It’s surreal to be here in the woods less than a fortnight before Christmas, when the to-do list is still endless. But maybe that’s what the holiday season should be like, I think, as I roam the forest floor with one-year-old Edgar in search of my own contribution of sticks: being together, making something out of the ordinary. We are lucky to be in Beaverbrook (beaverbrook.co.uk), a five-star country hotel that is a family paradise 45 minutes from our home in London. It offers bespoke adventures and survival courses throughout the winter, with help from Sharky & George.
It’s not all smiles: The boys shed tears of frustration as they try – and fail – to create a big enough spark with a metal fire starter; the smoke from the fire makes us cough (dead leaves, Alex reminds us, are the worst enemy of fire). But sitting together on overturned logs under ancient evergreens, with marshmallows roasting in the flames and nowhere else, will go down as one of 2021’s most magical moments.
The sun sets behind the Surrey hills as we emerge from the woods to see the distant lights of the rink. Screaming with excitement, the boys run the rest of the way and line up for ice skates, unfazed by the fact that they have no idea how to do it. As I slide behind a model penguin (I know my level), I finally feel steeped in the festive spirit, only to lose it when the older boys attempt Dancing on Ice and end up on their backs. Then there’s hot chocolate, hot cinnamon donuts, cotton candy, and champagne (for the adults), and then we head back to the hotel, cheeks flushed, to watch Home Alone.
Can we do this every year? Hector asks, as we lie under tartan blankets in the private cinema. Maybe not quite, I tell him, but we’re definitely going to make a winter adventure a new family tradition. Anna Tyzack
Sea Kayaking in Anglesey
Lord Nelson, apparently, considered the Menai Strait to be the most treacherous waters in Britain; so treacherous, he trained his sailors here, thinking that if they could navigate the straits, they could navigate anything.
They haven’t been less treacherous since then. The stretch between the Britannia and Menai Bridges, which connect Anglesey to North West Wales, is known as the Swellies. As late as 1953, HMS Conway, a naval training ship, ran aground here.
What better way to learn sea kayaking? Philip Clegg, 42, has been leading paddlers here for 18 years as owner of Sea Kayaking Anglesey (kayaking from meranglesey.co.uk). As he left, he told me that when things go badly on the rivers “it goes quickly and it gets sorted out quickly. With sea kayaking, things go wrong so slowly and it takes a long time to sort them out.