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Summer holidays. Aaah, bliss. Bliss for kids, that is. For parents it can be a six-week nightmare of shuttling offspring to and from sports camps and baby sitters. For some kids the baby sitter is the family goggle box. When we were younger our summer holidays were spent outside, the real outside, with our friends. Today, for a variety of sad-but-not-quite-true reasons, that’s no longer the done thing.
However, the success of such books as The Dangerous Book for Boys shows there’s a desire to claw back some freedom for our little darlings.
We’ll never get back to the Enid Blyton idyll of children going off on long, multi-day trips without parental taxis but perhaps if the parental taxis were bikes instead of cars we could let out our kids experience at least a part of the unfettered childhood we so fondly remember?
Most of the ten ideas below will be parent-led but here’s a thought: encourage older kids to do some of them without you.
These ideas were written for the August-September issue of Cycle, the CTC magazine, and are all to do with what to do with kids in Britain. If you live outside the UK, the ideas need to be adapted for your neck of the woods.
According to market research company Mintel, 18 per cent of all UK families have been on a camping holiday in the past three years. Mintel’s definition of ‘camping holiday’ probably has more to do with Eurocamp-style prepared tents among manicured lawns rather than roughing it in farmer’s fields under a lightweight sliver of taut polyamide. Don’t knock it, the ‘luxury’ version could be an ideal starter for nylon newbies, especially kids.
Arrive without a car and you may find you pay less, especially as you can fit into a smaller plot.
Campsites with all mod-cons have lots of family-friendly facilities, such as laundries, swimming pools and other kids for yours to play with. Once children have acclimatised to life under canvas you could graduate to the ‘real thing’…With a bike you can find smaller, less commercialised campsites.
‘Green’ campsites include Higher Longford Caravan & Camping Park, close to Dartmoor’s Granite Way Cycle Trail; Deepdale Farm, Norfolk, on the Norfolk Coastal Path; Rothiemurchus Camp & Caravan Park, Aviemore; Park Farm Caravan & Camping, East Sussex.
For information on camping in general go to the Camping and Caravanning Club website. Members get pitch discounts at the 1400 listed UK campsites. Ken Kifer’s site has tons of cycle camping info by US cycle guru, Ken Kifer, RIP.
GO TO A THEME PARK
But not any old theme park. BeWILDerwood is an eco-friendly day out full of pre-Playstation delights such as zipwires, treehouses, boat rides, and jungle bridges. The 50-acre BeWILDerwood is in the middle of Norfolk, close to Wroxham. It’s £45 for a family ticket.
Broadland Cycle Hire, a cycle hire business long established in Hoveton, has recently relocated to a site next to the theme park. BeWILDerwood is close to the Bure Valley Path, a flat cycle ride through to Aylsham.
GO FOOD SHOPPING, SLOWLY
During the school term you may feel time-pressured into doing every supermarket run in the family car. Chill out during the holidays, cycle with your kids to a farmers’ market.
Cycling to get your locally produced food seems to be very much in tune with the eco-gastronomic goals of the Slow Food Movement. The movement is agin’ fast food and aims to preserve cultural, regional cuisine. Do I hear ‘ideal school project material’?
GO ON A FERRY
If you live close to a ferry port, cycle straight on to the ship. There’s no jostling for a good position, bikes will be first off. Living as we do on an island there are lots of destination choices. It’s a short hop to France from the South Coast, or a somewhat longer journey to Spain. West Coasters can go island hopping in Scotland or cruise to Ireland. East Coasters can freewheel along the fjords after travelling overnight to Scandinavia, or be flatlanders in cycling heaven after a night crossing to the Netherlands. Ferries on the longer routes are now very family friendly, with kiddie zones and entertainers.
GO TO A VELODROME
England: The Manchester velodrome has a month long series of youth cycling sessions for trackies, aged 9-16. Sponsored by a Northwich haulage company, the Francis Transport School Holiday Track Sessions take place almost every day in August and cost £2.50 per child per session. All equipment is included.
Wales: The Newport Youth Cycling Club has Saturday morning sessions for 8-16 year olds at the Wales National Velodrome in Newport. It’s £2 per session.
Scotland: The Meadowbank outdoor track is currently under threat of closure. A spanky new velodrome is to be built in Glasgow but won’t be open by this summer.
Northern Ireland: you’re kidding, right?
GO MOUNTAIN BIKING
If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. Teddy bear picnics have been replaced by pixie gatherings. Many volunteer mountain bike trail-building groups calls themselves ‘trail pixies’. Perhaps it’s the way new trails are appearing magically all across Britain?
Many forests now actively cater for MTBers. Trails are usually graded: green for easy, black for fast and technical.
The Forestry Commission’s Active Woods campaign aims to get more people walking and cycling in Britain’s forests. “From challenging mountain bike trails to gentle woodland wanders, there’s something to suit all ages and abilities,” says the FC’s website. “We now have over 2600 kilometres of waymarked cycle trails in our forests, featuring some of the best off road cycling in Britain.”
Forestry.gov.uk has a great search engine to find your nearest ‘Active Wood’. Type in your town and tick the grade of route you’re interested in and up pop suggested forests.
If your kids are serious about their mountain biking treat them with a trip to one of the ‘MTB Mecca’ centres in Scotland or Wales. The 7stanes mountain biking centres in the south of Scotland are magnets for MTBers. All seven centres feature family friendly trails.
Wales has five world-class MTB centres, all operated by Forestry Commission Wales. Centres like Coed y Brenin and Nant yr Arian.
GO ON FIRST LONG TOUR
Kids like measuring things. Before you set off on your first long tour with the kids, buy them cycle computers so they can log their daily distances. “The youth hostel is just another couple of miles ahead,” goes down better when it’s another two miles to add to the daily tally on the digi-handlebar.
If you go the whole hog and invest in a GPS device such as the Garmin 305 you can map your daily route. Kids can email their sloth-like friends with their long-distance map plots or update their blogs with the daily changing URLs so grandparents stay in the loop. Mac users should use the beautiful Ascent GPS software.
GO TO THE SEASIDE
It wouldn’t be summer without sand, sea and crunchy sandwiches. Er, or rain.
Link up with part of the British leg of the North Sea Cycle Route. This hugs the coastline from Harwich to the Shetland Isles, taking weird inland detours in Yorkshire and the Scottish Borders.
Brighton is enticing families this summer by offering free entry for children at the city’s top attractions as well as discount deals at big name hotels and restaurants.
British Cycling has a bunch of clubs across the UK which deliver youth cycle training sessions under the Go Ride banner. From ducking under limbo poles to mini team sprints around grass tracks, Go Ride coaches deliver speed and skill cycling sessions.
Go Ride affiliated clubs either organise kid-friendly races themselves or will be plugged into an existing network.
Most Go Ride sessions take place on Saturday mornings but during the school holidays there are week-long Go Ride ’summer camps’. These are usually in the North of England only, check with British Cycling.
GO SEE SOME ANIMALS
Wildlife abounds along the green corridors that make up much of the National Cycle Network. You can go flora and fauna spotting along any of the fingers of countryside that reach out from towns into rural areas.
Many cycle paths edged with grass have been seeded with wild flowers. Others are noted for particular animals: the Derwent Walk in Gateshead is excellent for spotting Red Kites. Ninety-four were released close to the trail between 2004 and 2006. The best section is between Burnopfield and Rowlands Gill. The Tarka Trail in Devon is named after a famous fictitious otter but otters are notoriously shy, you’re more likely to spot dormice – watch out for the small, ground level nesting boxes.