MELANIE MCDONAGH Published: 22 July 2013 Updated: 13:54, 22 July 2013
You know what the secret is to the perfect family holiday? I can tell you. An outdoor hot tub. Children get hysterical with excitement at the idea of it, and the moment they arrive they plunge in and have to be hauled out by force. Add in films of their choice — and bingo, you’re there.
I’m not saying that the forest holiday we went on didn’t have other attractions. Woods, for instance. This resort is right in the middle of Hampshire’s Blackwood Forest, 500 acres of it, mostly beech.
There’s a collection of about 60 timber-clad cabins, tastefully set right in the middle. Our cabin was a Silver Birch; accommodation is categorised by tree type, with the Golden Oak the swankiest (it not only has a hot tub but a wood burning stove and bathrobes).
It’s one thing to get London children as far as the forest, persuading them to go into it is another story. “Go and play outside!” I shouted at the four in my party. “We want to watch Men in Black,” they chorused. “What about coming for a nice walk?” I said. “I don’t like walking,” one little fellow said, making for the hot tub. What is it with London children? They’re denatured, so they are.
The idea behind Forest Holidays is that you get the benefits of a retreat to the wilds — in woods managed by the Forestry Commission — with creature comforts thrown in. The Hampshire one, which just opened in May, has nicely appointed cabins and you can either cook for yourself or eat in the little café which shuts at eight. But the great thing is what you see outside.
The bedroom windows — one vertical, one horizontal — looked like Hockney pictures, headless trunks cut off by the frames, wonderfully lit first thing in the morning. I’ve never seen beeches this tall. While there has been a bit of felling, nature is rewilding; there are baby ash saplings everywhere you look. The other notable feature is the flintstone — bizarre bits of rock that look like charred knucklebones.
To encourage visitors to engage with nature, there are activities. Alas, we missed the dusk watch walk with a forest ranger — they’re onsite — and a night vision expedition, also with a ranger, for which you’re equipped with cool night goggles, to see owls and bats. The sessions got transferred from Saturday to Sunday, so we missed them. But there was a fun hour and a half of Forest Survival skills where you got to build a shelter using a Polish army poncho which doubles as a rudimentary tent.
We produced a charming effect with branches and leaves. Then we got to light a fire with a flint which the rest of you probably did in Scouts but had the charm of novelty for me. We saw Hampshire slow worms, legless lizards nestling under tarpaulin, like earthworms with metallic effects. There are bikes for hire too, though the small ones were too big for the six-year-olds.
And we did get to see a deer. At least one boy in the party did, but after he’d run after it bellowing: “A deer! A deer!” the creature made a getaway.
Like I say, the place comes with creature comforts and you can purchase an in-cabin spa treatment from an outside company, Personal Sanctuary. The therapist was lovely; outside the children were shouting at me to come and play baseball; indoors I slept my way through an organic facial and only surfaced to have my nails done.
The resort is accessible by train and staff will drive you from Micheldever station (accessible by South West Trains from Waterloo). The shop doesn’t yet have the meat and vegetables you need if you’re cooking but there are ready meals. There’s next to no mobile-phone reception. London families might appreciate the option of a two rather than three-night weekend stay to get back in time for school. But as a bolthole from London it’s dandy, even if the children have to be frogmarched into the forest.
Forest Holidays, Micheldever, near Winchester, Hampshire, SO21 3BG, has three nights in a Silver Birch cabin in July and August reduced to £863 (from £1,078), forestholidays.co.uk. Activities from £10 for adults, £8 for children, Personal Sanctuary two-hour treatment £150.