We were in the middle of a Family Adventure based in Leicestershire. It's an oft-neglected county (and admittedly our break also took us over the border into south Derbyshire!) as far as trips away are concerned but the county's tourism folk have come up with a nifty idea to encourage families to explore the area.
The idea is to offer families of four a night away in a four-star hotel, combined with up to three activities of their choice (you can buy extra child tickets if you have a bigger family). The Stay Play Explore package comes in a number of flavours - we thought the Family Adventure package would be right up our street.
We both spend a lot of time sitting around watching small boy at some sporting event or other, so I liked the idea of trying something where we could all get in on the action.
Along with a night in a four-star hotel (more of that later) we were able to choose three activities. We could have opted for bike hire and a ride round the National Forest, or ten-pin bowling, or bushcraft (den and fire building) but we wanted to try some new things so we opted for the tobogganing, orienteering and climbing.
Going bonkers at Conkers
We started our adventure at Conkers Discovery Centre. This 120-acre adventure area used to be a colliery, but is now home to lakes that offer homes to all manner of birds, playgrounds, an assault course and plenty more besides. We met up with Dave the ranger, who gave us our orienteering map and sheets. The aim was to find our way round to each marker point, collect the letters and make up a word. He promised a prize at the end.
The orienteering route gave us a chance to get a great idea of what's on offer in the adventure park - and we left the map reading to our young adventurer, who really enjoyed the challenge.
On the way we found the maze, a wildlife pond, and a sandpit furnished with logs (where we returned later and made a pretty neat-looking den). Back at the visitor centre, having completed our goal, we headed off, with our prize - a vegetable growing kit – to explore the rest of the site.
We took a little steam train over to the Waterside area, where there is a great playground, then walked back and investigated the assault course (aimed at 13-year-olds and older), a fantastic resource which includes climbing walls, towers, monkey bars, a high rope bridge and plenty more spread around the site.
The sun was shining on what turned out to be the first truly spring-like weekend of the year, and so we tried out hand (or feet!) at the barefoot walk, walking through icy waters, over coal, through soft bark and squishy mud. You can wash your feet at the end and there's a little hut for drying off and leaving your shoes.
We could have spent most of the day at Conkers. There is an indoor play area, a simulated treetop walk and one of the most informative interactive areas I have seen (and I've seen a lot, believe me!) But we were off for our next adventure - tobogganing at the dry ski slope in Swadlincote.
The toboggan run is like a giant metal slide, which twists and turns its way back down the hill. The package includes 16 rides, so you can split it however you want - we actually found it quite addictive, trying to go faster on each run (you have a break lever, which allows you to control your own speed). Riders under eight must ride with an adult. Small boy was slightly disappointed that we wouldn't be heading down headfirst like the riders he'd seen on TV (I on the other hand was glad about that), but after his first run that disappointment washed away. He loved the speed and the thrill of it all.
We also watched a birthday group sno-tubing - whirling down the dry ski slope on giant inflatable doughnuts. It looked like great fun and we plan to head back that way again and give it a go. They were offering a great deal which included an hour's ski or snowboarding lesson, sno-tubing and toboganning for just £20 a person.
This area is great value for activities - we live in the home counties and similar activities can be twice as expensive in nearby centres.
The same went for our climbing adventure the next day. The Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre offers all sorts, from archery and kayaking to climbing and a high ropes course. You are limited to what they are offering when you call to book - we had the choice of archery or climbing, so we opted for the latter (pretty foolish when you're scared of heights by hey!).
The staff couldn't have been more helpful - we arrived early and they let us leave the car and suggested a walk along the river to a nearby country park, where we had our photo taken with a giant mammoth on top of a hill and grabbed an ice cream before heading back to get kitted up.
The climbing walls are outside, in among fields and trees, which was lovely on this sunny day. There were 12 of us in the group - a mixture of adults and kids, and we all got a go trying to traverse up the high walls, as well as holding the ropes. A smaller group might have been preferable as we would have got more attempts at scaling the walls. Nevertheless it's another place we will go back to, to try out some other activities. At £7 or so per person for an hour and a half's activity, it's about half the price of our nearest climbing centre.
Our home for the night was the Sketchley Grange Hotel and Spa. This four-star hotel greeted us with two king size beds, a massive bathroom with bath and shower and the promise of a swim in the morning. If you've had an active day, coming back to a luxurious room with a nice bath is a real treat, and if the weather hasn't been so kind, the promise of a nice warm hotel room is very appealing. Breakfast is included as is use of the spa, with its pool, jacuzzi. stea room and sauna. You can also book some beauty and therapy treatments if you fancy a bit of pampering. The pool was a good size for a hotel and we spent a happy hour or so in there - kids aren't allowed in after 7pm though.
Again, the staff were all kind and very helpful and very keen to make sure we enjoyed our stay.
So how much is it?
£109 for four for a weekend away is amazing value. Of course, you have to add on lunches and dinners but there is a Harvester near the hotel we stayed in, and Swadlincote had a Hungry Horse pub near the cinema.
Leicestershire may not boast the awesome landscapes of the Lakes or Cornwall, but it has some interesting historical connections - we passed the site of the Battle of Bosworth - and of course recently the remains of Richard the Third were found in Leicester itself.
The weekend gave us a great taste of the area and we will certainly be going back to explore more of what the area has to offer. Near Conkers is a camping site and a youth hostel if that takes your fancy.
Other packages include the Theme parks package, which includes two trips to theme parks including Drayon Manor (home of Thomas Land) for £159, and Family Fun, with destinations such as the National Space Centre and Twycross Zoo for £109. Find out more and book online at www.goleicestershire.com/short-breaks or by calling 0844 888 5181.
If you fancy getting away without the kids, there are great-value packages aimed at adults, which include hotel stay, spa treatments, lunches, brewery tours and more!