With the long, hopefully sunny, summer ahead of us, it is time to think about some days to remember with your crew. Planning is key with littles. Don’t be too ambitious, get there early and quit while you are ahead. Kath Kay took her two pre-schoolers to Paultons Park and has a round up of suggestions for easy day trips from London.
First Theme Park Experience
Four year-old Harvey outlined his priorities for our day at Paulton’s Park: 1. Meet Peppa; 2. Try a not-too-scary ‘coaster; 3. Eat ice cream.
It seemed reasonable, so on arrival at Paultons Park we headed straight for Peppa Pig World. Set in beautiful grounds on the edge of the New Forest, the park is home to over 70 rides and attractions, so it’s wise to have a game plan.
Peppa and her chums easily command the busiest part of the park, and it’s easy to see why. Even babes in arms can get their first taste of theme park thrills here. Gentle rides like Miss Rabbit’s Helicopter Flight and Windy Castle provide the ‘woos’ without the whiplash.
In the George’s Spaceship Playzone, 11 month-old Harriet wobbled happily like a Weeble in the soft-play, while Harvey was a blur of colour up and down the slides.
The longest queue was to meet Peppa and George themselves. Faced with his idols, Harvey lost his nerve, opting for a cuddle with Daddy Pig loitering by the refreshment kiosk (no surprise).
Engorged pigs aside, there are real animals to enjoy too, from frogs and chameleons to meerkats and mongooses. Well-maintained facilities include baby-care centres, while eateries serve everything from pizza and pasta to sandwiches and salads.
A series of beautifully-kept gardens provide a welcome slice of zen, where we devoured ice creams surrounded by kookaburras, pelicans and flamingos. It was the perfect spot to chill out, fuel up and get ready for the ‘big rides’.
And so on to the Lost Kingdom, where we met Claudia. Playful, cheeky and just three years-old, this baby T-Rex had us at “hello”.
It continued quite gently with the Dinosaur Tour Company, a Jurassic jeep ‘self drive’ on rails through forest and past water-spraying dinosaurs. We paused at the Little Explorers playground for a thrash around in the sandpit, then onto the Dino Chase rollercoaster. Here, Harvey was adamant; “no hand-holding mummy”. Things escalated quickly and I soon found myself in line for the Flight of the Pterosaur, a suspended dinosaur coaster, where we were hung and swung at great velocity (me screaming) around its 30mph bends. Then the Velociraptor, which dropped 20 metres and gained speeds of up to 40mph before reversing and repeating.
To make matters worse, Harvey wouldn’t hold my hand through any of it. It was all a far cry from Grandpa Pig’s Boat Trip. The little boy who shied from meeting Peppa was begging for one last go on the Boulder Dash. Boy to man in a day. Well, almost. He still begged us to buy Peppa Pig’s Campervan on the way out.
Paultons Park, Ower, Romsey SO51 6AL 023 8081 4442
Willows Activity Farm
Over 300 farm animals vie for your attention at this Hertfordshire attraction, most notably Peter Rabbit himself who steals the show. Fans of the books will love the Lily Bobtail Nature Discovery area, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s Kitchen and the Jeremy Fisher Music Pond. Meet the rascal rabbit in person, between feeding goats, cuddling guinea pigs and riding Tristan the Runaway Tractor. There’s also giant sandpits, inflatable bouncy haystacks and puppetry shows.
St Albans, Herts AL4 0PF 0333 3312060
A day at the farm doesn’t get much better than this. There’s everything from donkeys and goats, to llamas and dinosaurs (yes, really). Feed the pigs, hold a bunny and stroke a chicken – if you can catch one. Two play barns cater from non-movers to exploratory toddlers, while outdoors there’s a huge adventure playground, mud kitchen, den building and tractor rides. Warning: cute bunnies for sale mean you may leave with an extra family member.
Tilburstow Hill Rd, Godstone RH9 8LX 01883 742546
More than a zoo, this family-run theme park has education at its heart, with kid-friendly information boards, imaginative interactives and an Animal Spotter Trail. There are over 100 species here, while Lemurland and Lory Landing enable close up encounters. Plus fun rides such as the new Rainforest Carousel, a maze, Go Wild playgrounds, soft-play and water areas ideal for younger visitors.
Alfriston, East Sussex BN26 5SQ 01323 874112
Let your city kids roam free across 500 acres of woodland, forest tracks and heathland in Buckinghamshire. Early cyclists can peddle 10 miles of well-surfaced trails, before exploring the adventure play area with climbing equipment and slides. Organised activities include mud kitchen cooking, bug hunting and pit digging. At Go Ape, Nets Kingdom is perfect for all ages with its tree top nets and trampolines suspended above the forest floor. For brave nature lovers over one metre tall, the Tree Top Adventure is a great introduction to high wobbly bridges and zip wires.
Wexham, SL3 6DS 01753 511060
Roald Dahl Museum and the Bekonscot Model Village and Railway, Beaconsfield
Only twenty minutes apart so you can comfortably fit in both. Although the museum is aimed at 6-12 year olds, pre-schoolers will love the dressing up, hands on crafts and storytelling sessions. Go on a Friday and there are songs, stories, free play and crafts for under 3s. The Bekonscot Model Village will delight little ones with its seven towns in miniature and everyone can take a ride on the Light Railway.
Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre 81-83 High Street, Great Missenden, Bucks HP16 0AL 01494 892192
Bekonscot Model Village, Warwick Road, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, HP9 2PL 01494 672919