With the summer holidays looming, you may be heading to exotic shores. But if not, stave off the boredom by exploring England. We kick off our series of guides to some of the most popular British counties for families with our pick of 10 things to do in Hampshire with kids.
Whether you fancy getting to know the countryside, or just couldn’t face a flight with the brood, Britain has plenty to occupy families closer to home. In Hampshire, country pursuits are the order of the day, as long as they come teamed with scones and clotted cream, and finished with a brisk walk. We pick the go-to family activities in Hampshire, from unusual shops to brilliant bike rides, rambling country estates and picnic spots, steam trains and stylish hotels.
10 things to do in Hampshire with kids
PICK YOUR OWN: At the Bourne Valley PYO, roll up your sleeves and pick strawberries, blackcurrants or rhubarb at this family run farm and farm shop. An abundance of seasonal fruit and veg is ripe for picking at various points in the year, and there’s a lovely tea shop to refuel afterwards. In the rural village of St Mary Bourne, near Andover, this is a great morning out, especially prior to a picnic.
COUNTRY HOUSE: Voted by Country Life readers as their second favourite country house in England, Houghton Lodge on the banks of the River Test in Stockbridge, is prime for a relaxed afternoon exploring. The kids will love running through the 14 acre estate before refuelling in the walled garden’s orangery – home to Daisy’s tearoom: think scones, clotted cream and homemade jam. The kitchen garden is stocked with ancient pear and apple trees, pungent herbs, roses, peonies, sweetpeas and rows of organically grown vegetables. Heaven.
SHOP: The Hambledon in Winchester has three floors decked with unusual and eye-catching homeware, stationery, glassware and kitsch toys and gifts. You’ll leave with a card, a poster, a set of enamelware and some silk flowers. Even if you try very hard not to… Just don’t go to the top floor and look at the clothes unless you’re feeling flush.
COUNTRY WALK: If your kids are into literature, take them for a proper romp over Watership Down. Starting in Eccinswell, head out into open countryside, over fells, through woodland, along a disused railway line and around a bronze-age hill fort to the lovely hamlet of Old Burghclere. The chalky landscape is quintessentially English, with rolling hills and sweeping views. Pause at Nuthanger Farm, and recount the story (you may need to gen up first).
SCIENCE CENTRE: The Winchester Science Centre is a rainy day saviour. This brilliant interactive science and technology centre will keep kids enthralled for hours (there’s a decent café with healthy food if you end up staying longer than anticipated). From magnets and mirrors to recycling, wheelchair basketball to whirlpools: the hands-on experiments really engage kids of all ages. It’s worth a trip just for the Planetarium.
HIT THE BEACH: Appley beach in Ryde on the Isle of Wight has a fabulous backdrop, is big enough to fly kites and bounce beach balls around without fear of kicking sand into stranger’s sandwiches, and on a bright, sunny day is golden and gorgeous. Stretch your legs with a walk along the pier.
MUSEUM: Beaulieu. Not only is this little town the country outpost for much of West London, but it is also a brilliant day out for families. Race around the cloisters and herb garden of the Abbey before heading to the Motor Museum with its world famous collection of motorcars and fascinating 1930s garage and World of Top Gear (Jeremy Clarkson not included). Afterwards picnic at Buckler’s Hard.
BIKE RIDE: On ‘The Island’, the Hayling Billy trail runs south next to beautiful Langstone Harbour, practically all the way to the seafront. It’s a gentle and car-free bike trail with plenty of wading and migrant birds to spot, ending on on a pretty shingle beach. Catch the ferry back to Portsmouth and check out the HMS Warrior.
STEAM TRAIN: Little children will love the Thomas Day Out at the Watercress Line – a working steam train that runs from pretty market town of Alresford to Alton (as reviewed by Kate Midda for Mr Fox). At other times, watch the old steam trains arrive and leave from the platform, where vintage luggage and controllers dressed in period uniform, make the experience otherworldly. Not many things please young kids like the puff of steam and the smell of the fire box. Nip down to the high street afterwards for coffee and a Pigwitch (bacon on sourdough) at Caracoli.
PICNIC SPOT: The Forest of Bere (locally known as Hundred Acre wood) is a mixture of woodland, open space and heath. Extensive walking and cycling trails are dotted with handmade stick dens and rope swings. A highlight for families is the adventure playground, where a huge oak tree house, playhouses, wigwams, sand pits, bridge and shingle stream mean the kids will be completely absorbed while you grab a coffee at the little van opposite (or hit the huge log swing to see how high you can get it). There’s plenty of space to spread out a picnic.
WILDLIFE: Visit the New Forest Wildlife Park. The antidote to zoos, this was originally a butterfly park but expanded to be a wildlife centre. Book a Little Helper experience for kids to join the keepers and learn what it takes to look after animals. You can also book as a family. From wallabies to wolves, there are some really interesting animals, and a cool adventure playground to burn off steam.
Making a weekend of it?
Mr Fox Stays at: Family Cabins and Forest Suites at Lime Wood in the New Forest (below), The Pig in Brockenhurst. Tylney Hall is a firm family favourite (and you can take dogs). To blow the budget, book a treehouse suite at Chewton Glen (as featured in our Tree House Hotels feature) .
Mr Fox Eats at: Pizza on Sunday evenings in summer in the gardens of The Thomas Lord, West Meon – there are also new sleep pods which are handy for crashing if you want to make a weekend of it. Post-clay shooting or fishing on the Test, head to The Greyhound, Stockbridge (deserving of its 4 AA rosettes). Sunday lunch at The Shoe in Exton where the Ice Cream shed is open at the weekends and a river runs through the pub garden. Smarts at The Chesil Rectory, Winchester. Steak at The Gamekeepers, Mappledurwell. For a delicious lunch on a sunny terrace with incredible homemade cakes to boot, head to Long Barn, Alresford: you’ll also be able to stock up on their lavender products (we swear by the pillow spray).
READY FOR SUMMER?