Go Wild On A Mini-Break To The Brecks
Planning a mini escape for Valentine's Day, the kids' half-term break or spring? Mandy D Charles gets back to nature and discovers a foodie’s paradise on a weekend getaway to the Brecks...
With acres of woodlands and plenty of activities to keep the whole family happy, the Brecks is one of East Anglia’s best kept secrets. One of the most scenic spots in the UK, with 370 square miles of tranquil forest, open heathland and agricultural land spanning across Suffolk and Norfolk, the region is the perfect place to spend some quality family time, or get away for a romantic Valentine's Day escape. Here's how to make the most of your stay…
Sample some vino
Nestled in the heart of the Suffolk countryside with seven acres of terraced vineyards, gardens and ancient woodland, Wyken Vineyards is a great place to visit, with or without the kids. Parents can enjoy a glass of Wyken Bacchus and sample dishes created from locally sourced ingredients at the award-winning restaurant and cafe, The Leaping Hare: a handsome, converted 14th century barn (the Loch Duart Salmon Fishcake with Sorrel Crème Fraiche served in the Cafe is the best I’ve ever tasted). A popular farmers’ market, where the best of Suffolk’s produce is showcased, runs on Saturdays from 9am to 1pm – it's a great place to join the locals and stock up on delicious food grown and reared by local farmers and producers. Meanwhile, if you're here with the little ones, they'll love playing on the Giant Stride (a revolving Maypole), and meeting sheep, horses and llamas, plus the peacocks that roam through the grounds.
Learn some survival skills
You'll see some spectacular views as you travel to Brandon Country Park, just 30 minutes by car from Wyken in Thetford Forest. With 30 acres of managed parkland, arboretum and walled gardens, it's a great option for a crisp, sunny day outdoors. Head to the visitor centre to find out about the walking trails that run through the park, from a simple one-mile circular route to a more challenging six-mile exploration of the park and forest. If you're feeling stressed out, try joining a 'mindfulness walk', led by mindfulness meditation instructor, Amanda Flood, designed to help you relax and breathe while you enjoy the park. For something more energetic, take a bushcraft lesson with Ray Chin from Back To Wilderness, and learn basic skills to help you survive in the wild, including how to make fire.
Relax in style
Tuddenham Mill, a four-star boutique hotel located near Newmarket, is the ideal spot to retreat to after your time in the bush. Contemporary styling and attentive staff makes staying here an indulgent, unforgettable experience – and we all deserve a treat, especially in winter, right? If you're looking for a romantic escape, book one of the luxe loft suites which have private balconies, and try to bag one with a wood-fired hot tub so you can soak up the uninterrupted meadow views as you relax. All rooms come with Espa toiletries, Missoni dressing gowns and free Netflix. The hotel provides Merida Crossway bikes for exploring the local area and there’s a great spa, too.
As the winner of the Best Restaurant in the Suffolk Food and Drink Awards 2016, the hotel’s restaurant has a strong field-to-fork ethos, championed by chefs who are passionate about getting the best out of East Anglian produce. I enjoyed a silky pumpkin soup, perfectly cooked North Sea hake with oyster mushrooms and a spot-on bitter chocolate pot to finish. And while it's a stylish place to dine, it's relaxed and friendly enough to bring the kids along, with a children's menu, plus special pint-sized portions of the full restaurant menu available, too.
Get active in the forest
If you're on a family break, High Lodge Forest Centre in Brandon is definitely worth a visit, with plenty to keep kids of all ages happy, from sand play for toddlers to giant swings and one of the UK’s biggest outdoor pyramid slides for older children. Pick up trail maps and activity packs from the visitor centre, hire bicycles from Bike Art and ride the exciting off-road family trails that take you into the heart of the forest, speed through on a Segway, or roam through the ancient woodland. Join the Go Ape! tribe and enjoy great views as you follow a high wire trail using zip wires, Tarzan swings and rope ladders way up in the trees. There's also a Tree Top Junior course for little monkeys over one metre tall.
Treat yourself to a well-deserved lunch at the Courtyard Restaurant at Elveden Estate, just 15 minutes away from High Lodge. Choose from a menu featuring ingredients primarily sourced from the estate and farm. Top tip: the kids will love the Chocolate Rocky Road cheesecake (and so will you). After lunch, try your hand at clay pigeon shooting, or unleash your inner daredevil on a Rocky Road of the 4x4 kind, with an off-road Explore 4X4 driving experience. With some expert tuition, I found the confidence to manoeuvre a two-and-a-half-ton Land Rover over tricky, muddy terrain (and I don’t even drive).
Finally, don’t go home without taking a tour of The English Whisky Company, a beautiful distillery on the River Thet in Roudham, Norfolk, and seeing how their unique tipple is produced. Cheers!
Rooms at Tuddenham Mill start from £145 per night per couple, including breakfast. tuddenhammill.co.uk
Greater Anglia offers train fares between London Liverpool Street and Bury St Edmunds from £23 return. greateranglia.co.uk
To find out more about holidays and things to do in the Brecks, go to visitsuffolk.com