The giant wooden owl presiding over the landscape at the Rosliston Forestry Centre is the introduction to what is no ordinary playground – one that includes a timber trail and bird-of-prey themed crazy golf. But the National Forest is no ordinary forest. ‘Covering’ parts of northern Leicestershire and southern Derbyshire and extending into Staffordshire, it’s not a forest at all but a 'forest in the making', established in 1990 to create jobs. The 20 million trees slated to be planted here over the next 25 years will cover a third of the area, with the rest given over to farms, villages and open land. You can help by sponsoring or even planting a tree.
'We hired bikes and a trailer to explore the site, which is perfect for those with younger kids – not too hilly, with both surfaced paths and grassy routes around the perimeter. You can stop off en route to explore the woods, hunt for bugs and pond-life, or just sit and soak up the peacefulness.'
Family holiday options in the National Forest are plentiful, including a very family-friendly youth hostel and camping at Beehive Woodland Lakes. We chose to stay on-site at Rosliston, where there are a handful of lovely forest lodges. Each is set back from the lane in its own secluded glade, so you feel cut-off from the rest of humanity. The presence of a ‘supermoon’ in the clear skies over the trees on the weekend we were there only added to the slightly spooky atmosphere (lunar perigrees, when the moon is closer to Earth, are believed to presage natural disasters).
In the wood beyond our lodge was a badger sett, and though we sadly failed to spot any of these nocturnal creatures, there were rabbits and birds aplenty. A few too many birds, in fact – at least that’s what I thought as they dive-bombed the roof of our lodge at 5am on our final morning, making me come over all Tippi Hedren.
The Centre is a hub of local life, with folk bringing their kids to play in the wonderful playground, walk their dogs, or cycle. Aside the car park and bike hire if you don’t bring your own, it’s free to access. There’s a café with a stove for chillier months and tempting activities, including archery, falconry and astronomy walks.
We hired bikes and a trailer to explore the site, which is perfect for those with younger kids like mine – not too hilly, and with both surfaced paths and grassy routes around the perimeter. You can stop off en route to explore the woods, hunt for bugs and pond-life, or just sit and soak up the peacefulness. Had we come a few weeks later, we could also have headed for the nearby £1.5-million, eco-friendly National Forest Cycling Centre, with 13km of off-road trails, a bike-hire and repair shop, a café, and a play area. Again, this is the perfect spot to bring younger kids to cycle in a safe natural environment.
There are other things to do in the ‘forest’ – we found Conkers worthy of an afternoon, with its little train, adventure playground, woodland discovery centre, and Enchanted Forest with simulated treetop walk and rope walkways. We did plan to do more, but our forest hideaway was so inviting and the Rosliston playground and bike trails so pleasant in the spring sunshine that it seemed a shame to venture out. Still, it’s good to know that there are options nearby should the weather prove less friendly, including Twycross Zoo and Snibston, a former mine with an interactive museum in the old colliery buildings, historic mining railway, and country park and nature reserve with trails and play areas.
Read more about family breaks in Derbyshire or see our favourite UK short breaks with kids including our latest offers and discounts.