I’m not very good at UK holidays. I don’t have a car, any wet-weather gear and absolutely no suitable footwear. My last “staycation”, pre-Covid in the Lake District, was spent walking up and down the pavement around Windermere while horrified hotel staff digested the fact I’d arrived at the beauty spot with only Converse trainers.
As things stand, with a slim green list and much bickering up and down Whitehall about whether or not we should be travelling to “amber” destinations, staycations look like one of the only feasible holiday options this summer. (No testing, no quarantine and no mask-wearing for a long flight also make it seem quite appealing.) Add to the argument that I now have a small pandemic-born baby who, incomprehensibly, doesn’t like flying as much as his mother does, and domestic trips certainly seem to have the upper hand for now.
So, against all my natural instincts, I’ve accepted it’s time to embrace terrestrial holidays, whether that’s camping (although I’ve made my feelings absolutely clear on that) or holing up in a self-catering property in a gorgeous part of the UK (much better).
Lucky for me that Forest Holidays had just opened its newest location, in the UK’s largest forest, Delamere in Cheshire, in time for the 12 April lockdown easing. In 972-hectare wild Delamere Forest are 66 brand-new wooden cabins, all complete with log fires and hot tubs, hidden within the forest’s rug of deciduous trees.
Forest Holidays, a more hands-off cousin to Center Parcs, works with national forest associations in England, Scotland and Wales and has locations in some of Britain’s most appealing natural spots. Its goal is lofty: to teach families about the benefits of forests and the natural world from the plushy comfort of one of its rustic log cabins.
The Delamere Forest cabins come in all shapes and sizes to suit all family sizes – I clocked two-storey cabins, the new White Willow Premium cabins and even attached treehouses, while looping around the site. Ours was the petite Golden Oak Hideaway iteration, a cosy cabin suited for two adults and young children, furnished in bright jewel tones. Inside, the emphasis is on snugness: soft navy blue velvet sofas, racing green carpets, colourful jungle print curtains, with real log fires (that my toddler had fun rummaging around inside - not while lit, I must stress). That’s inside. Outside, each cabin has a generous wooden terrace housing the star attraction, the hot tub, which manages to stay hot throughout the weekend.
By day, there’s plenty to do in the forest, and we spend hours tramping paths that cut through its swaying trees, non-suitable shoes squelching through its wetlands and conifer plantations. My toddler is happy enough picking up stray sticks and wobbling along the forest paths, but it’s slightly lost on a 14-month-old. Older kids would be enchanted by this setting, particularly with the raft of child-friendly activities on offer. There’s the Peter Rabbit Forest Trail, which takes you on a short loop around the forest; exploring with the on-site forest ranger; tearing around the mountain biking trails that zigzag the forest; or peeking into the Bug Hotel, outside the Forest Retreat, a cafe/restaurant that sells essentials and food and drink.
And by night, for the adults, there’s slicing into the hot tub bubbles, bottle of (complimentary) prosecco in hand, staring up at the light setting through the trees, before warming up in front of the log fire. Takeaways – including fancy pizza and curry – are delivered from the Forest Retreat, although with a generous welcome hamper packed full of local posh Booth’s food, it’s possible, if not preferable, to cook your own.
Forest Holidays says visitors come away from a trip with an intangible “forest feeling”, much like the benefits of nature bathing, which the Japanese adopted in the early 1980s. Anecdotally, spending time in nature is supposed to improve our wellbeing by making us feel more connected to the earth. I can’t say I’ve reached some higher plane simply by being enveloped by the trees, but after five months of looping the same park near our London home, waking up surrounded by a canopy of trees that I don’t recognise, even in the May drizzle, has lifted my mood immensely.
Three nights (Friday to Monday) in Forest Holidays’ Golden Oak Hideaway cabin at Delamere Forest costs from £1,040. Valid for dates from 24 September 2021.
It is possible to get the train – we did – although having a car opens up far more options to explore the local area, including Chester and Manchester. The nearest train station is Delamere, on the Mid-Cheshire Line, although trains are infrequent. A taxi from the station to the cabins is around £20.