You could spend seven hours here and still have to drag your children away at the end of the day. Landmark is a marvellous mix of adventure rides, nature trails and play parks. It began in 1970 as the Landmark Visitor Centre, to celebrate the social and natural history of the Highlands. Back then, it consisted of an auditorium, exhibition shop, restaurant and nature trail. In 1981, the Treetop Trail -- a first for the UK -- opened, followed by adventure playgrounds, climbing walls, car-driving tracks for children, aerial rope courses and rollercoasters.
Our day began at the Ant City adventure playground, which is one of the first jumpy, slidey, climbey places you come to. So entertaining is this two-storey collection of twisty climbing towers, chutes, nets and hidey-holes for younger children that there is a danger they won’t want to move on. Our three-year-old would have stayed on it for days.
However, the seven-year-old was in thrill-seeking mood and much preferred the Ropeworx and Wildwatercoaster -- three heart-stopping rides over waterfalls of varying steepness and bumpiness. You get a little wet, but will probably have dried out by the time you climb to the top of the tower to do it all again. It’s fast and furious: the staff at the top simply load you up and launch you over, so there is little time to chat/panic/back out.
To calm things down, we took a stroll along the Treetop Trail in the spring sunshine. We didn’t spot a red squirrel, unfortunately (although we did later see one in the car park) but the boys were fascinated by the bird feeding area and a tree struck by lightning.
Aviemore, with its bustling main street, is just up the road, and the perfect base if you want to spend a few days. The Hilton Coylumbridge (
www.hiltonaviemore.co.uk) offers family-friendly accommodation a 10-minute drive from Landmark. Other options include the Macdonald Aviemore Resort ( www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk/Aviemore).
Inside the park, the only ‘added extras’ are the ride-on cars, mini-diggers and remote-controlled cars at £1 a go. You need bags of energy to do Landmark justice, but it’s well worth the entrance fee.
Best for: Families with energetic youngsters.
Avoid if: You don’t enjoy jumpy, slidey, climbey things.
Getting there: Landmark is in Carrbridge, off the A9. There is a train station and parking is free.
Opening times: Summer 10am-7pm daily.
Cost: Adult £12.60, child £10.50 (family discounts available).
2. David Marshall Lodge One mile north of Aberfoyle ( www.forestry.gov.uk, 01877 382383)
The Forestry Commission has come a long way since the 1970s, when the woods were valued only for how much timber they produced. Now it’s amenity this, community that and access this -- it’s enough to make an old woodcutter turn in his grave. The upshot, though, is that Scotland’s commercial forests offer more for visitors than ever before. The David Marshall Lodge, which has sweeping views of the Campsies, Ben Lomond and across Loch Ard forest, tells the story of the forestry industry, with exhibits about everything from the Second World War Land Girls, who cut and transported the timber, to the flora and fauna of the forests.
There are waymarked paths ranging from an easy half-mile stroll to a four-mile trek and a play park with great chutes suitable for children up to 10. There’s a shop and cafe, too. It’s also home to the aerial adventure park, Go Ape (over 10s only, £30 for adults, £20 for children) .
Wildlife Watch offers live CCTV images and, if you’re lucky, you may see peregrines and ospreys.
Best for: Discovering Scotland’s woodlands
Avoid if: You’re scared of midges.
Getting there: From Glasgow follow the A81 to Aberfoyle. From Stirling follow the A84, A873 then A81. From Callander follow the A81 south to Aberfoyle. The centre is one mile north of Aberfoyle on the A821 (Duke’s Pass).
Opening times: 10am-6pm daily in summer.
Cost: Free entry, charge for some activities.
3. Cream O’Galloway near Kirkcudbright, Dumfriesshire ( www.creamogalloway.co.uk, 01557 814040)
There are many things you absolutely must do at Cream O’Galloway and most involve ice-cream.
It’s been around since the early 1990s, when financial pressures encouraged the owners of Rainton Farm to diversify and they converted a farm building into an ice-cream factory. From simple beginnings -- eight flavours, a few picnic tables and a couple of swings -- grew a “theme” park complete with adventure playground, 50ft viewing tower, a 3D maze, nature trails, restaurant, shop, factory and farm tours and 30 flavours of ice-cream.
Our highlights included go-karts, meeting curious cows and eating gingerbread ice-cream, the best ever invented. Costs can mount if you do all the activities and tours as they are charged in addition to the basic admission price.
Best for: Eating your body weight in ice-cream.
Avoid if: You are on a diet.
Getting there: From east or west on the A75, pass the first turn for Gatehouse of Fleet and then turn on to the Sandgreen road. Follow this for 1.5 miles then turn left at the sign for Carrick. Cream O’Galloway is half a mile along.
Opening times: Summer 10am-6pm daily.
Cost: Children £4, adults £2, under threes/OAPs free. Slide and ride pass £12. Ice-Cream Experience: children £3.50, adults £5.50. Farm tour: children £3.50, adults £5.
4. Strathaven Park Threestanes Road, Strathaven ( www.southlanarkshirecouncil.gov.uk, 01355 233451)
This is actually two adjacent parks, the George Allan and the John Hastie, which opened in 1902 and 1915 respectively. The former commemorates a 13-year-old boy who died in 1892, whose father, the Reverend James Allan, donated money to build a park in his son’s memory. John Hastie was a local grocer -- the proceeds from his estate paid for the park.
You can trundle around the track of the miniature railway, float about on the boating pond, take a picnic, have fun in the play areas and do an impromptu song and dance in the ornate B-listed cast iron bandstand (or maybe that’s just me.)
It’s a pretty park, with gardens, bowling and putting greens and tennis courts, and it’s a short walk from Strathaven with its little shops and cafes. It’s a fantastic, almost old-fashioned way to while away a few hours.
Best for: Easy Sunday afternoon entertainment.
Avoid if: You are seeking thrills and spills.
Getting there: Strathaven Park is on Threestanes Road. From East Kilbride, take the A726 Strathaven Road.
Opening times: Dawn until dusk.
Cost: Park entry is free, although charges for the train, boats and other seasonal facilities vary.
5. Heads of Ayr Farm Park Alloway, by Ayr ( www.headsofayrfarmpark.co.uk, 01292 441210)
You can easily spend all day here. There are 50 different types of animals, including horses, donkeys, otters and reindeer, and visitors can touch and feed many of them. There are also lots of fun activities for young children including bumper boats, mini-diggers and trampolines and some more grown-up ones such as quad bikes for the over-12s.
Best for: It’s relatively cheap day out for a family of five, with lots to keep younger kids (under 10) amused.
Avoid if: You don’t want to be pestered for cash for electric quad bikes and other “extras”.
Getting there: From Glasgow/the north follow the M77/A77 to beyond Ayr, exiting at the Alloway turn-off. Drive through Alloway following the signs for Heads of Ayr, on to the A719. Go straight ahead at roundabout and the park is two miles on the right.
From Stranraer/the south follow the A77 to Turnberry, then exit on to the A719. The park is five miles on your left.
Opening times: Easter to October 10am-5pm daily.
Cost: Family ticket £40 (two adults, three children). Under-twos free.
6. Dalkeith Country Estate ( www.dalkeithcountryestate.com, 0131 663 5684)
Buccleuch Estates is Britain’s largest private landowner and this is a supersized park -- more than 500 acres with lots of cool wooded glades. The centrepiece is a magnificent adventure playground featuring zip wires and towering slides, but there are also leisurely walks and a tea room. The William Adam stables complex is impressive, as is the nearby orangery, even in its unrestored state.
Best for: Days out for all ages -- barbecue/picnic facilities are conveniently close to the playground.
Avoid if: You have ambitious toddlers. Parts of the playground have height restrictions, so tears are sure to flow.
Getting there: It’s in the centre of Dalkeith, and parking is easy. From the north or west head for Edinburgh, take the A720 city bypass, then A68 exit at Sheriffhall Roundabout. Bus services from Edinburgh are plentiful, leaving a short walk to the park gates.
Opening times: 10am-5pm daily.
Cost: Adults and children £4. Under-fives free. Family ticket £10.
7. Camperdown Park Coupar Angus Road, Dundee ( www.camperdownpark.com, 01382 431818)
There are parks for solitude and parks for activities. Camperdown is both. A stone’s throw from the city centre, the 400-acres park -- named after the Battle of Camperdown in 1797 -- includes a country park, Templeton Woods and the Clatto Reservoir. There’s also a wildlife centre -- home to everything from European brown bears to ring-tailed lemurs -- a fun fair, adventure playground and golf courses.
Best for: Younger children who will love the sandy pirate-themed playground. The park has a specially created path for cyclists with a disability.
Avoid if: If you have a phobia of trees as it is home to more than 190 species.
Getting there: 10 minutes’ drive from the city centre just off the Kingsway A90. Local buses run to the park entrance and Templeton Woods.
Opening times: Dawn until dusk.
Cost: Entry is free, but there is a fee is for some activities and entry to the wildlife centre.
8. Beecraigs Country Park Near Linlithgow, West Lothian ( www.beecraigs.com, 01506 844516/844517/844518)
Huge, sprawling hectares of loveliness, complete with zip slides, a deer park, visitor centre, masses of outdoor activities including archery and cycling, a restaurant and a new adventure play area. Beecraigs also includes Go Ape, a collection of rope bridges, Tarzan swings and zip slides up to 12 metres above the forest floor. Not for the faint-hearted.
Best for: Trying out new things.
Avoid if: You are in a hurry.
Getting there: From the M9: leave at J3 if coming from east and J4 if coming from west, follow the A803 into Linlithgow and Beecraigs signage from Preston Road. From the M8: leave at J3a on to A89 for Bathgate, then follow B792 towards Torphichen and follow signs. Free parking. The nearest train station is in Linlithgow.
Opening times: The visitor centre is open 9am-5pm every day except Friday, when it closes at 4.30pm.
Cost: Free, but there are charges for some activities.
9. Palacerigg Country Park In the hills south-east of Cumbernauld( www.northlanarkshire.gov.uk, 01236 720047)
Families with small children will enjoy the animal pens and play park. Those looking for more adventure can head off to explore the park’s far-flung corners and spend a whole day getting delightfully lost in the woodland and surrounding moor.
Best for: Getting up close to some of the country’s rarest breeds including Eriskay ponies, Tamworth pigs and Boreray sheep.
Avoid if: You’re taking the family pet, who may view some of the smaller exhibits as lunch.
Getting there: Palacerigg is a 30-minute drive from Glasgow and Stirling off the A801 Cumbernauld Town Centre road. Free parking. Cumbernauld railway station and town centre bus stop are roughly three miles from the park. Taxis are readily available.
Opening times: 9am-7.45pm daily.