An authentic forest getaway is an unbeatable break – whether you’re a young child or a big kid

This article appears in the summer issue of Magazine, distributed with the Guardian on 14 July 2017. Click here to read the full digital issue online.

‘Now, who can tell me where north is?’ The adults looked at their watches, then at the sun, then back down at their watches – each shift a little less confident than the last. The kids, who pointed in random directions, ended up being closer.

As the performance played out, Robin the ranger waited patiently. ‘I know what you’re doing’, he smiled, his northern twang inflecting an edge of mischief. ‘You think the sun rises in the east, sets in the west and is directly above you at midday!’ The adults looked aghast: yes, that’s exactly what they thought! Was this man mad? Was he about to tell us the Earth was flat? Was Robin a witch? You can imagine how we felt later when he said his friend had made fi re out of a snowball, but more on that later.

The other possibility was that Robin knew exactly what he was talking about, and that he was the odd one out in a bunch of adults who had lost much of their connection to Nature’s cycles and outdoor life – despite the pigeon-chested confidence drawn from an acorn of knowledge planted at school (which, it turned out, had never actually germinated).


The surge in survival shows and bushcraft courses – spurred on by the likes of Bear Grylls – are reigniting our interest in outdoor living, but the only true way to get back to Nature and understand its lessons, cycles and rhythms is by getting outside and being in it.

We’d taken a Forest Holidays break for just that: to escape and kick back in a beautiful spot, spend time outside and get the kids away from the TV. There were three generations of us – each with different tastes and personalities – but one thing that united us, from the one-year-old right up to the 71-year-old, was a love of the outdoors.

There are nine Forest Holiday locations scattered across the UK; they’re set in exclusive Forestry Commission-owned woodland so each spot has its own distinct personality that’s expressed through the magic of the seasons. At Ardgartan the pine-clad mountains sweep down to meet the shore of Loch Long at the edge of the Argyll Forest Park, while the more famous Sherwood Pines Forest Park boasts 3,300 acres of thick Nottinghamshire forest, steeped in the legend of Robin Hood.

Each location is leased from the Forestry Commission, the organisation responsible for managing and protecting Britain’s forests and a partner and shareholder in Forest Holidays. This partnership allows each party to support the other in the management and protection of the woodlands and forests. It also means that guests contribute towards the cost of the work the Forestry Commission carries out.

We’d chosen to visit Cropton – a woodland meadow on the edge of the North York Moors National Park. It’s a couple of hours north of where we’d grown up, and a short drive from Filey and Whitby, seaside towns we’d visited regularly as kids.

Forest Holidays locations

  • Ardgartan Argyll, Scotland
  • Strathyre, Scotland
  • Cropton, North Yorkshire
  • Keldy, North Yorkshire
  • Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
  • Thorpe Forest, Norfolk
  • Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
  • Blackwood Forest, Hampshire
  • Deerpark, Cornwall


All Forest Holidays cabins are designed to BREEAM specifications by award-winning architects Holder Matthias. They benefit from the latest eco-sensitive thinking and boast features like foundations and roofing that allow rainwater to fl ow straight back into the forest floor.

Inside, the cabins are true sanctuaries in the forest, offering a huge shot of luxury in the otherwise wild and simple surroundings. Underfloor heating, soaring windows with dramatic woodland views and your own private outdoor hot tub are just some of the things to look forward to after a day hiking across unforgiving moorland, ambling through the woods or cycling along winding forest trails.

Golden Oak cabins sleep up to eight people and are perfect for families; alongside a fully equipped kitchen, living space (with TV and wifi ), bedrooms and bathrooms you’ll find fluffy robes in the en-suite, an outdoor hot tub and a log-burning stove – all perfect for helping you kick back in the evening.

From 17 July 2017, all Golden Oak cabins will also have a professional gas barbecue on the decking, so you’ll be able to cook outdoors while taking in the stunning forest views.

A Silver Birch cabin, which sleeps up to six, is another great choice for your forest break, while the great value Copper Beech cabins are perfect if you want the same space but without a hot tub.

If you’re looking for a more romantic break, the Golden Oak Hideaway is designed with romance in mind; it has a hot tub, a wood-burning stove, a hammock on the decking and – in a touch of sheer decadence – a large, sunken bath, big enough for two, with a panoramic view of the forest.


There wasn’t much time for romance with the family in tow, but the sun was beating down through the canopy and we were keen to explore the forest with Robin, the ranger on-hand for guests who want to go out and learn about the forest, its secrets and how to find their way home if they ever got lost. Which brings us back to where north is.

‘No one ever gets this right’, Robin offered, kindly. ‘The thing to remember is that during the day, the sun is always to the south, because of our latitude and because the Earth’s tilted on its axis. It never actually passes directly overhead.’ Robin paused to make sure it was sinking in. ‘That’s why you always want a south-facing garden’, he added, and got enough ‘ahhhs’ to be confident the penny had dropped.

Encouraged by the evidence-based approach Robin had taken, we decided to probe him about this friend who’d conjured fl ames from ice. ‘You wouldn’t believe it’, he said, eyes wide, ‘but it’s true! He compressed a snowball so tightly it became a thin layer of ice, which he used as a lens to magnify the sun and create enough heat to make fire!’

You’re not likely to see this at a Forest Holidays site near you, but there are enough wonders out there to keep you entertained and amazed – whatever your age.

Click here for more about Forest Holidays’ locations and activities.