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Family travel: seven of the best Olympic-inspired activities in the UK

Have the Olympics inspired you to get active? Here’s how the whole family can embrace their inner athlete.

Goodleaf Tree Climbing, on the Isle of Wight, uses ropes, harnesses and safety helmets to allow you to climb up into the oak’s canopy.

Photograph by Anna Fulford
Published 19 Sept 2021, 06:06 BST

There must be few children around the country who failed to be wowed by Team GB’s medal-winning performances at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Millions more of us surely experienced passing infatuations with everything from taekwondo to trampolining. With the triumphs and heartaches of the Games still fresh in the mind, there’s no time like the present to try an active adventure yourself.

Of course, sport, in its broadest sense, is less about podium finishes and more about the freedom and fun of participation. None of the options below requires you to have your own equipment, and all are accessible to beginners. And two or three of them, let’s be honest, don’t really qualify as sports at all — but then again, zip-lining and tree climbing are arguably more thrilling for a family outing than dressage.     

1. Archery in Birmingham
Show off in front of the kids by hitting bullseyes at The Bear Grylls Adventure, a multi-discipline activity centre at the NEC, in Birmingham. Open year-round, it offers 45-minute archery sessions, with tuition and equipment, for families with kids aged eight and over. Once you’ve finished demonstrating your bow-and-arrow skills, there’s the option of moving on to the venue’s seven other activities, which include the tallest high ropes course in Europe (ages eight and over), iFly indoor skydiving (ages eight and over) and a pistol-shooting range (ages 10 and over). Archery from £20 per person, ropes from £32 per person, iFly from £52 per person, shooting from £20 per person.

2. Water sports in Pembrokeshire
Few things guarantee a memorable family experience more than the prospect of everyone getting soaking wet, and the cliffs and coves of the north Pembrokeshire coast provide a suitably splashy setting for the activities offered by Preseli Venture. Set in a wooded valley, the eco-lodge offers everything from half-day to five-night adventures, with coasteering, surfing and sea kayaking all on the agenda — as well as seal-spotting, if you’re lucky. Activities are suitable for ages eight and over, with all instruction and equipment provided. Half-day from £60 per adult, £50 per child. A week starts at £535 per adult, £435 per child. 

3. Tree-climbing on the Isle of Wight
On the northeast coast of the Isle of Wight, a short distance inland from Appley Beach, in Ryde, there stands a mighty oak tree of Olympic proportions: its trunk is thick, its boughs are wide and its branches stretch up to a height of 50ft. This leafy titan is the focal point of Goodleaf Tree Climbing, which uses ropes, harnesses and safety helmets to allow you to climb up into the oak’s canopy. There’s also a treetop hammock from which to enjoy the view. The experience is open to climbers aged eight and over, and bookings can be made each year until the end of October. From £29 per person. 

Exploring Pembrokeshire’s rocky coast by kayak with Preseli Venture, an eco-lodge that offers everything from half-day to five-night adventures.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Standup paddleboarding (SUP) on Loch Lomond, Scotland
SUP might have originated in Hawaii, but the popularity of this easy-to-learn watersport means you’ll now find tuition and paddleboard hire in all sorts of places, including the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. From March to October, Loch Lomond Leisure offers beginners’ lessons, equipment hire and group bookings, as well as guided tours lasting anywhere up to four hours. One benefit of trying out SUP on an inland body of water like this, as opposed to the coast, is that the water surface is far more likely to be calm. Tropical sunshine? Probably not, but it’s an experience not to be forgotten. From £20 per person. 

5. Axe-throwing in Bristol
This sport doesn’t feature at the Olympics — yet — but it’s been increasing in popularity in recent years, in some places even becoming something of a nightlife activity. At Battle Archery, the emphasis is on inclusivity. Its hour-long axe-throwing sessions are open to families with kids aged 10 and over, with guidance from qualified marshals. The site is based between Bath and Bristol, and a commitment to minimising its carbon footprint saw it win bronze in the Ethical, Responsible and Sustainable Tourism category at the 2019-20 Bristol, Bath and Somerset Tourism Awards. £20 per adult, £10 per child. Contact venue direct to book a family taster session.       

6. Track cycling and BMX in Manchester
The velodrome at the National Cycling Centre — where none other than gold medallist Jason Kenny can often be found training — is currently undergoing refurbishment, a process which that last until spring 2022. When it reopens, the track will be running tutored, hour-long family taster sessions on Friday evenings, for riders aged nine and over. There’s a discount for over-60s, too. In the meantime, and very much continuing the Olympic theme, the centre’s BMX Arena is taking family bookings for its Intro2BMX sessions, open to riders aged five and over. Track £13.20 per adult; £9.90 for under-16s and over-60s. BMX £9.10 per adult, £5.90 for under-16s. 

7. Zip-lining in South Wales
There’s a fair chance you’re already aware of Zip World, whose high-octane adventure parks are dotted around Wales. Its newest site, Zip World Tower, opened in April in the Rhigos mountain range on the site of a former coal mine It features Phoenix — the world’s fastest seated zip-line, reaching speeds of up to 70mph — and the Tower Coaster, which has a side-by-side kart that allows a child passenger (aged four to eight) to zoom alongside the main rider. Phoenix £50 per rider aged seven and over. Tower Coaster £25 per rider aged nine and over. 

Published in the October 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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