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Travel: Back to nature; A visit to Oasis Whinfell Forest holiday park is such tree-mendous fun.

Byline: By Ray Kelly

FASTER Daddy, faster! the boys screamed in the trailer I was towing behind the bike.

They whooped with delight on the fast descents on the woodland paths and gave me stick when things slowed down going uphill.

I would have shouted something back if I'd had the puff.

Pretty soon, though, we were back on the flat, racing against other dads on bikes pulling kids in 'chariots' - like a vegetarian remake of Ben Hur.

It was hugely more fun than any cardio machine at the gym and the Cumbrian air was certainly a lot fresher as we whooshed around the Oasis Whinfell Forest holiday village outside Penrith.

Just a couple of hours driving from Central Scotland, after beating the Friday rush hour, we were dropping the bags in our comfortable lodge for a lovely long weekend.

We wouldn't see the car again until Monday, you have to stroll or pedal everywhere on the complex.

So the menfolk of the family were tootling around while mummy enjoyed a bit of pampering in the spa centre after the not-to-be-missed saunas and steam baths.

Cycling was the best way to get an idea of the layout and enjoy the traffic-free peace.We cruised around the lake where folk were having a go at a range of water sports, we overtook a group who had worked up a thirst in the sports complex making their way to the pub and exchanged hullos with a bunch of pals waiting for an archery lesson (who hopefully hadn't been to the pub).

There are a phenomenal number of leisure pursuits to tempt you - but at a price.

Regular visitors told us they set a budget to enjoy a few new experiences and looked forward to ticking off a few more on their next holiday.They also brought their own bikes instead of renting.

However, it's very tempting to splash out and it's all on the doorstep.

But there is a lot of free fun and your holiday price includes unlimited admission to a fantastic indoor water park.

The Center Parcs resort has most to offer to families with children over five, but our two and three year olds had a blast and really enjoyed the kids club activities.

When we managed to drag them away from the pool and the adventure play area, under protest, the boys soon forgot their outrage as they settled into a gentle pony trek on the outskirts of the site with sweeping views over the countryside.

We clip-clopped past our neighbours hurtling off towards the quad-bikes and clay pigeon shooting, but we were more interested in nature - particularly the rabbits around our lodge and the rare red squirrels.

A HIGHLIGHT of our short break was definitely a dusk visit to the rangers' hut for an encounter with owls. Magic.

It was followed by spooky games with torches on our hike back to the lodge as we took it in turns to do our best owl impression.

However, it's hard to be a night owl yourself when fresh air and exercise tests your staying power but, with the children tucked up in bed, we couldn't pass up the opportunity for the approved babysitters to let us slip out for dinner at a choice of French, Italian, Indian, Oriental or American restaurants and a drink in one of the two bars.

Best of all, it was just a short walk home so there was no need to decide on the 'designated driver' I forgot the torch, though - and paid the price outside the boys' window later where I gave a virtuoso owl impression.

Next day, I asked the boys if they had heard the owl call. 'No, but we heard it tripping over the bike,' came the reply.

Next time they can pedal and I'll sit in the back.

DETAILS# Prices for a similar break at Whinfell Forest at this time of the year start at around pounds 362.

# To book, call Center Parcs on 08705 200 300 or for a brochure call 08705 200 200.

CAPTION(S):

PLAIN SAILING: Enjoy a range of water sports on the lake; WHEELY GREAT: Cycling helps you enjoy the surroundings
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 20, 2004
Words:697
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