Katherine Macalister and family enjoyed an action-packed adventurous weekend in Hampshire

Remember that one glorious weekend in February, when it felt like summer and the sun came out? What were the chances? And yet there we were, bikes ready, smack-bang in the middle of Hampshire’s beautiful woods, and it was heaven.

We were there to explore Hampshire’s South Downs, somewhere I’d never experienced, always bypassing them to get to the sea, a mistake I now realise. Because it’s hard as a family to get out together and find something everyone wants to do, but we found the answer in this neck of the woods.

Having packed the bikes on to the car the night before, we headed down to The Old Thorns Manor Hotel, a massive golf and country estate in Liphook whose family rooms defied belief. We could have had 10 children and still been accommodated comfortably in the Beams suite, meaning the kids all had their own rooms, and we didn’t all have to go to bed at the same time.

The fantastic buffet breakfast the next morning was also a high point.

A full morning exploring the walking trails at Alice Holt Forest soon burnt off all our food. One three-mile trail is specially designated for families.

Then it was time for some high-adrenaline fun mountain biking through the countryside - my teens appearing back at lunchtime, mud-splattered, red-faced and happy.

We had lunch in the charming little Cafe on the Green which makes and serves a delicious and healthy variety of paninis, sandwiches and hot meals and we sat outside, in February, and basked in the sun.

Then on to Go Ape for an afternoon of teeth-clenchingly daring exploits high up in the trees of Alice Holt, again concessions being made for smaller children on the new Tree Top Junior course for six-year-olds and over. As usual I was voted on to the scarier Tree Top Adventure course, and spent the next three hours surprising myself, refusing to betray my fear or let them know how much of a big deal it was to be swinging from the treetops alongside a hardy team of adrenalin junkies.

That was day one, and we scarcely had to time to get back to the hotel and have a quick wash and change before we were expected for dinner at the Old Thorns carvery, another first for us. The name alone had the teens’ eyes out on stalks, the prospect of an open-ended carnivorous feast not lost on Mr Greedy either. The concept of eat-as-much-as-you-want is one they found hard to fathom, and their idea of utopia, their plates coming back piled defiantly high. We spent the rest of the evening working our way through the fantastic array of roasts, before moving on to dessert.

Sunday was no less busy, kicking off at Gilbert White’s House and Garden in Selbourne which houses the Oates Collection – Oates being famous for embarking on Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912.

Indeed it was he who voiced the immortal words: “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

This was his home and, thanks to a Lottery grant, now the site of a fascinating exhibition into the man and the trip itself, a real insight into what was involved and the perilous and adventurous spirits of the young Antarctic explorers.

It gave us lots to think about as we set off for the Watercress Line in Alton, stopping briefly at the Station Cafe for toasties before embarking on a delightful trip on this ancient steam train which meandered down to Alresford and back.

We concluded after such an action-packed weekend that although Oxfordshire is one of the most beautiful counties in the world, it was good to get away, escape, hang out together and do something fun and the South Downs has it all. We’ll be back as we scarcely scratched the surface.

* Alice Holt: www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-72DG7L
* Go Ape: www.forestry.gov.uk/goape
* Old Thorns: www.oldthorns.com
* Watercress Line: www.watercressline.co.uk
* Gilbert White’s House and Garden and the Oates Collection www.gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk
* For more information on the area check out the website www.visitwinchester.co.uk/site/south-downs for a copy of the brochure for South Downs National Park, Hampshire area.