Monday, 14 August 2017

The 10 best places for the family to get outdoors in Surrey

Summer holidays are in full swing and holiday camps are a go-go, but are you tired of the same old playgrounds and farm parks? Want to escape with your family to somewhere a little more wild, but just as fun? From shady woodland to sandy beaches, we review some of the top spots in Surrey to get outdoors and go wild with your family.

Hills
1) Box Hill, Tadworth, KT20 7LB
Managed by the National Trust, and now famous for being part of the 2012 Olympic road racing event, Box Hill is the summit of the North Downs. If you fancy a day out kite flying or blowing the cobwebs away with a hilly walk and a top-of-the-world view this is the place to come. Orchids and butterflies are easy to spot here too. The site has an excellent natural play area, café and multiple self-guided walks that make exploring the big outdoors easy for all ages. 

Woods
2) Staffhurst Woods, Grants Lane, Oxted TN8 6QR 
Ancient Staffhurst Woods is one of the best places in the UK to see bluebells in spring, though it is very pretty all year round. The woods are remains of the old ‘wildwood’ which covered much of old England in Saxon times. The Woodland Trust have created a self-guided woodland walk of around 3 miles long that is wheelchair and pushchair-accessible. Parking is available at two sites. The Grumpy Mole pub is just down the road for a well-earned lunch afterwards. 

3) Alice Holt Woodland Park, Farnham GU10 4LS
A stalwart favourite with families, Alice Holt Woodland Park can be as high octane or relaxed as you like. There are bikes to hire, a play and habitat trail to follow, horses to ride, and walking paths to explore. Alice Holt is managed by the Forestry Commission. 

4) Limpsfield Common, Ridlands Lane, Oxted, RH8 0TW
Rustic and enchanting, the rangers and volunteers of the National Trust have built several ‘Peter Rabbit’ houses and wooden dens for children to find and explore. A short walk takes in the houses and there is a welcome tree swing mid-way for all to enjoy. Take a picnic as there is no café at the site. Parking is available. 

Beaches
5) Frensham Great Pond, Churt, GU10 2QB
It may be man-made but it’s no less fun. Frensham Great Pond is in the depths of rural Surrey, but its beach happily mirrors that of one right on the coastline. Built in the Middle Ages to provide fish for the Bishop of Winchester, it now hosts calm waters, shallow edges, plus many shady walks to take in the woodlands around the pond. Parking is available as is a café and a small museum. 

Parks
6) Chipstead Downs, Holly Lane, Banstead, CR5 3NR
Engage your make-believe and walk through a wardrobe into the land of Narnia. Chipstead Downs and Banstead Woods have recently carved out C.S. Lewis’s magical world into a nature trail. Children can meet many of the characters from the story including Aslan the lion. This new feature marks the launch of the Downs as a Local Nature Reserve, for its preservation of ancient woodland and chalk grassland – both rare and in decline across the UK. 

Water
7) Wey and Arun Canal, Loxwood, RH14 0RH
Billed as ‘London’s lost route to the sea’, the Wey and Arun Canal originally provided a route from London to Portsmouth for goods travelling to and from the dockyards. The Canal links up the waterway from Guildford to Pulborough. Although derelict until 1970, it now is one of prettiest places to go walking or cycling (traffic free) in Surrey, and an abundance of wildlife can be spotted including herons and kingfishers.

Heathland
8) Wisley Common, Old Lane, Cobham, KT11 1NA
A very special 800 acres of lowland heath and woodland that is home to many rare birds and a wide range of aquatic life, including dragonflies and damselflies. A wonderful place to explore for the bug and bird lovers in the family. There is a useful café with baby changing facilities and parking located off Old Lane. 

9) Chobham Nature Reserve, Staple Hill Road, Chobham GU24 8TU.
Chobham Common is the largest nature reserve in the southeast of England and one of the best places to spot a variety of creatures big and small. In this ancient landscape you are likely to see insects, spiders, birds, deer and foxes, as well as swathes of purple-flowering heather or coconut-perfumed gorse. 

Old railway tracks
10) Downs Link, runs from St Marthas Hill in Surrey down to Steyning in West Sussex. 
This 37 mile old railway route is traffic-free heaven for walkers, cyclists and horseriders. As it’s a mainly level route it’s great for younger cyclists. Exciting nature finds include bats and glow worms. The route links the North Downs Way to the South Downs Way. There are multiple entry points onto the route including St Martha’s Hill and West Grinstead. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

littlehampton





So long summer! You left so soon, like an affronted guest forced to sit next to boring uncle Albert at the wedding party.

But while you partied, we joined in. Though we nearly forgot. This trip down to the beach, and our first and only, took place a couple of weeks ago, just as we realised your swan song was near.

Littlehampton appears to be one of the nearest sandy beaches to where I live, hence the visit there. Freddie has not been to a sandy beach before. He took a while to warm up, unsure of what on earth seaweed was, and what this strange yellowy squishy stuff was beneath his feet. But then he loved it. He became more adventurous in the water too, going deeper into the waves then rushing back as the water came in - lovely to watch.

Unfortunately Littlehampton doesn't have much else going for it other than it's beautiful beach. An air of provincial despair seems to hang around the town, and even blows down to the seafront at times.

A small motor railway trundles up and down the seafront carrying miserable-looking grandparents and toddlers. I was probably that miserable-looking mother that they talked about when they got home and bitched about their day.

I lie. One other saviour of Littlehampton is the East Beach Cafe, a piece of architectural delight. Freddie and I sat outside with a plate of chips fending off seagulls and watching the sea. East Beach Cafe was designed and built locally. All the food is local. However it feels like a beached whale here - it should be happier somewhere like Cape Cod or Newquay. Sorry Littlehampton.

Summers are for the beach, but next year we'll be partying at some other seaside.




Monday, 10 August 2015

mayfield lavender farm



Hmm Mayfield Lavender Farm wasn't really that suitable for taking an 18 month to, and trying to take pictures of. I had to rescue him every five seconds from trying to pick up bumblebees. Plus he was more interested in picking up stones in the car park than looking at all the pretty fields and imagining he was in rural France and not on the outskirts of Croydon.

And he had a paddy after about 10 minutes as he just.wanted.to.be.picked.up. (I know I will miss this when he's older, and I do secretly like that I am Number One Mummy at the moment, but it would also be nice to be able to DO THINGS WITH TWO HANDS once in a while). But go with two people and it would be a different story. Or go if your mini me is younger or older than mine.

The farm is quite small (25 acres) so it won't take long to wander around and take some arty shots. There's a cafe and small outdoor shop at the entrance. Across the road there is also an entrance to The Oaks Park to let small people stretch their legs a bit more. There's unfortunately no playground, but there are a lot of dogs. And quite a lot of poo. Which reminded me even more of being in Croydon. Sorry Croydon (not sorry).

PS If you don't want to go to Surrey there is also a farm in Kent. July/August is the time of year to go and see the lavender in full bloom.


Tuesday, 4 August 2015

greenwich

Greenwich is a town that doesn't like to think it's in London. It is a place in its own right. It has a university, the river, a park, the navel college, the observatory, shops, the arena, the maritime museum, a ship, and even a foot tunnel and fan museum. It's the centre of the world! Literally.

There is too much to fit everything into one day. If you have children, the park is obviously going to be a hit. Greenwich Park, one of the capital's eight Royal Parks, dates back to Roman times but will be encapsulated in younger people's hearts as that view from the behind of a horse's rump as he jumps through a moon towards the Canary Wharf during the 2012 Olympics.

Even on a non Olympic day the views are outstanding. From the mighty HSBC tower over to St Paul's with the Queen's House and the Thames holding fort, it's one for all to enjoy.

Other than the view, the Park has lots to offer. There's the observatory of course, but also it's home to both red and fallow deer plus there are lots of different "types" of parkland to explore - including a fruit and vegetable section, formal gardens, more wild areas and acres of pure grassland for the kids to run around in. Greenwich Park is 180 acres so there is plenty of space but not so much that you couldn't explore all of it. The borough also kindly puts on family friendly activities like minibeast hunts or a Sunday afternoon jazz concert.

We chose to go to the National Maritime Museum as well. Maybe we went on a bad day twice, but I wouldn't recommend the cafe there. It is so busy and crowded. Be savvy and go somewhere Greenwich central instead, or take a picnic to the park before you visit the museum.

After our miserable lunch we mooched around the museum showing Freddie lots of things he found interesting, though at 10 months old anything is pretty interesting really. I love this age. Not mobile usually, and pretty content to be taken to most places, with not so much effort to put in with naps and milk and what not. Freddie loved the open plan first floor most of all, which has a huge world map pasted onto the floor. Also this fab children's gallery is now open, which looks great fun, and it markets it for 0-7 year olds so babies should have a good time too.

Greenwich is really easy to get to. It's on the tube (Jubilee to North Greenwich then a bus), DLR (Cutty Sark) and overground from London Bridge. We drove from our house and parked in a car park in the centre (easy early am but does get busy later on). Parking is also available in the park.

Though we didn't have time, other family-friendly things to do in Greenwich include under 5s activities on the Cutty Sark (free for littlys too), a planeterium show for children at the observatory, Mudchute city farm (a bit of a walk under the foot tunnel mind) and a trip on the cable car 

Who needs the rest of London when Greenwich has all this. It really is the centre of everything.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

dulwich


I do apologise for the not so great quality of the pictures I post on here. I vaguely knew I wanted to start a blog about all this, and imagined all the arty, lifestyley shots I would take, but the reality has been a little different.

For a start I often forget my camera so have to rely on my iphone. The amount of stuff you have to cart around with you when you have a small person is jokes. Half an hour down the road I think CAMERA! CRAP! But it's too late by then.

Then when I do remember the camera I never have my hands free. Or the wrong lens is attached. Or I am messing around with the aperture and whatnot then his nibs starts whinging. Or I am half lugging buggerlugs, or change bag, or looking at a map, or holding an umbrella. Or generally just trying to manage being out and about on my own with a small person, which is doable, but is hard work. So I hope to improve in the future, but it's a work in progress for now.

A while back I drove up to Dulwich village. Very easy with a sat nav. Parking is easy too. Dulwich Park. Loads of spaces. Free. On my agenda was the park, the village, the art gallery, and if I only did one of these things I would be happy. Often with a small person, I find you have to scale back your expectations. Pre Fred I was so used to dashing round at a million miles an hour getting this and that done and forgoing a lunch here and there to fit it all in. You can't do that with a baby. You have to work around them. You have to think about timings and naps and food and forward plan it all. Well I do. And that's fine too. It just means that maybe you won't see or do as much as before, but maybe you will see a different side to things, or visit places you wouldn't have done without children. And I love that.

We walked around Dulwich Park and admired the ducks in the pond before stopping at the Pavilion cafe in the park. This cafe is great for babies and toddlers. Loads of buggy-maneuvering room, child-friendly meals, and even a small play area with some toys and books.

I've been to the village before but I didn't really remember it, other than it was quite pretty and villagey. In fact, it still it, but there isn't much there really. A few gift shops and trendy cafes and estate agents. I think I've been spoilt by living in the greatest place in London ever (Crouch End but you knew that right?).

But Dulwich does have an art gallery. Small but perfectly formed. Freddie fell asleep just as I got there, which was good news. He's the type of baby that you have to keep moving with all the time. Does anyone else have this trouble? In supermarkets, it's like some kind of trolley dash. No stopping allowed.

I could have spent this time taking better pictures, but instead I decided to join my son in having a doze. Sorry Dulwich!


Monday, 13 July 2015

petworth

Petworth is the antiques heart of Sussex (can you tell I like antique rummaging yet?) It's also a beautiful small town that has the added bonus of the National Trust's Petworth Park on its doorstep; a park that seems even grander than Richmond Park.

We visited when the little guy was about 10 months old. I know this as it was mid autumn and a glorious vest and shorts day. Days like this are even better than hot summer days I think, as they are unexpected. I remember sitting lazily in the sunlit gardens at Petworth Park, Freddie content, and thinking 'this is what happy feels like'. 

To earn my rest I trogged round the shops with Freddie in a sling. I managed about an hour before he became too heavy (I've always wondered how people manage toddlers in slings? Please tell me the trick. I've always wanted to be that mum who carries their kid not pushed them, without success). I would suggest (now that Freddie is a very active 18 month old) that a trip to Petworth shops is only really doable with a immobile baby.

Petworth is an upmarket place. I realised this as soon as I saw the first price tag of £500. Hmm don't think I'll be bringing much back. But it's enjoyable all the same and the stuff for sale is good for inspiration. Plus most of the shopkeepers loved Freddie and he seemed pretty happy to be nosing around too!

I unfortunately didn't take many pictures (too intimidated!) but here is a list of the key shops.
Antiquated
Anthony Short
Chequers Antiques
David Swanson 
Garden House Antiques
John Bird Antiques
Lantiques
Petworth Antique Centre
Phoenix Antiques
Tudor Rose Antiques
Woodcock Antiques

You can walk round in an hour no problem. There are also some fab places to eat, though we chose to have a picnic in the park. 

Back to the park...(and this place is GREAT for older children) as we all know National Trust is a beacon to parents across the land. Even without all the extra kid friendly stuff they put on, just having some safe outdoor green space to run around is worth paying the membership for. Freddie was too young to enjoy the NT for himself at this point so it was a selfish visit for moi.

The park consists of formal gardens and a 700 acre deer park. It was the deer park that captured my heart, probably partly to do with the weather being so blooming glorious for October. Sublime rolling hills as far as the eye could see with a backdrop of Petworth House - a massive 17th century mansion. For the green fingered out there, the gardens were fashioned by Capability Brown. And for the artists, Turner then immortalized these gardens into his famous paintings. If you have time to go inside the mansion, you would also be rewarded with an epic collection of art from Turner, Blake, Reynolds and van Dyck.

Coming here made me realise how much there is going on culturally outside of London. Yes, you may to look for it and drive here there and everywhere, but it's oh so rewarding when you find somewhere special like Petworth. 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

south bank


When Freddie was three months old I ventured back into the Smoke. I was DESPERATE to go back to London. I was so homesick for it.

We moved out of London just before Freddie was born thinking that it would be a better idea for him to have more space, clean air, schools better yadda yadda yadda. But, in hindsight we should have stayed. At least until we had to start thinking about schools, and even then there is much about how schools in London are improving so much that some are now the best in the country. 

Having my first baby made me feel like I had been run over by a train. It wasn't just the physical - 2l of blood loss, near death experience, anaemia, general what-the-fuckness about giving birth, it was the mental side that punched me harder than Muhammed Ali on steroids.

Sudden loss of freedom and of independence. Huge, huge responsibility for a human being! With no instructions! It's like being made CEO of a Big Deal Company when you have no experience and are still in primary school. I felt completely out of my depth and it was very very frightening.

I couldn't switch off. There was a small person, effectively like a wild animal in my eyes, who I had no idea how to read or look after. I just waited for bated breathe for the next howl, wondering what to do. Many people told me "oh you will know what to do, it will come naturally". It didn't for me. I loved this small person but I was also frightened of him.

In hindsight it is easy to say I shouldn't have worried so much. I should have relaxed more. Everything is just a phase. But instead I turned into a google monster. Googling everything to do with babies and THINGS.THAT.COULD.WRONG. How much should babies cry?Why is he crying so much? Is it normal he cries so much?  What if he had silent reflux? Should I use a dummy? Will his speech be delayed if I use a dummy? How do I use a sling? Which sling should I use? What do I do if my baby hates a sling? I want to be a natural parenting mother but it appears my baby does not like me anyway I try to parent him.

I mourned for my old life. I mourned for routine and sleep and knowing what I was doing. I didn't feel like me anymore. I didn't know who I was. I felt so jealous of my husband whose life had stayed relatively the same. He hadn't given birth and he didn't have to breastfeed and he went back to work as normal.

I felt like I had to learn to do easy things again, like a child would. Going for a walk, entering a shop, driving the car. All these tasks seemed too huge and momentous to do anymore with a baby attached to me. Going for a run was just out of the question. Even having a bath was very difficult to do.

So when I blearily opened my eyes out of the first three months of chaos and felt confident enough to go up to London with Freddie it was a VERY BIG DEAL. It was a huge milestone for me. I felt quite invincible. Look at me managing to travel up to our capital city with a 12 week old! I had mixed feelings about being in London. It felt great on the one hand. Everything was so familiar and exciting. But on the the other hand it felt completely different. I was not the same person that left London four months ago. I had Freddie to think about and it was a bit daunting thinking about where I could feed and change him. It was London through a new pair of glasses.

Handily my train comes into London Bridge, which means it's walkable to the Southbank. The Southbank is great for children. There are lots of family friendly restaurants (Nandos was our choice) and the Tate and Southbank Centre are fab for small people, as is "just" wandering up and down the parade.

I really didn't do much at all on my first visit in, but you forget how tiring it all is (I was also amazed at how busy London felt). I hope to do more things in London as Freddie gets older, and if we have another baby I hope that I would have more confidence to make the most of all the wonderful free things going on, and not worry as much about breastfeeding in public or a crying baby. People love babies. London felt different as a mother, but it also felt much friendlier. People talk to you!