The Nature Discovery Centre, run by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust at Thatcham has been cropping up a lot in the last six months of so, mainly when looking for outdoorsy and wildlife activities to take Roo and Beth to. Despite its lure, being a little further than our usual Wildlife Trust centres we didn’t make it there until last weekend.
It was well worth the wait. Whilst many nature reserves offer quiet seclusion and a rather more adult setting that is not suitable or engaging enough for all young children, the Nature Discovery Centre is a buzzing centre of activity that is great for all ages and a perfect environment in which to kick start an early love of wildlife and the outdoors. It’s a great place to dip your toes in the water (not literally – pretty sure that’s for the ducks only) before leaping off and discovering the joys of the more rustic and hidden away reserves (and their children’s activity groups) that so many of us have on our doorsteps without even realising it.
We arrived in time for lunch at the superb little cafe based at the main centre. With options to eat indoors or outside watching the waterfowl, plenty of high chairs, child friendly water-beakers and a good kids menu it makes for a pleasant setting for a toasted sandwich, jacket potato or cream tea before heading off on an amble about the lakes.
As well as the cafe, the Nature Discovery Centre also houses some interactive displays and educational activities designed to get kids clued into the wildlife they can see all around them. Luckily for us, most of the fairly large amount of weekend visitors had headed straight outside to feed the ducks (grain available from the shop) and we had the educational resources almost entirely to ourselves. Beth hogged the giant binoculars to get an up-close view of the geese down on the lake whilst Roo had a lot of fun making brass nature rubbings completing nature puzzles and inspecting natural objects underneath a microscope.
When we had finished our tour inside (and I’d managed to extract Beth from prolonged ‘huggles’ with the toy fox and hedgehogs she’d discovered upstairs) we all headed outside for a stroll around the reserve. Our time was limited so we opted just for a short circuit of the main lake that the Nature Discovery Centre backs onto. The trail was pushchair friendly and not too alarming walking with a water-curious and independently minded toddler. It took us about 45 minutes to complete the full circuit with plenty of catkin spotting, bench sitting-on and duck-gazing along the way. The girls loved stopping off and inspecting the wildlife pond and despite the fairly large numbers of people out enjoying the spring sunshine that day, we were also surprised to get quite a lot of close encounters with hedgerow birds during our short wander, including one robin who seemed intent on serenading us as he followed along on a good stretch of the walk!
For those with more time the Nature Discovery Centre is the starting point for many varied walking and cycling options. We saw plenty of young families nipping off on their bikes down the hard earth trails. From the lakes you can easily explore down towards Greenham and Crookham Commons – the former of which we headed off to later that afternoon.
Our trip to the Nature Discovery Centre ended with a trip to the playground. There are two excellent age-specific adventure playgrounds at the centre and the girls had a brilliant time exploring them.
Our trip was far too short but enough to convince us that a bit of a longer drive is sometimes well worth it. I look forward to bringing the girls back on a weekday when it is a little quieter and we can spend some more focused time on spotting birds and wildfowl, visiting some of the less popular trails and looking out from the bird hides. If you’re heading towards Thatcham direction though do stop by – it’s an excellent place for all the family and not at all what you would expect from the traditional image of a nature reserve! If you want to expose your children to nature in a fun, engaging and laid-back way then this is a perfect venue to do just that.
The Nature Discovery has a varied programme of activities, nature clubs and other wildlife events running throughout the year. For more information on the centre and to find out what’s on when you visit, take a look at their website. Parking at the centre is free although there is a suggested donation of £3 for a day’s visit. Given the facilities on offer for families I personally think this is incredibly good-value!
Joining in with: