10 fun UK learning holidays that make perfect Christmas presents

·5 min read

These courses run year-round and last for a maximum of a day unless otherwise stated. As most aren’t residential, we have suggested nearby accommodation and dining options

Winter skills in the Lake District

One for those who like a challenge, this day-long course takes place from December to April, with participants climbing to the summit of Helvellyn with a fell-top assessor. You’ll learn basic snow skills for safe winter walking in the UK’s fells and mountains – including how to use an ice axe and crampons – on a strenuous but fun excursion. Vouchers start from £120 for one person joining a group, while private options begin at £250 (lakedistrictweatherline.co.uk).
Heart of the Lakes lists over 300 cottages in the region. The two-AA-rosette 1863 restaurant with rooms in Pooley Bridge serves innovative seasonal menus.

Writing in west Devon

Arvon has been inspiring wordsmiths for more than five decades with its peaceful properties, strong sense of community and creative writing courses – not to mention esteemed guest tutors such as Salman Rushdie and Hilary Mantel. The charity now has three historic writing houses, but Totleigh Barton was its first: this 16th-century Devon manor offers Arvon’s signature blend of residential courses and retreats, covering a variety of genres and experience levels. Five-day options here start at £710, but gift vouchers can be bought for any amount at (arvon.org).
Courses and retreats include full-board accommodation

Woodland skills in the Cotswolds

Chopping wood
Chopping wood

Split logs, cook over charcoal and discover the historical use of woodlands on this rural adventure- held in a wood once part of Henry VIII’s estate. The experience (£50pp, from April 2022 ) is run by Cotswolds National Landscape, and its diverse repertoire ranges from fossil hunting to scything (cotswoldsaonb.org.uk).10% off gift vouchers if accommodation booked with partner Cotswolds Hideaways. The Weighbridge Inn in Stroud has its own famous “2 in 1” pie, whose secret recipe is passed from landlord to landlord.

Coastal foraging in south-west Wales

Marloes Sands
Marloes Sands

Hosted by the affable Craig Evans, who grew up foraging around the Amman Valley, this course is run on the stunning shorelines of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. Guests gather an array of edible goodies, from sea vegetables to crustaceans, then cook up their finds as they learn more about the region. Gift vouchers are available for classic or extreme low-tide courses (£80 or £120, coastalforaging.co.uk); the latter explores lower shore areas and may include invertebrates such as corals and sea squirts. Participants also get a local wildlife booklet, plus a personalised video message. Overlooking Saundersfoot in Pembrokeshire Coast national park, the St Brides spa hotel has doubles or twins from £200 B&B. Dine at the Stone Crab for more superb seafood.

Gin making in Herefordshire

Nestled in the shadow of its rugged namesake, Black Mountains Botanicals was founded by good friends Glyn and Lloyd, who infuse their award-winning blends with natural country flavours. Discover how they do it and distil your own personalised bottle of gin on this entertaining afternoon experience, which also includes a tour of the distillery and tastings aplenty. Gift vouchers are available from £10-£80, or a full-price experience costs £120 or £140 for two sharing (blackmountainsbotanicals.co.uk).
Also in Michaelchurch Escley, Bridge Farmhouse B&B has doubles from £95. The Bridge Inn offers self-catering options, including seasonal yurt and camping, and runs a pub nearby

Archaeology, nationwide

Archaeological digs are usually only for experts, but not at DigVentures, which hosts several crowdfunded UK projects each year, all open to curious laypeople. Shropshire’s Soulton Hall is among the first events confirmed for 2022 which, in July, will investigate the remains of a “tiny castle” found this summer. Discoveries so far include a medieval pilgrim’s ampulla (bottle for holy water). One-day gift vouchers cost £185, with the option to buy longer durations at a discounted rate. (digventures.com).Continue the castle theme at Rowton castle, doubles from £99 B&B. Shrewsbury’s Market Hall offers an wide range of restaurant stalls in lively surroundings.

Dry stone walling in North Yorkshire

Dry stone walls, Ribblesdale
Dry stone walls, Ribblesdale. Photograph: David Reed/Alamy

Used to parcel up land since Neolithic times, dry stone walls are an inherent part of the English countryside, and none are prettier than those in the rolling Yorkshire Dales. Two-day courses run by the Yorkshire Dry Stone Walling Guild offer an introduction to this distinctive heritage and take place around the picturesque Harrogate district from April to October (£99, ydswg.co.uk).
Crakehall Cottages, next to a working watermill, has options for two (from £400 a week) and six people (from £690), with some shorter stays available. The Bay Horse Inn is a welcoming family-owned pub on the green.

Wildlife safari in the Forest of Dean

Join wildlife detective Ed Drewitt on this memorable forest adventure, which runs from May to October in 2022 (£50). You might spot the forest’s famous wild boar or “humbug” piglets, affectionately nicknamed for their stripy coats; other possible encounters include fallow deer, foxes and badgers. There are also evening song walks in the ancient woodland, with song thrushes and wood warblers proclaiming their territories before nightfall. The experience is hosted by Tudor Farmhouse hotel and restaurant); gift vouchers from £10, which can also be used for other immersive events such as foraging and stargazing.
Add an overnight stay, three-course dinner for two and breakfast with Tudor Farmhouse’s experience package, costing from £199.

Horticulture in Kent

Where better to learn the secrets of horticulture than Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection in the “garden of England”? Set across a farm with more than 4,000 varieties of fruit tree, Brogdale Collections offers a range of seasonal short courses – from gardening and grafting to making cider and elderflower cordial – starting at £35 a head. Gift vouchers can be bought for between £10 and £50 at brogdalecollections.org and can also be used against orchard visits, events and gift shop items.
Doubles at Faversham favourite the Quay start at £90 B&B. Macknade Food Hall houses a leading deli and butchery, plus a late-night “food village” on selected days

Cookery in Dumfries and Galloway

Based in the Scottish “artists’ town” of Kirkcudbright, also known for its busy harbour and quality seafood, the acclaimed Station House Cookery School runs classes on everything from Thai and Turkish cuisine to top-notch fish and chips. Passionate about local provenance, owner Nick and his team even offer visits to sites such as Gledpark, a nearby Unesco-certified venison producer. Half-day classes are £55, full days £110 (stationhousecookeryschool.co.uk).
The Selkirk Arms has doubles from £90 B&B and a renowned restaurant; it also runs Kirkcudbright Galleries Cafe, for lighter bites

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