Perfect getaways for active lifestyles with Muddy Stilettos
For those searching for the right staycation that suits a more active lifestyle, look no further. We join Muddy Stilettos, experts in witty insider guides to the very best food, walks, boutiques, day trips, hotels, interiors and events – whilst they share with us the perfect hotspots for getaways with a little adventure. Discover hidden gems to keep you and your family busy and having fun on your next staycation.
Perfect for the family
Norfolk has so much to offer for a family active getaway. Start inland where BeWILDerwood is a magical adventure theme park cleverly hidden in the heart of the Norfolk Broads. Board the brightly coloured story telling boat and enter the mythical world of the Twiggles and Boggles for hours of fun on zip lines, slides, mazes and tree houses.
Whatever time of the year you visit, Holkham Estate is alive with theatrical events, tours, food fairs and outdoor activities. Last year it opened a Holkham High Ropes course, a big winner with the Muddy famalam. It’s not quite as high or challenging as some other well known rope courses in the area, making it perfect for all ability levels.
Littlies will love ROARR Dinosaur Adventure. Get up close to some pretty convincing dinosaurs on the woodland activity trail before visiting the small animal farm and taking a ride on the deer safari. There are also both indoor and outdoor play areas including a fun splash zone (tip – bring swimmers) and a high ropes/zipwire which will keep the tweenies happy.
For some wet weather fun, Norfolk has an impressive 10 museums that make up the Norfolk Museum Service. No word yet on reopening but check the website for updates. When the doors open, our favourites include Norwich Castle for the Castle keep and dungeons and Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse for the authentic Victorian experience and work horses.
Talking of horses – Redwings Horse Sanctuary in Aylsham is a lovely FREE day out for equestrian fans. Winner of Muddy’s Best Family Attraction 2019 – there are always lots of interactive activities including guided tours, pony grooming and a fun filled programme of events during the school holidays.
Cycling & Walking
Nine wayword routes make up 1200 miles of walks, cycle and bridle routes and our faves include …
The Norfolk Coastal Path runs 83 miles from Hunstanton to Hopton-on-Sea and is a great way to explore the beaches and countryside. Margin Glamping offer a fantastic glamp and walk service if you want to tackle a good chunk of the route. However, day walks/cycles with pub stops en route is an equally Muddy approach.
The Peddars Way is another great walk/cycle route totalling 74km from Suffolk through Thetford Forest in Mid Norfolk and joining the Norfolk Coastal Path at Holme-next-the-Sea, below.
If you fancy channelling your inner warrior goddess, the Boudicca Way runs for approximately 36 miles between Norwich and Diss, passing through the rural, gently undulating countryside of south Norfolk and the Waveney Valley.
Beautiful Houses & Gardens
Norfolk’s not short of a country pile or two and thanks to The National Trust and English Heritage most are open to the public. Birth place of Anne Boleyn, Blickling Estate is a gorgeous Jacobean hall with acres of grounds to explore. Every August they host Classic Ibiza and hundreds of middle aged hipsters reminisce their halcyon days over a picnic.
Sheringham Country Park has the most beautiful gardens and is famed for its Rhododendrons. Felbrigg Hall is fantastically opulent but it’s the 520 acres of dog and buggy-friendly land that makes it a Muddy favourite.
Oxburgh Hall in the Brecklands is a small(ish) hall surrounded by a moat and good for kids with a short attention span. The woods are great for den building and The Bedingfeld Arms next door is the perfect parental reward.
Houghton Hall in West Norfolk has become a bit of an artists favourite – Last year it was all about Damien Hurst and this year it’s Anish Kapoor. Plus if you’re inspired by their furniture, they have their very own carpentry company making replicas!
If you’re in Norwich, don’t miss the chance to visit The Plantation Garden, next door to the Norwich Catholic Cathedral on Earlham Road. This Victorian sunken garden is a bit of a hidden secret and a magical place to have a cream tea during the summer.
If you’re toddling round with littlies and desperate to stretch your legs there are over 150 miles of National Cycle Network running through the county and you can hire bikes for the day along the trailer-friendly and mostly traffic-free 11 miles of the Granite Way, which links Okehampton and Lydford on the edge of Dartmoor. Just a short detour off the Way at Sourton Lake Muddy-approved Bearslake Inn are running a takeaway chippy on Friday and Saturday evenings.
When lockdown unlocks pack your kids’ wetsuits for a day at River Dart Country Park, a 90-acre natural playground with zip wires and a beautiful shallow lake with little beaches and shady areas, and an exciting pirate ship for the kids to dive off. For rainy days, there’s Quay Climbing’s Clip ‘n Climb on Exeter’s Quayside – you have to help clip them on but you get a scramble up the walls too.
There are zoos at Paignton and Dartmoor Zoo at Sparkeswell and Muddy’s local, the bijou Shaldon Zoo. After you’ve ogled their noisy lemurs, grab a bite from award-winning eco caff Ode and head down the spooky Smugglers Tunnel to Ness Cove. It’s a secluded local’s beach (but no loos). We also love Donkey Sanctuary for cute rescue donks (free to visit but donations welcome), saved from around the globe – they’re so friendly you can stroke their furry noses over the fence.
For inexperienced little horse lovers (3-10), The Miniature Pony Centre is a good introduction, or you can trot straight out of the stables and onto Dartmoor for a one or two-hour hack with family-run Cholwell Riding Stables though due to the current restrictions it’s more experienced riders in groups of up to six only for now.
Want to see dolphins, porpoise and seals? It’s not guaranteed, but Teignmouth’s new Devon Sea Safari is getting kudos for its wildlife-finding prowess – cue lots of happy locals.
Every day’s a school day at Morwhellam Quay. This 200 year-old working mine and once the busiest port in Britain is where BBC’s Edwardian Farmwas filmed, where you can take an underground train to the copper mine and dress up (and bake) like a Victorian. The Muddy kids rate the prehistoric caves at Kents Cavern near Torquay – the best bit is when they turn out the lights so you can see what ‘being in the dark’ really means.
In North Devon’s surfer paradise, you’re spoilt for choice: the dune-backed beaches at Croyde (above), or Woolacombe or the gentler Saunton Sands– all large sandy beaches with good waves and rock pools. Off the beaten track, locals love Putsborough between Croyde and Woolacombe, and if you don’t mind a bit of walk and climb down the beach, the secluded Bucks Mill or Lee Bay.
Among South Devon’s 50 beaches, family-friendly faves include the golden sands of Bantham (good for surfers) which has all the facilities you need but big enough to spread a socially-distanced towel and you can take a SUP or surf lesson here too. Beautiful Blackpool Sands has the added bonus of the fab Venus Café, and Muddy loves a swim (in a wetsuit of course) at gentle Hope Cove (above) – no steps to climb and three good eateries to warm up in afterwards.
Beer (the South Devon village not the bevy, above) on the Jurassic Coast could easily be in our Unmissables section, for its working fishing boats seen in many an insta-feed. Some good galleries too.
Not only do we have Dartmoor’s granite tors, and the highest point in England and Wales, High Willhays, if you’re feeling energetic, the jagged cliffs at Hartland in North Devon are fascinating thanks to a prehistoric underground surge which pushed the strata on its end. To the north east is moonscape of the Valley of Rocks, with its feral goats and occasional open air theatre. And don’t forget, one-third of Exmoor is in Devon (the rest is Somerset) where unlike Dartmoor, you have the bonus of a stonking coastline, as well as roaming deer and birdlife so twitchers, pack your binoculars.
We’re spoilt for choice with over 200 miles of South West Coast Path. Muddy’s *not-very* scientific straw poll of friends gave the top spot to the National Trust circular walk at Bolt Head near Salcombe- rugged and dramatic with top-notch sea views. For wildflowers you can’t beat the Heddon Valley– Muddy loves the nearby Swiss chalet-style Hunters Inn for a snifter or if you need it toddler-friendly, the short trails at Wembury have 12 rubbings plaques and loos to keep the little ‘uns happy.
You can’t get more woodsy and atmospheric than Wistman’s Wood, filled with ancient stunted oak trees and moss-covered boulders.
Top spot goes to Ottery St Mary’s November 5th Tar Barrels where brave locals run though the town carrying fiery barrels while onlookers cheer them on. (We laugh in the face of danger, hoohaha!) Devon also does a good line (‘scuse the pun) in cliff railways – the one that connects the villages of Lynton and Lynmouth (above) is powered by water from the river Lyn which weighs one carriage down the cliff then splashes out to let it back up again, or if you’re in South Devon, hop on Babbacombe’s cliffside rail to get to lovely Oddicombe Beach.
For folklore, head to Dartmoor and Kitty Jay’s grave, the 19th century burial site of a young woman who committed suicide after being betrayed by her lover – whenever you go there are always fresh flowers there. And while you’re on the moors, how about a guided llama walk? They’re great walking companions and, bonus – they can carry your cream tea while you hear about the history and landscape of the moors from your tour guide.
One of the Cotswolds’ greatest secrets is how good it is for off-road cycling. A network of byways and bridleways as well as large open spaces mean two wheels is a great way to get around.
Find some great routes here. Places to go freewheeling include Rodborough Common, Moreton-in-Marsh, Burford and the Windrush Valley. A good one to start off with is the Sarsden Circuit, an easy 1-2 hour circular around (pretty flat!) Kingham and Churchill.
Cycling around the Cotswolds
When it reopens, Rush Skatepark in Stroud is a brilliant kick-ass day out for kids, with high-speed ramps for bikes and scooters, or head to the bouncy AquaVenture at the Cotswold Water Park, a giant inflatable obstacle course.
The National Trust-owned Rodborough Common in Stroud is the wild and untamed ‘Wolds at their best.
Take an amble around the 300 acres with incredible panoramic views, dodging the (friendly) Highland cattle that roam here in the summer. Winstone’s Ice Cream Parlour here serves the best artisan cones in the Cotswolds – as well as doggy ice cream – so make sure to drop by.
Highland cows on Rodborough Common
The Thames Path is long distance walking trail, following England’s best known river for 184 miles (294 Km) as it meanders from its source in the Cotswolds into the heart of the capital – yes, you really can walk back to London in 14 days should you wish! On its way the Trail passes peaceful water meadows rich in wildlife, historic towns and lovely villages.
Join it on the Cotswold fringes in Lechlade-on-Thames, home to herds of Highland cattle, the kids will love watching the canal boats squeeze through the locks.
The Cotswold Way is 102 miles of magnificent views, ancient sites and pretty villages, from Chipping CAmpden all the way down to Bath. Do it all in seven days, or (more likely) dip in for an hour or two.
A family adventure
Obviously Cornwall is home to the amazing Eden Project – but did you know the centre has the longest zip wire in the country? It’s a little touristy, but on a quieter day is well worth an explore. As is the Lost Gardens of Heligan, just 23 minutes drive away in St Austell, with its jungle boardwalks, rope bridges, hidden art and swings (above). Retallack Aqua Park, Saint Columb, a Total Wipeout-style waterpark is a fun day out, plus you might spot a celeb (Romeo Beckham visited last year).
Bude Sea Pool (above) is probably the most well known, but off the radar of most tourist trails is Priest’s Cove, just south of Cape Cornwall, which is well worth a visit with little ones. It’s a small lido, carved out of the rocks. And then, if it’s rock pooling you’re after Polridmouth has some excellent pools at low tide, as does Hannafore beach near Looe.
Well known is The Camel Trail, which is beautiful but not the only flat cycling trail suitable for a family ride. Our favourite is the Coast to Coast Trail (11 miles) starting at Portreath on the north coast, to Devoran on the south. The route goes from the Atlantic to the channel, so you’re basically cycling across England in a couple of hours!
Particularly in the current climate the beauty and draw of Cornwall is all the space – with very little else open, walking and going to the beach are going to be high up the agenda.