21 ultimate meet ups within 2 hours of home
From cycling routes and sea kayaking to historic ships and castles, here are 21 of the best day trips in – and within – 2 hours of Somerset & Dorset
Leaving the county has never seemed so glamorous! We love our local area but – boy, are we itching to get away from it. Enter Covid-safe day trips: outdoor excursions 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 stuff to do within two hours of Somerset and Dorset. We’ve started with some classics at home too, just in case you need to ease yourself in.
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.
Go Ape, Exeter
Little monkeys been missing the zip slides? Go Ape! on Haldon Moor near Exeter are taking bookings from 29 March. Book the brave into the Treetop Challenge (min age 10 years) which lasts 2-3 hours and culminates in a hair-raising 200m slide over the Scot’s pines, or for under 10s (over 1m tall) it’s the one-hour Treetop Adventure where you can walk through the tree canopy and take a free-fall on the Tarzan Swing. Bring your bikes and a picnic as there are cycle trails through the woods to explore too.
Royal William Yard, Plymouth
Plymouth’s historic Royal William Yard has everything you need to shop, mooch, dine out and drink cocktails, not to mention awesome waterside views over Plymouth Sound, Drakes Island and Cornwall beyond. It’s a Grade I Listed ex-Naval victualling yard, so plenty of period architecture to fascinate the historically-minded, but with enough of a cool, modern vibe to keep the young ‘uns happy. Stay and drink in the historical vibe or if you’ve got time, check out Firestone Bay (bring the ‘kini if you like a wild swim), stomp the coastal walks nearby or you could even hop on a ferry over to Cawsands.
Exe Estuary Trail, Exeter
Bring your walking boots, the dog, the bikes or your paddleboard. This waterside trail along the bucolic banks of river takes you along the flat, from the city’s buzzing quayside, with its excellent coffee shops and eateries, to the mouth of Exe estuary. It’s a favourite walk with locals, due to two excellent pubs en route, both with big socially-distanced beer gardens, The Double Locks and The Turf Locks. Only open from spring to autumn, the family-run Turf cooks up a brilliant weekend barbecue and what makes it even more special is it can only be reached by foot or boat. Exclusive, in a rustic, Devon way.
Uncover the story of Stonehenge in 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.
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.
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.