It’s so easy to want to hibernate at this time of year, grey skies, plummeting temperatures, rain and high winds all add up to make a duvet day appealing to even the most hardy of us.
BUT, with a bit of planning you and your little ones can kick-start a New Year health regime with some Winter walking. Take in all that fresh air, get your blood pumping and make it a fun outing for the kiddies! Sounds good right?
I’ve pulled together our top tips for making the outdoors fun with a focus on Staffordshire and local recommendations, making getting outside with the kids a walk in the park!
Firstly, wear plenty of thin layers and a waterproof coat, and invest in snowsuits/puddlesuits for the kiddies. Hats and gloves will keep everyone toasty. Wellies or walking boots to finish and you’re all set.
A little healthy competition
The humble stick is a fail safe source of natural entertainment on walks and can be found almost anywhere. Once carefully chosen, depending on the degree of stickiness they can be dragged along to make marks in the mud, they can poke things, become a sword, or cast a spell or two, but THE best thing about sticks is that they float!
A walk alongside a stream or river becomes much more exciting if there’s a bridge where you can play pooh sticks. Simply drop the sticks into the water on one side of the bridge (upstream) and then watch on the other side of the bridge to see who’s stick races past first, that person is named champion!
Dads – you might want to let the kids win just occasionally!
One of our favourite ways to spend a school day is a little stroll from Tittesworth Water visitor centre around the reservoir path towards the River Churnet. There you’ll find a bridge that’s just perfect for pooh sticks. You can continue along the reservoir path following the red route circular for a buggy friendly walk that is just long enough for little legs. We usually then either head back towards the playground for some more energy burning or for some much needed cake shaped refreshments at the Waterview café.
Take a toy
Taking a toy out for an adventure is an easy way to convince even the most reluctant little explorer into embracing the outdoors life. Choose a toy that is robust and can be easily cleaned or popped into the washer if it gets a bit muddy.
We have built some fabulous dinosaur dens, and a home for a cuddly rabbit in the past.
If den building is not your thing you can find some great pre-made ones to explore on the play trail at RSPB Coombes Valley Nature Reserve.
There is also a giant spider web to conquer, some pulley buckets to play with and best of all a netted tree top walk to explore, perfect for those who have a short attention span (so pretty much ALL kids) and require a bit of entertainment on route.
The trail itself takes a steep descent into the valley making it unsuitable for buggys so baby wearing is advised. It is suitable for little walkers however if you keep to a slow and steady pace, James (2) always makes it all the way back up the hill under his own steam.
Dogs are not welcome at Coombes Valley due to it being a protected nesting site.
Find out about family activity details here. There is also a playground and café inside the visitors centre.
Seek out some secret sculptures
This is one of our favourite things to do, a sculpture trail adds an element of surprise and excitement to a walk especially in the Winter months when the scenery isn’t at its best.
Be sure to head to the Trentham Estate and walk around the lake (buggy friendly) on route you’ll find a friendly frog, otters, a cheeky fox and some majestic stags to name but a few. There are also two cafés/toilets (one at each end of the lake) making it perfect for little ones who may need a pitstop.
Trentham also hosts a fairy sculpture trail that takes in the whole of the estate, these fantastical works of art can be found hanging upside down from trees and making wishes on a dandelion clock.
Everyone knows that fairies live at the bottom of gardens and Trentham Gardens is no different. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk around our beautiful mile-long lake, and through the woodland and gardens where the Fairies at Trentham live. Titania points the way to her fairy friends from the shopping village. Each fairy is different, some are bold and will want to shake your hand, others are shy and are harder to spot high up in the trees. Can you find them all?
Information on the fairies and a handy map can be picked up from the visitors centre entrance. Trentham also has an amazing playground, and beautiful gardens so it’s well worth a visit.
For more details on the Trentham Estate including pricing and activities, click here.
If like me you have little Julia Donaldson fans check out Birches Valley at Cannock Chase Forest for some Gruffalo inspired adventures. Now is the perfect time to try out the fun trail using a simple map to find 12 Gruffalo markers hidden in the deep, dark wood ending in a life size sculpture of The Gruffalo in all his glory.
Before you begin the course, pick up a Gruffalo orienteering leaflet with a certificate and map for just £1.50. Find out more info here.
Make sure you download the free Farmageddon app before you arrive – signal is very patchy in the Cannock Chase forest!
Use the app to complete challenges and solve UV puzzles in the forest. Completing challenges and puzzles will charge Lu-La’s communicator, unlocking an augmented reality photo moment with Shaun and Lu-La as they appear in the forest in front of your eyes!
An alien space ship has crashed into Cannock Chase Forest and Shaun the Sheep is on a mission to help the inhabitant – a lovable alien called Lu-La. Lu-La needs your help to charge her communicator so she can call home for rescue. You’ll need to hurry as Lu-La is being chased by Agent Red and her hapless helpers the Hazmats!
You can also buy the Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon Glow Trail Pack to get your hands on UV pen, activity book, stickers, Shaun ears and more! Get it from The Grounds café or Go Ape for just £3.50.
With a café, playground and Go Ape on site there’s plenty to see and do making Cannock Chase a fab destination for a full day outdoors.
Explore the world in a day
Stay with me, I’ve not lost the plot just yet! Fire up little imaginations and become real life explorers for a day. What’s more exciting than discovering an Egyptian pyramid or ringing the bell in a Chinese temple? Intrigued?
Biddulph Grange Garden is a National Trust property in the Staffordshire Moorlands. If you’re not a National Trust member then an entrance fee will apply but it’s a whole lot cheaper than an around the world flight! With beautiful gardens to explore, a woodland playground to find, mysterious tunnels, café, a trip around the world, and some fossils thrown into the mix it’s the perfect place to stretch those legs.
If you’re a buggy user then it is doable but there are a number of steps in and around the gardens so you will need to carry the buggy up and down a fair bit. I’ve visited with a buggy and also while baby wearing.
A masterpiece of Victorian garden design – a quirky, playful paradise
Biddulph Grange Garden hold a lot of family friendly events and trails so it’s worth checking the Facebook page before you visit, some events you have to book in advance.
This is a great venue for a reluctant walker, you’ll be surprised how far you clock up if you explore every tunnel, hidden path and zone within the gardens. There are plenty of benches where you can stop and take a breather. You can also take a picnic or head to the café for refreshments, and tick off a few ‘50 things‘ while you’re there.
And finally, the lake is home to some beautiful large koi carp which you can feed if you buy a bag of fish food from the NT shop on site. This is always one of the highlights of our visits.
Time for a treat
OK, now this one benefits everyone in the party. Some of our favourite walks are in destinations where we can grab a bite to eat or a hot drink. After all, there’s nothing nicer than warming yourself up from the inside out!
For this reason Oakamoor/Dimmingsdale is one of our regular haunts. It boasts flat and accessible routes along the old disused railway track and for the more adventurous some spectacular walks up through the woods where you can find the famous (and supposedly haunted) chained Oak. There’s also a beautiful lake with two friendly black swans.
The Ramblers Retreat serves hot and cold food and drinks and has a beautiful garden to sit in if the weather is kind. On more inclement days, you can choose to eat in the restaurant or sit in one of the summer houses in the gardens. Our boys love the novelty of eating lunch in a shed!
Rudyard Lake ticks all the boxes for a flexible family walking destination. First up there is the added attraction of a narrow gauge railway with trains running most weekends.
You can get the train from the station up to the far end of the lake for a very reasonable fare. The station operates its own Platform 2 café serving hot and cold drinks and a selection of snacks.
You can walk alongside the railway track towards the far end of the lake, this path is buggy friendly and takes in some lovely views of the lake and picnic spots.
If you want to extend your walk further there is also the old disused railway track that is located behind the station and heads back towards Leek. Again, it is flat and suitable for both little legs and buggy users.
Rudyard Lake Café at the Dam Head serves hot and cold food (we recommend the bacon butties) and has recently added an extension so that you can sit inside to enjoy your tasty treats. There is a log burner roaring away in the corner on chillier days to keep you toasty. Walk past the café and behind the boat house up a small incline and you’ll find Billy the talking Beech tree which is a bit of fun for little ones.
And perhaps most importantly…
Make the most of the weather
Winter in the UK brings with it a whole lot of rain, wind, ice and sometimes even snow, but this doesn’t have to stop your fun, in fact it can really add to it.
I’m guessing that if you’re reading this then you are probably familiar with a certain pig? Yes that one. Her only redeeming feature is that she’s not afraid of a bit of rain, why? Because rain makes for lots of puddles and that only means one thing…puddle jumping! Just remember to always wear your boots!
Without doubt this is THE favourite activity for the under 5’s. Dress them head to toe in waterproofs and let them jump in every puddle along your route, mud will come off in the wash but the smiles will remain a lot longer.
If temperatures drop below freezing, try combining a walk with making some Winter craft – you need to get out and collect items, and it doesn’t involve glitter so it’s a winner in my book!
To make these lovely frozen nature decorations you will need to instruct your little explorers to collect some interesting natural objects on your walk. Think along the lines of leaves, berries, pinecones etc. Once home place them in a shallow container and cover with water. Pop a piece of string or ribbon in to make a hanging loop. Freeze overnight.
Once frozen solid, pop out of the container and hang from a tree in your garden, if the weather stays cold they will last for a day or two. If the sun comes out then you can watch them slowly melt away.
When you’re out walking on a frosty day, crunch through leaves and spot icy patterns on route. Also if the puddles are frozen you can still jump in them, cracking the ice as you go!
A bit of the white stuff may cause chaos on the roads but it makes going for a walk snow much fun (not even sorry) . Just make sure you’re well insulated and get out there.
Snow provides lots of activities on route, build a Snowman, make snow angels or have a snowball fight. Keep walking inbetween to keep warm, listen to crunchy footsteps and make tracks in the fresh snow.
Or, stay close to home and go for a snowy walk in your local park at dusk, as the sky darkens the snow will take on a magical blue appearence and almost glow in the dark – take a flask of hot chocolate as a treat and sit on a bench in the snow (waterproof trousers are required), the kids will think you’ve gone crazy!
So there you have it, a few of our favorite walking spots in Staffordshire and some simple activities that make getting out fun for the whole family.
Happy Wintertime walking!
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