Find your inner explorer in the Dorset countryside
By Claire Spreadbury
‘Live the wild life’. That’s the slogan at Silverlake in Dorset. And if ever there was a time to jump into nature feet first, this is it. 2020 has taken its toll on the whole family and a prescription of forest bathing, tree hugging and the great outdoors is exactly what’s needed.
Beaches and sunshine are great, but kids can easily get bored. Walking trails, climbing trees and clambering on boats brings out the natural explorer in each and every one of them. And it makes me feel younger too.
I spend a good few minutes pulling up the ropes, winching the rubber seat of the zip wire back towards me. “Are you going to have a go, mum?” shouts my eldest, Rosie, 11, from a hidden patch of forest where she’s clearly spying on me. “Not sure yet,” I reply. As I get older, I’m definitely getting more boring, more afraid. I’m not entirely sure what of (though in this case it’s falling face first in a muddy lake, swallowing too much dirty water and possibly dying), but four decades of life appears to make me plump for the safe options in life.
Rosie wanders off, convinced I won’t be launching myself across the island any time soon, at which point I find myself teetering up the wooden steps. I hold on tight and jump onto the seat before I have a chance to change my mind.
Whizzing over the water with a ginormous grin across my face, I feel about 12-years-old again, while Rosie and her sister Poppy, 8, whoop and cheer me on. It’s all going swimmingly until I clock the massive tree trunk staring back at me and start screaming my head off, convinced it’s all coming to a messy end. It doesn’t, of course – there’s a spring that stops you reaching the end of your life at the end of the zip wire. I jump off, relieved and happy.
This is what life’s all about, we agree, but I was less sure when we first drove in. Made up of 70 holiday homes and privately-owned places, on first impression Silverlake looks like a housing estate. A nice new one with sleek modern builds boasting decked areas and lots of windows, but you do definitely have next door neighbours, right next door, which I wasn’t expecting.
We’re staying in Beaumont Village in a high-spec three-bedroom property.
Downstairs, you walk into open-plan living, with a kitchen, dining area and lounge. Bi-fold doors open out on to the patio, where you can relax on the garden furniture and cook up a feast on the BBQ.
The furnishings are comfy and luxe – chunky chests of drawers – lots of reclaimed wood and wrought iron detailing, deep squishy sofas, the best bunks you’ve ever seen and really nice beachy artwork. The wood burner takes centre stage downstairs, perfect for gathering around and zoning out, as you warm up beside the amber glow and crackling of logs.
The homes here come in all shapes and sizes, from smaller wooden fishermen houses, to giant beach pads, complete with balconies and decking areas jutting out over the lake.
But though the properties are lovely, that’s really not the reason you holiday here.
Playtime awaits every explorer. A short walk from our home for the weekend, we borrow bikes of all shapes and sizes (children’s and toddler bikes are here too, along with helmets, free of charge), and set off through a gate into a big green bushy expanse, which feels miles away from anywhere.
Wildlife wanders freely and watches on undisturbed by our squeals as we bunny-hop and skid around the path. Swings made from rope and logs hang in the woods close to twiggy wigwams and peekaboo cottages. A bit further, we discover a rope bridge, ladder and slide strung up through the trees, and the calmest, most docile Dartmoor ponies, who almost purr as they’re stroked.
There’s an astro pitch, table tennis, tennis, adventure playgrounds and a funky yurt full of family games, poufs and dream catchers, but it’s all beautifully spaced out waiting for you to discover it. And despite living so closely together, we barely come across anyone when we’re out and about.
The girls dive like mermaids in the heated outdoor pool, soaking in the vitamin D from the last of the autumnal sunshine. The spa is open and welcoming, offering delicious Caudalie treatments. There are differences, of course – there’s the odd scrape and scrunch of PPE and no heated blankets or fluffy towels, but treatments still manage to feel pretty normal.
Covid has brought with it a whole heap of new rules: masks must be worn inside and there’s a one-way system. Slots need to be booked for any of the communal areas, as numbers are restricted, and there are hand sanitiser stations dotted around everywhere. But this is the new normal, and no one blinks twice once they know the score.
We spend an evening on the sofas and spherical chairs at the Roof Terrace bar, supping on the local Conker gin, while the sunshine starts to dip, before grabbing freshly-made takeout from the Pizza Shack.
The lake comes alive on bright mornings, when we head to the activity hub to pick out our paddles and life jackets, and then down to the water to mess about on the boats, kayaks and paddleboards. The current can be pretty challenging on a windy day, so there are plenty of squeals (me again) as our three-man canoe wobbles about in the water, helped enormously by a very wriggly Poppy up front.
Paddleboarding always looks easier than it is, but it’s lovely to have a go as we splash our paddles into the lake and weave our way to the mini beach at the other end. We while away hours in the water, and only stop because our bellies start rumbling.
The weekend is over in a flash, and although we’re close to the Jurassic Coast, and a 30-minute drive from Poole, you’d need to spend a full week here to explore outside of the estate. As we pack our bags and prepare to return to our busy city lives, I sneak off for one last squeal on the zip wire. It’s fun to feel 12 again.