I have found the holy grail of the school holidays: how to entertain a family of four for the afternoon for under £10. And I am claiming bonus points for it being outdoors and involving some mild exercise. Please pass my crown, because I am now the queen of parenting!
I am talking about Treasure Trails – hours of family fun solving clues as you tour local points of interest and discover hidden gems – and all for the bargain price of £6.99. You just pick your trail, download and print the PDF, and you’re off. We chose the London South Bank trail, starting and ending at Waterloo Station.
We started by reading our mission – we were in the Secret Service trying to stop the nefarious President of Vulgaria activating an encrypted file. The children read out each clue and led the hunt to find and solve it, whilst Mr B and I strolled behind them enjoying the scenery.
One of the joys of the trail, is that it guides you past all the iconic buildings and sights of the South Bank, as well as highlighting interesting vistas and lesser known points of interest – like the graffiti tunnel (worth a visit in its own right) and the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women (no longer a hospital, but still an amazing building). And because you’re following a trail of clues, you notice things that normally you might walk past. Even though I’ve been to the South Bank a few times, I felt like I must have spent the whole time walking round with my eyes shut.
Just as we were flagging, we arrived at the South Bank Centre and took a two minute detour from the river bank to the Food Market on the other side of the building for lunch (open Fridays to Mondays in the summer – check for other times of year). Predictably, our children chose burgers, but Mr B and I had a thorough browse before picking more exotic choices. If you have the time, this is a great place to explore interesting and delicious street food from around the world, but sadly this is not a pastime our children enjoy. *rolls eyes*
Although the trail is just under 2 miles of easy walking, we spent the best part of four hours on it, taking into account stopping for lunch and a reviving cup of tea en route. This particular part of London is tourist heaven, with landmark buildings and amazing views at every point, not to mention street artists – we saw an acrobatic act, live music, people pretending to be statues, and everything in between.
And as a small bonus, once you have solved every clue, you have the de-activation code, which you can submit to Treasure Trails to be entered in a monthly prize draw to win £100. I’m not holding my breath, but it’s nice to be in with a chance! In the meantime, we all enjoyed it so much that we are already planning to do the Temple and Fleet Street trail.
PS Due to building works, clue 14 on this trail is behind some hoardings. Luckily a security guard saw us and helped us out. I’m not giving anything away, but this is what you’re looking for if it’s still covered up when you do the trail…
My daughters are 9 and 11, which is a great age to enjoy hunting for and solving the clues. But we were all getting a bit tired towards the end, so I would say you probably wouldn’t want to do it with any children much younger.
If you fancy the South Bank trail (and I highly recommend it), then you need to plan the best time for you. If you love pushing through crowds, clutching your child’s hand so they don’t get swept into a sea of tourists, then a Saturday afternoon in August is the perfect time. But if, like me, you prefer something a little more relaxed, maybe plan to do this trail at a quieter time!
If anyone needs the loo en route, you can always nip into the South Bank Centre, where the facilities are lovely and clean. They also have a pleasant cafe on site, and if the weather is warm enough, you can sit outside.
If the South Bank is not for you, there are over 1,200 trails across the country, so it should be easy to pick a trail reasonably close to you. Each trail is about 2 miles of easy walking taking you on a circular route.
Once on any of the trails, it’s difficult to plan when and where to eat, as you never know where you’re going. If you know you need to eat whilst you’re out, I would recommend taking the opportunity when you get it. It also doesn’t hurt to pack a couple of snacks and a bottle of water to keep you going.