If you need an easy escape from the bustle of London, founder of Mums Do Travel, Gretta Schifano, has some ideas from beachside frolicking to going on a Winnie the Pooh bear hunt. Based in rural southeast England with her two kids Bella (14) and George (10), Schifano shares her tips for family days out in Southeast England with suitcases&strollers. Here's how to see some of the English countryside with kids.
Hever Castle in Kent is a glorious place for a family day out. It was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife, and its beautiful grounds boast a boating lake, water maze (take a change of clothes and a towel), adventure playground and a yew maze, as well as gorgeous formal gardens. There’s also a restaurant and cafe and in the summer there are often jousting tournaments to watch and sometimes archery to take part in. There’s lots of space for picnics and running about and there are some delicious ice creams on sale. You can also go inside the castle itself – the oldest part dates from 1270.
The extensive grounds of Groombridge Place in Kent have loads to offer families and are an excellent spot for a picnic. There are giant swings in the woods, birds of prey displays, canal boat rides, a woodland boardwalk with rope bridges and tunnels, peacocks and even a zedonk (a cross between a zebra and a donkey). The formal gardens are beautiful and date from 1674. The 17th century moated manor house was used as a location for the 2009 production of Pride & Prejudice, starring Kiera Knightley, but isn’t open to the public. There are often special events running during the school holidays and there’s also a café.
Ashdown Forest is one of the largest free public access spaces in Southeast England and is also the setting for A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. Its 65,000 acres of heathland are great for walking, exploring, picnics and even playing Pooh sticks if you come across a stream. You can download a map of Pooh walks which take in some of the places featured in the stories here.
There’s always loads happening in Brighton on England’s south coast, around an hour from London by train. You can enjoy the pebbly beach, take in the Victorian pier and its amusements and rides, stroll along the beachfront, learn about marine life at SEA LIFE Brighton and see a world of toys at the Brighton Toy and Model Museum below the railway station. The city offers an eclectic mix of shops and places to eat and has a laid back, alternative vibe.
For a quieter beach head to beautiful Birling Gap, between Brighton and Eastbourne, on the famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. There’s nothing there but glorious views and a National Trust cafe at the top of the steep stairs down to the pebbly beach, although there are some sandy patches when the tide goes out. It’s great place for rockpooling at low tide or for a walk along the cliffs, but keep away from the edges as they are eroding.
Godstone Farm spreads over 40 acres of the Surrey hills and is great for animal lovers. You can see a wide range of farm and domestic animals up close and can get involved with feeding and grooming them. Wellies and old clothes are probably best here! There’s also an extensive adventure playground area, sandpits, an indoor play barn and a cafe which sells home-made cakes...or you can always take a picnic.
The Bluebell Railway is the UK’s only all-steam railway, an old country branch line restored and run by volunteers. Here you can travel on a steam train through the Sussex countryside passing through stations from the 1880s. At Sheffield Park station there’s a museum where you can get close to the collection of restored carriages and steam locomotives, including Stepney, featured in the Thomas the Tank Engine books. There’s also a cafe and a picnic area and there are often special events scheduled. The Bluebell Line now links to East Grinstead railway station which has direct trains to London.
For some quirky family-friendly accommodation ideas in the English countryside, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
By Gretta Schifano of Mums Do Travel; Images: Visit Britain/Britain On View; Gretta Schifano; Ian Shaw