30 best things to do within 2 hours of home
Are you ready to (gasp) leave your local area? From sea kayaking and extreme sports, to hanging out on high ropes, here are the 30 best outdoor things to do within two hours of Wiltshire.
Leaving the county has never seemed so glamorous! We love our local area but —sweet lord, are we itching to get away from it. Enter the Covid-safe daytrip: an outdoor excursion within two hours of home, essential for saving those last scraps of sanity. (Quite honestly, at this point, we’d be delighted just to sit in a field with a thermos flask if the view was just slightly different, but we’re pretty sure we can do better.) Instead, here’s a list of all the best things to do within two hours of Wiltshire. We’ve started with some classics at home too, just in case you need to ease yourself in.
Uncover the story of Stonehengein the extraordinary atmosphere of this World Heritage Site. It’s the best known prehistoric monument in Europe, no less! A fabulous day out for all. For something really special, book a VIP treat and go inside the stones with Stone Circle Experience: an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime gig.
Bowood House, Calne
Discovery waits around every corner at the gorgeous Bowood estate, with 100 acres of beautifully landscaped ‘Capability’ Brown Parkland and, especially for Mudlets, an adrenaline-fuelled Adventure Playground featuring a life size pirate ship plus a soft play area for the younger children. Day Visitors are now able to visit Bowood House & Gardens by purchasing a ticket online in advance. Access will be controlled using a timed, wristband system – wristbands will be allocated at admissions on arrival, giving each family the chance to access the Adventure Playground for two hours during the course of their visit.
The spectacular three-mile long, 400 foot deep Cheddar Gorge started forming a million years ago as melting glacial waters eroded the limestone. Today, wild white goats cling to the sides of the steep cliffs but there’s a less precipitous, four-mile National Trust route for you to follow here.
The Newt, between Bruton & Castle Cary
Splash out on a visit to Somerset’s swankiest country estate, The Newt. Exquisitely laid out gardens and grounds (much of it in homage to the apple and in particular, the cider apple), woodlands with tree top aerial walkway, lakes and more as detailed in our review here. The farm shop, outdoor snacks and picnics from the Cyder Bar are available from now; outdoor breakfasts and lunches from the Garden Cafe from Mon 12 April. At £30 per person, it’s pricey but that gives you a year’s garden membership and is sure to entice you back.
Cycling around the Avalon Marshes, near Glastonbury
On yer bike to explore the otherworldly Avalon Marshes– wetlands, wildlife, vast skies and infinite horizons – on the Somerset Levels and moors. Super flat and criss-crossed with cycle routes down quiet lanes, droves and cycle paths, getting around using pedal power is a doddle.
SUP in the city of Bath
Every kind of paddle boarding – sit down, stand up, on a giant paddle board, with your dog (not compulsory) – with outdoor experts Original Wild on the river Avon in the centre of the World Heritage City of Bath. Why not do a spot of sightseeing as you go? From Sat 17 April.
Dunster Castle, near Minehead
As seen on George Clarke’s Channel 4 series National Trust Unlocked, Dunster Castle, perched high on a wooded hill, went from a Norman motte and bailey castle to 19th-century country house in 900 years. Expect terraced gardens with Mediterranean and subtropical plants, a historic working watermill and panoramic views over the Bristol Channel and Somerset countryside. Bring a picnic.
Sea kayaking along the Dorset coast, Studland
Grab a kayak and weave in and out of sea stacks, into caves and under arches along the Dorset coast, including Old Harry Rocks near Swanage. Fore Adventures organise sea kayaking, kayak foraging (for edible seaweeds, shrimps and crabs) and kayak fishing from their base on the Studland shore.
Visit Sherborne’s two castles
Make like a knight among the ruins of the 12th-century Old Sherborne Castle, once leased by Sir Walter Raleigh (of tobacco and potato fame) and now owned by English Heritage. Open from Mon 29 March. Raleigh later built himself a new pad next door: the 16th-century Sherborne Castle (above) which has gorgeous Grade I listed landscape gardens designed by Capability Brown. Open from Thurs 1 April.
High rope trekking near Charmouth
Try high rope trekking with 11 different stage elements and three zip wires at The Tunnel Treetops. Set in 15 acres of woodland just outside the seaside village of Charmouth, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the course is suitable from 6 years upwards.
Swans at Abbotsbury Swannery, near Weymouth
The only managed colony of nesting mute swans in the world, Abbotsbury Swannery was established by Benedictine monks in the 11th century to provide swan meat for their banquets. These days, some 600 swans come and go as they please, start laying eggs around March and hatch super cute cygnets from mid-May – a truly amazing sight. The Abottsbury Subtropical Gardens are next door and you can get reduced admission for both. Open from Mon 12 April.
Extreme Sports, Blandford Forum
Race super fast single seater dirt buggies around hairpin bends, chicanes, fast straights and corner slides, and quad bikes along 20 miles of extreme track with 45-degree banking chicanes and a 30m ski jump drop (eek). These and other activities are at farm-turned-outdoor-activity-centre Gorcombe Extreme Sport. Dirt buggies are avialable for children aged six and over, quad bikes from 12 years. Call 01258 452219 to book.
Tornado Springs at Paultons Park, New Forest
Paulton’s Park has a brand new ‘world’ – and after a long-lockdown, families will be so ready for it. Opening on 12 April, Tornado Springs is a rootin’ tootin’ adventure ‘world’ set in the American heyday of the 1950s. Big and little kids will love catching up while trying out new rides and experiences like the spinning coaster, gyro swing ride and (a bit more our speed), a classic locomotive.
The Vyne, near Basingstoke
Plenty of places to enjoy a picnic and natter at this gorgeous, National Trust mansion in North West Hampshire. A favourite retreat for Henry VIII and his Tudor entourage, walk in Royal footsteps through ancient woodland, wetlands and gardens. Don’t miss spring blossom on heritage fruit trees in the orchard and beautiful spring daffodils in the walled and summerhouse gardens. Blooming lovely.
Lepe Country Park, Southampton
On the Southern fringes of the New Forest, Lepe coastal country park is the perfect spot to enjoy a clifftop walk beach-fix and fresh, sea air. Visit on a sunny day and find a spot on the mile-long beach. Then soak up some Vitamin D as you catch up over a coffee from the pine-fringed, architect-designed Lookout café.
Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Petersfield
Meet at Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield for fresh air, family trails, woodland play equipment and brilliant cycle and walking routes. If you fancy a challenge, the 271m Butser Hill is the highest point in the beautiful South Downs National Park. Hungry? Pick up a coffee and homemade cake to-go from the Beechwood Kitchen café. Delish.
You have to hand it to Legoland for continuing to come up with ways to sell the Lego dream to under-10s in ever-inventive new ways. This year’s newest attraction is Mythica – a brand new world in a parallel universe, including three new rides, where LEGO creatures come to life. It doesn’t open until 29 May, so you’ll have to make do with Ninjago World, DUPLO Dino Coaster , Haunted House Monster Pasty, Lego Miniland, which took three years to complete and all the other favourites. Opens 12 April.
Thames Lido, Reading
Many reasons to head to Reading right now, Banksy’s latest artwork on the wall of Reading Prison, bit of shopping and stroll around the Abbey Ruins, before heading off to the super-cool Thames Lido. If you fancy pootle up and down the outdoor pool, it opens to members from 29 Mar and non-members from 12 Apr with outdoor dining. The whole restaurant will reopen from 17 May.
Swinley Forest, Bracknell
Fresh air, forest bathing and fun all neatly packaged up at Swinley Forest in Bracknell. Enjoy a sedate walk through the stunning woods, or crank up the adventure with an adrenaline-fuelled Segway tour, hire bikes and run the mountain bike trails or tackle the Go Ape course – a fun-filled hour exploring the canopy, trailblazing and tackling obstacles, finishing on the zip wire. Opens 29 March.
Highclere Castle, Newbury
The biggest star of Downton Abbey? No, Carson it’s not you or the Earl of Grantham’s labradors (they come a close second though) – Highclere Castle takes the crown. The house remain closed, but you can mooch around the Capability Brown gardens before settling down on your picnic blanket for a champagne afternoon tea on 12 and 19 April. You’ll have to wait until summer to enjoy the full Highclere experience. From £84 for two.
Cliveden National Trust
There’s a mahoosive 376 acres to explore – and there’s always something to see here whatever the season. Stroll through the formal gardens, stomp through the woodland and, if you’re super-keen, hike down to the river. Just brace yourself for the uphill climb. During the Easter holidays, the annual egg hunt will be back and we highly recommend getting on the water and booking a boat trip (open from 12 Apr). Advance booking is essential.
Stanlake Park Estate
This is a Berkshire hidden gem. Stanlake Park Estate has a long and colourful history dating back to the Tudor period but in recent times, it has made a name for itself as a superb vineyard producing quality English wines. The tours will allow you to waft among the vines, taste the goods (samples are generous… taxiiiiiii), plus there’s a well-stocked cellar shop, wine bar and garden where all the wines are available by the glass with no restaurant mark up. Tours resume in May.
If your kids are sick of walks, one that involves a picnic and play with an alpaca might just entice them off the sofa. How can you say no to that face?! The Walk & Picnic costs £38 (two people per booking), Picnic & Play with the alpacas – £65 (up to six people). Various times and dates are available at Mortimer Alpacas. You can also book private sessions for groups and/or birthdays. Bookings are being taken from 12 April.
Paddle tours, Newbury
Test your sense of adventure and your balance on a SUP tour of the Kennet & Avon Canal. Wild Paddle Berkshire is sightseeing with a difference. The difference being you’re on a paddle board and there’s a risk of getting wet… Run by Lara and her expert team, the tours set off from both Newbury and Kintbury locks and are perfect for beginners to the more skilled. It’s a unique and tranquil way to see this beautiful part of Berks. Bookings from 3 April.
Stonor Park, Henley
Exhausted and happy kids, you say? I spy an easy bedtime coming right up. There’s a new adventure playground at Stonor Park and not only is it as magical as Hogwarts but it comes with very necessary coffee for the spectators (in the form of the cafe at the visitor’s centre). Wholesome fun for the kids and lunch sorted – it’s a win-win. Tumblestone Hollow is on the edge of Stonor’s woodland and is inspired by the stone circle found in the estate grounds. The wooden playground, designed for 4 to 12-year-olds, has high level walkways, climbing nets, look-out decks and bridges, all connected to a gnarled central tower.
Hide and seek was made for dilapidated churches and hours of play can be squeezed out of a sunny day and some tumbled-down walls, I kid you not. Wallingford Castle is opening on 1 April while the Abbey Buildings (and next door gardens) at Abingdon are open all year round. Head into the historic town afterwards for a takeaway cinnamon bun or party from award-winning The Orange Bakery.
Oxford Botanic Gardens
Are you overly familiar with every blade of grass in your local park? Of course you are. So here’s where to head for a change of scene. Oxford Botanic Gardens has been open to locals all lockdown and provides a very verdant afternoon out for those utterly bored of their own backyard.
If travelling under your own steam sounds like too much distraction from the important business of catching up, you could hire an electric boat. Wallingford’s Pure Boating is taking bookings from 3 April with boats for up to 11 people that you can drive down to Benson Lock or towards Moulsford. What better way to arrive at the Beetle and Wedge, two hours downstream, than on the water (though you’ll have to wait until they reopen their pods and terrace from 12 April if you’re hoping for riverside dining and a drink). Boats cost from £55 for an hour.
Cotswold Country Park and Beach, Cirencester
Head to the largest inland paddling beach in the UK for some ‘Costa del Cotswolds’ fun. This brilliant, action-packed Country Park has a large, sandy lagoon for swimming and paddling, or hire one of the giant swan pedalos, row or electric boats for some laughter on the lake. There’s an inflatable aqua adventure park you can book ahead for, mini golf and – new for 2021 – are the VIP BBQs. From £30 you can book a private area and BBQ overlooking the lake and beach for the whole day – with a free bottle of Prosecco on arrival!
Cotswold Farm Park, Guiting Power near Cheltenham
There are all levels of farmyard cuteness going on at Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park and it’s a fabulously entertaining day out. Reopening on 12 April, head for the Animal Barn where you can sit and watch lambs being born, plus see piglets, donkey foals, calves, and herds of rare breeds. Kids can interact with the animals too, including the gorgeous native Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, then take them (your kids, not the pigs) to burn off all their energy at the Adventure Playground, Farm Safari, Tractor School or Giant Jumping Pillows.