These day kids can choose from any number of screen-based entertainment to while away the school holidays, so we've compiled ten great ways for parents to enthuse their offspring to switch off and get some fresh air.
1. Skateboard on a hill
Mountainboarding involves launching yourself down a hillside at full tilt, perched on a giant skateboard with all-terrain tyres. Add a few ramps and lots of protective gear into the equation and you've got a fast and furious extreme sport.
Chichester, West Sussex
At Haredown ATB, first-timers are given an hour's tuition before being released on the slopes; a tractor takes you back to the top after the descent.
Droke Farm, East Dean, Chichester, West Sussex PO18 0JQ, 0124 381 1976, www.haredown.com.
Another good spot for beginners is Court Farm, with its broad, grassy nursery slope. The XBP Mountainboard Centre (Priory Farm, Nutfield, Redhill, Surrey, RH1 4EJ, 0845 0944 360, www.ridethehill.com) has a drag lift and a range of runs: novices can wobble down the gentle Orchard Slope while old hands shoot down the slalom or launch themselves off the four-metre quarterpipe. Tillington, Herefordshire HR4 8LG, 01432 760271, www.courtfarmleisure.co.uk.
2. Join a tribe
During the summer months, Lower Upcott Farm in Devon rings with the sounds of whoops and war cries from the young braves taking part in the Kids’ Indian Tribal Day (£80). ‘I want to get kids excited about being outside and doing fun things, like building camps and using their imagination,’ says organiser Ben May. Youngsters are initiated into the tribe with war paint and given an Indian name and bandana, then it’s off to learn about tracking.
This is followed by sneaking through the long grass in the meadow before going into a patch of woodland to build a camp and get a fire going for that all-important tribal lunch. In the afternoon, children can help hitch Shire horses Tom and Pip to the wagon. With 18 hectares to romp in and plenty of organised fun and games, your children, like the Famous Five, will come home tired but happy.
When children are finding their sea legs, they need safe surfing beaches. The north coasts of Devon and Cornwall are good, if popular choices (so often crowded); you'll find more space (but a brisker wind) on the Gower Peninsula and in Saltburn in Yorkshire. Brush up on your surf lingo before setting out: for starters, a grommet is the surf-dude term for a young board rider.
Bude, North Cornwall
Bude's Big Blue Surf School (01288 331764, www.bigbluesurfschool.co.uk) offers half-day sessions for around £25; in most cases, budding surfers must be over eight and able to swim 50 metres.
Croyde Bay, North Devon
Croyde has allied itself firmly to surf culture, with numerous surf equipment shops and trendy cafés, restaurants and bars for après-surf posing. Croyde Bay Surfing (01271 891200, www.surfingcroydebay.co.uk) offers a two-and-a-half-hour group taster session for under-16s for £25.
Caswell Bay, Gower
Conditions are top-notch for beginners at Caswell Bay, with gently sloping sands, calm waves and a friendly vibe. GSD (01792 360370, www.gowersurfing.com) offers lessons for any would-be surfers over the age of five who can swim 50 metres - though under-eights must be accompanied by an adult. In summer, the Junior Surfing Academy's syllabus includes surfing, beach games and lifeguard skills - much more fun than an ordinary day at school.
Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire
With its broad sandy beach and dramatic cliffs, Saltburn-by-the-Sea is one of the best spots for safe surfing along the north-east coast, and Saltburn Surf School (01287 625321, www.saltburnsurf.co.uk) is one of the friendliest we know. It offers individual or group lessons, and in summer runs a week-long Junior Surf Academy for eight- to 16-year-olds. Not up for surfing? Drop in at the surf shack on the seafront and hire a wetsuit and bodyboard for the best hour of fun you can have for £6.
St Ouen's Bay, Jersey
The open, exposed waters of St Ouen's are perfect for catching a wave, with plenty of room for wobbly beginners and wave-carving pros. Jersey Surf School's (01534 484005, www.jerseysurfschool.co.uk) family lessons mean only your nearest and dearest will see you grubbing, mullering or wiping out - in short, falling off. There are also summer camps and weekend sessions for kids (eight and above) between June and September. Alternatively, you can hire a bodyboard for £4 an hour.
Watergate Bay, North Cornwall
Occupying a prime stretch of Cornish coastline, Watergate offers splendid surfing terrain, with its sandy seabed and rock-free shores. The Extreme Academy (01637 860543, www.watergatebay.co.uk) will teach anyone over eight the joys of carving and fading and how to avoid an almighty wipe-out. Accommodation abounds, though for sheer family friendliness, it's hard to beat the Watergate Hotel, with its Ofsted-registered childcare, holiday activities and Kids Zone area for rainy days.
Woolacombe & Sennen, North Devon
A key player in North Devon's Gold Coast renaissance, beautiful Woolacombe is home to the Nick Thorn Surf School (01271 871337, www.nickthorn.com). Down the coast, the Sennen Surfing Centre (01736 871227, www.sennensurfingcentre.com) runs family courses for groups of four or more, at a mere £20 per person for two hours.
4. Run free
Parkour is the art of free running – using the street as your playground. You can find classes across London that show you how to skedaddle up walls and jump off railings in a loose-limbed, freeflow style via Parkour Generations (07789 742919, www.parkourgenerations.com). Many of the classes run term-time only, but there are events in the holidays too – for example, the sportif types at the Youth Academy organise monthly jams for all-comers in Vauxhall and Waterloo; check the website for details.
Orienteering involves following a map to find your way around an outdoor course, completing it in the fastest possible time. You don’t need to be brilliant at sport; smart route planning and navigational skills pay dividends. Events for all ages occur across the country, and there are permanent courses you can sample any time; see www.britishorienteering.org.uk.
6. Get on your bike
Camel Trail, Cornwall
Named after the River Camel, this 27 km Cornish cycle path follows an old railway line from Wenfordbridge to Padstow, via Bodmin. Hire cycles at Bridge Bike Hire in Wadebridge (01208 813050) and take an 8km spin down to Padstow harbour. Avoid the summer holiday crowd, by cycing from Wadebridge to Bodmin instead. For a map, call 01872 327310.
Crab & Winkle Way, Canterbury to Whitstable
Just over 11km long, this short but sweet route meanders through Kent from Canterbury to Whitstable following the disused railway track of the Crab & Winkle line. The path threads through Clowes and Blean Woods, before eventually emerging in Whitstable.
Kennet & Avon Cycle Route
This 135km trail runs from Bath to Reading and is Britain’s most popular waterside cycle route. The first section passes through Bristol and Bath on the traffic-free Avon Valley cycle path. Trail walk leaflets are available from British Waterways (01380 722859, www.britishwaterways.co.uk). You can hire bikes from the riverside Lock Inn Café (48 Frome Road, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire BA15 1LE, 01225 868068, www.thelockinn.co.uk).
Speyside Way, Scotland
The 12-kilometre Speyside Way is a boon for families. It’s flat, with no motor traffic and panoramic views over the River Spey – plus enough twists, tunnels and woodland to sustain interest levels. Adults, note: it’s studded with famous malt whisky distilleries. See www.cycling.visitscotland.com for more information.
The New Forest
Famed for its free-roaming ponies and deer, the New Forest has miles of car-free cycle paths threading through the trees. In summer it’s glorious for family bike rides. There are plenty of bicycle hire shops: try Brockenhurst’s Country Lanes (Railway Station, Brockenhurst, Hampshire SO42 7TW, 01590 622627, www.countrylanes.co.uk) or Burley’s Forest Leisure Cycling (The Cross, Village Centre Burley, Hampshire BH24 4AB, 01425 403584, www.forestleisurecycling.co.uk), which has child seats, trailers and tag-alongs and ‘muttmobiles’ for lazy family pooches.
The North Yorkshire Moors
Watch the heather moors and glacial gorges glide by from the comfort of an old steam train that runs for 29 kilometres between Pickering and Grosmont, then travel under your own steam by going on a family bike ride. The North Yorkshire Moors Railway (01751 472508, www.nymr.co.uk) sells a Pedal & Puff leaflet for 50p, which details the lovely bike trails around the railway line.
Whitby to Scarborough
The disused railway line that runs for 28km along the Yorkshire coast from Whitby to Scarborough (www.moortoseacycle.net) is never too steep, and almost car-free. Trailways Cycle Hire (The Old Railway Station, Hawsker, Whitby, Yorkshire YO22 4LB, 01947 820207, www.trailways.info) provides steeds and offers unusual accommodation in the shape of a 1950s railway carriage.
7. Join the quad squad
The petrolheads at Glasfryn kit out children in safety helmets, overalls and gloves, give a ten-minute safety induction, pop them on a quad bike and accompany them over the green, green grass of Gwynedd. Children must be at least 12 years old to experience the 50-minute quad bike safari. Younger children, aged from six, are only allowed out on the track on the quads. Safaris cost from £25 for 50 minutes, while quadding for tinies is from £3 per minute.
Kayaking in open water is a difficult skill to master, but you’ll have fun trying during a session with Anglesey Adventures (01407 761777, www.angleseyadventures.co.uk). Kayaking sessions take place year round (most people prefer summer) on the bracing beaches of Holyhead. Children aged eight and above are loaned a wetsuit and all the gear, plus expert tuition from chief adventurer Grant Mitchell and his team of instructors. At £25 for a kid’s half-day taster session, it’s great value.
9. Work on a farm
The farmer’s lot – all those animals, tractors, open spaces and lashings of mud – often appeals to children (especially those who’ve never had to get up at 5am for milking). There are any number of farm-related theme parks across the land, but to see day-to-day agriculture in action you need to pull on your wellies and head for a working farm.
Farmers Julian and Rose Harris offer children the opportunity to be real farmers at Warleigh Lodge Farm (01225 859 065). ‘They’re not coming here to pet the animals, they’re here to look after them, come rain or shine,’ says Julian. ‘They bed up the piglets and feed the chickens, and the older children help clean out the pigs. In winter, I take them out on the trailer to throw root crops to the cattle. It’s a totally unique experience for them.’
At Riverford Farm (0845 600 2311, www.riverford.co.uk) regular farm tours are followed by lunch in the Field Kitchen. School holiday Pick & Cook Days encourage kids to learn to love their veg by harvesting their own cabbage and kohlrabi. ‘Taking them into the fields, touching stuff and getting involved makes them much more open to trying things,’ says Rachel Watson, whose family owns the farm.
Stockley Farm, on the Arley Estate in Cheshire (01565 777323, www.stockleyfarm.co.uk) is a working organic farm, open most weekends and throughout the school holidays. As well as taking a tractor ride, meeting the farm animals and bottle-feeding the lambs, you can watch the farm’s 200 cows being milked, then buy a pint in the shop. You can even have a party here.
The fruit and veg are taken back to the Field Kitchen, where the children cook it under the supervision of chef Russell Goodwin before sitting down to eat. ‘Children enjoy food more if they understand how it’s produced,’ says Rachel. ‘It’s that final connection from the field to the plate.’ Pick & Cook days cost £24 per child, and are open to seven- to 16-year-olds. Check online for dates and seasonal events such as Pumpkin Day.
Paignton, South Devon
Occombe Farm (01803 520022, www.occombe.org.uk) is an 60-hectare organic open farm that aims to reconnect visitors with food, farming and the countryside. Family-friendly events run throughout the year, from letterboxing trails to Meet the Farmer sessions, when kids can help feed the livestock and collect the chickens’ still-warm eggs. There are vintage tractors to be climbed upon and the farm shop is full of local produce, including meat, eggs and home-cured bacon.
In the heart of the countryside north of Peterborough is Sacrewell Farm (01780 782254, www.sacrewell.org.uk), which offers tractor rides and day-to-day farming activities, along with a campsite and 18th-century watermill. In spring, you can stroke the chicks and help feed the young calves, or watch lambs race full-pelt in the Lamb National. Sacrewell charges admission.
10. Make like an ape
Monkeying around in the treetops is the name of the game at Go Ape’s centres, which offer adrenaline-packed aerial adventure trails. Families can swing, scramble, climb and slide to their heart’s content amid the rope bridges, trapezes and zip slides, letting out the odd Tarzan whoop as they go. Luckily, ape-like gripping and climbing skills aren’t required, as you’re fitted with sturdy safety harnesses before heading into the treetops. Children must be ten years and over to tackle the courses, and height and weight restrictions apply; under-18s must be accompanied by an adult. Go Ape’s 21 centres are set in forests across the country. Full details of your nearest centre can be found at www.goape.co.uk.
Discover loads more kid-friendly activites with Time Out's '1000 things for kids to do in the holidays' book, available from www.timout.com/shop at the discounted price of £8.99.