It’s fair to say we got a mixed reaction when we told our friends our holiday plans. The prospect of heading to a cabin in North Yorkshire for a week in late November isn’t, it turns out, everyone’s idea of the perfect family break. Even we had our concerns: would it be too cold? Would there be enough to do? Should we be embarrassed at booking a holiday somewhere so close to home that it even has a YO postcode? But various friends had recommended Forest Holidays so highly that we thought we should check it out. Last week we headed to Keldy, car packed to the rafters and two very excitable children in the back. Here’s the lowdown.
What’s the idea? Forest Holidays specialize in idyllic woodland escapes in the UK. They have nine locations across the country, with another opening in Norfolk next year. Our friends compared it to a more peaceful version of Center Parcs. There are a few on-site activities you can sign up for, and an outdoor play area for kids, but other than that it’s up to you to make your own entertainment.
There are three types of cabin with varying degrees of luxury: golden oak is the highest spec, silver birch is next in line and copper beech is the best value but has no hot tub (more info on the different cabin types here, if you’re interested). Because of the time of year, we were able to bag ourselves a luxury golden oak cabin for far less than we’ve spent on most holidays (it cost us around £300 for four nights). School holiday prices are eye-watering, but what’s new
How are the cabins? The cabin itself was really lovely: cosy and clean with a Scandinavian feel (lots of wood and large windows looking out to the forest). There was a small but adequate kitchen area; a nice lounge with sofa and armchair, wood-burning stove, flat-screen TV, Scrabble, Jenga, Nintendo Wii (ask at the Forest Retreat for games and a controller); two lovely bathrooms (one with bath and another with a shower), and two bedrooms. The kids shared a room downstairs and we had a lovely room and en-suite upstairs. Before we arrived we’d booked a high chair and cot (at extra cost, unfortunately) and while we were there we asked for a stair gate to stop the rampaging toddler from exploring upstairs on her own. Forest Holidays describe their cabins as being ‘simple luxury’ and that seems about right: it’s not a five star hotel in Dubai, but then would you be able to watch robins hop about outside the window or deer frolicking in the morning mist in Dubai?
Outside was a small decked area with a picnic table that must be fab for eating al fresco during the spring and summer months. Instead we spent the mornings looking at it from the warmth of the living room, counting the cats that came to say hello and looking for birds and other wildlife. Also on the decking was the piece de resistance: the hot tub. Hot from the moment we arrived and checked for water quality every day, this was a real novelty for us. I didn’t think we’d use it – what with it being nearly Christmas – but we were in it every night, chatting under the stars.
What is there to do? Well you’re in the middle of a forest, so there’s a lot of exploring to be done. There are various walking and cycling routes through the forest and beyond; friendly staff will give you a map and advice on the best route. One route is particularly buggy friendly, so we did that a few times with our three-wheeler (a city buggy may struggle a little bit). The path leads through the forest, past streams and glades and with plenty of wildlife. We didn’t see any gruffalos – much to our biggest viking’s dismay – but we did come very close to a couple of deer on one early morning stroll. You can take your own bikes or hire them while you’re there. It’s not cheap, but does save the hassle of taking your own. They have helmets, tag-alongs and everything you need to take kids for a ride. Walks aside, there are also forest ranger activities that you can sign up for (either when you book or upon arrival). They sound great, but our little ones are a bit young to appreciate it so we’ll try them another time.
Beyond the forest there are lots of places for day trips: we went to Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby for a day, which was lovely. Lots of people do day trips to York, but we gave that a miss for obvious reasons! On our way back we called in at Castle Howard for the kids to have a run about in the adventure playground (making the most of that Historic Houses membership again before it expires). The North York Moors Steam Railway is on the doorstep too, but sadly wasn’t running during our stay.
Although we could have filled our days, we really enjoyed the chance to spend some time doing very little as a family. Just pottering about outside and then going in to warm up with a mince pie and hot drink was really relaxing in a way that our holidays often aren’t. We didn’t feel any pressure to go and see the sights like we do on a city break, and we came home feeling less tired than when we left. A first. The kids had a brilliant time and we felt properly refreshed from so much time outside and none of the usual rushing about. It was one of our best holidays and we’re already talking about when to go back.
Good to know. If you’re planning to go to Keldy like we did, ask yourself if you can live without a mobile signal. There’s WiFi in the Forest Retreat (the reception/café/shop) but other than that you’re cut off from the digital world! The shop is small but well-stocked with lovely local food, snacks and drinks. We took all our meals with us but could have eaten well from the shop (albeit at a price; it’s not cheap). There’s a fish and chip van that visits once a week and you can arrange a pizza delivery to your cabin, as well as various in-cabin treatments like massages. Don’t forget to book a cot and highchair beforehand if you need one, and take any plastic cutlery etc. that you might need for babies too. Torches are a good idea in the winter months as it gets dark early and the paths etc aren’t lit. We bought the kids a couple of cheap lanterns from Blacks and they loved lighting up their own way. Expect to get muddy and you won’t be disappointed when you do. Just take plenty of spare clothes and remember that there’s always the hot tub to relax in later. And book early – that way you might not end up having to take your holiday at the end of November like we did!
For more details on Forest Holidays, visit their website.