We’ve had some really gorgeous weather down here in Sussex recently and spare weekends without any social engagements too, which means time to hang out together. Just the 4 of us. This is really precious family time, and I think it’s safe to say that some of our happiest memories of having small children will come from these simpler days out with less time pressure and the freedom to be spontaneous.
The girls are 2 and 4 and super lively. They are also big attention seekers and demand lots of one-on-one time, which can be difficult (not to mention trying) when it’s a 2 on 1 situation. However, when The Husband is around this evens things out nicely and we can concentrate on one child each. Even so, when the weekend rolls around the adult half of the house just want to curl up on the sofa, coffee in hand, radio 4 on and a stack of newspapers or books to enjoy leisurely; the other half of the household want to bounce around in their knickers, make a zillion crafts, spread lego, beads and chocolate toast everywhere with the TV blaring in the background. Pretty much polar opposites. Trying to do what everyone wants and letting things unfold organically without any structure leads to loud arguments, red faces and tears. We’ve given up on just chilling together post-breakfast. The best weekends these days are those where breakfast is inhaled at a rate of knots, shoes are shoved on and we just get out.
And getting outside is always brilliant. Apart from the driving aspect (our public transport links are appalling) getting out and about is both low impact on the planet and our pockets. It has the benefit of connecting the girls with nature, and there are loads of studies to suggest why this is great plus we get to boost our Vitamin D reserves and get some exercise. For us, going for an adventure always involves a picnic. There are so many reasons to picnic with small children: they eat well, there are no crumbs to sweep up, it’s cheaper than eating out, it’s less stressful than being trapped in a cafe or restaurant, trees don’t judge table manners… I could go on. Packing a picnic does slow down the getting out of the door bit but I’ve got my picnic making skills down after lots of practice and it doesn’t really take that much time to throw some sarnies together, grab some fruit and fill up a water bottle. I don’t know what the magic ingredient in fresh air is but we nearly always have a nice time (less tantrums, not no tantrums!) and the girls always sleep well after a day outside too. Huge bonus.
We’ve had two particularly lovely trips recently. A spontaneous trip to Littlehampton West Beach and an outing to Cherry Gardens Organic Farm in Kent.
Littlehampton West Beach, West Sussex
Day out for a family of 4 – £10 for parking and drinks and lollies in the West Beach cafe.
The West Beach, Littlehampton
There are two beaches at Littlehampton, the East Beach, which is closer to the town centre and has lots of kitsch seaside attractions and the West Beach, which is a nature reserve. If you visit for a whole day, there is a little ferry that goes between the East and West beach over the river. The Husband used to come here with his parents as a small child, so it was a trip down memory lane as he remembered the walk from the train station down to the beach and all of the stories in-between. It took us a little while driving around the town to find where we wanted to go and after being trapped in a hot car, we parked as soon as possible due to complaints from the back seats. It turned out that we’d parked way too far from the actual beach, and that we could have parked much closer, which meant whining from The Big one as it was quite a long walk on a particularly hot afternoon. The parking is also expensive at £7 for over 2 hours; and the parking meter only accepts coins, which meant that we only had enough change for up to 2 hours parking. A bit annoying as we had hoped to spend the day here and would now only have 2 hours. However, once we reached the sand dunes and set up camp with the girls’ little sun tent and The Husband’s massive umbrella as a make shift parasol, smothered the girls in suncream (not ideal, we should have done this in the car or before we left – hello sand!) everyone started to relax into an afternoon at the beach. We collected shells and pebbles, stirred sand recipes in a bowl, collected sea water in a bucket, made faces with seaweed hair and ate our very sandy picnic.
Is there any nicer feeling than warm sand between your toes?
The Big One went for a swim in the sea with The Husband and the Little One enjoyed having some stories in the shade. We then switched and the little one braved a paddle at the edge of the sea and played with the wet sand. I had no idea how much time could be spent letting wet sand flow between your fingers. The Little One did this for at least 20 minutes and was absolutely mesmerised. After a lovely couple of hours playing and picnicking we had to get back to the car. The Husband very kindly offered to carry all of the stuff back and move the car whilst we made our way to the cute little West Beach cafe for lollies. We sat in the sun filled cafe eating lollies, covered in sand and decided that this was indeed a great spot for a family outing and that we would come back for a longer day next time. Highly recommended – just remember lots of £1 coins for the parking meter and some 20 pence pieces for the loos!
On the left: view of the East Beach from the West Beach cafe; on the right: seaside charm inside the West Beach cafe
Cherry Gardens Farm, Groombridge Nr Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Day out for a family of 4 – about £50 including 2 coffees, 2 handmade pizzas, one punnet each of red currants and raspberries, and lots of shopping from the farm shop (parking and entrance is free)
We visit Cherry Gardens Farm every year for an annual fruit picking adventure. It’s a really special place to visit. The views around the farm are stunning and there’s always a big field of cut your own flowers that moves each year and adds a big splash of colour to the otherwise green landscape. The farm is organic and bio-dynamic, and they grow lots and lots of produce. I think that if you’re local to the area, you can sign up to their veg box scheme. The farm shop is small but amazing. I overheard some impressed customers leaving and talking about the “integrity” of the whole set up. And how enjoyable their shopping experience had been. I couldn’t agree more.
A selection of gorgeous produce in the farm shop and not a piece of plastic wrap in sight!
The girls both fell asleep on the way to Cherry Gardens, so we were able to grab a coffee from the newly opened self service cafe. Drinks are served in proper cups and saucers (no single use plastic here – hooray!) and I was kindly allowed to take these back to the car. A small taste of that hallowed Saturday morning with radio 4, coffee and news / books courtesy of our various devices right there! Once the girls woke up it was time to get picking. The fruit available for picking depends upon what’s ready and this year we had the choice of raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants. The girls love raspberries, their berry of choice, so this was absolutely perfect for them.
The farm is quite small but there’s plenty of space for small people to have a wander and run around. We still had a lot of moaning from The Big one about being tired and not wanting to walk, but this is fairly standard at the moment. However, she really enjoyed picking berries and we also got to have a look at lots of other produce growing on the farm. The girls were impressed by the huge corn on the cob crops and the squashes growing on the ground. They loved watching bees flying into the big squash flowers and finding fallen flowers around the raspberry bushes. I love how connected you get to feel with food by picking your own and inspecting the other fruits and vegetables that are not yet ready. I think it’s a brilliant thing to do with children.
There is often a catering stall outside the shop, selling yummy homemade food. A few years’ ago we ate the most delicious handmade pasta and this year we had freshly made pizzas cooked al fresco in a pizza oven for lunch. The girls loved talking to Nick the pizza man as he made our pizzas and put them in his wood fired oven. They helped sprinkle on some toppings and drizzled oil over the top. It always amazes me that when children are involved in cooking, they are much more willing to eat new and different things. The Big One has been fussy about vegetables for over a year now but merrily chomped down a big handful of rocket from her pizza. To add to their excitement they got to pet a very handsome black Labrador before going home. I think this trip ticked all of their boxes!
I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t allowed to use my glass kilner jars to collect fruit in and that we had to use their plastic tubs. I will ask to use my reusable containers when we next go, I just wasn’t feeling brave enough to challenge their policy this time around.
Another highly recommended place to visit! You will need cash for the food vendors who operate independently from the shop and don’t forget your reusable bags and credit card for the farm shop.