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Treat the family to these fantastic days out in the Midlands with our Great Savings Guide

Barnsdale Gardens

Cottage Garden. Photo © Barnsdale Gardens

Where do you take someone, who’s enjoyed a life well-lived, to celebrate their 80th birthday? My father has travelled and toured extensively, and continues happily to do so, but Barnsdale Gardens always offers something new.

Established by Geoff Hamilton, of BBC Gardeners’ World fame, the five acres of garden are actually 38 individual gardens, all planted and landscaped according to different themes. Their modest size makes it easy to transpose the ideas to domestic gardens – these aren’t stately home gardens with giant fountains and rare 19th century trees. There’s a first time garden, a variety of cottage gardens, a rose garden, orchard and children’s garden, and more. Plus, each garden has seasonal notes attached, which means there’s something different to read and spot in spring, summer, autumn and winter, and also a deeper sense of how the abundant ideas appear year round. Add in a cosy wooden tea room, and it’s a fabulous place to visit, whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or not.

Stay – Rutland Caravan and Camping AS

Member offer – Two for the price of one

Grafham Water

Unusually for a reservoir ride, the water is out of sight for good chunks of a circumnavigation of Grafham Water. It’s as if the track builders lost confidence that 10 miles of traffic-free trail with views over sparkling water and wildlife were somehow inadequate, and needed the embellishment of attractive woodland trails. The extra variety simply adds to the appeal of a gentle route open to every level of rider, from young children upwards. There are two cafés if you fancy a stop, a well waymarked route, and easy access in little more than a minute from the Club site on its shore. 

What’s more, a cycle hire shop near the visitor centre means a ride is possible even if you’ve travelled without your bikes. Keen riders can race around the perimeter in under an hour, although to do so would be to miss the peaceful appeal of Grafham.

Stay – Grafham Water Club Campsite

Member offer – 10% discount at Rutland Cycling

Rutland Water

Photo © JLaverack/Adam Atkins

If any waterside ride ticks every box that a cyclist could want, it’s surely the perimeter trail of Rutland Water. Wide, traffic-free track? Tick. Meaningful distance? Tick (17 miles). Café? Tick (four!). Pub? Tick (Horse & Jockey and Finch’s Arms). Extra miles for keen bikers? Tick (add the six-mile loop around the lumpy Hambleton peninsula). Bike shops and hire? Tick (at Whitwell and Normanton). 

And then, of course, there are the views over 3,000-plus acres of water, flecked with yachts, windsurfers and fishing boats. There’s the half-sunken chapel at Normanton, with only its tower and top floor peeking above the reservoir. And the abundant, year-round bird life, capped by the migrating ospreys that return here every summer.

I’ve ridden around Rutland too many times to count, in all seasons, and at night as well as day. Each time is different, thanks to the light or moonlight on the water, the ripple or waves, and each is a time is a delight.

Stay – Rutland Caravan and Camping Site

Member offer – 10% discount at Rutland Cycling

Warwick Castle

If your idea of a historical day out is to visit a stately home or castle and peer at artefacts through glass display cases, then Warwick Castle probably isn’t for you. But if you want an attraction to grab you by the lapels and entertain you from first minute to last, then this is an unbeatable destination.

For history buffs, there are a handful of glamorous state rooms with armour and oil paintings on the walls – more 18th and 19th century high society than 14th century fortress – but Warwick Castle’s USP’s lie elsewhere.

The gruesome, Horrible Histories-style dungeons prove to be alarmingly good fun. The views from the castle walls and ramparts are spectacular. The gardens, complete with free-roaming peacocks, are a lovely place for a cup of tea.

And then there are the shows – a bird of prey display with the finest display of birds I’ve ever seen; a trebuchet battle to defend the castle; a summer jousting contest; and a variety of Zog (from the Julia Donaldson Axel Scheffler book) playgrounds and events for younger children. 

Warwick Castle offers a full day’s entertainment, and it’s always tempting to return the next day, too. 

Stay – Warwick Racecourse Club Campsite

Member offer – Pre-book tickets

You can read more about touring the Midlands here.

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