Being a mother of two little ones, and currently on maternity leave, money is tight so finding a cheap – or even better free – day out is a must. Over the last two and half years I have been amazed at how many great places there are to go that are completely free and here are just 7 of them.
1. Royal Victoria Country Park
This little gem has everything a child and parent could want; wide open space, extensive park, pebble beach, wooded walks and a miniature train ride at a small cost. Although Royal Victoria Country Park can be a bit of a pain to get to, it is worth it. There is ample parking when you are there and charges are reasonable. The country park is set around the chapel of the once largest military hospital in the Victorian Empire and boasts wonderful views across Southampton Water. My daughter’s favourite part of the park is the miniature railway, which takes a circler route around the play park and is worth the small charge.
Bolderwood is a firm New Forest favourite of mine and provides an open space, graded walks and, if you are lucky, a lovely view of a herd of deer. With its popularity and small car park, this little jewel can be difficult to park in especially on high days and holidays – but it is worth the gamble. The grassy area is large enough for a kick around or a game of rounders and there is a wooded picnicking area, which is open enough to keep an eye on little ones but has enough hiding places for them to explore. There are three signposted walks of varying difficulties. The middle one of which I have done with my toddler (with minial complaining as we reached the final hill. She absolutely loved the trees, puddles and collecting various sticks, pine cones and leaves. All the walks finish at the deer viewing platform where you may see the herd of fallow deer.
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3. Itchen Valley Country Park
Itchen Valley Country Park is a lot more than it first seems. There are 5 sign posted trails, three parks, a café and visitors centre – not to mention seasonal trails and a play trail to follow as well. With varying lengths Itchen Valley Country Park grows with your children. For very small legs there is the play trail, which runs along the outskirts of the car park (at a safe distance) and provides regular breaks from walking with a variety of wooded creature play equipment. For the slightly longer legged the forest trail, woods and meadow walk and honeysuckle trail provide a lovely 1 mile walk with plenty to explore and amuse. The play parks are all different and provide something for a variety of ages, although the one in front of the visitors’ centre and café is most suited for younger children.
4. Fleming Park Soft Play
This lovely little soft play area requires a £1 deposit for ½ hour play time – although we have often been in there for longer when it is quiet. It is situated in the café, which sells a good range of snacks and meals and has tables which over looks the soft play area.
5. Netley Abbey
Netley Abbey dates back to the 13th century and is in ruins. Although it may not be the first place to come to mind when looking for somewhere to take children – Netley Abbey provides a great place for children to explore. My toddler finds no greater pleasure in life than playing hide and seek and Netley Abbey is the perfect setting. With its ruined walls and open spaces, the site enables a safe place for exploitive play and the perfect site for a picnic. Although there are no amenities, Victoria Country Park is just a stone throw away.
Lakeside is a tranquil spot, just outside of Eastleigh, with short, flat walks around the three man-made lakes. Not only do they provide a perfect fishing spot, they also provide the ideal place for welly walks when it is raining. Not far from the main car park there is a play park with swings, slide and climbing frame. It is designed for slightly older children, although there is still plenty for a toddler to do with a bit of support. Running from the car park to the playground is a railway, although this is expensive for what it is, it is an enjoyable ride with a rather long tunnel and the added excitement of going from one platform to another.
Not to be mistaken with the Farm itself, the country park is a beautiful place to visit. There is a lovely park and a kiosk which is open on high days and holidays. Not only is there an open green for playing a variety of ball and running games, there is also a wood to explore and a walk by the river. There are a variety of trails through the woodland and long The River Hamble. If you continue down the river there are some viewing points to take in the scenery and to see if you can spot the wreck of the Grace Dieu.