A few weeks ago I wrote about “Tips for a stress free holiday with children”, and two weeks ago I put my own tips to the test by spending a week in Christchurch, Dorset in a holiday rental cottage. Nothing tests the versatility and variety of things to do as much a full week of solid rain, but luckily Dorset, being in the UK, is fully prepared for these eventualities! Of course the great thing about staying in a rental cottage as opposed to a hotel is the flexibility it gives you, especially with children who might need to come home for a quiet nap while you read a book in the lounge.
Dorset is on the south coast of England within about an hours drive from London and with great road and rail networks. Christchurch is a lovely place, especially now it has a recently refurbished children’s playground complete with water play park. There are loads of great family friendly cafés and restaurants as well as a picturesque river with boat trips and a plentiful supply of ducks. During a rainy week in June we found plenty to do in Christchurch itself such as visiting the impressive 11th century Priory Church and an unexpectedly interesting visit to the free and very child friendly Electricity Museum. The grandparents also loved the museum as there were loads of retro electrical goods which they really enjoyed
We loved catching the ferry (well, small boat) from Christchurch over to Mudeford Beach (home of the £125,000 beach huts!) where you can take a lovely walk to beautiful sandy beaches perfect for children. There is also a child friendly café serving trendy brunches/lunches with smoothies and great coffees for adults. After a good long play in the sand we then caught a fun land train back to the Hengistbury Head from where we walked back to Christchurch, with a lovely stop for afternoon tea at the Tuckton Tea Gardens thrown in for good measure!
When we had exhausted the delights of Christchurch, we headed into Bournemouth for a trip to the Oceanarium which I thought was quite reasonable value at under £10 for adults. It was perfect for a rainy day and my son enjoyed photographing all the different sea creatures. We got there early and I’m glad we did as it seemed every other holiday maker in Dorset had the same idea that day! On better days, the beaches of Bournemouth and the pier are well worth a visit and the town itself retains much of its seaside charm that other resorts may have lost.
Another day we reluctantly went to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu as we thought it would appeal to our sons. We were really surprised at how amazing it was and was well worth the £20 admission fee (under fives free) as there was more than enough to do there for a full day including riding the Monorail, the James Bond exhibition featuring various Jags, Aston and BMW’s used in the films , loads of “fast cars” (my son’s words) and an exquisite stately home. For the big kids, there is also a ‘Top Gear’ exhibition including some of the ‘specials’ from the TV series such as the cross channels boats, indestructible truck, caravan and the car-train.
Beaulieu is situated in the New Forest where you can hire bikes from either Lyndhurst or Brockenhurst (including trailers and seats for kids) and ride through wondrous scenery with a plethora of great country pubs providing local fare throughout the day. The local wildlife was a firm favourite with our kids, in particular the wild ponies and deer. Other attractions include a wildlife centre and Raptor & Reptile centre.
For budding fossil hunters there is the Jurassic coast, most famously perhaps Chessil Beach, and equipment to rent at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre which slightly older children (than mine) would enjoy, particularly on a nice day. Be warned the beaches here are pebbly and not suitable for more traditional pastimes such as sand castles and burying dad in the sand!
Since all children love lighthouses, you can also visit Portland Bill which is a lighthouse just outside Weymouth. Weymouth is a great place to visit with kids and mine especially loved the Sealife adventure park which was wonderful on yet another rainy June day. On a better day you can go on a mackerel fishing trip which I remember doing myself as a child and was the first time I ate fish without batter on it (healthy times).
So much to do, we’ll be back – let’s just hope the sun shines next time!
Where do you recommend in Dorset?
Heather is a seasoned traveller who also happens to be a mummy to two young children. She loves North Yorkshire, Pembrokeshire and Normandy cheeses. Visit her blog to find out more over at pret-a-mummy.com.