Hever Castle Gardens, Kent, for a maze or three
One maze is usually a hit with children. So imagine the fun when there are three! Head to the gardens at Hever Castle, near Edenbridge, Kent, and head straight for the 100-year-old Yew Maze. The hedges are over eight feet tall so you won’t be able to cheat and see the centre. Kids have to solve puzzles to reach the slide at the end of the Tower Maze. And the Water Maze challenges you to get to the middle without getting wet – it’s unlikely you’ll succeed. Don’t miss the model house collection, too – the entrance is through the shop.
Best for: keen puzzlers.
Also fun for: history students – Hever Castle was the childhood home of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.
For more details: Hever Castle & Gardens
Hoe Fen near Cambridge for garden bugs
Grab a magnifying glass, pop along to Anglesey Abbey in Lode near Cambridge, and trek to Hoe Fen at the bottom of the gardens to find Wiggly Woo worms and all sorts of other creepy crawlies. Grandchildren can go wild, building dens, inspecting insects and climbing an impressive two-storey tree house, set in a giant lime tree. Lode Mill, a working watermill in the garden grounds, is also worth a visit to learn how grain becomes flour. You may be tempted to buy a bag and bake when you get home.
Best for: lovers of bugs and beasties.
Also fun for: geocatching enthusiasts – there are secret geocaches hidden in the grounds.
For more details: Hoe Fen Wildlife Discovery Area
Exbury Gardens in the New Forest for a steam train ride
All aboard! Family members, young and old, will enjoy a 20-minute ride on the steam train at Exbury Gardens, east of Beaulieu in Hampshire, as it puffs its way along a 1¼ mile track through pretty gardens. Look out for pheasant, deer, kingfishers and butterflies on your journey, and at the turntable take a break to get up close to Eddie the Diesel, just one of the other steam engines to be found there. If energetic little ones need to let off steam of their own, the children’s adventure playground is sure to do the trick.
Best for: railway children.
Also fun for: nature lovers – tuck into a picnic near Jubilee Pond and watch dragonflies hover over the koi carp.
For more details: Exbury Gardens
Picton Castle Gardens, Pembrokeshire, for a jungle walkway
Got a budding Steve Backshall in the family? The next Bear Grylls? Then take them to one of the largest jungle gardens in the UK at the medieval Picton Castle, near Haverfordwest in Wales. With a jungle walkway, an abundance of exotic plants, tadpole ponds, an adventure playground and maze, young explorers will be kept occupied for hours. And during the summer, older children can enrol on a Bushcraft Knifework course to learn more about the safe handling of a bushcraft knife, as well as useful survival skills.
Best for: brave adventurers.
Also fun for: believers of fairies – a woodland trail passes doors of fairy homes. Take a look inside.
For more details: Picton Castle Gardens
Kelburn Castle and Estate in Ayrshire for horse riding
One of the largest riding centres in the west of Scotland is based at Kelburn Estate near Largs, situated 33 miles south west of Glasgow. And children as young as two years old are able to enjoy a short horse ride in the paddock. Those aged eight and over, regardless of experience, can sign up for an hour-long trek around the grounds. The Estate boasts a castle, which has been given a colourful makeover courtesy of some Brazilian graffiti artists, as well as waterfalls, a spectacular glen and a secret forest.
Best for: aspiring riders.
Also fun for: eagle-eyed birds of prey fans – buzzards, peregrine falcons and hen harriers swoop over the glen.
For more details: Kelburn Castle & Estate
The Gardens at Mount Stewart, County Down, for an I-spy game
I spy with my little eye something beginning with D. If you’re in the gardens at Mount Stewart, a 19th-century house on the east shore of Strangford Lough, the answer could be dodo! Amusing stone creatures, including dodos, dogs and griffins, can be seen on the Dodo Terrace, and while walking around keep a watch out for monkey puzzle trees, bats, otters, a statue of a white stag and Noah’s Ark. Goldilocks will be turning up for a teddy bears’ picnic during the summer months – don’t eat her porridge!
Best for: little kids with big imaginations.
Also fun for: the family dog - an easy mile walk takes you on a red squirrel trail pass the Sunk Garden and around the lake.
For more details: Mount Stewart
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