THEY SAY: The legendary stomping-ground of Robin Hood, this 450 acre country park is now part of the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve.
WE SAY: Free outdoors day out. Bring a picnic and explore.
A great day out with the family doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
On the hunt for some family fun, my children and I, along with mum, my sister and her two children, we headed to Sherwood Forest.
Kids love nothing more than pulling on their wellies and being outside, hunting for sticks and making dens.
And the royal forest, famous by its historical association with the legend of Robin Hood is the perfect place to do it. Admission to the country park is free with a £3 car parking charge.
Sherwood attracts almost one million tourists annually, many from other countries. Visitor numbers have increased significantly since the BBC’s Robin Hood television series.
At the entrance to the country park is Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre with an exhibition on Robyn Hodes Sherwode, two shops and the Forest Table Restaurant.
We choose to take the circular walk through the forest and the kids loved spotting the fairy houses and carvings along the way.
Half way around is the famous Major Oak tree, which, according to local folklore, was Robin Hood’s principal hideout.
The oak tree is between 800 and 1,000 years old and, since the Victorian era, its massive limbs have been partially supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding.
The Major Oak was crowned England’s Tree of the Year in 2014, in a public vote run by the Woodland Trust.
The kids enjoyed an ice cream and a rest and then we were back on the track again, playing a game of hide and seek along the way.
The walks are accessible for prams and wheelchairs and are colour coded so you don’t get lost!
There’s also a small park, and during the school holidays a small paid-for fun fair.
Each August the forest hosts an annual, week-long Robin Hood Festival.
This event recreates a medieval atmosphere and features the major characters from the Robin Hood legend.
The week’s entertainment includes jousters and strolling players, dressed in medieval attire, in addition to a medieval encampment complete with jesters, musicians, rat-catchers, alchemists and fire eaters.
THEY SAY: Short break including hotel and tickets to THREE attractions in Leicester and Leicestershire from just £149.
WE SAY: We saved at least £100 overall booking these days out and the hotel as one package. Can’t be beaten.
IT sometimes feels like you spend more on hotels and days out tickets on short breaks in the UK than you would a package holiday to Spain.
So I was quite excited to discover the Stay Play Explore website, where you can get a night in a hotel and tickets to three of ten attractions of your choice for just £149.
Run by tourism organisation Leicester Shire Promotions, the offer includes a large selection of hotels in Leicester and Leicestershire and the prices are fixed for all hotels, whatever the weather, so you won’t be stung once you’ve chosen your dates.
Booking was incredibly easy – you just choose your hotel and dates and then the days out tickets are emailed to you.
There’s a choice of ten attractions to choose from, with everywhere from Twycross Zoo and Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre to Stonehurst Family Farm and Swadlincote Ski Centre. (See bottom of this post for a full list)
It seemed perfect for our family because visiting new places and making memories is what life is all about for us. The deal is for two adults and two children, but extra children can be added for £20.
Just remember to print three versions of the e-ticket off and take it with you to each attraction, where the barcode is scanned.
However, if one night away isn’t enough, extra nights can be added to your short break at the time of booking for a special Stay Play Explore discounted rate.
Our hotel of choice was the Hilton East Midlands Airport Hotel. It’s not small bed and breakfasts that are on offer – the deal includes nice four-star hotels, including brands such Hilton, Marriott and Jury’s Inn, as well as individual spa hotels.
The Hinckley Island Hotel, Sketchley Grange and Hilton Leicester hotels have family rooms to accommodate two adults and three children if you’re a family of five.
We chose the Hilton because it was about halfway between Conkers and Twinlakes theme park – the two attractions we would visit that weekend.
Another good thing about these tickets is that they are valid from your date of arrival until December 31 that year, so you don’t have to visit all three attractions in one weekend if you don’t want to.
We chose to visit Conkers first, which is in the heart of the national forest. There’s a great mix of indoor and outdoor fun to be had here in the 120-acre area of maturing woodlands, lakes and ponds.
We spent ages walking around and enjoying being outside. The kids loved running through the maze and the wobbly bridge was also a hit with the children, who enjoyed running across it once they had climbed up it.
There’s also several assault course-type trails for teenagers and adults to have a go at.
There’s also a little train (at no extra cost), which takes you to a huge outdoor play area. The small water play area and the viewing platform, which you can climb to the top of for great views across the site, were also good fun. If you’re feeling brave, there’s also a barefoot walk where you can experience walking on timber, bark, coal, pebbles, wood and clay.
If that’s not enough, there are several outdoor adventure and experience days suitable for all the family, which can be pre-booked at an additional cost.
If the weather isn’t so great, there are things to do inside, too, with more than 100 indoor interactive exhibits for the kids to get stuck into.
We spent a full day at Conkers and left covered in mud and ready for hot bath!
It wasn’t long before we arrived at The Hilton, which was an ideal base for us. Our comfortable room was complete with a double bed, a single bed and a sofa bed.
The hotel also has a 16m pool and, if you’ve got the energy, a fitness centre.
For tea we went to the Plank and Leggit pub down the road – it’s a Fayre & Square pub with an indoor fun area, so it was perfect for the kids.
The next day, after a lovely Hilton breakfast, we were up and ready for the 30-minute drive to Twinlakes Theme Park in Melton Mowbray for another full-on day of fun.
It’s billed as the East Midlands’ number one all-action, family tourist attraction and, for our children, who range in age from three to seven, it was perfect.
There’s so much to do, we didn’t know where to start and didn’t get through it all in one day.
It’s everything from a farm with falconry displays to a theme park with rides and indoor fun, too. If you’re there on a hot day, the water park is a must. There’s more than half an acre of wet and wild fun with water flumes, lagoons and slides. There’s even sun loungers to laze on – not that we got the chance for that!
The favourites for my children were the rollercoaster, the pirate ship and the huge sandy play area, oh and the boats, they were really good fun.
I even found myself on a ride, flying through the air, lying on my stomach – it was surprisingly relaxing.
The two attractions we chose are full days out in themselves, so we’ve saved our tickets for the National Space Centre and will visit later in the year.
I’ve worked out, for a family of four, the trip would have cost £35 for Conkers tickets, £80 at Twinlakes Theme Park, £50 at the National Space Centre and £80 for a hotel, so a total of £245. That’s a saving of £100 if booked through the Stay Play Explore website.
Reviewed July 2016
NEED TO KNOW…
You can choose three of the following ten attractions:
ATTRACTIONS: National Space Centre, Conkers, Twycross Zoo, Twinlakes Theme Park, Stonehurst Family Farm, Swadlincote Ski Centre, Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre, Bosworth Water Park, Conkers Outdoors, King Richard III Visitor Centre