If you’re planning an active holiday with an exciting range of activities to enjoy then a staycation right here in Scotland is the ideal choice.
At the kind invitation of VisitScotland, myself and my wife Karen and daughter Cari headed off on a long weekend of family fun.
Our first stop was Glentress Forest near Peebles where we would try out their mountain bike trails.
The gateway to the Tweed Valley Forest Park, Glentress Forest is an hour’s drive south of Edinburgh. It’s a mecca for mountain bikers who flock to the award-winning trails. Based on the side of a hill, the dramatic views, which change with the seasons, are more than worth the climb.
There are more 50 miles of purpose-built mountain bike trails at Glentress.
And some of the best trails in the country include easy, moderate, difficult or severe graded trails, as well as a magnificent multi-graded free-ride area. You can take your bike along or, like us, hire them on the day.
The trails we undertook were testing as we ascended, but the real fun was heading back down as we raced through the forest, splashing through puddles and taking on little jumps and fast turns.
A little tired and sweaty, but thrilled by the experience we headed back to return our bikes and then enjoyed a spot of lunch at the Glentress Peel Cafe.
We didn’t have much time to rest as the afternoon was to be spent taking part in Go Ape’s Treetop Challenge, described as “The Goliath” of high rope adventures.
If you aren’t aware, Go Ape have centres all over the country and you embrace your inner monkey as you make your way through the trees, climbing and crawling your way higher and higher.
We had done Go Ape at Crathes in the north east which we enjoyed, but I must say Glentress was an entirely different prospect – it was simply amazing.
Challenging, but achievable, the course includes seven zip wires with the finale being an epic crossing that must be about half a mile across and, at its highest point, is 48 metres off the ground.
As you zoom across, you cannot help but marvel at how free you feel. It may have taken you two to three hours of effort to reach that point, it is an ending to savour.
Having successfully conquered Go Ape, it was time for us to have a little downtime. We checked into our accommodation of the night – Glentress Forest Lodges.
These cosy little pods are only a stone’s throw from the mountain bike centre and you can park next to them. Each sleeps four, has a fridge and electricity and a fire pit outside for you to cook up on the barbecue.
The facilities are excellent in the main block with the reception area including a kitchen area and TV room, as well as toilet and washing facilities.
We decided to head into Peebles for our evening meal and having had Osso restaurant recommended to us, we booked a table and enjoyed a mouth-watering fine dining experience.
Now, I understand that this wouldn’t be to everyone’s tastes, but a wander around Peebles revealed to us that it is a thriving town with an array of eateries to suit all palettes.
We had a 10am start at the Galloway Activity Centre the following day, so with a two-hour drive ahead of us we were on the road by 7am.
The drive across the country was a real delight as we passed through some amazing scenery which really showcased Scotland at its most charming and beautiful best.
On arrival at the centre, we met with our instructors for the day who would guide us through the activities we had chosen.
Archery was first on the agenda which was the perfect way to settle into the day after our long drive. It was great fun as we learned how to string the bow and then the basics of the sport.
Soon we were hitting the target and some games added a little competitive edge to things.
Climbing was next and they have a superb climbing wall at Galloway. There are three routes on the wall, increasing in difficulty as you took up the challenge.
Cari and the other youngsters taking part confidently took on all three of the climbs and I actually surprised myself by managing to complete all three, so I would certainly advise that this is an activity for all the family to try.
After a brief break for lunch, the wobbly water park was next.
If you’ve ever watched the TV programme Total Wipeout, then you’ll have seen a challenging course across water. The wobbly water park, which is laid out in the middle of Loch Ken, is a similar idea.
Helmet on, huge inflatables provide a variety of fun challenges as you swim and climb your way around a course which does require a reasonable amount of physical strength as you haul yourself on to the obstacles. But it is definitely worth it, as it is a thrilling experience and one you will want to repeat.
Our final activity of the day was slip and slide. This is a 50-metre slide and, as they tell you at the centre, there really is no better way to get wet as you launch yourself down the slide and water propels you to the bottom.
Exhausted but elated after our day’s activities, we needed to clean up and have a spot to eat before took on our night time activity which was a visit to the Dark Sky Observatory to do some planet spotting.
The Galloway centre does a gourmet burger night which we had booked. There is a choice of three burgers and we all opted for the beef and caramelised onion, although a vegetarian and chicken option also feature.
The burger is served with onions, mushrooms, baby baked potatoes and home-made coleslaw. The perfect way to fill up after a busy day.
Our accommodation was on site and we were fortunate enough to be spending the night in the safari tent which was an absolute delight.
It sleeps five, featuring a double bedroom and another room with three cleverly laid out bunk beds. The living area is delightful and there is everything you would need to cook a meal. Outside, there is a barbecue and plenty of logs and charcoal.
After a couple of hours taking it easy, we jumped in the car and headed off to the observatory.
The session with their resident astronomer allows you to explore the wonders of the dark skies and it really is a joy to behold.
Using their telescopes and listening to the experts providing a wealth of knowledge, we viewed Saturn, the Moon and Jupiter.
There was also an opportunity to ask questions and watch a video in their planetarium which revealed the latest race to the Moon.
This was the perfect ending to the perfect day.
Up early again, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast at the centre’s cafe before we headed off on the final leg of our south of Scotland tour – Crawick Multiverse.
Just a short drive from the highest village it, is a good place to stretch your legs and see a different spin on the area’s local industry.
Crawick Multiverse has used landscape art to transform a former open cast coal mine into a 55-acre artland, visitor attraction and public space.
Created by Charles Jencks, a well-known figure in landscape architecture, the space represents the exciting discoveries and theories of the universe, bringing together space, astronomy and cosmology.
All too soon, it was time for us to head back to east coast after one of the busiest, varied and fun weekends we had ever enjoyed as a family.
For thrill-seekers and adventurers, the south of Scotland is the perfect destination.
However, having also witnessed some astonishing scenery and great walks, I would recommend a visit there to people of all ages, whether they seek activities or a quiet time.
With so much beauty only a few hours’ drive away, a staycation in Scotland is an opportunity not to be passed up.
Pod hire at Glentress Forest Lodges (based on two people sharing): Monday to Thursday – £49 per night; Friday to Sunday – £54 per night; Extra adults – £14 per night; Children age 3-16 – £10 per night. Children under 3 years – no charge.
The Safari Tent at Galloway Activity Centre (sleeping five) £98 per night.
A two-day residential multi-activity course (including accommodation, food, equipment and tuition) is £220 for adults, £200 for under-14s and £185 per person for three-plus people. Other lengths of stay available.
Mountain bike trails – glentressforest.com
Go Ape – goape.co.uk
Galloway Activity Centre – lochken.co.uk
Dark Sky Observatory – scottishdarkskyobservatory.co.uk
Glentress Forest Lodges – glentressforestlodges.co.uk