South West Family Fun Over The School Holidays
School’s finally out and, luckily for parents, a host of fantastic activities are being planned for families across Somerset and the neighbouring areas. Starting just east of Somerset, along the route taken by Berrys Coaches, Amesbury in Wiltshire is the home of Stonehenge. Just in case visiting this ancient site and marvelling at the mysteries of its stone circle wasn’t enough, children will also be able to dig up skeletons here this summer. Archaeological digs are being mocked up for children who can trowel through sandboxes to find human bones and artefacts that tell the story of Stonehenge (english-heritage.org.uk, July 23 – Sep 4). There are also Neolithic Houses to explore, a Sarsen stone to try and pull and the chance to picnic in view of the henge.
Not far from here, just outside Codford, in the Wylye Valley, a Secret Camp Out opens at Stockton Park for long weekend breaks (https://www.thesecretcampout.com/, July 28 – Aug 29). Families can pitch up in picturesque parkland, where there is a bar in a bus, vintage food vans and live music on Saturdays.
In Warminster, the fountains and water play area at the lakeside pleasure gardens are much-loved by children looking to cool off, there are also boats to take out onto the lake and there is a skateboard park for older kids. Or there is woodland camping with firepits available at Bush Farm Bison Centre (bisonfarm.co.uk) in summer, where grazing bison and elk can be spotted out on the paddock, overlooking a lake.
Travel into Somerset and you might be forgiven for thinking you were in Provence – Faulkland’s Lavender fields, just north of Frome, are in full bloom in August, with row upon row of striking purple bushes greeting visitors who come to harvest their own. There is also a large field of sunflowers here that are expected to bloom in early August, which should make for some lovely photos. The cafe sells lavender goods and moist cakes.
Children can pick up a bow and try some longbow archery at Montacute House, near Yeovil. The ancient sport is available every Tuesday and Wednesday during school holidays. Or, on Fridays and Saturdays, there is a chance to make stick men with an artist in the Stable coach house that will either be displayed in the gardens or can be taken home.
At Lytes Cary Manor, near Ilchester, the Bee Conservation Society will be talking to families on July 31 and August 1, about the importance of bees and about the rare shrill carder bee that thrives here. Children can join a ranger in making bird boxes on August 9.
At the Fleet Air Arm Museum, outside Ilchester, visiting families can see the first British Concorde, try the new immersive Carrier Experience and older children (aged 13 and above) can take a virtual reality trip in an F-35 jet. Meanwhile, the Haynes International Motor Museum, which is home to more than 400 vintage cars and bikes and lies towards Wincanton, has a children’s race track, a themed play area and diggers and dumpers to ride.
At Fyne Court, 20 minutes-drive from Bridgwater, there is a den-building area for little ones to create their own hideaway, a brilliant bug hotel to inspect and, up in the Sky Glade, tree trunks to lean upon and watch clouds scud past. Alternatively, kids can bring a net and go dipping in the pond. Kids will love going for a puff on the mini-train run by the Bath and West Steam Railway, at the Bath & West Showground in Shepton Mallet. The 7 1/4 inch gauge railway takes passengers on a half-a-mile route along Prestleigh Brook.
Sporty children aged between 5-14 may want to sign up for Activate camps being run at Wells Cathedral School and Taunton School – they include hockey and cricket training. There are storytelling events happening on various dates in August at The Bishop’s Palace in Wells, meanwhile, with tales of faeries, the swans and dragons of Wells and of Robin Hood.
In Frome, the Frome Frogs group is running wildlife walks, one for woodland butterflies (August 13) and an evening one to detect bats (August 26). Nature-filled activities are also being offered at various RSPB reserves across Somerset, with Ham Wall, on the Somerset Levels near Glastonbury, organising a summer nature trail for young detectives who buy an activity pack. There are also minibeast safaris taking place on various dates, as well as family pond-dipping sessions.
Kids are encouraged to create something horrible at The Museum of Somerset, in Taunton, during summertime monster making and storytelling sessions that focus on finger-puppets, masks or dream catchers, depending on the date. At Hestercombe House and Gardens, just outside Taunton, children can travel the world in the 40 days of the holidays. A trail through the gardens takes them from Italy to Egypt, India, Australia and America, via famous landmarks and items they will need to pack in their suitcase. Each week will celebrate a different country, with themed activities, crafts and national food.
Finally, as Berrys Coaches continues its summer holiday through to Tiverton, in Devon, children can look forward to a summertime play pavilion in the grounds at Knightshayes stately home, nearby. Activities available in the gardens also include maze mats and rope mazes. Note also that The Devon Railway Centre, just south of Tiverton, is holding a Steam ’n’ Cream weekend in mid-August, with complimentary cream teas sure to be a favourite with children. But which comes first, the jam or the cream?