Things to do within 2 hours of home
Are you ready to (gasp) leave your local area? From castles to beaches, bridges to city scapes, we've rounded up some of the best things to do in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.
Leaving the county has never seemed so glamorous! We love our local area but —sweet lord, are we itching to get away from it. Enter the Covid-safe daytrip: an outdoor excursion 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 all the best things to do within two hours – we’ve started with some classics at home, because well, for starters, unless you live in the north of Cornwall you won’t actually be able to leave the county if you stick to the two-hour limit, and also, let’s ease ourselves in gently and enjoy the Duchy before everyone else arrives!
Immerse yourself in history, myths and stunning scenery at Tintagel Castle set high on Cornwall’s rugged north coast. Inextricably linked with the legend of King Arthur, for centuries this dramatic castle and coastline has fired the imaginations of writers, artists and even the brother of a king. Now it’s your turn to be inspired – complete with a trip across the new bridge. Note that there is currently a one-way system in place which means leaving via 140 steep steps.
Caerhays Castle Gardens, Gorran, St Austell
On the south coast near St Austell you’ll find the magnificent gardens and Grade II listed 140 acre woodland at Caerhays, often described as a spring-time wonderland for visitors. Home to a National Magnolia Collection, the collection even houses a 100 year old Magnolia tree. The gardens also feature many rhododendrons, camellias and trees which are nationally classed as Champion Trees by the Tree Register.
Restormel Castle, Lostwithiel
Restormel is said to be one of the most remarkable castles in Britain – and certainly sits among some beautiful countryside near Lostwithiel, with far reaching views across the valley to the river Fowey. The present circular structure, built in the late 13th century, was a luxurious retreat for its medieval owners and was twice visited by Edward, the Black Prince. Now looked after by the English Heritage, don’t miss the new walking trail between the castle and Muddy fave Duchy of Cornwall Nursery where you can pick up a takeaway coffee, or even some plants.
Launceston Castle, Launceston
Launceston Castle is an imposing sight in the town itself, the ancient capital of Cornwall. Building of the castle started soon after the Norman Conquest – it is an unusual keep consisting of a 13th-century round tower built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, inside an earlier circular shell-keep. The castles main function used to be a prison before Bodmin Jail was constructed. After you’ve walked up to the keep and round the town you can also head out on to the moor to see the Hurlers which are three fine late Neolithic or early Bronze Age stone circles arranged in a line, a grouping unique in England. Parking is free, but you’ll need to keep dogs on leads due to grazing lambs.
Via Ferrata Cornwall, Penryn
Penryn’s Adrenaline centre, Via Ferrata, is launching a range of new activities for the 2021 season following a successful first season in 2020. The 60-acre site hosts a high-wire and climbing route around a disused granite quarry. This year it has added kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddle boarding as well as coasteering and archery. Via Ferrata is also operating an adventure holiday club during the Easter hols with activities for 6–13-year-olds. Options include courses in climbing, zip-lining, kayaking, canoeing and archery as well as half, full and wraparound day care
On yer bike!
The best known cycling route is The Camel Trail, which is beautiful but not the only flat cycling trail suitable for a family ride. Also try 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! More of a mountain biking type? The woodland trails at Cardinham and Lanhydrock are very popular. If it’s a track-type setting you’re after and you’ve got all the kit (helmets with face protection are mandatory, body armour recommended) you can book the Old Hill Bike Park near Wadebridge for a half or full day’s riding.
Ride the waves
Outdoor exercise also opens on March 29th so this is the perfect time to get in the water before the crowds emerge. George’s Surf School (above) at Polzeath is great for individual coaching, or there’s Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay and the Sennen Surfing Centre, near Land’s End. Try Stand Up Paddleboarding at Polkerris or Gylly Beach in Falmouth, and there’s also Cornish Rock Tours based at Port Gaverne, near Port Isaac, which will take you kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, coasteering or open water swimming. Check out Camel Ski School at Rock for waterskiing and sailing schools operate in Fowey, Rock, Mylor and Falmouth. Porthoustock, on the eastern side of The Lizard peninsular, is a great spot for kayaking.
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.
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.