Running wild

These days, kids don’t have the same opportunity to run wild as previous generations did. Playing in the street is pretty much a forgotten art and the days when kids disappeared until it was time for dinner are over. Many children aren’t allowed out to play unsupervised and if they are, they have much more restricted roaming areas.

Think back and Enid Blyton’s twelve year olds were heading off to uninhabited islands armed with their dog, some ham sandwiches and a couple of tents for the entire summer holidays.

Playdates and endless activities mean that, if you’re a child, learning more about the world around you is more structured and constantly supervised now. That’s why outdoor adventures are such an important part of growing up. It’s a chance to explore nature, pick up new skills and just have fun.

Here’s our selection of the best places for running wild. Remember to check whether they are open before heading out and stay within the current COVID guidelines about travel and meeting up with other households. Some have car parks, toilet facilities and cafes. 

North of the city, Bennachie Visitor Centre is the ideal starting point for a hike up to the top of the hill and one of its nine summits. Older kids and fitter adults can follow the Mither Tap Timeline Trail, which takes you back through history to explore the Pictish hill fort. It takes around 3 hours and is steep and slippery in places. If you’d prefer a gentler outing, then the Discovery Trail takes around 30 minutes on gentle, firm pathways that are also suitable for wheelchair users. Keep an eye out for red squirrels and do a bit of bird spotting. 

Drum Castle at Drumoak offers wooded walks, with many oak trees that were planted centuries ago to provide timbers for shipping. The woods once stretched from Peterculter to Banchory and served as a royal hunting forest. These days, keen naturalists can spot signs of bats, badgers, foxes, beetles, and squirrels. The Old Woods of Drum are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Nearer the castle, you can explore the arboretum or head to the woodland play area, with swings, a zip slide, a willow tunnel, and lots of places to build a den. 

If you’d rather explore in the city, then Hazelhead Park is a good option. The land was gifted to the city by Robert the Bruce in 1319, but passed into private hands before the Town Council bought it back in 1920 for £40,000. There are formal gardens, but it’s the nature trails and bridal paths that will appeal to kids. There’s plenty of space to run around to the point of collapse. You can also visit Hazelhead’s Pets Corner, one of the park’s two golf courses or the large children’s playground. The Park Café offers a welcome respite with a good selection of food and drinks. 

If circumstances allow the opportunity to travel further afield, then the Cairngorms offer the perfect setting for a day trip exploring the wilds of nature. Go hillwalking or hiking, follow one of hundreds of walking trails or enjoy an adventure on two wheels at Laggan Wolftrax, which has over 20 miles of purpose-built mountain bike tracks in the Laggan forest. Picnic at Loch an Eilein Castle or head to Abernethy Nature Reserve, home to some of Scotland’s most spectacular wildlife, or check out the ospreys at Loch Garten. If your kids love animals, then the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig will be a huge hit, with polar bears, lynx, Amur Tigers, Scottish Wildcats and Japanese Macaques. 

There’s so much to explore right here on our doorsteps, so let the kids run wild and create lasting memories of great family adventures. 

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