School may be back but summer isn’t quite finished yet. With plenty of warm days and sunshine still about, September is a great time to capitalise on both the good weather and your kids’ start of term enthusiasm by taking some extra-curricula outdoor explorations.
Whilst most people are back in work mode or counting down until Christmas already, some of the South’s best spots are lying crowd free in a quiet splendour of mellow colours and hedgerow harvests. Here are some ideas for some great back-to-school weekend outings in the South’s Great Outdoors, all easily accessible by train. All of course, also have options for some great walks!
1) Natural History of the New Forest .
Effectively a massive, wooded, outdoor playground, the New Forest is the perfect place to let kids loose on an autumn walk or cycle. At this time of year, the New Forest is also full of blackberry foraging opportunities so remember to bring pots! With the New Forest gateways of Brockenhurst and Ashurst an hour and a half’s train journey from London, this makes a great weekend outing from the capital.
The New Forest is anything but new, with heaps of history to explore. If you have primary school age kids then you can use the visit as an excuse to get them started on Frederick Marryat’s charming ‘The Children of the New Forest’ which is both a classic children’s read and a good introduction to the English Civil War. The Millyford Bridge 5 km loop is a good educational walk – learn about everything from Tudor ship-building whilst walking amongst 600 year old Oak trees, how to identify UK reptiles and birds at the Reptile Centre and some WWI history along the way.
2) Geology and fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coastline
Whether your kids’ upcoming school project is dinosaurs, coastal erosion or they just need something for ‘show and tell’, the Jurassic Coast is a fantastic place to explore in September. Bustling Weymouth makes a great base for both day-trips and overnight stays, with the chance for children to take a long walk for some hunting for fossils on nearby Chesil Beach. Alternatively, hop on a train to Wool from where you can access the beautiful Lulworth Cove estate, where Durdle Dor’s famous natural limestone arc serves as a real life demonstration of the difference between hard and soft rocks! The beaches here are also incidentally great for paddling pre-schoolers and a lot pleasanter without the summer crowds.
3) Maritime history at Portsmouth
For a town walk with a difference, you can’t beat Portsmouth. A wander down to Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard takes you through more significant historical moments than you’ll have time to take in. From visiting Henry VIII ‘s favourite boat the Mary Rose to reliving the decisive moments of the Battle of Trafalgar from aboard Admiral Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory, Portsmouth’s historic boats have heaps to offer budding historians.
A gentle walk east offers sea views and more history. Here your wander will take you past Tudor fortification, Southsea Castle. From here you can take a detour up to the D-Day museum and explore the history of the Normandy Landings.
Further east again, the esplanade backing Portsmouth’s sandy beach makes a good wander too. From here you can detour through the park to Portsmouth’s Natural HistOry Museum whilst a longer walk will take you down to the Royal Marine’s Museum. With buses to take you back to town, you can save your legs on the return trip.
4) Take a long walk through Royal history at Windsor
Windsor Castle, as the oldest occupied castle in the world, offers both ancient and modern history to explore. Visit the castle itself to learn about Kings and Queens from William the Conqueror right through to our current Queen Elizabeth II or just stroll through Windsor Great Park or down by the river. The Long Walk from Windsor Castle up to the Copper Horse on Snow Hill is a fantastic walk for families with some lovely views to reward the final uphill section. For greater seclusion, travel instead to Virginia Water and enjoy the beautiful lakes and countryside of Windsor Great Park with distant views of Windsor Castle. Virginia Water to Windsor Castle also makes a great long walk (you can find a map of the estate here) and you can hop on the train for the return leg.
5) Catch the surf at Bournemouth
If physical education is more your thing then Bournemouth is the place to go for one last blast of summer. Here you can catch some September surf or enjoy a bit of body boarding by Bournemouth pier or on Boscombe Beach. September is a great time for surfing in the UK – the sea has had all summer to warm up whilst the waves are starting to get a little larger. The sandy beaches of Bournemouth are also perfect for wee ones making it a great family day out for all ages. Round-off with some fish and chips and you’ve got a perfect late summer day out!
All of the above destinations can be reached easily by train on South West Trains’ network. To help ease us out of summer gently, South West Trains currently have a fantastic family-friendly offer on for weekend travel. All through September they are offering 25% off all off-peak day returns on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, meaning you can prolong the summer for less.