Being the mother of a child in his first year of school, I woke up on the first day of the Easter holidays earlier this year and realised we had no plans for the two weeks ahead of us apart from a brief trip to my parents. With the summer holidays fast approaching I’ve decided to be a little more organised this time and have compiled a list of cheap and almost free outings to keep us all entertained. We’ve already sampled quite a few of them. My boys are aged four and two with quite simple interests so some of these excursions might not sound appealing or even appear to be proper destinations but they appeal to my little family!
Church Farm, Ardingley
Cost £3 per person or £10 per family
Unlike many of the some of the petting farms in the area, this farm is cheap and refreshingly down to earth. It has a great wooded play area plus a rather tired but useful indoor playroom for wet days plus a good cafe and a well stocked shop. There are pigs, chickens, turkeys and sheep to feed and even in dry weather there always seems to be loads of mud.
Cromer Windmill, near Walkern
Cost: small charge for adults
I took my boys here one sunny Sunday afternoon when my husband was away on business. It’s close to Church Farm (see above) and is surrounded by lovely rolling countryside. There are lots of steep stairs so it’s not necessarily the most sensible place to be outnumbered by small children but mine survived and they loved exploring the building and learning about how it worked. The volunteers were really friendly and ensured my two year old didn’t try to jump off the windmill whilst I guided my four year old down the steep steps.
Panshanger woods, Hertford
I was thrilled to discover this wood last summer. It is a year round free attraction offering bluebells in spring, gorgeous oak and beech canopies in the summer, blackberries galore by August, rich autumnal colours and relative shelter from the elements in winter. It is a perfect playground with fallen trees and large branches littering the ground offering endless opportunities for den building.
Fairlands Valley Aquapark, Stevenage
I must admit I haven’t visited the water park on a hot August day, only in term time, so I’m not sure how rammed it can get. There are three separate water sprinkler areas, all enclosed with just one gated exit (crucial if you have speedy little explorers). There are toilets and a little kiosk next to it plus a rather badly designed (visibility if you have more than one child is tricky) but well equipped playground.
Whitewebbs Museum of Transport, Crews Hill
Open on Tuesdays and last Sunday of the month
Free for under 12s, £4 for adults
I’m hoping to take the boys to this quirky museum during the school holidays and I’m expecting it to be a big hit. The boys love the London Transport Museum but it’s so busy and big and not a very relaxing experience keeping an eye on two small children at the same time, I like the idea of visiting a smaller version. Looking at the website’s gallery, there is a good selection of cars, motorcycles, fire engines and plenty of other vehicle-related paraphernalia.
River walk from Hertford to Ware
This is a great trip if you have energetic kids who fancy a long walk or a bike ride. There is a tow path along the river from Hartham Common (where the sports centre is) to Ware. Highlights (for my children anyway) were watching boats pass through the two locks and walking under the A10 bridge. Actually, the highlight for my four year old was probably the train journey back to Hertford East passing through a level crossing in Ware, he’s quite a railway fanatic. We’ve had lunch a few times at Zero Italian restaurant in Ware which has a good selection of pizzas and pasta which my kids enjoy.
Amwell Nature Reserve, near Ware
As with the Hertford to Ware walk, the highlight of this excursion for my boys is the railway. This time in the form of a pedestrian level crossing. Aside from this (as I appreciate this shouldn’t be the main attraction), there are hides overlooking the water in which to view the birds and plenty of paths to run / peddle along.
Van Hage, Great Amwell
Free animal park, train rides are £1 per person
Eternally popular with local families and for good reason, Van Hage garden centre has a free animal park and the East Herts Miniature Railway. The former is openly daily while the latter runs during school holidays on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well as every weekend.
Waterford Heath and River Beane
Waterford Heath is a mix of woodland and open heath with excellent blackberries at the end of summer. It has some paths where you can take a buggy. There are plenty of short walks through the woods which are perfect if it’s raining as it is very sheltered from the elements. This is a great destination for cycling as there are paths which allow you to cover quite a distance. The River Beane meanders through the Heath and on through a meadow grazed by cows. In the meadow the river is shallow and clear (unless there’s been heavy rainfall) and perfect for paddling. There is parking space for a couple of cars next to a gate which leads to the meadow on Vicarage Lane. The main parking area for the Heath is a little further up the lane on the left after you’ve crossed the railway bridge.
Free entry but payable for extra school holiday activities
This little museum offers, as the name suggests, a history of Hertford. They have a little play shop on the first floor which my boys enjoy using and there are lots of free and cheap events on during the school holidays.
Welwyn viaduct and nearby playground
Now, some people might not think this is actually a destination but, if your kids love trains and all that comes with them, head to the little playground where Hertford Road meets Digswell Park Road in Welwyn Garden City. There is a perfect view of the viaduct from the playground and trains pass over it regularly. There is also a decent sized field next to the viaduct if your kids fancy a game of football / picnic in view of the viaduct. I’ve not visited nearby Sherrardspark Wood but this looks like a good outing to combine with the viaduct.
Mill Green Museum, Hatfield
Free for kids, £3.50 for adults
We’ve yet to visit this 18th century working flour mill but plan to take a look this summer. The watermill is in action on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sunday afternoons but it’s worth calling ahead to double check due to weather conditions. There are gardens to picnic in and there are various galleries to explore which sound like they should be pretty child friendly with hands on exhibits.
Welwyn Roman Baths, Welwyn Garden City
Children free, adults £3.50
This is another place we’re planning to visit this summer. The baths are part of what was an ancient Roman villa and are meant to be remarkably well preserved.
So, that’s my list of suggestions. Please let me know if you have any other recommendations.