It is thanks to the advent of the railway that Brockenhurst is what it is today; a popular, attractive market town. From the middle of the town, you can walk into the countryside and wander the fields or head to the watersplash, where the north and south weirs streams flow across the road.
1. On your bike... New Forest Cycle Hire
Country Lanes, The Railway Station, Brockenhurst SO42 7TW
www.countrylanes.co.uk, 01590 62262
There are plenty of off-road tracks to explore from Brockenhurst and hiring a bike is a great way to get round even if you are a little saddle shy!
On arrival the staff were very knowledgeable about the New Forest routes and about the bikes too, advising us of what combination was best for our needs.
Tag-a-longs are perfect for confident toddlers who can sit alone on a bike and reach the pedals to help you power the bike. Infant seats are best for little ones aged about one and the Burley Trailers are great fun for toddlers from 18 months as they sit in little trailers behind a regular adult bike.
Family Fun Ticket - 2 adults, 2 children (trailer, tag-a-long or kiddie sized bike) £43.00
Equipment provided: Safety helmets, locks, the all important puncture repair kit and an easy-to-follow route sheets.
Remember: Bring ID and credit card.
Parking: Ample; free.
2. The beauty of British wildlife... New Forest Wildlife Park
Deerleap Lane, Longdown, Nr Ashurst, SO40 4UH
www.newforestwildlifepark.co.uk, 02380 292408
The New Forest Wildlife Park is committed to the conservation of otters and other British wildlife either under threat or already extinct. Each year orphaned and abandoned otter cubs are taken in by the park and nursed to strength, then released back into the wild.
The talks and feeds were the highlight of the day. The hard working (and naturally rather mud-splattered!) keepers give enthusiastic and informative talks about the playful otters, linx and the glorious wolves. Questions are welcomed and they really demonstrate their knowledge as the children throw up tricky questions. There were even free-roaming, tame deer that literally nibble anything in their reach... including coats and girls’ swishy pony tails if you get too close!
The tropical butterfly house is fun; stand still and a fluttery, flash of a butterfly will land and your arm.
Baby changing: Yes.
Picnic tables: Yes.
Treasure trail: During holidays the Treasure Trail operates for children to find clues, solve the puzzles and win a prize!
Parking: Ample; free.
Something to eat...Woodland Bakehouse
This friendly café serves a selection of goodies, both hot and cold lunches and sandwich packs you can purchase and take away.
Children’s Lunch box: £3.95
Refreshments: Indoor and outdoor seating
Admission: Adults £9.95; Children £6.95; Family £29.50
3. A spot of gardening... Fairweather’s Garden Centre
Fairweather’s Garden Centre, High Street, Beaulieu, SO42 7YB
www.fairweathers.co.uk, 01590 612307
Patrick’s Patch is an inspiring and pretty garden right next to the Garden Centre in Beaulieu High Street. It is free to enter and all year round a wide range of vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers are merrily growing. Many of them are harvested for use in the Hungry Gardener Café.
There are drop-in sessions for children and parents every Saturday 10am-12.00pm where children can dig the soil and make a great mess in the vegetable patch.
The Plant and Garden Centre itself is worth a visit as its staffed by friendly chaps who are full of information and advice. They also have a huge range of plants to tempt any gardener.
The newly erected wooden play hut is a welcome retreat for children where giant, wooden games are on offer or there's colouring and drawing.
Baby changing: Yes.
Something to eat... Steph's Kitchen
This lovely recently refurbished café has masses of indoor and outdoor seating and is a real find. Not only is the produce locally sourced, it is incredibly well priced. The home cooked-food is served with a lovely, friendly smile and the staff all seem so happy to work here! The Little Rascals menu especially for children is a real treat. Potato boats filled with bacon or cheese, and Jelly is on the menu with prices starting at just £1.95. They also do a lovely line in breakfasts: Eggs Benedict, Crumpets
warm buttered tea bread... what a great day to start the day.
Children’s Lunch: from £1.95. 3 items from the breakfast menu plus a juice, £2.25.