Forest zipwire, Conwy
Combine adrenaline thrills with autumn colour as you bounce, swing and zipline through the treetops at Zip World Fforest, which offers six “adventures” in woodland in the Conwy valley. The Treetop Nets, Europe’s longest net walkway, and the Fforest Coaster are gentlest. Older children may prefer Plummet 2, which opens on 19 October, where they will be dropped 30 metres through a trapdoor, for a near free-fall experience, courtesy of two powerfans. And if that isn’t scary enough, a Ffear Fforest Night Pass (20 Oct–4 Nov) gives evening entry to the park and access to the tree nets and Fforest Coaster, with lots of Halloween frights and extras.
• Adventures from £10; Plummet 2 £15pp, or £20 for two; Ffear Fforest Night Pass £25 in advance; zipworld.co.uk
Kelburn Castle, Ayrshire
There’s colourful work by Brazilian graffiti artists on its walls and turrets, , but it’s what’s on offer in the grounds of of this medieval castle that makes it stand out. Woodland paths and raised walkways in its Secret Forest are transformed into a Freaky Forest, where kids can learn circus tricks from 13–21 October. For more challenge, there’s an Adventure Course, with high walkways and rope swings. Allow time for a walk in Kelburn Glen, a wooded valley of waterfalls and gorges, which ends with a spectacular view across the Firth of Clyde.
• Adult £9, child over three £7, kelburnestate.com
Circular cycling routes, Shropshire
The Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre has devised six cycling routes which allow visitors to explore the countryside on quiet lanes, stopping at attractions. Leaflets detail the routes, which range from 14–30 miles. One of the easier options is a 16-mile loop taking in the 24-metre high Flounders’ Folly, Wenlock Edge, and Acton Scott Historic Working Farm (pictured), where families can learn about 19th-century rural life from costumed characters and take part in traditional activities. Back at the Discovery Centre, you can eat in the cafe, see the Shropshire Hills Through Time exhibition with its woolly mammoth, and explore Onny Meadows nature reserve.
• Free, shropshirehillsdiscoverycentre.co.uk
Magical wildlife, Essex
Orienteering, bat walks and foraging for ingredients for spells are just some of the activities the Essex Wildlife Trust has for families this autumn. Children can go moth trapping, bug hunting and bat detecting, before toasting marshmallows on the campfire at Langdon Visitor Centre’s Family Wild Evening Out (20 Oct, £7pp, over-fives only). Orienteering is on the agenda at Fingringhoe Wick Visitor Centre & Nature Reserve, near Colchester, with routes to suit different abilities (22 Oct, £5 donation per family). And at Hanningfield reservoir, there’s a celebration of conkers, with a special trail and craft activities (23 Oct, 4-8 years, £6).
Stargazing festival, North Pennines
Now in its second year, this festival brings a fortnight of celestial activities for families and budding astronomers in venues across Northumberland and County Durham. Among the highlights of the packed two-week programme are a sky‑watch event at Killhope lead mining museum in Upper Weardale (26 October); a “solar system walk” at Bowlees Visitor Centre in Teesdale (21 October); bottle rocket workshops at South Tynedale Railway in Alston (23 October) and pop-up planetarium shows across the region.
• 20 October-4 November, some activities free, some require booking, northpennines.org.uk
Welly walks, Belfast
Colin Glen Forest Park is a wooded valley at the foot of Northern Ireland’s Belfast Hills, which has outdoor activities from mountain biking to bubble football, and the SKYTrek Aerial Adventure Centre, with high and low ropes, climbing wall, power-fan descender and 90-metre ziplines. For half-term, it will be targeting younger visitors with its Ghouls & Gruffalo’s Welly Walk. Children can listen to a reading of Julia Donaldson’s book, before wandering through the forest on a guided walk, looking out for ghosts. They can then pick their own pumpkin and carve it into a lantern back at the visitor centre.
• 27 Oct-2 Nov, £10 per child, accompanying adults free, colinglen.org
Forest safari, Perthshire
Highland Safaris runs 4WD expeditions into the hills around Aberfeldy in Perthshire to search for signs of Scottish wildlife such as red squirrels, roe deer and the elusive red deer. The 90-minute Forest Safari includes a short walk through ancient Caledonian pine forest in search of animal tracks and signs. Then back at Highland Safaris HQ, children can try their hand at panning for gold and gems or pond dipping, visit the deer and barn owls in the Red Deer Centre, or let off steam in the play area and tractor park.
• Adult £25, child £17.50, includes use of binoculars, telescope and wildlife identification sheets, highlandsafaris.net
Deer safari, Norfolk
The Holkham estate on the north Norfolk coast is famous for its fallow deer. Autumn is rutting season, and on certain dates in October a deer safari by tractor-trailer gets visitors up close to the herd. There are also bikes to hire to explore the 3,000-acre park’s cycle trails, and a woodland adventure play area with a treehouse, rope ladders and zipwire. And there’s a scale model of a combine harvester, complete with slide, tunnels and driving seat, in the interactive Field to Fork Experience, which tells the story of food and farming at Holkham.
• Deer safari, daily 18-23 October, adult £5, child £2.50, under-2s free; bike hire, adult £10 for two hours, child £8; Field to Fork Experience adult £5, child £2.50; holkham.co.uk
Conker season, Derbyshire
An underground labyrinth of sensory tunnels is the latest attraction at Conkers in the National Forest near Ashby-de-la-Zouch. With lots of indoor and outdoor activity areas, from the Enchanted Forest adventure play area to the high ropes, climbing wall and zipwire, there’s something to suit kids of all ages. There’s also a barefoot woodland walk, sculpture trails and a viewing tower to climb for a tree-top panorama. During half-term, the entertainment programme includes magic and science shows, animal encounters, spooky 4D cinema and Halloween-themed crafts.
• Adult from £7.95, child from £7.15, under-2s free, visitconkers.com
Exploring rockpools, Cornwall
The Cornwall Wildlife Trust runs family events year-round, and during half-term it is teaming up with coasteering specialists Cornish Rock Tors to offer an Extreme Rockpooling session for over-8s. The two-hour session takes children on a shoreline adventure around Port Isaac, learning all about the wildlife, interspersed with jumps into the water and coasteering activities. There are also gentle guided rock pool rambles in Bude suitable for all ages.
• Extreme Rockpooling, 27 Oct, over-8s only, £10, booking essential; Explore the Shore rockpool rambles, 27 Oct, free, all ages; cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk
Seal spotting, Lincolnshire
From October, hundreds of grey seals start to arrive at Donna Nook nature reserve, a remote expanse of salt marsh and sand dunes on the Lincolnshire coast, to have their pups. The viewing area offers up-close encounters with the new arrivals. When you’ve reached fluffy seal saturation point (and with more than 2,000 pups born last year that is a possibility), head south to the new North Sea Observatory , which opened at Chapel Point, just north of Skegness, this summer. Admission is free to this striking, glass-fronted building, which makes an excellent base for wildlife spotting, birdwatching, bracing beach walks and warming hot chocolates.
• Free entry, lincstrust.org.uk
Ranger for the day, Derbyshire
If you ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at Britain’s stately homes, Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire will be offering an insight during its Be a Ranger for the Day experiences. Children aged 8 and over and their parents can join the National Trust staff managing the wildlife habitats and historic parkland of this 18th-century mansion. The hall also has fungi walks, outdoor crafts and “tree-o-caching”, its own version of geocaching.
• Be a Ranger for the Day, 30 Oct, £4.50pp, booking essential; crafts 22 Oct-2 Nov, £2.50 per child; fungi walks, 18, 19, 27, 28 Oct, adult £5, child £2; tree-o-caching, 29 Oct-2 Nov, free; nationaltrust.org.uk
Festival of Light, Isle of Wight
With 88 acres of woodland and gardens, falconry shows, a giant wooden maze and adventure playgrounds, Robin Hill country park is one of the most popular attractions on the Isle of Wight. It will be celebrating the Hindu festival of Diwali by filling the forest with coloured lights, sculptures and fireworks. Now in its fifth year, the festival brings a flavour of India, with street food stalls, Bollywood dancing, yoga and rangoli street art and lantern-making workshops.
• 6-10pm daily to 4 November, adult and child from £15, under-4s free, robin-hill.com
Magic gardens, Carmarthenshire
Half-term events at the National Botanic Garden of Wales at Llanarthne include a Harry Potter-themed week (27 Oct-4 Nov) when children can make wands and learn how to cast spells, and its popular Apple Weekend (20-21 October), with tastings, quizzes and apple-bobbing. The new British Bird of Prey Centre offers encounters with hawks, falcons, kestrels, kites, buzzards and a golden eagle, and the glasshouse is a retreat from inclement weather.
• Adult £11, child £5, under-5s free, including Harry Potter and Apple Weekend activities, botanicgarden.wales
Water and wildlife, New Forest
One of the best ways to soak up the autumnal beauty of the New Forest is from a Canadian canoe on the tranquil Beaulieu River. Guides at New Forest Activities will take family groups out for a gentle 90-minute paddle through the private nature reserve, with tips on technique and lots of facts about the river, its history and wildlife. There’s also the chance to spot kingfishers, osprey, buzzards or even Beaulieu’s resident seal. Buoyancy aids and child-size paddles are available for ages 18 months and up.
• Adult £25, child £19, all equipment provided. newforestactivities.co.uk. More information on the area at thenewforest.co.uk
Moonlit runs, nationwide
Traipsing round a stately home might not be most kids’ idea of fun, but running around the grounds by moonlight is a much more tempting prospect. The National Trust has a programme of Night Runs at 12 properties until March 2019. The routes are suitable for all ages and abilities, with Explorer routes (1-3km) offering a gentle option, and Adventurer routes (6-9km) for more experienced runners. The trails are traffic-free, and open to runners and walkers. Upcoming runs are at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden in North Yorkshire on 16 October, and Blickling Estate, Norfolk, on 27 October.
• £7-£14, nationaltrust.org.uk
Room on the Broom, Surrey
RHS Wisley is bringing Julia Donaldson’s best-selling children’s book Room on the Broom to life from 20-28 October with a spooky trail around the gardens, crafts, storytelling, gardening and music sessions. There’s also pumpkin carving (£5 per child) on 25-27 October. Other family-friendly highlights at the Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship garden include the tropical Glasshouse, with waterfall, tropical flowers and jungle foliage, and an Amazing Apples display in the orchard (to 9 November).
• Adult from £13.05, child from £6.60, under-5s free. For free child entry, download a voucher from rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley
Wildlife watching, North Yorkshire
Spotting seals, building hedgehog houses and surveying small mammal populations are among hands-on activities at Ravenscar, north of Scarborough, to mark National Mammal Week. Visitors to this National Trust coast will be able to join a ranger on a guided walk to the seal colony near Robin Hood’s Bay (21 Oct) and help collect information on small mammals such as voles, shrews and wood mice (27 Oct). Half-term events also include a Halloween-themed woodland trail and a hedgehog house-building session (28 Oct).
• Seal walk £4, mammal survey free but booking essential, hedgehog house-building £20, nationaltrust.org.uk
Temperate House and Great Pagoda, Kew Gardens, London
The Temperate House, the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse, reopened at Kew Gardens this summer after a five-year restoration. At half-term, families can soak up the splendour of the great glass building during Siyanda, Protector of Plants, a series of 30-minute storytelling performances about the secrets of plants in the Africa zone. Afterwards, children can let off steam in the gardens (don’t miss the colourful maple collection near the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art), and if they still have energy to burn, can climb the 253 steps to the top of the Great Pagoda, which also reopened this year summer following a major restoration, and offers spectacular views across London.
• Adult from £16, child over four from £4; Siyanda, Protector of Plants performances 20-28 Oct, included with entry to gardens; the Great Pagoda is open weekends until 28 Oct and at half-term, booking advised, adult £4.50, child £3, kew.org
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