South West Adventures
With the country still basking in the memory of the hottest April day for 49 years, thoughts turn to the summer months which will stretch out before us.
And with Blue Islands’ high-frequency schedule to Southampton from Guernsey and Jersey, it’s incredibly easy to zip across to the mainland and enjoy a quick break or take longer to explore.
Here’s a few ideas of what to get up to.
Now, while it might seem a tad busman’s holiday to recommend a beach to people from the Channel Islands, this gorgeous golden ribbon of sand just outside Poole has been voted one of the top 10 beaches in the UK by TripAdvisor users, and beyond that has won a prestigious Blue Flag award for the last 31 years. With breathtaking views and space a plenty for everyone to cram onto, even on the hottest, busiest of days, you’ll find a little space to call your own. But, should you discover that you’ve forgotten to pack your copy of the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society, there’s a plethora of activities to keep boredom at bay. A large crazy golf course, designated BBQ area, children’s play area – complete with sand diggers – and water sports equipment hire are among them. Or if you just like meandering across beaches with no apparent purpose, don’t stop until you get to the Sandbanks Chain Ferry, which is not only unique and fun, is a unique way to look back on whence you came.
Okay, yet again while it might seem strange to nudge people from the picture-postcard Jersey and Guernsey to other island’s in England, these ones are totally worth. Plus getting there won’t seem such a faff, when you’re used to double-flights to get about. Marketed as ‘a totally unique destination’ within the UK – but happily one where there’s no language barrier – you can easily hop between the five islands of St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martin’s, Bryher and St Agnes to really feel like you’re on the jet setting rich list.
With the main ferry and air links, you’ll start off in St Mary’s, which despite its 1,800 population, is the largest island. Begin in the central hub of Hugh Town, with its cluster of shops, banks, churches, cafés, restaurants and pubs – alongside three spectacular beaches, it’s the perfect place to get your baring’s before heading off exploring the wider archipelago.
The island of Tresco will make you feel like your holiday is beyond excellent value for money – as this sub-tropical gem hosts some 20,000 exotic plants from all corners of the planet. If this doesn’t take your fancy, then there’s castle ruins and bronze ages burial sites. Hire a bike to traverse by land, or a kayak if you’d prefer to take in the views from the water. There’s also an art gallery and a spa. The island was also home to a seaplane base between 1917 and 1919 to escort convoys and spot for U-Boats.
With three other islands, each with their own unique identities and “back in time vibe”, sitting alongside umpteen uninhabited islands as well, don’t fret about not finding something to do. Oh, plus the food is proper delicious.
Now time for something completely different. Darling of the millennium projects, this futuristic series of domes house an unforgettable visitor experience. Opened in 2001, it took six years to turn into a reality – and by using 230 miles of scaffolding to put up its famed domes, earned itself a Guinness World Record in the process. Nearly two decades into its existence and this world-famous tourist attraction keepings pulling in the visitors. Take, for instance, the Rainforest Canopy Walkway, has a new Weather Maker section – which includes a rope bridge, cloud bridge and immersive exhibit where you can also shelter from rainstorms.
Education is first and foremost throughout as it tries to explain the complex relationship between plants and people. This fun and family friendly day out in the distinctly Martian-esq Biomes, will see you explore steamy jungles and waterfalls, travel across different continents throughout as you marvel at the range of plants being grown. But it’s not all serious education, because mid-way through the epic Rainforest Biome, is the Baobab Bar. Serving a distinctly unique smoothie combining coconut milk, banana and baobab powder from the iconic and very distinctive tree, it’s a great pitstop to discuss what you’ve learned already. Oh, and for the adults, they do a baobab rum cocktail as well.
But it’s not all plants (or strange cocktails). Oh no, because outside they’ve dialled in the adrenaline to install England’s longest zipwire – 660 metres long, where you’ll hit 60mph. Or there’s the Freefall – where you are winched to the height of a 10-storey building before being released to fall into a giant airbag. No bungee. No ropes. Just a special exoskeleton to protect you as you hurtle toward terminal velocity. Hello Fear Factor: Eden edition.
A short train ride north and you’ll find the strange but memorably named Wookey Hole, the UK’s largest cave system. But it’s not just a hole in the ground – it’s a veritable family paradise with over 20 attractions to keep everyone entertained. Animatronic Dinosaurs in the erm, Valley of the Dinosaurs, prate zap zone, mirror maze, pirate island adventure golf, Victorian penny arcade, circus show, fairy gardens and a 30ft high King Kong. In short, there’s a lot to do – and even more if you don’t suffer from claustrophobia and can squeeze through the tunnels.
Just to be clear, this is not the title of an as-yet-unmade movie in the franchise. Rather, it’s a rotating capsule tower which takes you 53 metres into the sky to admire a view for 26km. A designated UNESCO world heritage site, the Jurassic Coast is England first natural World Heritage Site because of its “outstanding universal value”, the floor-to-ceiling glass gondola slowly rises and descends, performing two rotations at a relaxed pace so you can admire the view and learn some history.
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