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As lockdown loosens do you feel an urge to get far from the maddening crowds?
After months of restrictions and enforced self-isolation it's unsurprising we've seen scenes of families packed together like sardines on beaches across the UK. Of course we all want to get out, but the importance of maintaining social distancing still remains – and that's easier said than done if everyone is flocking to the same well-known destinations.
Why Getting Out And About Is Good For You
A day trip out can be just the thing to boost spirits; getting away to a beauty spot, back to nature or just a new environment can bring a big boost to how everyone is feeling. Plus, of course, there are so many benefits to time spent outdoors. Enjoying some al fresco time can significantly reduce stress, improve memory, boost energy levels and improve our immune system. Being exposed to sunlight means our bodies can produce activated vitamin D – an essential hormone for our wellbeing. And though we get around 10 per cent of our vitamin D requirements from food, the other 90 per cent comes from exposure to the sun. The good news is that your body can store enough vitamin D to see you through the winter when typically our levels drop due to lack of sunlight hours. As if you needed an excuse to get out and about.
But unless you're local or are in the know, how can you find these remote spots where social-distancing comes naturally? Well we've done the hard work for you and picked some of our favourite lesser-known spots for family day trips. So pack up the car and off you go!
A Note On Day Trips
Of course, just because we can now travel doesn't mean we always should. While it's lovely to be able to enjoy a family day trip out, do consider if there are any options close to home to minimise the distance you're travelling and to avoid adding to the issue of overcrowding. And wherever you go please do ensure you follow all social distancing guidelines and maintain good hand washing principles. And of course the safest way for you and your family to travel is in your own car (if you have one) rather than using public transport. Restrictions in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are currently different from those in England.
Dungeness, South Kent
There’s a reason why Dungeness Beach is frequently referred to as Britain’s only desert. If you plan a trip out to the south Kent coastline here then you can be reasonably certain you and your family will have no trouble following social distancing guidelines. You may pass a lone dog walker but otherwise you’re far more likely to come across the striking smew – a white duck which is often spotted here; dragonflies; or even the night-flying Sussex emerald moth if you visit during July.
This shingly, isolated spot is dotted with shipwrecks and very few people. But don’t go expecting to top up your tan – this desolate, barren landscape is far more conducive to exploring and adventuring. It's a great, expansive, open-air playground for kids to explore. As well as the beach there’s also the RSPB Nature Reserve. The visitor centre, toilets, shops, hides and nature trails are currently closed but RSPB Dungeness has opened up its ARC car park between the hours of 9-5pm and is hoping to shortly reopen the nature trails.
Distance from London: 77 miles, approx two hours
Parking: RSPB Dungeness ARC Car Park, TN29 9PN. Entrance free for RSPB members, £5 for adults, £2.50 for under 16s and free for under 5s.
Toilets: The toilets at Dungeness beach and the nature reserve are both still closed. Nearest toilets can be found in nearby Romney Marsh (Coast Drive TN29 9PE, 5 minutes’ drive).
Food: The excellent Dungeness Snack Shack is temporarily closed, but the Dungeness Fish Hut is still open for fresh fish to take home and cook. Or Varne Fish Bar (TN29 9PA) in Romney Marsh is open for take-away.
Japanese Garden, Hammersmith Park, Shepherd's Bush
If you live in the London area, there are many, many options for finding a beautiful park without heading to the likes of Regent's Park or Hyde Park. The Japanese Garden in Hammersmith Park is a beautifully cultivated gem of a garden which is far less populated. It's a great choice if you're looking for somewhere local from which to escape the rest of the capital. The park is a hangover from the Japan-British exhibition of 1910 –- two parks were constructed for this major exhibition to celebrate Anglo-Japanese relations. One of them, The Garden of Peace, was later converted into a public park with a traditional British park feel and renamed Hammersmith Park. Occupying a slice of the park is the Japanese Garden, a tranquil haven set among whispering bamboo and pagoda trees. Kids will love crossing the two large ponds via the stone bridge and exploring the shady nooks. There's also a small waterfall. It's the perfect spot for a picnic – why not try one of these tasty sandwich ideas to take with you?
While some of the original planting from 1910 remains, newer additions include an authentic Japanese gateway and an avenue of Japanese stone lanterns. Why not tie in a trip here with some home schooling on Japan and attempt to make your own sushi for dinner when you get home?
Travel: Nearest tube Shepherd's Bush Market or White City (note current restrictions on public transport).
Toilets: No toilets currently open in the park so best only visit if you're local or can wait to get to Westfield White City shopping centre to use the facilities.
Food: Take your own.
Box Hill, Surrey
While we can't guarantee that no one else will have had the same idea, social distancing on two wheels is far more fun than on foot. Why not round up the family and their bikes for a day trip that promises to be wheely great. Box Hill earned its reputation as a great place to cycle following the London Olympics of 2012 but there's also much more than just cycle routes, including the Stepping Stones walk which will see you use these Surrey icons to cross the River Mole. The main draw here is the family-friendly empty space where kids can let off steam. If you're Surrey-headed take a look at our round-up of nature walks and trails in the area.
Distance from London: 40 miles, approx one hour
Parking: Main & East car park open. Free for National Trust members or from £1.50 an hour. KT20 7LB
Food: The Servery at Box Hill has reopened for a limited range of takeaway drinks and light snacks. Card payments only.
Hatfield Forest National Nature Reserve, Hatfield
Leave the city behind and escape to this ancient forest. Challenge children to see who can find the oldest tree – some are over a thousand years old! You can quite easily spend a day here exploring the trees and hunting out the mini beasts who make their home in the forest. Before you go don't forget to download the Hatfield Forest App. It highlights over 50 different points of interest to discover and includes a spotters' guide. There's a whopping 4,000+ species of wildlife living in the forest alongside some 650 species of fungi and 320 types of wildflowers. And with over 4,000 hectares there's plenty of room for everyone to space out.
Distance from London: 40 miles, approx one hour
Parking: Car booking must be pre-booked and is free for National Trust members. £8 for non-members
Toilets: Open, including adapted toilet near lake area
Food: The cafe has reopened offering a limited menu of hot and cold drinks and light snacks.
Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
If you're after more of a change of scenery and less of a back to nature vibe for your day trip we thoroughly recommend a jaunt to this Midlands town. Rightmove declared it the happiest place in the UK and even with the current situation there's plenty for visitors to explore and discover. In the past it's popularity was cemented by its famous thermal baths with their reputation for curing all manner of ill health. Today, the Royal Pump Rooms (the last surviving thermal spa) lie closed, however their gardens are open. Take a picnic with you and spread out in the gardens to enjoy it, or head for Victoria Park to relax. If you want to throw a hike into your day head to Chesterton Windmill which stands at the top of a hill. Once you get to the top you'll have sweeping views of the countryside.
Distance from London: 95 miles, approx one hour 55 minutes
Parking: St Peter's Car Park, £2 per two hours. CV32 5EL
Toilets: There are public toilets open in Victoria Park (no baby change)
Food: Grab a pizza from Birtellis or order something to go from Warwick Street Kitchen.
Milton Country Park, Cambridge
North of the city of Cambridge lies Milton Country Park – a get-away where you can fully immerse yourself in nature. Around the lakes keep your eyes peeled for kingfishers, dragonflies and damselflies while barn owls, muntjac and roe deer all live in the park too. Make sure you take some containers with you on your trip if you're visiting from August onwards – the hedgerows will be bursting with juicy blackberries. Regular visitors swear that the fruit found north of Deep Pool is especially tasty. If you don't manage to eat everything you pick you can take them home with you too. As restrictions ease further, you may be able to return to try your hand at canoeing or paddleboarding – currently both suspended in the park.
Distance from London: 68 miles, one hour 30 minutes
Parking: To be purchased in advance. £3.50 for the whole day. CB24 6AZ
Food: Cafe is open serving take-away
Eyam, Peak District
It seems somewhat fitting to include Eyam in a round-up of isolated places to visit during a world-wide pandemic. Known as the plague village, this spot was particularly badly hit by plague in the mid 1600s. The villagers opted to isolate from the surrounding areas to stop it from spreading. There are several poignant reminders of its selfless past that can be seen outdoors, including the Riley graves. You can also visit the boundary stone – where quarantined villagers would leave money in holes so that neighbours could provide food and medicine. It's a fascinating and fitting day trip for older kids to immerse themselves in history and draw parallels with the current situation. You'll be spending some six hours on the road for this day trip so plan carefully to make sure you know in advance what rest stops are open.
Distance from London: 160 miles, approx three hours
Parking: Hawkhill Road, S32 5QP, £2.50 for two hours
Toilets: The car park on Hawkhill Road also has toilets.
Food: The Eyam Tea Rooms are now reopened
Mersea Island, Essex
When high tide comes in you'll be hard pushed not to feel isolated here – the flooded causeway effectively cutting visitors off from the mainland. It's a great spot for kids to try crabbing, bring your bucket, nets and bait, marvel at what you catch then return it back to the sea. Over on the east of the island, kids can be modern-day pirates and hunt for treasure. The shore is littered with oyster shells which make a great keep-sake to take home. The area is renowned for harvesting some of the finest oysters. Pre-lockdown these could be sampled at the marvellous Company Shed on the west side of Mersea Island, which operates a bring-your-own-bread-and-wine policy. Make sure to check the tide timetable before you leave home to stay safe.
Distance from London: 68 miles, approx one hour 45 minutes
Parking: Willoughby Avenue Car Park, £5 for up to 6pm, CO5 8AU
Toilets: Willoughby Avenue Car Park also has public toilets that have reopened
Food: Pre-order your take-away fish from the Company Shed 24-hours before you visit and collect between the hours of 10-4pm.
Cora Lydon is a freelance journalist living in Suffolk with her husband and two children. She’s also a children’s book author who loves finding activities and place to inspire her children. Her dining table bears the scars of many craft activities attempts (many unsuccessful).