10 of the best family days out in Cumbria

Baking and craft workshops at Little Salkeld

The first thing children will notice about The Watermill at Little Salkeld are the candy-pink walls. The second might be the chickens foraging for spilt grain by the entrance to this restored working mill. Adults will be drawn by the smell of baking bread into the child-friendly cafe, which serves wholesome lunches made from the Watermill's own stoneground flours (also for sale in the shop).

See the mighty water wheel in action on a self-guided tour, or book in advance for one of the children's baking and craft workshops that take place throughout the year. Long Meg and Her Daughters, Britain's second-largest stone circle, is a short walk away.
• 01768 881523, organicmill.co.uk. Open daily 10.30am-5pm, tours ?2 for first person and ?1 thereafter, workshops ?10 per child

Carlisle was once the most north-westerly town in the Roman Empire, and the story of the city's occupation is brought playfully to life in the new Roman Frontier Gallery at Tullie House Museum. Children can dress up as Roman soldiers and Celtic maids, take part in computer quizzes and have their faces printed on personalised Roman identity cards – will yours be soldier, farmer or slave?

Upstairs, the museum tells the story of the Border Reivers, who terrorised this region for 300 years – they gave us the word "bereaved". And there are more gruesome tales to be heard over the road at Carlisle Castle, where the licking stones in the dungeon are said to have been eroded by the tongues of parched prisoners who had to lick condensation off the walls to stay alive.
• Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery (01228 618718, tulliehouse.co.uk) adults ?5.20, children 50p (under fives free); open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday from 11am-5pm (April-October) or noon-5pm (November-March). Carlisle Castle (01228 591922, english-heritage.org.uk) adults ?5, children ?3. Open 9.30-4pm or 5pm from 1 April-4 November and 10am-4pm weekends only the rest of the year

Your heart will be in your mouth as your offspring hurl themselves down the vertical drop slides at this superior children's play farm, especially when they dare you to join them. If you can drag them away from the high-thrills indoor play zone, young children will spend hours on the go-cart tracks, trampolines and adventure playgrounds arranged spaciously outside.

Walby Farm Park is part of a working family farm and accredited by the Rare Breed Survival Trust, so the barn is home to friendly and well-cared-for livestock, from Shire horses to Tamworth piglets. The cafe is a cut above the usual "attraction" standard, too, serving freshly cooked food in generous portions.
• Crosby-on-Eden, Carlisle, 01228 573056, walbyfarmpark.co.uk. Adults and children ?6.95, family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) ?25, under-ones free. Open 10-6 daily

The scenery may not be as dramatic as that surrounding Cumbria's more famous lakes, but the 1.3-mile circular walk around Talkin Tarn is a buggy-friendly, bike-friendly route that even the smallest legs will manage. This glacial lake is surrounded by 120 acres of mature woodlands crossed by paths and nature trails: look out for roe deer, red squirrels and damselflies or hang out in the bird observatory to watch ducklings sheltering amid the rushes. Talkin Tarn was popular with Victorian rowers, whose sandstone boathouse is now a tearoom and ice-cream shop with a first-floor balcony overlooking the North Pennine hills. You can still hire rowing boats at weekends and in school holidays.
• 016977 3129, visitcumbria.com/car/talkin-tarn.htm

Dusk can be deafening on the Duddon estuary between April and June. The continuous high-pitched croaking of male natterjack toads carries for miles across the sand dunes where they breed in pools: if you close your eyes (and ignore the breeze blowing in from the Irish Sea), you could be in the jungle. One of the best places for budding naturalists to experience this unforgettable sound is the National Trust-managed Sandscale Haws nature reserve near Barrow-in-Furness, which is home to a fifth of the UK's natterjack population as well as rare butterflies, birds and plants. There are wildflower-rich dunes to explore and a sandy beach to run around. Take a flask of hot chocolate and stay to watch the sun set over the south-west Cumbrian fells.
• 01229 462 855, nationaltrust.org.uk/sandscale-haws.

Cumbria boasts some of the best-preserved sections of Hadrian's Wall, the world heritage site that once stretched for 73 miles from the Solway Firth to the North Sea. They can be found on the 3.5-mile circular walk via Gilsland that starts and ends at Birdoswald Roman Fort near Brampton, where the exposed gateways and granary houses make for a great game of hide and seek. This is one of the most beautifully situated of all the Hadrian's Wall sites. While young soldiers march in the footsteps of Roman ghosts and imagine themselves guarding the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire, you can enjoy mesmerising views across the Irthing valley towards the Lake District.
• 016977 47602, birdoswaldromanfort.org. Download a circular walks leaflet visit bit.ly/AcN3NS

If you think you've got as much in common with the human spiders who hang off rock faces as you have with an Olympic athlete, you may be surprised to learn that anyone can try climbing. At the Lakeland Climbing Centre in Kendal, a privately instructed one-hour session is all you need for the whole family (fives and over) to experience the thrill of ascending an indoor wall. There are group taster sessions, too, and you can ask for a free trial before booking a longer slot. The centre has walls and bouldering (rope-free) rooms to suit different abilities, and this summer will launch its via ferrata, a kind of indoor Go Ape! for over-12s.
• 01539 721766, kendalwall.co.uk. Private sessions from ?58 per hour for four. Taster sessions (weekends and holidays only) ?15 adults, ?12 children (eight and over)

It's just a short hop from Alston to Kirkhaugh on the South Tynedale Railway, a narrow-gauge route in the north Pennine hills. But the view through the windows will whet your appetite for the journey back – a seven-mile hike along the Pennine Way via the evocative earthworks of a Roman fort called Whitley Castle. An easier route is the South Tyne Trail, a footpath and cycleway that follows the railway line for five miles back to Alston, England's highest market town. Alternatively, you could return by train: there's a 40-minute wait at Kirkhaugh, time for a short walk to the river. Check the website for steam days and special events, such as Teddy Day.
• 01434 381696, strps.org.uk. Adult returns ?3-?7.50 (?1.50-?5 single), children returns ?3 (single ?1.50-?3), family return ?16.50-?20

Never heard of it? Neither have most Cumbrians, yet this 50-acre island off the coast of Barrow has its own castle, king and queen. Take the 12-person foot ferry from Roa Island near Barrow to arrive in time for lunch at The Ship, where landlord Steve Chattaway (otherwise known as His Majesty) serves locally sourced seafood and Piel pork. Go beachcombing on shingle and sandy beaches and climb the tower of the 14th-century "castle" – originally a fortified warehouse used for smuggling by Furness Abbey – to spot grey seals and gaze across Morecambe Bay. You can stay in a family room at The Ship (room rates not yet available) or camp inside the castle walls. Ferries run daily but are weather-dependent so call Steve in advance to check they are running.
• 07516 453 784, pielisland.co.uk

England gets a new national riding trail this summer, and the farm gate at the Eden Valley Trail-Riding Centre near Ravenstonedale opens straight onto it. An hour-long beginners' ride offers a vertiginous perspective on the beautiful limestone fell country sandwiched between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales; look out for herds of rare-breed ponies roaming freely with their foals. Riders (and non-riders) with any level of experience can be catered for. Guided rides last between one hour and five days, and there are bikes to hire if you prefer two wheels to four legs. The minimum riding age for novices is 10, but experienced younger riders may be accommodated by prior arrangement.
• 015396 23444, edenvalleyridingcentre.com. From ?25 per person for an hour to ?95 for a full day


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