Ashdown Forest is a vast and beautiful area of woodland and heathland located just down the road from us in Sussex. The forest covers the area between Wych Cross, Nutley and Crowborough and is the famed for it’s breath taking views aswell as being home of Winnie the Pooh! Luckily for us the forest also lends itself as a fantastic playground for families, ramblers, dog walkers and horse lovers. As a family we are guilty of taking this wonderful environment for granted. During the 7 years we’ve lived in Sussex we’ve only visited the forest a handful of times. Every time we visit we say ‘we must come here more often’. Well today we visited the Forest and the Visitor Centre and I want to tell you all to do the same because not only is the forest beautiful and a fantastic stimuli for imagination…it is also free! No parking charge. No entry fee. You don’t even have to pay to use the visitor centre. It’s all free! As a parent of 4 I can tell you destinations like this are rare and precious so let’s use them more!
There are several car parks dotted all over the forest so access is always fairly easy. We parked in the car park next to the Visitor’s Centre today which only had 3 cars in total. From the car park we followed a trail through the ancient woodland down to a natural spring. I’m always taken aback at how much our children love this type of natural playground. They all run off, doing their thing…finding sticks, looking at bark, kicking leaves, exploring plants.. It’s great to see them so engaged in what’s around them. The forest really does offer itself as an interesting and diverse environment, especially at this time of year when the colours are so seasonal and vibrant.
At the bottom of the hill we turn right to enter a small area of heathland. Here the views are outstanding. Layer upon layer of colour in panoramic as far as the eye can see. The children also enjoy the change in environment embracing the opportunity to run across the open space. We enter another area of woodland which has clearly been visited before. There are a number of small stick homes build in amongst the trees. One even has a small garden area with a broom to keep the house clean. On seeing these little homes it was as though someone had pressed our kid’s ‘imagination’ button. They all jumped into roles of being a Lord, being a peasant and being a tidy house keeper. All four mucking in with moving logs, sweeping floors and preparing the next meal in their new imaginary village. Why do they never do this for me at home?? I think they would have happily stayed here all day, but it was cold and approaching lunchtime and the smallest member of our party needed recharging.
We munched on our picnic just outside the visitors centre. There’s a number of benches and the centre has a great enclosed outside area with wooden features and a pretty pond. We were welcomed by friendly volunteers as we further explored the outside area. There’s a replica Mesolithic hut (another opportunity to play house), giant logs to practise your balance beam skills and various other wooded shelters.
Fed and feeling the cold again we decided to head into the large barn that houses the main Visitor Centre. This place is packed with information about all aspects of forest life. There’s a great area featuring wildlife that use the forest as their habitat. It’s clear a lot of thought has gone into making learning engaging and hands on with opportunities to dress up as deer, feel real animal skins, explore skulls & bones and handle real antlers. Even our 1 year old was catered for with a low level colouring activity table. The children all found the visitor centre an enjoyable and positive experience.
We made a quick visit to the on site loo’s before heading back to the car. It really was cold and we needed to get the smallest members of the group warmed up. We’ll definitely be using the visitor centre again. I’d like to make it a seasonal visit…so we can explore the changes in the forest over the year. A great destination to connect with the outdoors and learn about local habitat with easy access and great facilities.
The Visitor Centre is open weekends only through the Winter from 11am – dusk.