Beautiful Dorset with its sandy beaches, seaside resorts, pretty villages, castles and rolling hills has so much to offer a family with young children in search of a great day out. Here are five of our favourites!
Horton Road, Ashley Heath, Nr Ringwood, Dorset, BH24 2ET
Moors Valley is, quite simply, a children’s paradise in a stunning setting. It’s worth going just for the Play Trail but there’s so much more to do. You can enjoy a peaceful walk or cycle ride through the Forest, experience a ride on an authentic narrow-gauge steam train or explore the fantastic facilities for toddlers and small children. There’s a special castle and sand area for toddlers with gentle slides, springy animals and swings, all set inside a safe sandy spot so don’t forget to bring your bucket and spade too! Heading out into the Forest you’ll find the Play Trail with its 8 wooden play structures including the ‘Giant Ants’ Nest’, ‘Snakes and Ladders’ and the ‘Spiders Web’. The trail is only a mile long but with so many exciting pieces of play equipment around the next corner you should allow at least an hour to complete it all. The trail is suitable for pushchairs. You could also walk on the Tree Top Trail – a 200 metre wooden walkway through the tops of the trees (this is not suitable for pushchairs, however there is a connecting path from start to finish). The Seasons Restaurant is open daily or you are welcome to bring your own food and drink to Moors Valley – picnic tables are provided in the Forest picnic area, and can also be found along the Play Trail and Nature Trail. There’s also a Country Shop and a Cycle Hire Centre and baby changing facilities. There are no admission charges however parking charges (these can be up to £8) do apply. However, if you walk or cycle to Moors Valley it’s completely free! We think you’ll love it!
Open daily from 8.00am to dusk (8.00pm at the latest) Tel: 01425 470721 email@example.com
The Square, Corfe Castle, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5EZ
This thousand-year-old castle rises majestically above the Isle of Purbeck and is one of the National Trust’s most unforgettable properties. The picturesque and romantic ruin boasts breathtaking views which show Dorset at its very best. After two years of essential conservation work, full access is now available to all parts of the castle previously closed to visitors, so you’ll be able to amble in the romantic ruins to your heart’s content. The Castle View visitor centre explores the lives of past residents and gives you a good outline of the castle’s turbulent history before you potter up to the castle itself to explore. Though the Castle now lies in ruins, many of its fascinating defences can still be seen. The Castle is perfect for adventurers of any age, you can explore from the depths of the dungeon right up to the highest point on the hill! On a sunny day the Castle terraces serve a very different purpose from their original defensive role; families often picnic on the grass, with plenty of opportunities to roll down the slopes (a popular activity for the younger visitors!). There are also several waymarked walks and the Swanage Railway operates a steam train service to Corfe; why not combine the two for a great day out! Corfe is really set up for families with baby-changing facilities, a children’s guide and a children’s quiz and trail. Pushchairs and baby back-carriers are admitted and they also have baby back-carriers for loan (a small donation is requested). There’s a traditional tea-room by the castle entrance in the village square which has a children’s menu.
Open daily from 10am – 5.30pm until 30 Sep all year
Tel: 01929 481294 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/corfecastle
Bovington, Dorset, BH20 6JG
This one is for the dads (but we think mums might enjoy it too!), you can use it as a trade off if your other half isn’t too keen on stately homes! The Tank Museum has the best collection of tanks in the world, from the first tank ever built to the modern Challenger II. This independent museum has stacks of activities to keep children entertained and is sure to be a quite different day out for all the family! They have a series of special events and live action tank displays throughout the year. You’ll find a restaurant and café, shop and picnic and play areas as well as free parking Open daily 10am – 5pm
Tel: 01929 405096 www.tankmuseum.org
Wimborne Minster, Dorset BH21 4EA
Would it be an English summer without a trip to a stately home, a tour around a pretty house and a pleasant amble through perfectly manicured National Trust gardens and estate? If you like a bit of classy elegance or just a chance to sip tea in a cultured environment then Kingston Lacey is for you. This graceful country mansion, with its important collection including works by Van Dyck, Titian and Brueghel, is set in attractive formal gardens and has extensive parkland in which you can wander to your heart’s content. Pathways lead out of the more formal gardens closer to the house and into cooling woodland. The house is splendid but it’s the grounds that make this a really charming family day out. The estate actually contains a staggering 72 miles of footpaths and bridleways; don’t be daunted though, waymarked walks will guide you round. Just to top it all off and make you feel as though you’re coming just for the kids (!) there’s a lovely children’s adventure playground. Kingston Lacey also has baby-changing facilities as well as children’s and family guides and a children’s trail and Tracker Packs. There’s a shop and a restaurant with an outside courtyard and children’s menu, or pack a lunch and head to White Mill’s riverside setting for the perfect picnic spot on the banks of the River Stour.
Open daily 10.30am – 6pm
Tel: 01202 883402 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kingstonlacy
The Teddy Bear Museum & Dinosaur Museum
The Dinosaur Museum, Icen Way, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1EW
The Teddy Bear Museum, Eastgate, corner of High East St & Salisbury St, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1JU
Pretty Dorchester, lying right in the heart of Dorset has two museums which really welcome children. Britain’s original award winning Dinosaur Museum combines life-sized reconstructions of dinosaurs with fossils and dinosaur skeletons to create an exciting hands-on experience. The museum (open daily 9.30am – 5.30pm) is really family friendly and encourages little hands to touch its exhibits! The Teddy Bear Museum (open daily 10am – 5pm) is a delight for teddy lovers and has a great shop!
Tel: 01305 269880 www.thedinosaurmuseum.com
Or 01305 266040 www.teddybearhouse.co.uk