"Mum, what are we doing today?” my littlest one asks. “I’m bored,” is his next sentence, about ten minutes after he’s woken up! As a parent of three children, with a 7-year age gap from the youngest to the eldest, finding things to do that they will all enjoy (or at least get some enjoyment from) is a really tough balancing act. Combined with the fact that most of the things they want to do are insanely expensive to book as a family of five, this can be tricky. But over the years we have managed to discover some little hidden gems around East Kent, which are lovely places to visit and best of all they are free, so I thought I would write a blog post and share them with you. Most of them are outdoors, but don’t let that put you off! As Billy Connolly says. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little!”
Also, if you want to get even more from your time in nature, why not grab a copy of my new book, Naturally Creative, to make your days out even more fun! I’ve got some brilliant activities in there for this season! Here are our favourite places to visit: (Click on the name of each place for a link to their website.) Deal:
Betteshanger is a 250-acre country park and is a really lovely place to visit with the children. It has a bike track, nature walks, abundant wildlife, the most beautiful blue lake I have ever seen, a playground AND a café. It is also home to Kent mining museum, which gives a fascinating insight into the history of mining in Kent. You could easily spend all day at Betteshanger and only pay for the parking, which is currently £5 for the day.
If you want to spend a small amount of money there are plenty of adventures to be had at Betteshanger from seasonal trails for children to take part in, to fossil hunting, geocaching and gel blaster battles!
Deal Town is about 10 minutes away from Betteshanger and is a great place to visit, whether you want to play on the beach, walk along the pier or wander around the shops and galleries. My children highly recommend both Deal Ice Cream Parlour, and Sea View restaurant/ take away for chips!
But there’s even more to Deal! If you head North along Deal Seafront you will discover the remains of Sandown Castle, which has now been turned into a small community garden, and If you head South, towards Walmer, you will discover Walmer Paddling pool (Free Entry), which is open all summer, and Walmer Adventure Golf and Go-Karts, which you do have to pay for, but they are fun! If you have English Heritage membership, we highly recommend Deal Castle and Walmer Castle to which you will have free entry.
Dover might not be your first thought when you are thinking of places to visit, but it does have some fascinating little places.
Nestled along the Alkham Valley Road are beautiful Kearsney Abbey and Russell Gardens, which provide plenty of space to run around and let off steam for children, adults and dogs! We spend a lot of time here throughout the year noticing the seasonal changes, paddling in the stream at Kearsney Abbey in our welly boots, and chatting to the ducks and the swans! Both sites have play parks, and the park in Russel Gardens, just across the road, is brilliant for older children. Parking is Free, but it can get busy at peak times. We try to go later in the day.
My children really love Dover Museum, which is an eclectic mix of Dover’s history. From the incredible Bronze Age boat to the giant polar bear that stands outside the upstairs gallery, you never know what you might find there!
Often in school holidays, Dover Museum also puts on activities for children to take part in. Have a look at their website to see what is happening.
We park at St James’ Retail Park and walk through the town to the museum. Parking charges apply.
If you are English Heritage members, entry to Dover Castle is also free! This needs a whole day to really explore.
Sandwich is such a tiny little town, but it has some really fabulous places to visit for free. Starting down on the quay where you will find Sandwich Medieval Centre, which is full of incredible volunteers, all in authentic costumes, ready to share their skills and knowledge with you. There is a working forge, games to play and upstairs is beautiful calligraphy and a printing press. Keep an eye on their social media pages for events as well, when they use the quay for medieval festivals, with battles and crafts and of course a bar where you can get cold drinks. There is also a park to play in near the carpark. Keep young children close by, Sandwich medieval centre is situated right on the beautiful River Stour. They even have their own boat/ restoration project outside! From here you can wander into the centre of Sandwich where you can find Sandwich Guildhall Museum in the market square. That also has free entry and is full of strange little treasures including their very own copy of the Magna Carta! And then you can walk along the Butts, following the river along to Gazen Salts nature reserve, which is a really lovely place to visit, full of birds and wildlife. Again be aware of the deep water.
If you are English Heritage members, Richborogh Roman Fort is also well worth a visit.
Who knew there was so much to do in tiny Sandwich?
Canterbury is packed full of historic sites and amazing buildings, so even just walking around the city is interesting, but one of the real hidden gems of Canterbury is The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge. Based in a stunning building at the far end of the high street, The Beaney is great for rainy days, as it is a museum/ art gallery with a cafe. It has exhibits in it that will take you back to your own childhood, like Bagpuss and the Clangers, but it also has lots to keep children entertained.
There are artefacts to investigate, creative activities to do and also a library. The Beaney has access for prams, pushchairs and wheelchairs around the back so don’t be put off by the stairs at the front.
Margate sands is possibly one of the most quintessentially English seaside beaches I know. Surrounded by the bright lights of the arcades, overlooked by the iconic big wheel at Dreamland, beautifully sandy, with a fabulous fish and chip shop close by, Margate beach has been a place we have spent many happy hours as a family, flying kites, making sandcastles and watching the motorbike races in the summer.
Being married to an artist, we obviously also spend a lot of time in the art galleries, especially the Turner Contemporary which often has exhibitions on, and also has workshops for children and families. (You would need to book online.) The Turner Contemporary also has a cafe that sells the nicest breakfast sausages I’ve ever eaten!
If you wanted to spend a little bit of money, you can also visit The Shell Grotto, which is bizarre and amazing in equal measure, Margate caves or Margate Museum, where you can find this very funny donkey!
We have spent a lot of time in Folkestone over the years and discovered lots of little hidden treasures, here are two of our favourites. The Warren:
The Warren is tucked away on the East Side of Folkestone, and it can be quite an adventure to get down to the beach if you choose to go the rocky way. (There is also a tarmacked path if you head down by Little Switzerland camp site.)
Once on the beach you will discover the real beauty of this place, it is stunning and a great place to make sandcastles and look for sea glass, which is abundant on this beach. I challenge the children to find as many different colours as possible.
You can also find fossils at the Warren, and we have been lucky enough to find a few when we have visited. It is best to visit at low tide, or as the tide is going out, and parking can be tricky. We often park on a residential road and then walk, but the official council website says to park at East Cliff Pavilion Carpark and walk for 20 minutes.
Whatever you do, it’s well worth the effort.
If you have children with a lot of energy who like to run and climb, Lower Leas Coastal Park is the place for you. It is completely free of charge (except parking) and is set in stunning landscaped gardens that always make me feel like I am on holiday. It overlooks the beach and there is a little café in case of snack emergencies!
We have spent many hours here, and even if your children aren’t so keen on busy parks, the walk through the gardens, exploring all the hidden spaces is still a fun day out.
An added bonus!
And finally, as an extra bonus… if you want to travel a little further afield, and you have children who love spending time with animals, we highly recommend The Retreat Animal Rescue Sanctuary. We visited in the summer, and we were amazed at just how much there was to see.
The site is completely vegan, out of respect for the animals that have been rescued, so no food is allowed to be taken in, but they have their own cafe, which is very good, and also some little shops. It was honestly the best day out we had all summer.
Check the website for opening times.
I hope this blog has been helpful for you. If you have any other amazing places that you like to visit that are free of charge, please do let me know! Let’s help each other. Leave a comment or send me an email: email@example.com.
Have a lovely half term, Sarah. X