Clever spending

Fabulous and affordable half term UK getaways

Eight ideas for super-fun family breaks, with prices that keep them real

Porthcurno Beach (© Classic Cottages)

Stick the kids in wellies and take them rock-pooling on Cornwall's Porthcurno Beach.

When half terms loom - as indeed the October one now is - parents and children alike long for a change of scene: a break from the daily drudge and some happy memories that'll see everyone through until the promise of Christmas can take over. But the price of these escapes is all too often prohibitive; the cost of just a few days away can set your finances off-kilter for quite some time. So here are some suggestions, catering for all sorts of interests but with one common thread: value for money that keeps you and your break clever.

For families with small children


The far reaches of this county hold great appeal for young families. With a coastline heavily sprinkled with pure white sand - from tiny, untouched coves to big, bucket-and-spade stretches complete with cafés and shops - you have the making of many happy, hassle- and virtually cost-free days out. Stick the kids in wellies, arm them with nets and introduce them to rock-pooling. Add to this some similar-aged buddies (i.e join family forces and holiday with friends) and not only will you have built-in entertainment, but the cost will be diluted.

Glossop Farmhouse (sleeps 12) is set down an unmade lane with Porthcurno beach just a mile away. Recently renovated to a high standard, it has a kitchen/diner warmed by an Aga and a wood-burner, a snug, a separate ground floor annexe, broadband access and a Wendy House with miniature kitchen-area, sitting and dining-room. A week's stay arriving Friday 26 October is £131 pp (£1,563 total).


Want to introduce your children to camping but can't face waking up in a flimsy, drippy tent? Not a pleasant thought - and neither is a piddling pay-shower and sharing a non-flush loo with 200 others. It's become a bit of a cliché, but don't knock it until you've tried it: glamping takes the fright out of feral.

Pigeon Wood Hideaway, a short drive from the north Norfolk coast, has five safari-style lodges (each sleeping six) on a 2,000-acre working farm. The actual site is small so supervision of small kids is easy. Each lodge has a terrace, dining area, living area, kitchen, cabin bed, master bedroom, bunk room, flush loo and power shower. You also have a fire-pit and range cooker, and wholesome meals can be provided. A four-night stay arriving Monday 29 October is £73 pp (£435 total).

For active families


We've all done it: booked a 'cheap weekend away' only to realise it was nothing of the sort, thanks to add-on costs. That's where Great Little Breaks can help - the short break specialist offers UK-wide getaways complete with activities and treats for just one eye-catching little price.

Try one of their Great Little Family Breaks and take the children to Alton Towers. The new Nemesis Sub-Terra ride is a psychologically-thrilling experience, taking place in a dark, intense underground setting. But there's something for everyone here, from young children to serious thrill-seekers. Enjoy a two-night stay at the Quality Hotel Stoke-on-Trent for a total of £55 pp (two adults and two children up to age 12 sharing) including full English breakfast and one-day family tickets to Alton Towers.

Sherwood Forest

For families who don't want to sit still, it's best to have all sorts of activities in one place. Center Parcs offers exactly that, and although some of the accommodation is pricey, there are the more affordable options.

In Sherwood Forest - where you can paintball, Pendulum Swing (fly through the air), paddleboard, pony ride, rollerskate, raft build, and more - it's £170 pp (£679 total) for a two-bedroom villa for three nights arriving Friday 26 October. The Subtropical Swimming Paradise offers hours of amusement with its flumes and outdoor rapids, and the kids might like to learn scuba diving or snorkeling. Mealtimes are made easy (and palatable price-wise) with an array of restaurants on site including Café Rouge and Strada.

For explorer families


Not only a total treat for grown-ups, this city packs some punch on the fun-for-kids front too. Take a trip to the beautifully preserved Roman Baths where every afternoon there are Roman costumed characters. You could also cruise the River Avon by hiring a boat, and enjoy a day at nearby Longleat where you can see giraffes, zebras and lions in the safari park, take a train ride and no doubt get lost in the hedge maze.

Whilst of course Bath has some seriously expensive places to stay, there are some surprisingly reasonably priced - and brilliantly central - ones. The Bath Central Travelodge is less than a minute's walk, literally, from the main shopping drag (Milsom Street) and a night's stay in a family room is from £10 pp (£39.50 total).


The capital is a goldmine when it comes to giveaways for families. You won't pay a penny to play in the Science Museum's interactive galleries, or to ogle the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum next door. Revisiting your own younger days at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is also on the house. Then there are the parks: Battersea Park with its own zoo; Hyde Park with the Diana Memorial Fountain to wade around; and all 2,500 acres of Richmond Park with hundreds of deer to spot.

Think Apartments, conveniently situated in Earls Court, have stylish, serviced apartments that sleep four costing from £45 pp (£180 total) per night when pre-booked. The benefits of an apartment versus a hotel are certainly worth considering: you eat when you want, you're away from disapproving stares if the kids get unruly, you're not stuck in one room after bedtime and you get to feel like a local (trying out local markets and opting for takeaways).

For families keen to experience something new

New Forest

Europe's largest surviving area of ancient pasture woodland, Hampshire's New Forest is a fairytale land where wild ponies appear at every turn. If anywhere is going to inspire your children to learn to horse ride, it's here. At the Burley Villa School of Riding, a 'Cowboy Adventure for Kids' awaits (cost £42.50). Children aged from four to 12 years brush and tack up their ponies, take an hour-long beginner Western lesson before a burger and sausage barbeque and a chance to try their hand at some cowboy games.

Combine the equine with the porcine and treat yourselves to some affordable luxury with a stay at The Pig nearby. It's an effortlessly grand but wonderfully laid-back boutique hotel with an immaculate walled kitchen garden and spa treatments in the Potting Shed. Midweek, a family room (large double bedroom and a bunk room for children up to the age of 12) costs £58 pp (£229 total) per night.


Back at school, it's unlikely there'll be anyone in the class who's done this at half term. Cheese making? Kind of quirky but kind of cool, huh? And it's healthy for children to have an understanding of where their food originates and how it's made. Hagley Bridge, a working dairy farm on the Somerset-Devon border, has sold out its group courses for 2012, but one-to-one tuition (£120) is available. Your kids can learn to make soft and hard cheeses, butter, yogurt and cream. They get to take home their produce so next time they have a playdate, they can impress their chums with their creations at tea-time.

Stay on site at the four-star farmhouse for just £35 pp per night (bed and breakfast). You're surrounded by uplifting countryside, and have the Quantock Hills and Exmoor close by offering wonderful walking opportunities.

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