Summer Survival Guide - things to do with the kids over the summer holidays Devon, Dorset, Somerset
Updated: Jun 7, 2020
Hmm I’m not sure I should call it a survival guide as I cannot pretend that I am the expert on summer holiday childcare, last year (our first school summer hols) I found the expectation to entertain a little bit overwhelming. But I did find that pre-planning a few regular play dates with friends and pencilling in some possible activities in advance helped with the “what are we doing today” debacle each morning.
I thought I would throw down a load of my ideas for summer on a page to provide both myself and any lovely readers with some inspiration on things to do over the long summer break – though don’t think by any means I’ll be attempting them all – and I’d love to hear your ideas too! Good luck my friends, and enjoy!
(I’ll be writing up lots of these places in full over the next weeks and months, so more detail to follow – this list gives you the headlines.)
Please also have a good scroll down through my Down to Earth Parent Facebook page too, as I’ve shared approximately three hundred thousand different events and child-friendly things to do from other pages (this number is increasing on a daily basis!), you can click through to find out further info.
Before I get started, if you live near (or plan to visit) the Jurassic coast area, you might like to check out a Jurassic Coast Card - for £24 it entitles you to discounts at over 115 outlets from icecream parlours to restaurants and attractions and could make for some really decent savings. Will be blogging about this in full soon once I've had a chance to use mine.
Right - on to 'The List'!
I’m keen to visit a few of the great outdoor pools in the area this summer – here’s the ones I’ve either been to or heard good things about:
Ladram Bay Holiday Park – outdoor splash zone and indoor pool with flumes
Greenbank Lido – Street – outdoor pool with space to picnic
Heavitree Pleasure Grounds (outskirts of Exeter) - splash pad/outdoor pools and playground (free)
2) Walks/bike rides
Seaton Wetlands – a great (and free) place for little legs to walk and a safe place for wheels, look out for wildfowl and insects as you explore.
NT Langdon Hill near Chideock (between Bridport and Lyme Regis) – a super little circular (approx. 40 mins at a slow pace) around the woods with views over the rolling West Dorset hills and the sparkling sea. Bumpy but well trodden paths so suitable for sturdy buggies and bikes/bigger scooters. There’s a small woodland play area at the end too and a picnic bench.
Haldon Forest Park – just off the A38 not far from the outskirts of Exeter, 25 mins from Honiton. An absolute must for little walkers and bike riders, there’s a whole host of long and short walks, some of which are sturdy-buggy friendly. There’s an area for bikers to practice going over ramps and bumps, an adventure play area, café and giant sandpit and you can also hire family bikes. Budget about a fiver for the car park.
Offwell Woods – this one isn’t wheel-friendly but a nice short-ish circular (approx. an hour with little legs), can combine with a reward at Otter Valley Field Kitchen afterwards. For walk instructions (and tonnes of other great local information) check out this great blog by my blogging hero Flip Flops or Wellies.
Fingle Bridge, Drewsteignton – this one is a little further afield for us (an hour or so from Axminster) but we reserve it for a special day trip and I really want to return when it’s warm enough for the kids to paddle in the beautiful river. There’s a great pub with lots of outdoor seating, or take a picnic, walk some of the riverside route (one route is buggy friendly) and cool down your feet in the golden stone waters.
Tiverton Canal – we’ve not yet been but have been reliably informed it’s a great, wheel-friendly route alongside the water with refreshments and nice views
The Byes walk, Sidmouth – wheel-friendly route through parkland alongside a river with a Sidmouth playground and the beach at the end.
L - Langdon Hill. R - Fingle Bridge (photo credit National Trust)
Hmmm so I must admit the idea of a trip to the playground doesn’t always fill with me excitement, but playground trips don’t have to be dull, especially if you club together with a few friends and make a morning of it. Picnic, anyone! Here’s a few of my favourite playground discoveries:
Merriot, near Crewkerne (can be combined with trip to gorgeous little café The Feed Station)
Lyme Regis – Anning Road - spacious and modern play area with giant wooden pirate galleon (can be combined with trip to the beach, or the sweet shop, or walk/cycle route into town alongside the river)
Sidmouth – nice play area at the very end of the town end of the promenade (combine with rockpooling at the Jacob’s Ladder end of the beach, picnic at Connaught gardens, or the best cake you are ever seen (like Miss Trunchbull’s chocolate cake off the old-skool film Matilda) at the Clock Tower Cafe
Kilmington (nr Axminster) and Charmouth playground – Not huge play areas but both occupy tranquil spots with nice views, nice to go for some peace when the coast is just too busy for the average agoraphobic. Plenty of space to throw a frisbee or safely let the kids off the leash on their bikes at both
Seavington (near Ilminster, Crewkerne) – lovely playground with a community shop and little café just across the car park
Check out Play & Youth South Somerset – an absolute tonne of free, organised play days with kids entertainment at various playgrounds in South Somerset.
West Bay play area (near Bridport) - credit Geograph
4) Pubs with outdoor play areas
This doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavour, if I’m not in the market to buy everyone a full lunch sometimes we’ll eat before we go out and just have a dessert (bowl of ice cream type thing) or a round of drinks and enjoy the outdoor garden for an hour or so.
Otter Inn, Colaton Raleigh (near Newton Poppleford)
The Marquis of Lorne, Nettlecombe (near Bridport)
Grill House A303, Tintinhull (near Yeovil)
Martin's Bar and Grill, Eype (near Bridport)
5) Ice cream spots
Ahh, the good old ice cream, ever the tenuous excuse to get out of the house. We like these places for an ice cream excursion:
Furzeleigh Down Dairy tea room/ice cream parlour – tucked away off the beaten track, I love this place for peace and quiet and the space to let the girls blow off some steam. There’s often a box of toys to dig into too. The ice cream is made there on the farm.
The Orange Elephant Ice Cream Parlour – this is firmly on our list of places to visit, it’s just outside Exeter on the A38 (ever seen that weird plastic elephant on the side of the dual carriageway? It’s there!) – farm-made ice cream and a play field with sandpits and play area for kids, looks great.
Seaton – The Spot On Kiosk – can’t beat a simple ice cream on the bench on Seaton seafront followed by throwing some stones in the sea on a calm day, there’s always room to move on Seaton beach even on the sunniest of days.
The Hideaway Cafe Seaton - amazing spot at (in my opinion) the best end of the beach.
Furzeleigh Down Dairy, Cooks Lane, Axminster
Otter Valley Field Kitchen and ice cream parlour
6) Picnic spots
There are just so many around here so I’m just going to make a few suggestions, would love to hear your discoveries too!
Stonebarrow near Charmouth – unbeatable views and plenty of space to spread out, take a picnic blanket and breathe the fresh air. Just off the main road out of Charmouth (going downhill) towards the A35.
Dalwood Jubilee field and playground. This is another personal favourite – the playground offering is simple but the surroundings are so idyllic I just love it. Picnic under the cherry trees and take the kids bikes for a spin on the playing field next to the playground. You can combine this trip with a go on the rope swing over the river in the heart of the village, and a little paddle of course.
Haldon Forest – see the walks section above – take a picnic and combine with a walk, bike ride and a play in the outdoor adventure playground and giant sandpit.
Langmoor gardens, Lyme Regis – beat the crowds on the beach and take a blanket to lay out on the lawns above the beach – beautiful views.
Eype beach – once you get over the steep parking charge at Eype’s only car park, and battle down the even steeper steps to the beach (think carefully about how much luggage you take), it’s worth it when you get there! This a great, relatively secluded part of our beautiful coastline and the girls love playing in the shallow river that runs down onto the fine pebble beach. Just beware that the river has a bed of clay so the kids do turn a sticky kind of brown when they play in it, take spare clothes.
7) Child-friendly cafes with nice gardens
Axminster Arts Café - free live music in the garden on Saturdays throughout the summer season
Perry’s Cider Farm - review coming soon - my absolute fave. Orchard garden and little cafe.
Barleymows, Chard - handy indoor play area for tots, and garden with small play structure
Downhouse Farm, Eype – this one can be combined with a walk along the South West coast path from Eype in either direction towards West Bay or Lyme Regis. It’s a working farmhouse that opens their beautiful front courtyard up to the public for brunch, lunch, cakes and cream teas in the summer season with stunning views across the headland. Dog friendly, and child friendly.
Perry's Cider Farm Shop and Cafe, Dowlish Wake (near Ilminster)
Barley Mows Farm Shop and Cafe, Chard
Pip's Railway Carriage Cafe, Lopen (near South Petherton)
8) Summer fetes
Living in rural Devon has many benefits and one of those is the amount of traditional summer fetes and fairs held throughout the summer. There’s bound to be one near you wherever you are, and they generally offer lots to do for children from kids races to face painting, a game of skittles, inflatables, meet the animals, and our favourite, splat the rat. Am I the only one that loves a good go at splat the rat?!! Townies think I am weird. Anyway, my favourite summer fairs are as follows:
Dalwood summer fair – Sat 17th August 2019 from 1.30pm – there’s usually some sort of show or entertainment, one year I watched the most amazing knights on horseback display, it was incredible. A proper, historic and traditional fair – my top pick.
Whitford summer fair – Sat 3rd Aug 2019 2-5pm - if you find out in advance what the categories are, children can enter the kids crafting competition which joins the local produce in the marquee for judging on the day. Another quintessential fair with lots to see and do.
Kilmington summer fair - Sat 27th July 2019 - children’s races, live music, kids entertainment (last year a fantastic clown and have-a-go activities such as the unicycle, plate spinning and diablo throwing)
9) Days out / bigger adventures
Living as we do in a tourist area we really are spoilt for choice on attractions. Here’s a few that I can recommend from personal experience.
Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary. It’s FREE, yes, free – lots of walks (long and short) around the grounds with lovely views through the valley to the sea. There’s an amazing and v. child-friendly café, indoor exhibits, an outdoor playground and of course the donkeys to meet. They always run special clue-hunt type activities throughout the school hols, it’s a must.
Seaton Tramway – see my review
Pecorama, Beer – amazing day out with soft play, outdoor play areas, and train rides
Barley Mows Maize Maze and play zone, Chard – advertised on the Barley Mows Facebook page in the run up to the summer hols, this seasonal attraction opens when the maize field behind the lovely farm shop & café has grown enough for it to be mowed into a maze. There’s also a huge play field with sandpit, trampolines, swings, slightly treacherous straw bale tower & slide, and a ‘train’ ride (little trailers pulled by a small farm vehicle.)
Haldon Forest Park, A38 near Exeter – see the Walks section above. This place covers a lot of bases! Take the bikes and a picnic or eat there at the Ridge Cafe.
Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary
I can still sometimes feel a bit put off by the prospect of safely containing my two kids on the beach when it’s just me in charge on busy summer holiday days as they like to go off in different directions and do their best to get lost or wade into the sea. But the beach is my favourite place to be so I usually visit first thing in the morning before the crowds have descended. Here’s some of my favourites:
Lyme Regis – play on the soft fine sand and combine with a trip to Lyme Regis Aquarium to hand feed the fish. Go crabbing off the sea wall, or hunt for sea glass treasure on the dog friendly beach which is opposite the back of the Marine Theatre.
Seaton – on a calm day I love Seaton for its clear water and plenty of space even at peak times. Hire a paddle board for older kids or collect stones to paint back at homem.
Eype – see picnic spots section above, the girls love playing in the beach river.
Charmouth – go fossil hunting, lots of fossils to be found on the shoreline and pop into Charmouth Heritage Centre for hands-on activities (polishing fossils, excavating finds from the sand box, making fossil-related things to take home), and lots to see.
There’s also Weymouth for really shallow safe waters, Beer for picturesque picnicking, Sidmouth for great rockpooling – too many to list!
Top left: Seaton. Top Right: Eype. Bottom Left: Sidmouth rockpools. Bottom right: Lyme Regis aquarium.
Disclaimer - I've clearly borrowed most of these images from good old google image search so if I've unwittingly broken any copyrights or you don't want me to use your image please do contact me and I will remove promptly and with much apology!
This list hasn’t touched on the humble but God-sent playdate with a friend, chilled out afternoon in the garden with the paddling pool, or lazy day in pyjamas watching films. Some of the local toddler groups continue throughout the summer too – most don’t mind you bringing an older sibling along during the hols.
I’m planning to check out our local library as most libraries seem to run fun sessions throughout the holidays with crafts, theme days and competitions – likewise with our local town museums e.g. Bridport Museum (free entry, fun hands-on activities for kids) and I’m hoping to pop in to The Unit at Chard’s great indoor play sessions on a Thursday (there are tots sessions and older kids up to age 12 sessions too) to let the kids burn some energy on the bouncy castles etc.
I hope that this post will provide some inspiration when you’re in the mood to go out and do something but last year – my first summer holiday with the girls as my eldest had just finished her first year at school – I did feel overwhelmed by the feeling that I must ‘DO ALL THE THINGS’ with the kids.
With one year of summer hol experience under my belt I know that the holidays are precious but knackering if you’ve got young ones and that although the kids might think they need entertaining every day, they don’t, and we don’t need to feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses and Pinterest and fill our days with endless crafts and days out.
I’m looking forward to doing some lovely things this summer with the girls but I will make sure that there are plenty of just-bumbling-around-the-house days too.
So I wish you all a fantastic summer and let me know what gems you found while out and about!