We have been taking the children to Alice Holt Forest pretty much since day 1 of their lives. It is an easy option for us, as it is so close. There were a few years where we lived in Wiltshire, but we still used to come back to the old favourite and meet friends there. We are back now and can say that it has seen quite a few changes in the 8 years since our oldest was born, but it just gets better.
We have braved it in the rain, but it really is better in the sunshine, or at least dry weather. We are regulars in the winter too, but it calls for wellies. It is not the easiest place to get to from outside of the area; follow the sings to Birdworld in Farnham and you will find it. Sadly, parking has become a bit of an issue over the years; there is a really big car park and in the dry weather, they open up an overflow area. However, recently it has become a victim of it’s own success and there are sometimes long queues to get in. There is an Alice Holt Facebook page, so it is worth checking that before setting out, as they advise if the parking is in an issue on there. Parking is not cheap, but it is all that you pay for; if you decide to go regularly, you can buy an annual pass.
The forest has accessible paths, as well as off road options for walking, scooting, biking and riding. We started out with buggies in the early days and had no issues getting around. We then progressed to scooters; we found that there is a slightly worrying moment on one of the downhill slopes when they get a taste for freedom and whizz downhill at pace, but it comes back to bite them when they have to scoot back up it on the way back. There has been many a stagger up that hill carrying child and scooter. We have one bike rider at the moment, the jury is still out on whether the younger one will take to it or not; Alice Holt is ideal for bikes though, especially in the early days of cycling as the paths are smooth and easy to cycle on. As the bike is now too big for the car, our preference is to walk around. We have a favoured route which takes us to the best play parts, we then finish off with a play in the playground.
There are many different trails to follow which are all well mapped out. I would like to say that it is not possible to get lost, but I disproved that when I decided to do the Gruffalo trail with a group of kids who liked to go off course to scramble in ditches and up hills. We eventually found the Gruffalo and all his friends, as well as the way out. I can get lost everywhere though, so I am sure for everyone else, it is really easy to get around. The Gruffalo trail is a trail of wooden sculptures; you can guess what you will be looking for. There is currently A Highway Rat trail too, but that is just posters, not the life-size sculptures like the Gruffalo trail.
There are several play areas along the way, as well as the main one in the centre, they are all wooden, so be prepared for them to be a bit slippery and dress for dirt. They are really safe though and all come with a soft-landing area, for any slips or falls.
The central area has a range of swings, climbing equipment, slides, a roundabout and the pirate ship. Everything is very sturdy and well maintained, there is a wood chip and soft rubber all around the equipment for safety. It is near the toilets, café and car park, for those who just want to play and not walk.
Dogs are very welcome, which presents a problem for my 2, as they are terrified of them; dogs will be off the lead. I am not sure if this is forest policy, or not, in the more public areas, but it is a fact to consider. On the upside, if you have a dog, it’s a great place to take it.
There is usually either a café, or an ice cream stop for us, but that is not essential, my children would disagree as apparently ice cream and hot chocolate are essentials. The café has expanded over the years and has quite a large selection of food on offer now. It seems to be good quality at the usual price, i.e. quite expensive, but it is convenient and saves lugging a picnic around with you. We had an unfortunate incident with a 5-year-old and the high stool though;
“I can do it Mummy, no I won’t fall off…. argh!” Splat went 5-year-old and ice cream! She was fine after her fall though. None high stools are available too. Obviously, the cheaper option would be to picnic; there are so many places to picnic, take a blanket though as the tables fill up fast. BBQs are pre-bookable, but it is not something I have done, so I am not sure on the cost; it would be a great place to get a group of people together for the day and share the cost.
Toilet facilities are limited to the main block in the forest centre, so be prepared for a bit of wild toileting if you have younger ones who can’t hold it. The toilets are a good size though and we have never had to wait for long, plus there are the usual facilities for nappy changing.
If you want to add to the experience, you can book into Go Ape, but there is a charge for this. This would really make a day of it though, it is something we are planning for the summer as so far, we have not gone for it.
Alice Holt really is a great day out for very little cost, we never seem to get bored of it even though we have been going for years. The children are not great walkers, but as the walking is broken up by play areas, getting them to walk is not a problem. The route we usually take, along with a playground stop, takes around 2 hours, but add in some of the other routes, plus lunch and you can easily fill a day.