We’ve lived in The New Forest all our lives. We have often seen people kayaking and canoeing on the Beaulieu river. I had assumed this was part of some kind of team building activity or camp. On one occasion my son asked if he could do it too but I had assumed it was not for young children and told him he would have to wait until he was bigger.
A few weeks after this particular visit my son innocently asked, ‘Coz me been a good boy and me bigger can me do the canoes?’
I decided I wanted to try and make this happen – surely we could find some where we could do this with our little explorers? Can you imagine my excitement (and relief) when I discovered New Forest Activities who offered Family Canoeing with no age restrictions! Not only this but we could hire bikes and a trailer too!
The advice and service we received from the advisor on the phone was fantastic. They were so helpful, friendly and patient (I was making the phone call with 2 young children who were frequently interrupting). They explained that the family canoeing had no age restriction and they helped me plan Bug’s Adventure Day: a 90 minute Family Canoe Session and ½ a day Bike Hire with a trailer for the kids.
Bug’s Adventure Day
Bailey’s Hard is the meeting place for the canoe trip and has parking and other facilities, including: toilet and changing areas (clean and clearly looked after), a large seating/bench area and an honesty shed which I thought was a lovely touch.
After a briefing, fitting of life jackets (the sizes go down to as little as 18 months) and selection of paddles (they do mini ones for the kids), we set off for the Beaulieu river!
I cannot explain how beautiful it was when we walked out of the dense woodland and into the opening where we would enter the river. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining bright and it was so picturesque:
We had a choice with the canoes, we could have 1 adult and 1 child in each or the 4 of us could all go in one (we chose the latter). With Joe at the back (being the strongest paddler), the two kids in the middle and me in the front we set off on our adventure.
There were 2 other families in our session and the guide. Our guide was fantastic, he offered to talk as much or as little as we wanted and was prepared to tailor his talk to our interests. We were keen to know about the huge, stunning houses and their occupants as well as lots of detail about the wildlife.
We have something we are very excited to share and also very surprised to have completed in The New Forest: we saw jellyfish in the wild and not only that, we held them. Seeing jelly fish in the wild was one of the items on our Bucket List. Our sea creature obsessed and jelly fish loving boy was in awe. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine he would get to see jellyfish while on his Adventure day, but also hold them!
The guide was excellent helping us find the jellyfish (initially it was tricky but then we couldn’t stop spotting them – there were hundreds). He was also great at reassuring the children these were the ‘friendliest jellyfish in the world’ and they could not sting you. We made sure we used the 5 second rule to ensure the jelly fish were returned to the water quickly.
A hard earned lunch
We decided to try somewhere we had never been before and we are glad we did because we ended up having a lovely experience. We had lunch at Monty’s Inn in Beaulieu village.
This is part of the Montagu Arm’s Hotel but is their more relaxed and casual dining option. Being from the area we had always worried it might be ‘too posh’ and not family friendly – how wrong were we?
We made them aware we wanted a table for 4 which consisted of 2 adults and 2 children, one of which would need a highchair. Once the table was ready we were pleasantly surprised. They had set out a lovely toddler space with plastic cutlery and cup for Mimi and had included colouring activities for both children.
They had an extensive adult menu with main courses like steak, burger, fish pie and duck breast. They also had lovely lighter options ‘from the Bakery’ which are available lunchtimes till 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. This included things likes ploughman’s and sandwiches. They take pride in using local suppliers where possible and even grow their own fruit and vegetables in the kitchen garden. I made the most of the Sunday special being a roast and Joe had the burger, both of which were huge and delicious.
I was also very impressed with the children’s menu. They had a variety of main options as well as lighter and simpler options like sandwiches and beans on toast.
It was refreshing and pleasing to see that vegetables accompanied the children’s meals – far too often this is not the case and something that really bugs me. It was also nice to see more variety on the children’s menu because all too often it’s the same old thing when we would like to encourage our little ones to be more adventurous. Having said that, Bug chose beans on toast! This was a VERY generous portion and Mimi was very happy to share this with her brother while also assisting us with our meals.
Family Bike Hire
After lunch we walked to the Activity Booking Centre (also located in the village only a minute away), to collect our bikes. Important to note: collection and drop off of bikes is in the village. Therefore, you will need to consider parking. While there is a car park in the village this can become full quite quickly so therefore you may need to consider parking at Beaulieu Motor Museum and then walking into the village.
My husband and I hired bikes and a trailer for the 2 kids to go in. They supplied us with helmets and cycle routes and off we went!
We were provided with 3 Cycle routes:
The Small Tour (1 hour 30 minutes, 9 miles, Grade: Easy)
Bucklers Hard Route (1hour 30 minutes, 13km, Grade: Easy)
Brockenhurst Route (3 hours, 28km, Grade: Medium)
We chose the Buckler’s Hard route because it would allow us to explore Buckler’s Hard and have an ice cream stop. We have also walked this route before (it is very popular) so we knew we would not have to ride on any roads and could simply remain on tracks in the forest for the entire bike ride.
When we walked this route we found it was just too far for our little explorers and wasn’t a very pleasant experience. Therefore, we were very excited about re-doing this route but this time on bikes and with the kids in a trailer – perfect! It really was fantastic to have New Forest Activities in Beaulieu village because it allowed us to take the beautiful route to Buckler’s Hard but removed all the difficulty walking with toddlers can bring.
Useful tip: Book your bike hire in advance. They don’t have a huge supply and in particular, they only have 2 trailers.
If you park at Buckler’s Hard you have to pay an entrance fee (adults £6.90 and children over 5 £4.70). This includes entrance to the village, Maritime Museum and Shipwright’s Cottage as well as all day parking. Or you can enter for free when you take the Beaulieu walking/cycle route – this is what we did.
Once in the historic village and waterfront there is plenty of green space to run and play. Also, huge hills which are apparently perfect for rolling down!
There are toilet facilities, a shop, New Forest Ice Cream stall and a cafe and restaurant if you’re feeling a little hungrier.
There is also the Beaulieu River Cruise which we did not do on this occasion but we have previously. This is open from Easter to October and is £5 per adult or £3 for children over the age of 5. Please note, if you are purchasing these tickets on the day, this will be cash only and must be paid once on board.
After a lovely ice cream and a few more rolls down the hill (I don’t know how they weren’t sick), we set off back to Beaulieu to return our bikes.
So how do we rate New Forest Activities and their suitability for young children?
From start (initial queries with the advisor on the phone) to end (returning our bikes), everybody who played a role in our adventure day was brilliant. They were all very understanding and helpful. From the tiny life jackets, to the children’s refreshments in the honesty shed and the bike trailer, everything was adapted and accessible for our two young children.
Canoeing with two young children poses obvious risks and challenges. However, New Forest Activities provided us with all the appropriate knowledge, support and equipment to ensure our family had a fun, safe day. We had an absolutely fantastic adventure day and one we would be keen to repeat. We have since seen they also offer seasonal activities at Halloween and Santa visits at Christmas! Yes, that’s right…you can paddle your canoe out to visit Santa! We are so happy to have discovered such a fantastic family friendly activity which is also suitable for our little explorers.
To visit their official website click here.