Inflatable aqua parks
Bounce, hop, dive and jump through Atlantis, a new aqua park at the National Diving and Activity Centre in Chepstow, Monmouthshire. It has five floating zones, each increasing in difficulty, with Total Wipeout-style courses of slides, climbing walls and obstacles (£30pp, under 8s not permitted). The centre also has a flyboarding experience on a water-propelled hover-board (£68pp, 16s and over). Elsewhere, two of the largest inflatable courses in the UK are the New Forest Aquapark (£15), near Frogham (4,000 sq m) and Lagoona Park (from £15pp), near Reading (5,000 sq m). Rutland Water, in the east Midlands (from £20pp), has the UK’s tallest inflatable obstacle, the Rutland Mammoth, with slides or a free fall 5.5-metre drop. Alongside its aqua park and aqua jungle, Windsor’s Liquid Leisure has a head-to-head race course inspired by the Ninja Warrior TV show (from £8pp).
Against a backdrop of mountains and forests, Adventure Parc Snowdonia is an inland surf centre in north Wales, with manmade waves across beginner, intermediate and advanced zones (sessions from £35, wetsuit hire from £6 a day). For newbies, lessons are available for ages 5-plus (1½ hours, £40 children, £50 adult). It also has the new Adrenaline Indoors adventure centre, including climbing walls and artificial caving. Opening later in the year, the Wave in Bristol will include a lake with wave-making technology and be able to host 80 surfers at a time in six surfing zones. For more experienced surfers (and spectators), the tidal bore of the River Severn provides another alternative to ocean waves: reaching up to two metres high and more than 12mph as a result of the Atlantic surging into the Bristol Channel and through the estuary (there are several due in August).
There’s a great variety of whitewater rafting options in the UK: from Olympic-standard parks to wildlife-rich rivers. For the latter, the River Blackwater on the Northern Irish border has a route with plenty of drops and rapids, but still suitable for beginners. Awol Outdoor Adventure runs instructor-led day trips from £35pp, including kit. One of the UK’s top manmade sites is the Lee Valley White Water Centre, the London 2012 venue. It runs Olympic-course rafting experiences from £39pp. The site also has hydrospeeding (a cross between a float and a bodyboard) around the smaller Legacy Loop (£45pp). Dam-fed waterways are another reliable year-round option: the Welsh National White Water Centre runs taster sessions on the River Tryweryn in Snowdonia, fed by the Llyn Celyn reservoir (£37pp, wetsuit hire £5).
Single-fin swimming has become a popular new “sport”, teaching mermaids and mermen free-diving, synchronised swimming and underwater-breathing skills. Dorset’s coast was host to the first UK edition of the Merlympics last year, organised by the team from Mayim Mermaid Academy in Bournemouth – the UK’s longest-running mermaiding school. Its group mermaid lessons take place throughout the summer in Ferndown and Clayesmore (£45pp). Sister mermaid school, Finsplash in Norwich, has sessions every second Sunday (£30pp). Specially-made monofins are provided and sessions are for ages 8+ (but there’s no age limit; currently Finsplash’s oldest mermaid is over 60).
Canoe and camp
Canoe camping trips often mean access to secluded areas of the countryside and back-to-basics camping. Canoe the Wye runs a three-day, 42-mile canoe-and-camping adventure on the River Wye from Hereford to Symonds Yat. It explores the Forest of Dean and Wye valley, and includes stops at Hoarwithy and Ross-on-Wye (£195pp, half-day trips, from £60pp). On the Norfolk Broads, there are one- to four-night trips with The Canoe Man (from £188pp), some including a basic-but-atmospheric camping spot next to a wild-swimming site. In the Lake District, Keswick Adventures has a one-night tailor-made canoe expedition for £100pp, minimum of four people.
Several of the UK’s many paddleboarding sites offer something a little different. Putting trust into a group of well-balanced friends would be wise for Inspire 2 Aventure’s paddleboarding sessions, in Monmouth, south Wales. Its giant paddleboard, the mega-SUP, has room for up to eight people, who navigate the river as a team (two hours, £25pp). After-dark adventures with Psyched Paddleboarding include head-torches and light-up boards for trips out into a sheltered bay around Anglesey, a designated Dark Skies Reserve (two hours, from £50pp, experience required).
Rockpooling and coastal foraging
Wembury in south Devon is one of the UK’s top rockpooling spots. The Wembury Marine Centre runs sessions for all ages (£3pp) – and keep those eyes peeled for cushion starfish and spawning beadlet anemones. There are several free guided rockpooling sessions on the coast near St Michael’s Mount, in west Cornwall this summer, run by Great Scott! Adventures Outdoors (18 Aug, 1 Sept). Day trips with Coastal Foraging, in Carmarthenshire, include exploring mud flats, rock pools and estuaries around Pendine Sands and St Ishmael for wild ingredients, before cooking them over a fire in a sheltered sea cave (£80pp, £70 if travelling via public transport). Fore/Adventure runs half-day seashore foraging courses in Studland on the Jurassic coast in Dorset (£40pp). It also has Forage and Feast sessions (three hours, £70pp), and Kayak, Fish, Forage and Feast (six hours, £120), both include three-course dinner with cocktails and wine. Wild About Pembrokshire runs a variety of family sea foraging courses, with guided walks, coastal picnics and more (from £15 adults, £5 children).
West Sussex-based windsurfing and kitesurfing club 2Xs runs taster sessions from its West Wittering base (two hour windsurf tasters £55 ), and a Saturday club for children (7-12), which includes windsurfing, and other water sports (£35 for two hours). The Little Rippers Windsurfing course (for 5-7s) costs £65 for two hours. Scotland’s “sunshine” island of Tiree is one of the UK’s top windsurfing locations. Wild Diamond runs two-hour windsurfing courses here (children £30, adults £35) on flat, shallow Loch Bhasapol. Balinoe Campsite has pitches with views towards Mull and the Treshnish Isles – and a bothy and self-catering house for those reluctant to stay under canvas. Thanks to the exposed coast, the wide, sandy bay of Rhosneigr, on Anglesey’s western shore, is a great place to try windsurfing. FunSport runs lessons on the beach (weather dependent) for beginners, in groups of up to 4 people (£30pp) or one-on-one (£42.50).
Paddling pools and fountains
While Rome may look to ban visitors from taking a dip in its Trevi fountain, the UK has plenty of public paddling sites in cities where it’s possible to cool off for free. Among London’s most popular is Granary Square Fountain in King’s Cross, which is colourfully lit up in the evenings and choreographed to spurt at different heights; then there is the Edmond J Safra fountain court in front of Somerset House, the Diana Memorial Fountain in Kensington Gardens, close to the Serpentine, and the V&A’s John Madejski Garden Fountains, an oval lake with jets. Elsewhere, there’s Custom House pavement fountain in Belfast; Sheffield’s award-winning Peace Gardens; and the Mirror Pool in Bradford’s City Park, which is the UK’s largest urban water feature (welcoming paddlers, minus the fountain jets, which are due back on in October).
Also known as underwater hockey, this water sport has clubs all over the UK and even its own governing body, the British Octopush Association. It was invented in the early 1950s by “sub-aqua divers in Southsea who got bored just swimming up and down pool lanes to get fit”. Equipment includes a mask, snorkel, fins and water polo hat. Players in teams of 10 hold a small stick in a gloved hand to push a 1.2kg puck into a tray at either end of a 25-metre pool. Most of the 120 BOA clubs in the UK run free taster sessions at local pools, including sessions for juniors.
Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips