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Hertfordshire summer days out 2015

PUBLISHED: 16:50 10 August 2015 | UPDATED: 21:29 17 August 2015

Lucy Dungay from Ickleford at Hitchin Lavender. Photo: Geoff Robinson

Lucy Dungay from Ickleford at Hitchin Lavender. Photo: Geoff Robinson

GEOFF ROBINSON

Looking for inspiration for holiday and weekend trips close to home this summer? Look no further. We have compiled 35 fabulous day out ideas in Herts that will have you covered - whatever your tastes

Leopard - one of the big cats at Paradise Wildlife ParkLeopard - one of the big cats at Paradise Wildlife Park

NATURE

Lavender Fields, Ickleford, nr Hitchin

The 25 miles of vibrant rows of lavender here is like Hertfordshire’s own little slice of Provence. Come here for scenic walks, flower picking or to have a cream tea in the café (or outside) and pick up some fragrant lavender beauty products in the lovely old timber-framed barn.

Visit between 10am and 5pm until mid-September. The farm also hosts regular events, such as yoga classes every Sunday, and open-air cinema evening screenings of classics like E.T, Grease and The Italian Job from August 12-16. hitchinlavender.co.uk

Cassiobury Park, Watford

There are over 190 acres of glorious green parkland to enjoy here, encompassing Whippendell Wood, a nature reserve (with a family-friendly, educational nature trail), part of the Grand Union Canal, and several sports facilities and children’s playgrounds.

There’s even a miniature railway, as well as various events throughout the year, including a jazz festival and regular musical performances at the park’s café, The Cha. 
cassioburypark.info

Aldenham Country Park, Elstree

Parkland, farmland and lakes make up the 160 acres at Aldenham Country Park, and with a huge range of activities it’s easy to fill a whole day with family fun. Visit Winnie the Pooh’s home in the 100 Aker Wood, pet and feed the animals on the farm, go on a woodland adventure, and even stay the night in the camping field. Some charges apply, but there are good value family packages. aldenhamcountrypark.co.uk

Rye Meads Nature Reserve, Hoddesdon

Whether you’re an ornithology expert or a birdwatching beginner, this RSPB wetland reserve is a wonderful spot for long walks, photography and nature trails. There are 10 hides looking out over the meadows, reedbeds and sandbanks – you might spot a kingfisher, and the butterflies and dragonflies put on quite a show.

Open from 9am-5pm, entrance is free, with a £3 car park charge for non-RSPB members. rspb.org.uk

Sherrardspark Wood, Welwyn GC

This ancient woodland is a popular spot for dog walkers, cyclists and horse riders, and is renowned for its stunning spring bluebells.

Summertime is perfect for a gentle stroll, when you can listen to the birds and try to spot a heron fishing in one of the ponds. There are regular events too – this month, there’s a bat watching party on the 22nd. sherrardsparkwood.com

More nature ideas...

Radwell Lake near Baldock is well worth a visit, with plenty of ducks to feed, the odd Muntjac deer and a popular camping site. Or skip over the Herts/Beds border to the Swiss Garden near Biggleswade – a jaw-droppingly beautiful landscape where there’s plenty to do, including a woodland sculpture trail. 
shuttleworth.org

ANIMALS

Butterfly World Project, Chiswell Green, nr St Albans

Sir David Attenborough is a patron of this heartfelt project to teach people about the many beautiful species of butterfly in the UK and beyond. As well as the Tropical Butterfly House, there are exhibits about bees and ants, and an insect study centre where you can get the full-on creepy crawly fix.

The site is open from 10am to 5pm every day – adult admission is £7.50, children £5.50. butterflyworldproject.com

Natural History Museum, Tring

A Hertfordshire highlight, you can easily lose a whole day at this marvellously exotic Victorian museum packed with exhibits and galleries dedicated to fauna and taxidermy, including some which are now extinct.

There’s currently a temporary gallery of mythical beasts and monsters to explore, and you won’t want to miss the stunning Wildlife Photographer of the Year show taking place this month. nhm.ac.uk

The Cat Survival Trust, Welwyn

A bit of a hidden gem, this conservation charity’s headquarters is the home of around 25 majestic big cats – from snow leopards to jaguars – which have been rescued from zoos and other collections.

Only members are allowed to visit (you can join on your first visit – family membership is just £12) and you should call in advance to check someone is available to give a tour and to book a visiting time. catsurvivaltrust.org

Redwings Pony Sanctuary, Harlow

Just over the Hertfordshire border in Essex, Redwing’s Ada Cole Rescue Centre is a must-visit for horse lovers old and young, with over 50 rescued horses, ponies, donkeys and mules ready and waiting to welcome you. There’s also guided walking tours, horse care demos and an information centre where you can adopt your very own pony.

The centre is known for its friendly welcome – and entry is free. redwings.org.uk

Woodland Hawking, Rickmansworth

For a truly up-close-and-personal wildlife encounter, book a Hawk Walk with Woodland Hawking, run by experienced falconer Grant Fear.

You can meet various birds of prey – from Harris hawks to peregrines and kestrels – and take a walk with the hawks through the woods, watching them sweep through the trees above you, and returning to your glove to be fed.

These flexible, personalised afternoons start at £90 for two people. woodlandhawking.co.uk

Extra animal magic...

Shepreth Wildlife Park just outside Royston has a wide range of animals to meet, and regular talks and displays throughout the day. August 4 is Tiger Day. sheprethwildlifepark.co.uk 
Willows Farm at Colney Heath is a great place to meet friendly farm animals and get stuck into various family fun activities. willowsactivityfarm.com

GRAND ESTATES

Capel Manor, Enfield

This Georgian manor sits in the heart of 30 acres of stunning gardens including the Japanese Garden, Sunflower Street and Australian Garden – a Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner. There’s so much to see – the gardens even have resident meerkats, ponies and wallabies.

Events run throughout the year and this month there is a teddy bear’s picnic on August 22, open air theatre, and the Livestock Music Festival on the 29th. capelmanorgardens.co.uk

Shaw’s Corner, Ayot St Lawrence

For 40 years, this picturesque Edwardian villa and gardens were lovingly tended by playwright and Nobel Prize winner George Bernard Shaw, and remains much as he left them on his death in 1950. Now a National Trust property, it is particularly popular with budding writers, who can visit his famous writing hut as well as exploring the house and gardens.

It’s also known for its outdoor theatre - catch the riotous John Bull’s Other Island from July 24-26. The house reopens after renovations on August 19. nationaltrust.org.uk/shaws-corner
Cheslyn House and Gardens, Watford

A tranquil retreat and well-kept secret, Cheslyn House has three-and-a-half acres of beautiful gardens, interspersed with ponds, fountains, an aviary and much more. The house was originally owned by Henry and Daisy Colbeck, who travelled widely in the first half of the 20th century, bringing back a range of unusual and exotic plants for the garden.

The gardens are free to enter and open every day – as late as 8pm in the summer – with dogs also welcome. 
watford.gov.uk

Wimpole Hall Farm, near Royston

As well as a breathtaking Georgian mansion to explore (including the dramatic, curved-walled Yellow Drawing Room), this is still a working estate, with plenty of activities to get involved in at Home Farm such as feeding the pigs and grooming the donkeys. The walled garden also grows an abundance of fruit and vegetables.

The park and gardens are a real sight to behold, with plenty of lovely spots for a stroll or a picnic. nationaltrust.org/wimpole-estate

Gorhambury Estate, St Albans

A traditional rural estate with a deep history. The grounds include a Roman theatre, the remains of an Elizabethan house, and the impressive 18th century neo-Palladian Gorhambury House. The house was commissioned by James Grimston, and his descendants still live here today. They kindly allow guided tours between 2-5pm on Thursday afternoons. gorhamburyestate.co.uk

More impeccable manors...

Two of Hertfordshire’s grandest and most loved estates are Hatfield House and Knebworth House. This month, you can take in the full majesty of the Hatfield estate (hatfield-house.co.uk) on a helicopter ride on the 23rd, while Knebworth will be home to the Classic Motor Show on August 30-31. knebworthhouse.com

HISTORY

St Albans Abbey

Dating back to 1077, St Alban’s magnificent cathedral dominates the city’s skyline, and is one of the oldest and largest cathedrals in England. Free daily tours will inform you of the building’s history and architecture, and give an insight into the medieval wall paintings, incredible stained glass windows and much more.

A series of Family Discovery Mornings take place this month, including a celebration of the Magna Carta’s 800-year anniversary (discover its links to the abbey) and a trail to find the cathedral’s 200 angels. 
stalbanscathedral.org

Jordan’s Mill, Biggleswade

This working mill and gardens on the banks of the river Ivel is well worth the trip over the Herts/Beds border. It is lovingly run by the company behind the popular Jordans Cereals, with an impressive shop full of its products on-site, as well as the picturesque Riverside Cafe with terrace, and abundant gardens (great for a stroll pre- or post-meal.

Four tours of the flour mill take place daily from April to October (10am, 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3pm), tickets are £5. The site is open seven days a week from 9am-5pm and the cafe is open until 9pm Thursday-Saturday. jordansmill.com

Wheathampstead Heritage Trail

Bring Herts’ history to life with one of the seven heritage trail walks through Wheathampstead and beyond, which range from one to just under eight miles. You’ll learn about everything from a Celtic chieftain’s war with the Romans to a lady highwayman and a polar explorer from Robert Scott’s famous expedition to the South Pole. All the trails pass various places to stop for a bite to eat on the way. wheathampsteadheritage.org.uk

Royston Cave

This somewhat mysterious and intriguing man-made cave lies beneath Royston’s town centre. Its most remarkable feature is a series of wall carvings depicting saints and the crucifixion, which could date back as far as 1350, and there’s evidence the cave was used by the Knights Templar before then.

Book a tour for £5 – children go free with an accompanying adult. roystoncave.co.uk

More links to the past...

Have an historical adventure at Berkhamsted Castle; a Norman motte and bailey ruin at Berkhamsted dating back to the 11th century. 
berkhamsted-castle.org.uk
Hands-on cultural education is the ethos at Celtic Harmony in the woods at Brickendon, near Hertford, where you can learn Iron Age skills including archery and storytelling. 
celticharmony.org

SPORTS

Lee Valley White Water Centre, Waltham Cross

A venue for the 2012 London Olympics, this state-of-the-art facility offers a range of thrilling white water experiences from rafting to hydrospeeding. There’s also less white-knuckle activities such as canoeing which can be enjoyed by the whole family. If you’re feeling particularly fit, take part in the Aquathlon (a swim followed by a run) on August 4. visitleevalley.org.uk

Dinosaur Safari Golf, Barnet

An adventure golf course for big kids as well as small ones. There are 18 holes set among waterfalls, lagoons and palm trees, with nine hungry-looking, moving dinosaurs roaring at you from the sidelines (not your usual round at the club). A game costs £9 per adult and family tickets are available at £27.50. dinosaursafari.co.uk

Rye House Carting, Hoddesdon

A trip to Rye House will take you screeching in Lewis Hamilton’s tyre tracks, as the F1 world champ started his career here at the age of eight, and remembers it very fondly.

As well as speeding around on a go-kart (something which can be enjoyed by children as young as three), you can have fun playing Laser Combat or visiting the (pun-tastic) Rye-assic dinosaur adventure park. rye-house.co.uk

Lee Valley Boating, Broxbourne

There really is no better way to spend a sunny day. At this river Lee boat centre you can hire anything from a canoe to a narrowboat or spend the afternoon or evening on one of the cream tea or fish and chip cruises. Prices start at £30 for half day hire of a canoe. leevalleyboats.co.uk

The XC Centre, Hemel Hempstead

You might think this world-class extreme sports facility is not for the faint-hearted, but it really does cater for all abilities and bravery levels.

Learn new tricks in the skate park, tackle the climbing wall or test your mettle against friends on the high ropes obstacle course. Whatever you choose to do, you’re sure to end the session feeling you’ve earned a hearty plate of food from the café. thexc.co.uk

Rainy day ideas....

Visit Glazed Creations in Royston to paint and decorate pottery (the ladies’ evenings are a more raucous affair) 
glazed-creations.co.uk 
Or watch a film in the luxurious vintage surroundings of the restored Art Deco Rex Cinema in Berkhamsted. therexberkhamsted.com

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