Summer holidays: Six weeks of family bliss and quality time with the kids? Or stressed parents pulling their hair out at how to fill 40+ days without spending a fortune on days out?
I love the summer!! I’m not denying that it’s a juggle running a business whilst having the kids at home, and we’re definitely far from perfect (my kids were already tearing chunks out of each other this morning and they’ve still got a day of school left!), but I love getting to spend time with my little people and have days out exploring.
As an outdoor photographer, I’m fortunate that I get to enjoy the open spaces that we have around us. In Windsor, we are spoiled for choice with amazing countryside and woodlands on our doorstep - within half an hour’s drive in every direction, you’ll find some amazing days out. So, I’m sharing my top five outdoor spaces around Windsor and Berkshire. Most of these are free, with only a charge for parking, so pack a picnic, enjoy the sunshine and get outside!
5. Runnymede Pleasure Grounds
Runnymede Pleasure Grounds is less than ten minutes drive from central Windsor and offers plenty to keep the kids entertained. There’s a large open space which is great for ball games, a play park and a shallow paddling pool which is fantastic for keeping cool on hot summer days.
Top tips: Don't forget to pack swimwear and towels for the kids to have a splash in the paddling pool. Take a picnic, frisbee and balls for hours of fun. There is also a cafe and a small amusements park with bouncy castles, etc.
Cliveden, on the outskirts of Maidenhead, is one of my favourite places nearby. I've only put it a number four, as I was aiming for a list of free days out and there is an entry charge - although if you're a National Trust member, entry is included in membership.
There's so much to do here! Take a walk in the woodlands and hunt out 'Clive's Den' - a wooden den made from fallen branches with a table and chairs carved from fallen trees. Climb down the steps from the woodlands for access to the river (our favourite place to picnic when we visit) and take a boat ride along the Thames (tickets are available from the Information Centre). From the river you can climb the nearly 200 steps up to the stunning parterre - the ornamental gardens that lead up to the main house (also a fantastic wedding venue that I've been lucky enough to photograph weddings at!). Finish off with a visit to the maze, Japanese gardens and Storybook Play area.
Top tips: The Storybook Play area is fantastic for toddlers as it is a safe place away from traffic. There is open water in the Japanese Garden and by the Thames so keep an eye on little ones. The National Trust recommend children 11 and under are accompanied by adults in the maze (we've had a tearful 8-year-old on our hands before when he thought he knew better than Mum & Dad!).
3. Dinton Pastures
One of the more further afield places I'm recommending is Dinton Pastures - a 25-minute drive from Windsor, located between Reading and Wokingham, but totally worth the drive!
My adventurer kids love this place! The play park includes loads of innovative equipment mostly made from wood, including 8-foot high tree 'stumps' with climbing grips on that the braver kids can try. There are swings, roundabouts, slides as well as plenty to climb and sand to play in.
If you don't mind spending a little, there's also boats for hire on the lake and a new Adventure Golf course has opened this summer.
Top tips: Don't just limit your visit to the play area, there are some fantastic walking trails around the lake (although plan your route as some of them are quite a long distance for little legs). There is a cafe if you don't have time to pack a picnic.
2. Swinley Forest
Swinley Forest, which will be known to many for the 'The Look Out Discovery Centre', is also a 25-minute drive from Windsor. The forest itself is owned by the Crown Estate and is great for walking, scooting or cycling.
Although the Discovery Centre charges for entry, the outdoor play park is free to use. This huge adventure playground with activities for infants up to pre-teens (including an accessible roundabout, slide and cradle swing) is a favourite with my two. There are plenty of picnic tables alongside the play park, and a cafe serving food and drinks. My kids also love the unofficial den building that goes on year-round next to the play park, with hundreds of fallen branches and logs available to build with.
There's also a Go Ape here if you have brave ones over a metre in height (although there is a charge for this).
Top tips: Although I'm focusing on outdoor days out, the Discovery Centre itself is a great science museum if you get a rainy day and need to keep the kids entertained. Go early as parking is limited and it does get busy in the summer!
1. Windsor Great Park
In at number one, as it's right on our doorstep and the only location that is completely free as you don't even need to pay for parking (free parking at the car park on St Leonard's Road by Windsor FC, or the car parks along Sheet Street Road). I love Windsor Great Park - it's a great location for family photo shoots as well as days out to keep the kids entertained. There are fallen tree trunks and meadows to explore; views of the castle from the Long Walk, and you may be lucky enough spot some deer in the deer park. We also love a bit of blackberry picking in the Great Park in the summer.
There are plenty of walks and cycle routes for older ones that don't mind a bit of distance. If you pick the right day, you might even spot a Polo game at Guard's Polo Club. There is also a lovely little playpark and great cafe at Savill Garden (parking charges apply in this car park).
Top tips: There are no toilets in certain areas of the Great Park - if you think you might need facilities you're better off at Savill Garden or Virginia Water (although parking charges applly at both of these). Park at Bishop's Gate (search Google maps for Bishopsgate Road) and have a fab lunch at The Fox and Hounds before or after your walk.
With my biggest starting middle school in September, I’m reminded that they’re growing up fast! It was pointed out recently that we only have 18 summers with our children, so in a bid to cherish every moment, my aim is to embrace the craziness that summer brings and enjoy the time whilst they’re still little. I hope you can too and if you see me out with the kids when you're visiting these places (or on a photoshoot, as I use some of these places regularly) - please say hello to us!
I realise I've missed a few other gems, such as Black Park, Langley Park and Lock's Ride - maybe I need to pull a top ten list together at some time! If you know any fab outdoor locations, please add them in the comments below. Have a great summer!