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Seven fiction-inspired family adventures in the UK

From Zog the Dragon to Harry Potter, some of fiction’s most beloved characters are taking centre stage for unforgettable family escapes this autumn.

Published 19 Oct 2021, 06:00 BST, Updated 22 Oct 2021, 10:49 BST
Children explore the Horrible Histories Maze at Warwick Castle.

Children explore the Horrible Histories Maze at Warwick Castle.
 

Photograph by Warwick Castle

1. Harry Potter in Cheshire

Fans of the boy wizard should head to Arley Hall & Gardens this autumn for their very own adventure in the Forbidden Forest. Co-developed by Warner Bros, this new night-time trail is dotted with special effects to recreate magical woodland scenes from the movies. Keep your eyes peeled for a curious cast of magical creatures, from centaurs to hippogriffs — and you can even conjure your own Patronus Charm, too. Guests can also opt to donate to a tree-planting partnership with Forest Carbon, which helps create new woodland areas across the UK.

How to do it: Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience starts in October; tickets from £19. hpforbiddenforestexperience.com

2. Zog the Dragon and Horrible Histories in Warwick  

There’s a dragon loose at Warwick Castle. Luckily for visitors, it’s the Zog, the titular beast from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s book. The bumbling dragon is sharing his skills with young visitors on a new, immersive trail within the castle grounds, teaching children how to roar, fly and even capture princesses in exchange for stamps and golden stars. Afterwards, there’s the chance to wind down with a daytime screening of the animated adaptation at The Zog Outdoor Cinema. Elsewhere, visitors young and old will enjoy the new-and-improved Horrible Histories Maze, based on Terry Deary’s books and TV show — get lost finding out about the Measly Middle Ages and the Vile Victorians, complete with interactive games. Zog activity trail until 22 October.

How to do it: Day tickets from £26. Overnight stays in the Knight’s Village from £299, based on a family of four sharing a Warwick tent (includes exclusive evening entertainment in the Knight’s Village, car parking, breakfast and one day’s entry to the castle). 

3. Gruffalo Trails across England

If you’ve got fans of the Gruffalo in the house, set off on one of the many Gruffalo Trails snaking through England’s forests. At sites such as Thetford in Norfolk and Grizedale in the Lake District, they’re headed up by the Forestry Commission and feature handcrafted sculptures dotted throughout the woodland. Some of the sites also have Gruffalo Orienteering Trails, where visitors can search for 12 markers hidden in the wood and learn about map reading along the way. Gruffalo Spotters Trails, meanwhile, involve an interactive app that brings Julia Donaldson’s characters to life through augmented reality.

How to do it: The trails are free, though parking fees vary. 

4. Peppa Pig in Hampshire

On the edge of the New Forest, Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park is a must for fans of the world’s most famous piglet. There are nine rides specially designed for small children, including Peppa’s Big Balloon Ride, George’s Dinosaur Adventure and Grandpa Pig’s Little Train. You can even meet some of the characters — including Peppa and her naughty brother George — outside the schoolhouse every day. Entry to Peppa Pig World is included in all tickets to Paultons Park, so older siblings have plenty to keep them amused, too.

How to do it: Tickets from £37.75 in peak season or £23.75 in winter. 

5. Thomas the Tank Engine in Staffordshire

There are more than 25 rides and attractions in Thomas Land at Drayton Manor, meaning plenty of opportunities for children to get up close with Thomas and his steam-chugging friends. A highlight for the whole family is the Discover Thomas and Friends exhibition, which features original models from the first TV series set on a spectacular model railway. If you’ve got older children who’ve outgrown the charms of the little locomotive, however, they’re well-catered for by Drayton Manor’s wealth of roller coasters and hair-raising rides.

How to do it: Tickets from £27 for ages four to 11, and £31 for over-12s. There’s also an adult and toddler ticket available for £25. Under-twos go free. 

6. Peter Pan in Dumfries

Moat Brae is the beautiful house and garden that inspired JM Barrie to create the character of Peter Pan, and it’s a great place for children and adults to explore. Among the soaring trees and flowers, kids can discover hidden crocodiles, a pirate ship to play on and a Wendy house to hide in, and maybe even some mermaids on the banks of the river. There are treasure trails to follow, as well as the chance to play with props, costumes and scripts. Moat Brae is also home to The National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling, which offers sensory story time sessions, among other activities.

How to do it: Tickets from £5 for children and £7 for adults. Under-fours go free. 

7. A whole cast of characters in London

Right in the heart of London’s West End, this interactive statue trail in and around Leicester Square celebrates some of the best-loved movie characters in the world including Paddington, Mr Bean, Mary Poppins and Bugs Bunny. Stop by in the evening when some of the statues are brought to life with special lighting. If you want to completely immerse yourself, there’s a free, step-by-step audio walking tour narrated by TV presenter Alex Zane, with movie clips, interviews and facts.

How to do it: The statue trail is free, and the audio tour is available to download on Spotify and all podcast platforms.

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

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