The Urban Guide to the Countryside

Get ready for February half term!

8 Feb 2017

It’s time to get the planner out and plot how to keep the kids (and yourself – I’ve thrown in some adult entertainment, too. No, not X-rated) occupied during a cold week in February. The Harry Potter box set looks tempting, I know, I’ve just counted how many hours it buys you and it’s a massive 19! But the other 41? Read on, here’s a batchful of ideas to inspire.

Far Peak Climbing Centre, Northleach

There’s nothing like an adrenaline rush to warm you up on a frosty February day and Far Peak near Northleach has plenty of those on offer with its indoor climbing and bouldering (that’s climbing without ropes and harnesses for anyone who didn’t know, ie, me) and 15m outdoor tower that’s just waiting to be scaled. For half term there are extended opening times (9.15am-10pm) and activities that cater for pretty much all ages: Mini Rockers taster sessions for three to six year olds; Kids Tasters for seven to 14 year olds; and Kids Xtreme and Abseil Tasters for ten year olds and over. During the week, budding Robin Hoods can also have a go at archery and budding Bear Gryllses can try their hand at Bush Craft where they’ll forage the 25 acres, light camp fires, cook marshmallows (yeah, Bear does that) and build dens.
1 The Hayloft Far Peak, Northleach, Gloucestershire GL54 3AP. Tel: 01285 700370.

Puddle jumping championships, Slimbridge Wetland Centre

Right, pull on those wellies, it’s competition time and the stakes are high. Every day over half term between 2pm and 3pm, Slimbridge is hosting the south west puddle jumping championships with a certain Dusty Duck awarding a splashtastic crown to the winner. Contestants will be judged on their enthusiasm and jumping style, as well as their ‘splash’ skills (in my house, that’ll be how wet you can render your sibling). The competition takes place in Wellyboot Land with several practice puddles available for warm-ups. And, for a post-competition celebration (or commiseration), you can enjoy a cream tea at the Wetland Centre’s Kingfisher Kitchen, where you can look through the window at the Caribbean flamingos who really must be very cold.
WWT Slimbridge, Bowditch, Slimbridge GL2 7BT. Tel: 01453 891900.

Fun stuff at Daylesford

Gloucestershire’s most chichi farm is hosting some half-term events the kids will love – and you, too, because just being on haloed Daylesford land is like stepping into a slice of bucolic heaven. On Saturday 11 Feb, there is a children’s chocolate-making workshop, where they can get mucky decorating great slabs of chocolate with yummy ingredients and dipping marshmallows into melted swirls of scrumptiousness. On Sunday, illustrator Georgie from Cotswold design studio The Paper Hare will be teaching kids how to hand-paint and fold origami hearts to make cards for Valentine’s Day, and on Wednesday 15, resident environmental scientist Tim Field will host a workshop on how to make seed cakes for the garden birds, just in time to celebrate National Nest Box Week.
Daylesford Farmshop & Café, Daylesford, near Kingham GL56 0YG. Tel: 01608 731700.

Gloucester Ski & Snowboard Centre

Who needs a skiing holiday abroad when you’ve got the dry slope at Gloucester to slalom down? Er, all of us, but, hey, we can’t all jet off to St Mortiz for the week, so, although it’s not quite the next best thing, there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. During half term, you can book the kids in for two- or three-day holiday ski and snowboard school, which is suitable for six to nine year olds and will give you a chance to catch up on drinking coffee while the offspring get thoroughly knackered out. And for anyone who finds remaining vertical while careering down a hill at speed an uncomfortable prospect, there are also tubing sessions available, where you career down a hill at speed sitting on a large rubber inflatable. Minimum age four, maximum, well, it sounds right up my street and I’m north of 40.
Gloucester Ski & Snowboard Centre, Matson Lane, Robinswood Hill, Gloucester GL4 6EA .Tel: 01452 501438.

Drive-in movie at The National Diving & Activity Centre

An unlikely slice of celluloid Americana in the Forest of Dean, this drive-in cinema, which is attached to a diving and activity centre (note for summer, freediving, open water swimming and bungee jumps) is screening a couple of kids’ favourites over half term – last year’s Spielberg hit The BFG on Thursday 16 and the fantasy comedy adventure Pete’s Dragon on Friday, both at 7.30pm which would make for an exciting late-night, popcorn-eating fest. You can also watch from a hot tub if you’re crazy and/or don’t mind getting wrinkly.
The National Diving & Activity Centre, Tidenham, Chepstow, Gloucestershire NP16 7LH. Tel: 01291 630046.

Kids’ cookery days, Bristol

Cooking It!, the Bristol-based cookery school that takes the stress and mess of cooking with your kids out of your kitchen and into theirs, is hosting a couple of tasty events over half term. On Feb 13, you can make like Alice and join its Mad Hatters Tea Party where kids will make their own strawberry jam, scones, double chocolate brownies, sandwiches and lemonade. Then on Valentine’s Day there’s a Chocolate Mayhem Workshop which promises to create a bomb site of the dark stuff as children make and decorate two giant chocolate buttons, as well as cut, dip and decorate chocolate fudge with a whole lot of sprinkles, chocolate shavings, strawberry curls and desiccated coconut. Be prepared to embrace the sugar rush.
Cooking It!, 3 Clare Avenue, Bristol BS7 8JF.

Circus skills, Cheltenham Town Hall

This fun day at Cheltenham’s Town Hall on Wednesday 15 might just put ideas into their heads of running off to join the circus (quite frankly I pray for that some days). The circus-themed programme promises to bring out the clown, juggler, trapeze artist and lion tamer in everyone. (There are definitely miming and clowning workshops, but I can’t promise swinging from the rafters or wild lions, but, you know, if the imagination is big enough.) Quieter types might prefer the arts and crafts on offer, while everyone should get a giggle out of Bruce Airhead and his giant balloon cabaret act.
Cheltenham Town Hall, Imperial Square, Cheltenham GL50 1QA. Tel: 0844 576 2210.

Snowdrops at Snowshill Manor

This chocolate-box pretty Cotswold manor is closed during the winter months, but its gardens open specially for the annual snowdrop weekend, which this year falls on Feb 11-12. The manor house was once the home of architect Charles Wade who saw it advertised for sale in Country Life while he was serving in France during the First World War. He bought it as soon as he was discharged and, after restoring it, installed his eccentric collection of furniture, clocks, bicycles, and other curios, while he himself lived in the outhouses. The garden was also a labour of love; Wade regarded it as a series of ‘outdoor rooms’ and brought an Arts and Crafts sensibility to its design. The blanket of snowdrops as the garden wakes up to spring is gorgeous. And the village of Snowshill (locals say ‘Snozzle’) is worth a visit while you’re there, too. It’s picture perfect and in fact was the setting of Bridget Jones’s parents’ home where she first meets Mark Darcy in 2000’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. And there’s a great gastro pub, the Snowshill Arms. A pretty perfect day out.
Snowshill Manor, near Broadway, Gloucestershire WR12 7JU.

Musical Bristol

St George’s Bristol just off Park Street boasts some of the best acoustics in the country and its half-term offerings are a good way to enjoy them if you’ve never been before. On Sat 11 Feb, a tribute to minimalism will see Bristol Ensemble and Bath Camerata perform three pieces by Philip Glass to mark the composer’s 80th birthday, as well as Igor Stravinsky’s Dove Descending (chin scratching optional). On Sunday, there’s a more child-friendly music and storytelling event with live performances of Beethoven’s sonatas, concertos and symphonies, as well as rustic folk tunes, all wrapped around the rollercoaster, triumph- and trauma-filled life story of the great composer. And then on Friday 17, you can really hear what those acoustics can do when the solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie bangs her drum with just a piano as accompaniment.
St George’s Bristol, Great George Street BS1 5RR. Tel: 0845 402 4001.

Vanessa Bell at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

I approach a day out with the kids to London with a certain amount of trepidation. Not only do the boy mudlets walk around the city as if they’re in a field, bowling imaginary cricket balls and getting in the way of irritated metropolitans, the youngest has a habit of getting lost which ages me ten years every time it happens (I’m over 100 now and don’t those eye bags show it). So my London, half-term suggestion is to eschew the bun fight of the South Ken museums et al and make your way to the capital’s quaint, south east ‘village’ Dulwich. A busman’s holiday, you say? Well, a bit, but on a picket-fenced road opposite the expansive park, where you can rent bikes and eat at a very nice (and not crazily expensive) café (there’s also a Pizza Express in the village), is Dulwich Picture Gallery, which, alongside its permanent collection of Rembrandts, Gainsboroughs and Canalettos, is currently hosting the first major exhibition of the work of Vanessa Bell. There are about 100 paintings, ceramics and fabrics to feast your eyes on, as well as a photography display that brings together Bell’s intimate snapshots of her colourful, Bloomsbury set life and those of the eternally cool Patti Smith, whose black and white Polaroids of Bell’s Charleston farmhouse in Sussex capture the lingering remains of the life the artist led there with her children and on-off partner Duncan Grant. Sneak into this if you can, it’s gold star.
Until 4 June, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road SE21 7AD. Tel:

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside -
Gloucestershire Edition