and Broad Haven Beach with Bosherston Lakes, resplendent with their summer carpet of water lilies.

33. Follow Gromit in Bristol

This summer more than 60 sculptures of Wallace, Gromit and their nemesis Feathers McGraw will dot Bristol – home of Aardman Animation. Follow the Gromit Unleashed 2 trail map, using the colourful characters to inspire an exploration of the city, from the Floating Harbour to Clifton Suspension Bridge and beyond.

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34. Hike along Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland

The Ramblers Association has an enormous online database of walks, accessible to members. But around 1,800 routes are open to non-members who register for a free account. For starters, download the five-mile (8.5km) Great Wall of the North hike; it starts at Housesteads Roman fort, and follows part of Hadrian’s Wall on a high escarpment, with big views. You should be able to complete it in four hours.

35. Ramble with the RAF in Lincolnshire

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the RAF, Lincolnshire has launched 100 Voices, eight walking and cycling trails dotted with posts telling stories of the county’s aviation links. Try the six-mile (10km) Sopwith Camel Trail, which starts at Lincoln’s Newport Cemetery RAF graves and passes West Common (a First World War airfield) and a bomber crash site and the Museum of Lincolnshire Life. For a shorter walk, the one-mile (1.6km) Hawk Trail takes you through the heart of the city centre.

Amble all over Dartmoor Credit: Getty

36. Be led around the Lakes, Cumbria

The Lake District contains some of England’s best walking country – but where to start? The national park authority runs many guided, graded hikes. The My First Fell: Bowness Family Walk (Aug 6, two-and-a-half miles/4km, free) is a scenic summit of Brantfell and a great mini-challenge for little legs. Or try the “Very Hard” Blencathra Summit hike (Aug 26, nine miles/15km, £10, children free), which ticks off three Wainwrights en route.

The Pembrokeshire coast Credit: NICOLE KUCERA

Wildlife

37. Go on safari in Perthshire, Scotland 

No need to holiday in Africa: take a Land Rover safari on Blair Atholl Estate instead, where an expert guide will drive you through rivers, over rugged moors and up-down hillsides, looking for red deer, red squirrels, mountain hare, grouse and golden eagles.

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38. Meet African exotica in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire

New for 2018, Bourton-on-the-Water’s Birdland Park & Gardens has opened Out of Africa, a host of new aviaries a-flutter with exotic, colourful and cacophonous species, including black-cheeked lovebirds, a colony of giant-nest-building village weavers, African hornbills and leggy flamingos. You can also visit the UK’s only breeding colony of king penguins.

Hadrian’s Wall Credit: DAVID HEAD

39. Find out about fish in Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Just outside Londonderry, Riverwatch Aquarium is packed with marine and lough life – from lobster and crabs to starfish and sticklebacks. During July and August regular public feeding times are held, so you can watch as the watery habitats get extra lively.

40. Survey dolphins, Ceredigion, Wales

See harbour dolphins, grey seals, porpoise and sunfish on an all-day voyage out into Cardigan Bay – and help science, too. Dolphin Survey Boat Trips leave from New Quay; boats collect dolphin data and carry underwater microphones so you can listen to the marine mammals. 

Reaching the top of Blencathra Summit is quite the achievement Credit: istock

41. Snorkel with seals, The Isles of Scilly

Squeeze into a wetsuit and take a dip off St Martin’s for mask-to-whisker encounters with the Isles of Scilly’s wild and playful grey seals – flipper nibbling to be expected. The colony lives here year-round, but best to go when the weather and sea are warmer. Booking is essential.

42. Celebrate marine life, countrywide

Actually spread across 14 days to utilise the tides, National Marine Week (July 28-Aug 12) is a celebration of British seas. Wildlife Trusts countrywide hold events, many free. For instance, go rock-pool rummaging at West Runton (norfolk wildlifetrust.org.uk), paddle clear-bottomed kayaks at Kimmeridge Bay (dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk) or try mud-dipping on St Anne’s Beach (lancswt.org.uk).


Come face to face with a seal in the waters of the Isles of Scilly
Ireland's most wild and captivating islands