Blackwood Forest is only a short drive from Winchester, but turn off onto the bumpy track near Micheldever and you feel you’re a world away.
As well as offering over 270 hectares of Forestry Commission woodland for anyone to enjoy, it’s also home to Forest Holidays’ luxury self-catering cabins, which are built right among the trees. Luxuriously kitted out inside, dog-friendly and with soaring windows to take in the woodland views, many of them boast outdoor hot tubs too.
We arrived on a rather grey weekend, with rain threatening and a whole bag of toys on standby in case anyone got bored.
We needn’t have worried. After a soak in the bubbling hot tub we were off to check out the play area and then follow a forest trail, where we collected stamps concealed in carefully hidden posts along the way.
Rewarded with a certificate from the Forest Retreat reception, where we stopped for ice cream, we booked a discovery tour with forest ranger Gail.
Gail turns out to be a highlight of the weekend and helps us to guess the age of some special trees, shows us the exposed roots of a huge fallen birch, identifies teeny teeth marks on nut shells and locates slithering slow-worms.
We learn about the bats that fly from the forester’s cottage and the rabbits that dash across the meadow. And after all that, no one complains about bedtime or is particularly interested in the cabin TV package either.
We didn’t have time for horse riding, archery, birds-of-prey experiences and an in-cabin spa treatment, all of which can be booked from reception. But costing absolutely nothing, and almost best of all, we did do lots and lots of den building. Because across the wood, dens of every shape and size are remodelled and created on a daily basis – some of them big enough for a whole family to picnic inside.
Bike hire saves the hassle of loading up the car, and cycling in Blackwood Forest is a must. If you fancy pub grub, The Half Moon and Spread Eagle and The Dove are nearby and there’s food at the Forest Retreat too.
Dusk in Blackwood Forest has a magical feel, with the sun slanting through the trees and a quiet hush settling in for the evening, broken only by calling birds.
Even on just a weekend break here it’s almost impossible not to wind down. No one asks me what we’re doing next or whether they can watch TV. Out in the woods we feel better connected and promise ourselves we’ll spend more time together as a family. Getting back to nature doesn’t get much better than this.
03330 110495. www.forestholidays.co.uk