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How to Plan Free Days Out on a Last-Minute Family Summer Holiday

07/08/2015 14:58 BST | Updated 05/08/2016 10:59 BST

The school summer holidays may already be well underway, but if you're yet to book a break, or feel the need for an extra week away, it's not too late to snap up a last-minute holiday at one of Britain's favourite family boltholes. Read on for four late-August escapes - a place to stay for each (with availability in the last week of August), plus my recommendations for the best family beaches and free days out.

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Cycling the Tarka Trail ©William Gray

North Devon

Spread the cost with friends at this five-bedroom holiday home in Mortehoe with fantastic views out to sea and the coast path right on your doorstep.

Just around the headland is the surf sensation of Woolacombe Sands - nearly three miles of beach heaven for bucket-toting toddlers or wave-riding teens.

For the best free day out, take your bikes and pedal part of the Tarka Trail- a 180-mile traffic-free cycling route weaving through beautiful countryside that inspired Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter. The best sections for families are between Braunton and Meeth and include easy riding alongside the River Taw, superb birdwatching, plenty of lovely picnic spots and a great café at Fremington Quay for those well-deserved ice creams.

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Mousehole ©William Gray

West Cornwall

This former fisherman's cottage is full of character and has views over Mount's Bay. Sleeping up to four, it's ideally located for exploring the Far West of Cornwall.

If you've got young children, take a copy of Antonia Barber's The Mousehole Cat - the picture-perfect village of Mousehole is just over a mile away. Describing the exploits of an old fisherman called Tom and his cat, Mowzer, as they set sail into a terrible storm, the gripping yarn gets an extra splash of reality when you stroll around the village with its tiny harbour and tangle of streets. Afterwards, pack a picnic and head across the Penwith Peninsula to Cape Cornwall for some of the area's best rockpooling.

For beaches, you're spoilt for choice. Whitesand Bay at Sennen Cove and Porthcurno are two well-known beach beauties with great sand and surf. But if you're after somewhere less crowded, park at Porthgwarra and walk north to Nanjizal - a stunning cove with turquoise waters, rockpools and an enticing offshore sand bar that you can wade to at low tide. Take care if swimming, though - the currents here can be fierce.

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The Moors Centre ©William Gray

North Yorkshire

If you're quick, there are a few holiday homes left for the last week in August at Haven's Blue Dolphin park perched on the clifftops of Yorkshire's north coast.

If it rains there's an indoor pool and water slide, but sunshine will make the five-mile golden strand of nearby Filey beach seem irresistible. It's perfect for everything from sandcastle building and kite flying to beach cricket and even surfing when conditions are right. Robin Hood's Bay, meanwhile, is the place to go for rockpooling and fossil hunting.

For one of the best free days out in the area head inland to the North York Moors National Park. The Moors Centre has lots of indoor and outdoor interest, including a sculpture trail, adventure playground and exhibits on the area's wildlife. It's also the starting point for family-friendly walks beside the River Esk and there are daily events in late August such as archery, birdwatching and making owl puppets.

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Ranworth Broad ©William Gray

North Norfolk

This traditional flint cottage is well located for exploring both the Norfolk Broads and the North Norfolk coast. Sleeping four and pet-friendly, it's great value at £501 for the last week in August.

Within easy striking range are several excellent beaches, including Holkham (wind-rippled dunes, sheltered lagoons and pinewoods), Sheringham (home of the Poppy Line steam railway), Wells-next-the-Sea (a combo of fishing village and sandy beach) and Hunstanton (amusement park, donkey rides and boat trips).

Grab your binoculars and head to the Norfolk Broads for a day exploring the reed-fringed waterways. Run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the floating Broads Wildlife Centre at Ranworth Broad is reached by a boardwalk and is free to enter. There are excellent natural history displays inside, plus lots of advice on spotting birds, dragonflies and other wetland wildlife. Local rangers also offer activities, such as pond dipping.

William Gray is the editor of 101 Family Holidays.