Review: Staycationing in the New Forest - and a trip to Peppa Pig World
Staycation has been one of the big buzz words of this year and it is likely to be around for most of 2021 as the coronvirus continues to disrupt our lives - but instead of seeing it as a limitation, I intend to embrace the opportunity to see more of this great island.
With that in mind, on a warm September afternoon (before the stricter lockdown measures were imposed), my husband and I loaded up the car, picked the girls up from school and set off on a mini break to the New Forest.
Pre-Covid we would never have considered a September break but in 2020 you have to ask, why not?
The mission for the weekend was to spend some quality time together, get some fresh air and, importantly, get the girls away from the small screens they have become so reliant on over the past six months.
We stayed in a newly refurbished lodge at Shorefield Country Park in Milford on Sea and arrived in time for a late dinner - and a well-earned glass of wine (2020 - why not?)
The lodge was perfect for us with an open plan kitchen and living area, three bedrooms - including an en suite to the master bedroom - and a family bathroom.
The park is spacious with plenty of greenery proving this area does live up to its name, and the lodges are staggered so you are not overlooked by your neighbours.
Some come complete with hot tubs on the veranda.
The park has plenty of activities to entertain children and adults, including night time entertainment but keen to escape into a family bubble (we have missed this quality time since the girls returned to school and nursery), we eschewed most of the offerings.
We did book a slot for the on-site indoor pool for Saturday morning and were pleasantly surprised at the measures in place.
Swimming is something we have missed in recent months, with many leisure pools still not fully reopened for family swim sessions and concerns over social distancing we haven’t really been.
Spaces were limited and we queued outside, waiting for the families from the previous session to vacate the complex from the opposite side.
We were instructed to arrive ‘beach-ready’ so popped onesies over the girls’ costumes. Inside we stripped off at the pool side and left our belongings gathered neatly in a pile - no changing rooms, no lockers.
The free-form pool was warm and had a beach-style sloping side to ease cautious toddlers in. There was plenty of space and you have to wonder if these booked sessions, restricted numbers and limited time slots could actually be the way forward. We swam for a shorter time than normal but we had space to move and enjoy the pool.
The park is ideally located for exploring and we took a gamble and did just that on Saturday afternoon.
It was a brave move considering so many attractions, activities and even restaurants have to be booked in advance but it paid off.
We headed for nearby Hurst Spit, parked up at the roadside and took a stroll along the shingle bank towards Hurst Castle.
The walk up there was heavy going for little legs but it was refreshing in the breeze and the girls enjoyed chasing one another. We had a few whinges but we expected that - like so many children our three-year-old and 12-year-old have become a little too accustomed to staying home this summer.
The walk was worth it. Hurst Castle is fascinating and luckily for us there was no need to book so we walked straight in flashing our English Heritage membership cards - these have already been worth the outlay this year and we intend to use them a lot over the winter as we seek out Covid-safe entertainment.
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While my husband absorbed the back story to this landmark fort, the girls climbed to the top, looked out to the Isle of Wight and hid in crevices. And I took a step back and watched them just enjoying life, something we haven’t done much of lately.
Shorefield have created a contact-less check-in and check-out process with keys left in locked boxes at your lodge.
They ask families to check out by 10am on the day of departure to allow for thorough cleaning before the next guests arrive, which is fully understandable given the current climate.
With a day ahead of us, we drove up to Paultons Park.
The theme park was busy but amazing steps had been taken to keep us safe and distanced - this was obvious from the initial entry point which was well planned out.
The park is famously home to Peppa Pig World and with my youngest being a huge fan we headed there first.
Themed hoardings separate families in the queue and although a little intimidating, everything possible has been done to make you feel safe and welcome.
The restricted capacity meant queue times were much shorter than you may expect on a sunny autumnal Sunday, and the distancing in the queues meant the boards advising of wait times were often over exaggerated - a pleasant surprise when you reached the front in 15 minutes instead of the 50 minutes you were warned of.
Having such an age gap means it can be difficult to find things that entertain both of our girls - but Paultons Park hit the nail on the head.
We went on a few of the rides in Peppa Pig World all together before Daddy took our eldest off to try some of the thrill rides.
And it was refreshing for us both to have one-on-one time with the girls - doing whatever they wanted for a few hours.
The youngest spent a good hour in Mr Potato’s Playground and would have loved the indoor soft play centre (currently closed due to the pandemic).
There were a few brave souls in the splash park but we decided to save that for a summer visit.
Later in the afternoon and bouyed by ice cream we ventured over to find them and try some bigger rides. And it turns out the smallest one is as much of an adrenalin junkie as her big sister. I don’t really have the stomach for big rides but I guess I best learn.
As well as Peppa Pig World and the Lost World and Tornado Springs zones - home to several looping rollercoasters, a log flume and a water slide - the park also has stunning gardens, a Little Africa section with animals and is home to birds of prey.
We could easily have spent a second day there but that can wait til we return next spring.
• Natalie Sadler was a guest of Shorefield Holidays which has eight holiday parks across the New Forest and Dorset.
A four-night break with accommodation in a luxury caravan costs from £189 or from £376 when staying in a lodge. For bookings call 01590 648 333 or visit their website.
For tickets for Paultons Park visit the website
Hurst Castle entry fee is priced at adults £5.50, children (5-17) £3.50, or free for English Heritage members - more information here.
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