Spring day trips near London
Go birdwatching in Dungeness
Dungeness occupies a striking promontory (a raised mass of land, to you and me) that juts into the English Channel. It boasts two lighthouses, a gorgeous shingle beach and a station serving the adorable Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch miniature steam railway.
You can also explore the famous shingle garden at Prospect Cottage, Derek Jarman's beloved Dungeness bolthole. It's free to visit and you don't need a ticket; just rock up and potter around in Jarman's stunning selection of succulents.
The main attraction at this time of year, though, is birdwatching. At the RSPB’s stunning reserve you can chillax in a hide and gawp at waders in the wetlands or tramp along trails keeping an eye out for the welcome annual return to our shores of the Iceland gull, tree pipit and (if you’re lucky) a cheeky swallow.
£5, £2.50 under-16s, free under-fives. A little over two hours by car.
Enjoy Hanami in a hamlet
Fans of Japanese culture will already be aware of hanami (it translates as ‘blossom viewing’), the annual celebration of springtime as heralded by the flowering of sakura (cherry trees). Well, there’s good news: this spring you need only travel as far as Kent. The pretty hamlet of Brogdale is home to the National Fruit Collection, boasting some 2,200 varieties of apple, 337 strains of plum and 285 species of cherry. So it’s the perfect spot to unfurl a picnic blanket, sink an appropriately pink-hued bottle of rosé and take some snaps. Even better, stop by on April 14 for a full-on festival of Japanese entertainments, tours and a tea ceremony.
Hanami picnic (bring your own food) from April 3-30 £11.50, £2.50 two-15s. Hanami Festival, Sat Apr 14, £9, £5 two-15s. Just over an hour by train from London St Pancras to Faversham, followed by a 15-minute bus ride.
Hunt down the bluebells of Berkhamsted
At this time of year our nation’s woodlands become even prettier than usual, fetchingly swathed in a nodding, sun-dappled carpet of bluebells. And there’s nowhere finer than the Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire to observe this easy-on-the eye phenomenon. Friendly National Trust experts will lead you on a two-mile stroll around the estate or, for hardier ramblers, a five-mile hike around evocatively named spots such as Sallow Copse, Dockey Wood and Aldbury Common to get the best view of these beautiful blooms. Pop on a pair of sturdy boots and remember to bring a packed lunch.
From £2.50. One hour and 20 mins by car.
Image: Getty Images
Soak up some culture at Bexhill-on-Sea
Want more from your trip to the seaside than a stroll along the prom while seagulls try to steal your fish and chips? The De La Warr Pavilion on the East Sussex coast is a Grade I-listed modernist masterpiece, decked out with dramatic sweeping staircases and radical (for the 1930s) curved windows. Since 2005 it has also hosted award-winning theatre, music and comedy, plus a lot of (usually free) art in the huge gallery. And there’s a very respectable café serving breakfast, locally-caught fish dishes and great coffee. Check the website for other special events such as the Bexhill beer festival and craft workshops for kids.
Just under two hours by train from London Victoria.
See sculpture on the downs
A day out at the Cass Sculpture Foundation combines all the grown-up gentility of a stroll around manicured country house grounds with the thrill of encountering cutting edge works of art. More than 50 large-scale contemporary pieces are tastefully set amid 26 acres of trees and gently undulating landscape, with two well-curated indoor galleries on hand in case of showers. The foundation is a leading investor in new and existing sculpture talent. It also hosts fun hands-on workshops for adults as well as storytime activities for kids.
There's no onsite café, though takeaway hot drinks and snacks are available, so pack a picnic and enjoy it in the grounds.
£12.50, £6.50 five-16s, free under-fives. Two hours by car.
Get freaky in Hastings
Hop on a train this May Day weekend (May 4-7) to catch the Jack in the Green Festival, one of the oddest and most quintessentially English spectacles you’ll ever behold. In a tradition going back centuries – revived in the early ’80s by the local morris dancing club – revellers daub themselves with green paint in celebration of the coming summer and dance around like total pagans.
Live bands, giant puppets, flowery outfits, street drinking, town criers, a costumed parade through the Old Town and the slaying of Jack himself herald the (hopefully) balmy months to come in fine, tipsy style.
An hour and a half by train from London Bridge.
Image: David Fowler/Shutterstock