Our round up of all the things to do on a rainy day for children. We’ve focused on West Kent and East Surrey, but the ideas can be applied to wherever you live in the world.
Painshill Park is an pretty 18th century landscaped garden and lake based near Oxshott and Cobham 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 to get outdoors in Surrey and go wild with your family.
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.
Who needs soft play?
Box Hill isn’t all bikes and lycra you know. It has an amazing natural play trail that follows two mile’s worth of wooded path. At the beginning there’s a natural play area with carved out trees to run through and wooden boulders to climb. Further on, there are dens made out of branches to explore and build up further, and a wooden bridge to clamber across. Finish up with a play and a picnic in the meadow that overlooks the view of the surrounding countryside.
Even without all the magic wooded play stuff created by the National Trust, woods are ace for kids (and even babies) to play in and explore. Freddie was as absorbed in stacked stones as he ever is in lego, and as happy collecting and sorting sticks as he would be in plastic stacking cups.
And Box Hill also has loads of meadow space to have a picnic and let kids run wild a bit. There’s a handy car park at the top of zig zag road (love that name) with a cafe, shop and toilets.
Freddie and I have visited Box Hill a lot since we moved out to the Surrey Hills. I like the buzz around it. I don’t know if it was so popular before the 2012 Olympics but it’s always busy now, and there are always lots of MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra) about as well as the usual National Trust suspects (read many families and larger percentage of grey-haired folk) so it’s a lively mix of people. I like going as it reminds me a bit of being in London. That sounds silly but it’s the vibe about the place. It’s full of promise, and feels like a place where things happen, even though it’s deep in the countryside. If I’m feeling a bit lonely I like coming here as you always end up having a chat with a friendly dog walker or mother. Nothing being than a walk in the woods, admiring the view and settling down for a cup of tea and a bit of cake to raise the soul.
It started off so badly. Buggerlugs is wailing (though this is probably more to do with what I have dressed him in than anything else) and the name of the place is a bit How’s Your Father.
But it’s really lovely here! A grower though, not a wham bam oh my god this place is AMAZING type of place. Walking here most weeks has almost changed my mind about living out here. Almost.
Titsey is a private estate consisting of house, gardens and woodland walks. I’ve not yet paid to go into the house and gardens, I’ve just used the tea shop and been on the walks as they are both free. The tea shop is ace for buggies. It’s a huge conservatory. Nice and bright and accessible. And the cakes are really good. There is loads of outside space as well but it’s not so great for toddlers as it backs onto the car park and driveway in and out of the park. Unfortunately the cafe doesn’t do sandwiches. Nor does it open all the time. Only Wed, Sat and Sun 1-5. I’ll take a picture soon and post it.
The walks are challenging in places as they cut up (and down) the North Downs. You can park in a number of places – either at the bottom of the driveway from Water Lane (sat nav RH80SA), by the house, or at the top of the Downs just off the junction between Pitchfont Lane and The Ridge (sat nav RH80HD).
The walks are definitely more of a rucksack option (or if your children are older they can walk too). There are lots of paths cutting through the woodland on the Downs. It’s so pretty, ghostly even, and you would never know the M25 is mere metres away. Big smiles around.
Ah well this could have gone horribly wrong but it turned out okay in the end. Don’t you hate it when you have it all planned out in your head. “Yes, he’ll fall asleep in the car on the way there, nice half an hour nap so he’ll be in a good mood for when we get there, we can have some lunch and not rush, and get back before he nods off for his afternoon nap so I can
enjoy lazing on the sofa watching Made in Chelsea and eating biscuits catch up on all the housework.”
But instead it turns out that he looks as if he may fall asleep any moment, so you carry on driving past the entrance but those slitty eyes carry on pee-poing at you for a good half hour later so you think fuck it let’s just go in I’m running out of petrol anyway. So you go in and you’ve actually come to the wrong place and it has started to rain and the little guy starts to whinge. So you get back in the car and try to find the right place, but you can’t find it so you think sod this let’s go, but you then drive past the entrance, so with a screaming baby in the back you think it can’t get any worse and you turn around and go in.
Hallelujah Coolings we found you!
So that was our journey to Coolings Garden Centre. We didn’t really go for the garden centre. We went for the nature trail and cafe. Freddie is having a love in with animals at the moment. It’s more of the dog and cat variety but he’s not too fussy. Coolings has Wallabies! Sheep! Pigs! Goats! Chickens! Geese! Ducks! Plus a buggy-friendly nature trail that takes a toddler walking in random directions about an hour to walk around. All this plus a really spacious cafe with lots of kiddie meals and a baby change facility. You can either pay £14 for the year or £3.50 per visit (under fives go free).
Freddie cheered up wandering around the nature trail. I cheered up after I’d had a cup of coffee and a fat slice of chocolate cake.
Staffhurst Woods, near Oxted Surrey, is managed by the Woodland Trust. The best time of year to visit is April/May as the ground is transformed into a carpet of bluebells. However it’s good any time of year (bar mid winter) as the paths are wide and accessible enough for a buggy.
I’m always trying to find places to go and walk around that are doable with a pushchair. It’s not straightforward as there is no one place to go for reference. A lot of footpaths are accessible but you don’t know till you get there.Generally cycle paths, byways and bridle ways are ok but they often traverse roads too. Doing a search for disused railway paths often brings up other ideas of places to stroll safely. I’ve also found these websites helpful when browsing for accessible places to walk.
Anyway, I take the little guy for a walk in Staffhurst Woods on a regular basis. In the early days it was for me – I needed to get out of the house during mat leave otherwise I would have gone mad. And there is something about woodland (and heathland and the coast!) that really settles my soul and makes me feel more at ease and content.
As my son gets older it’s more to give him a change of scene. He loves woodland. He likes looking at all the leaves. And now he’s walking there is a whole new dimension. I can put him on the ground and let him explore for himself.