England’s northern counties offer all sorts of family fun: stupendous national parks (the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales), a huge range of outdoor pursuits (fell walking, potholing, birding, cycling) and much better value than many other corners of the UK. I make a point of venturing northwards every year with my children (most recently to Manchester), and have selected 5 of the best family-friendly places to stay.
Wonderfully old-school, this Victorian folly is equidistant between the Lakes, the Pennines and the Northumberland National Park, so there’s lots of hearty hiking to be had; you could also play at being Romans along Hadrian’s Wall. Alternatively, eschew the many attractions hereabouts for exploring the castle and its parkland, bouncing on the trampoline, delving into the dressing-up box, whooping it up in the playground, and dining on good, honest, locally inspired home-cooking.
This is a completely delightful one-off: a collection of off-grid woodland shacks and canvas yurts, surrounded by acres of stone-walled meadows and pine forests in the Yorkshire Dales. Fetch up here for free-range adventures (castles, waterfalls, falconry lessons, horse riding), wholesome food in the stone barn cafe (there’s a kids’ menu, too), and exciting school-holiday activities such as learning about foraging and woodcraft.
Just an hour north of Manchester, the unspoilt and under-explored Ribble Valley lies within the Forest of Bowland and is noted for its wonderful walking. Beneath towering Pendle Hill (of witch-trial infamy) is the charming village of Downham, whose convivial pub has a range of cosseting guest rooms to suit all, including dedicated family suites. There’s also a kids’ menu, along with deep bathtubs to splash in and a very warm welcome.
Self-catering rarely feels as stylish, practical and fun as it does at these contemporary 3-bed eco-cabins, secluded on a leafy hillside. Go wild amongst trees, waterfalls, caves and footpaths; return to proper kitchens, glass-fronted open-plan living areas, and terraces for alfresco meals overlooking a lovely valley. For rainy days, there’s a play room with tents, a wooden kitchen and a pop-up tunnel.
Only 15 minutes from Windermere, the pretty market town of Ulverston makes a handy base for exploring all the Lakes have to offer. At its heart is this quirky 3-bedroom self-catering Georgian townhouse, restored with a beguiling mix of vintage and modern decor. Period details sit happily with the swish kitchen and snazzy designer chairs, and there’s a roaring fire. Other pampering touches include mini bathrobes, toys and games for children, and an honesty bar with a cocktail kit for the grown-ups.