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Kent days out guide to the six-week summer holiday 2014

School’s out forever...that’s how it feels to parents with six weeks to fill, anyway! Don’t be daunted, embrace the summer holidays with our guide to days out the kids are gonna love.

Nerf gun wars will take over Groombridge Place Gardens
Nerf gun wars will take over Groombridge Place Gardens

A Nerf-tastic MEGA-BLASTER ARENA is the newest attraction at the Hop Farm – and it’s bang on for the school summer holidays. For kids that love shooting Nerf guns this indoor combat zone with inflatable barricades and obstacles is as good as it gets. The arena, the only one of its kind in the UK, can fit up to 40 people in one session. There’s even a target range so you can get your eye in before chancing your luck against the other competitors. For prices and times, go to www.megablasterarena.co.uk

Other highlights at the Hop Farm include Hopper’s Animal World, the Magic Castle, 4D cinema and a driving school that younger kids just love. The attraction, near Paddock Wood, is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Entry is free, but charges apply for some of the activities.

Details at www.thehopfarm.co.uk or call 01622 872068.

Try family-friendly cycle routes
Try family-friendly cycle routes

Head out on your bike

Take the bikes to the mysterious, wide open spaces of the HARTY TRAIL on the Isle of Sheppey. Flat, circular and perfect for families, it is mainly traffic free but with some sections on road. At a moderate speed it can be completed comfortably in under an hour, depending on your fitness, but with young children it will take longer. Along the route, soak up the peace and quiet whilst admiring the views out into the estuary and the intriguing wrecks that can be seen at low tide. Free cycle route. Visit www.visitkent.co.uk or call 0300 3335538.

Walk on water

Fun in the forest at GROOMBRIDGE PLACE, near Tunbridge Wells, will be further enhanced by extra activities in the holidays including Blackbeard’s Treasure Hunt, water zorbing, a bouncy castle for the under fives, a balloon sword workshop, pirate and princess water fights, and a treasure island puppet show. Open daily from 9.30am to 5.30pm. Entry is £9.95 for adults, £8.45 for children and £33.95 for a family.

Call 01892 861444.

Woodland materials to make a den
Woodland materials to make a den

Build a den

Den-building is an absorbing activity available at National Trust properties SISSINGHURST CASTLE near Cranbrook, SCOTNEY CASTLE in Lamberhurst, IGHTHAM MOTE near Sevenoaks and CHARTWELL, near Westerham. Make a den from the woodland materials as a great way to produce your own shady spot from the sun or, in other circumstances, to shelter from the rain. The National Trust has put together a popular ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’ list, which aims to help children get outdoors and closer to nature with a list of simple pleasures. To take part, simply pick up a scrapbook at your nearest property. Entry times and prices vary.

Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk for your local information.

Larkfield Leisure Centre
Larkfield Leisure Centre

Take the plunge

LARKFIELD LEISURE CENTRE and TONBRIDGE SWIMMING POOL are organising five-day swimming courses for junior non-swimmers, beginners and improvers, as well as a new Learn To Swim course for sevens and over who are yet to complete a 25m swim. Larkfield Leisure Centre offers day camps providing full and half day entertainment, as well as the leisure pool complete with 60m waterslide, space bowl, water cannons, spa pools and lazy river rapids. Lark-about soft-play zone provides an adventurous time for children 10 years and under. A bonus for parents is the crèche which is offering two-hour drop-in sessions for fives to sevens.

Visit www.larkfieldleisure.co.uk or call 01622 719345. Tonbridge pool info at www.tonbridgepool.co.uk or call 01732 367449.

Museum of Kent Life
Museum of Kent Life

Farm adventure

Enjoy a taste of what life was like in our county in years gone by at KENT LIFE. The 28-acre site, near Maidstone, is hosting hands-on activities for kids based on age-old farming traditions that bring back memories from way back when. They’ve got animals to cuddle, tractors to ride, play areas to go wild in, fascinating historic buildings to explore and cafés to relax in. Open daily from 10am to 6pm. Entry costs £9.25 for adults and £7.25 for children, with discounts for booking online.

Visit www.kentlife.org.uk or call 01622 763936.

Surfing is possible from several Kent beaches. Picture: Paul Amos
Surfing is possible from several Kent beaches. Picture: Paul Amos

Hit the surf

Surfs up on JOSS BAY in Broadstairs, where youngsters can put their balance and bravery to the test. Joss Bay Surf School is providing surfing lessons for budding board-walkers aged between eight and 16. The lesson includes how to ride and control a board, as well as water safety and beach awareness.

For more information visit www.jossbay.co.uk

For history buffs and action seekers

CHIDDINGSTONE CASTLE has just launched its Egyptian Fields of Eternity Garden. It is a microcosm of ancient Egypt, near Tonbridge, where visitors can learn about life and the environment in 2000 BC by exploring carefully prepared paths of grasses, wild flowers and crops laid out as if beside the River Nile, leading to ‘tombs’ and exciting discoveries. Visitors will link the landscape of ancient Egypt with the castle’s own unique collection of artefacts from that time. The grounds include a lake, waterfall, rose garden and a Grade II listed orangery. Open from Sundays to Wednesday only, from 11am to 5pm. Entry £8 for adults, £4 for children and £21.50 for families.

Visit www.chiddingstonecastle.org.uk

Dover Castle
Dover Castle

In the army now

Historic themes abound at DOVER CASTLE, where you can focus on a different aspects of the castle’s history. Go back to ancient times at the Roman Festival on Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27. Witness the might of the Roman Empire as it invades Dover Castle, be thrilled by the skill of the cavalry with their nimble and noble steeds, and help decide who lives or dies in the brutal world of the Gladiators. For two weeks from Monday, July 28, to Friday, August 15, get involved in the Castle Comes Alive Campaign, joining Henry II’s army and equipping yourself with bow, sword or spear and battlefield manoeuvres. More special events and themed weekends follow on. Open daily from 10am to 6pm. Entry costs £19.30 for adults, £11.60 for children and £50.10 for families.

Visit www.english- heritage.org.uk or call 01304 211067.

Amazing armour

Armour, open-air theatre and falcons are all in the mix at LEEDS CASTLE during the hols. Royal Armouries’ Henry VIII Armour Exhibition is now open at the castle, near Maidstone, until Sunday, September 21, which includes a horned helmet given to Henry by the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximillian I. Meet the falconer on Saturday, July 27 and get up close to his amazing birds of prey. On Sunday, August 3, there will be an outdoor performance of children’s classic Alice in Wonderland by a touring theatre company – tickets £12 for adults and £10 for children. The Medieval Festival runs throughout the last week in August. Open daily from 10.30am to 6pm. Year-long tickets cost £24 for adults, £16 for children, and day tickets £19 and £11 respectively.

Visit www.leeds-castle.com or call 01622 765400.

Did you know that in 1215 King John and 40 pigs helped change forever the look of ROCHESTER CASTLE? Find out how by visiting this summer and taking a tour with an audio guide. Tremendous views from the 113ft high battlements are well worth the climb and sure to impress all ages. From the top you can see the River Medway, cathedral and panoramic vistas of the surrounding area.

Visit www.visitmedway.org/places-of-interest or call 01634 332901.

Medieval jousting at Hever Castle.
Medieval jousting at Hever Castle.

A summer of spectacular jousting tournaments takes place at HEVER CASTLE on most weekends throughout the holidays, as the brave Knights of Royal England return to the historic venue, near Edenbridge. On Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27, there will be additional medieval entertainment in the form of armour and archery displays. From the weekend of Saturday, August 9, there will be jousting each weekend throughout the remainder of the month. Open daily from 10.30am until 6pm. Entry is £15.50 for adults, £8.70 for children and £39.70 for a family ticket.

Visit www.hevercastle.co.uk or call 01732 865224.

Ship ahoy!

Pirate play days and ‘techsplorer’ activity sessions are on offer at the HISTORIC DOCKYARD CHATHAM. From Saturday, July 26, to Sunday, August 31, shipwrecked pirates will be tackling an inflatable obstacle course, musical storytelling, arts and craft activities and a sand-pit treasure hunt with children under seven. From Friday, August 1, to Sunday, August 31, children aged seven to 12 are invited to Doc Yard Techsplorers, a series of hands-on family activities and a live show perfect for budding young engineers. Open daily from 10am to 6pm. Entry costs £18.50 for adults, £11.50 for children and £49.50 for families.

Visit www.thedockyard.co.uk or call 01634 823807.

One of Thanet's best loved beaches: Viking Bay, Broadstairs.
One of Thanet's best loved beaches: Viking Bay, Broadstairs.

Beautiful bay

VIKING BAY is one of the most charming and fun-filled stretches of golden sands in Kent, on the Thanet coast in Broadstairs. The choice holiday destination of Charles Dickens, he even wrote an affectionate piece on the town, Our English Watering Place. The sheltered bay, clifftop promenade, bandstand, funfair rides, retro ice cream parlours and fish and chip stops make this a timeless seaside trip. Bring a picnic and it’ll only cost you petrol.

Visit www.visitthanet.co.uk

Meet Thomas

Beautifully restored vintage steam trains of the KENT AND EAST SUSSEX RAILWAY run from Tenterden Station, along the 10½-mile line to Bodiam Station, passing through the Rother Valley. Kids’ favourite Thomas the Tank engine will even be chugging around its tracks on Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27. Tickets for that event cost £15 for adults, £12.50 for children and £48 for families. For much of the summer, there’s a half-price travel offer for kids, meaning children pay half fares with a paying adult if you download the voucher online. The promotion runs from Tuesday, July 29 and Friday, August 15.

For the timetable and price details between different stations, visit www.kesr.org.uk or call 01580 765155.

Dickens World, Chatham
Dickens World, Chatham

What the Dickens

One thing you’re always guaranteed in the school holidays is bad weather. If it does rain don’t despair, head to DICKENS WORLD at Chatham Maritime for a spot of literary time travel. Learn about the Victorian England so graphically brought to life by Charles Dickens, probably the country’s best known author. Here is a chance to feel, smell and see the same things experienced by the great man in his lifetime. Dickens World is at Leviathan Way just at the end of the Medway Tunnel.

Visit www.dickensworld.co.uk or call 0844 858 6656.

Rich pickings

Foodies old and young will enjoy the "pick your own" appeal of STANHILL FARM, near Dartford. With a farm shop, picnic area, maize maze for older kids and mini maze for the tots, you can enjoy picking your own lunch together while young minds take in a change of scenery from the supermarket to see where the selection of corn, fruit and vegetables originates. Stanhill Farm is open daily from 10am to 6pm. Entry is £6 for adults, £5 for children and £20 for a family.

Visit www.stanhillfarm.co.uk or cal 01322 669711.

Follow the trail

If you go down in the deep dark woods at BEDGEBURY PINETUM, near Goudhurst, this summer – Oh help! Oh no! It’s a Gruffalo! A Gruffalo activity trail was opened in the spring and will run until September to mark the 15th anniversary of the enormously popular monster, first brought to life in the children’s book. Join Mouse and other animal characters from the book to find the “scariest creature in the wood”. Another woodland legend will be visiting Bedgebury on Tuesday, July 29 when Robin Hood is the subject of an outdoor theatre production. The pinetum boasts a newly installed adventure trail and a specially designed play area, reflecting the challenges faced by plant-hunters throughout the ages. There is a shipwreck, mighty tree house, butterfly climbing wall, giant spider and webs, huge rope swing and tunnels.

Visit.forestry.gov.uk for full information or call 01580 879820.

Going loco

Engines, bird-spotting and play areas are the big draw at the SITTINGBOURNE AND KEMSLEY LIGHT RAILWAY. Embark at Kemsley Down station, the main site, to find two standard gauge steam locomotives (Bear and No.1), the Museum Walk, the play area and cafe overlooking the Swale Estuary and Elmley marshes bird reserve. Adult fares cost £6, children’s cost £3, and families’ cost £17.

For timetables visit www.sklr.net or call 01795 424899.

Rare Breeds Centre, Woodchurch
Rare Breeds Centre, Woodchurch

This little piggy....

Butterflies, reptiles and birds of prey hold fascination for visitors at the RARE BREEDS CENTRE in Woodchurch, near Ashford. No matter what the weather holds, there are indoor and outdoor attractions including Creepy Crawly World, tractor rides, pig racing, and an undercover animal barn. Open daily from 10.30am to 5.30pm. Entry costs £9.95 for adults, £8.50 for children and £28 for families.

Visit www.rarebreeds.org.uk or call 01233 861493.

Going for gold

Make the most of Kent’s two top wildlife parks with a year-long Gold Card pass to both of them. HOWLETTS WILDLIFE PARK, near Canterbury, and PORT LYMPNE RESERVE, near Hythe, both provide the ultimate zoo experience throughout the hols and host special events at intervals. One such event takes place at Howletts on Tuesday, July 29, for example, when Really Wild Show presenter Michaela Strachan with her interactive show packed full of music, humour and fascinating wildlife facts at 11am, 1.30pm and 3pm. Both animal parks are owned by the Aspinall Foundation, which has launched a Gold Card which gives unlimited access to both zoos for a year, priced at £44.95 for adults and £34.95 for children.

For full details of summer events visit www.aspinallfoundation.org or call 0844 8424647.

Drusillas Park
Drusillas Park

Say hello to kitty

Make tracks to DRUSILLAS PARK to enjoy one of the best small zoos in the country just over the border in East Sussex. Drusillas recently opened the first Hello Kitty attraction in Europe, which includes three children’s rides. It also boasts over 100 different animal species in naturalistic environments. Special dates include Sunday, August 3, Friday, August 22 and Tuesday, August 26, when the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine will also be visiting. Open daily from 10am to 6pm. Ticket prices vary and cost less online; from £15.50 per person to year-long passes for £59 per person.

Visit www.drusillas.co.uk or call 01323 874100.

Go native

More than 200 native animals can be seen in 40 acres of beautiful ancient woodland at WILDWOOD, near Herne Bay, which is devoted to conservation of British species. They include wolves, bison, deer, owls, foxes, red squirrels, wild boar, lynx, wild horses, badgers and beavers. Children love the drop and tube slides and climbing the fort and tree top towers in the adventure playground. Wildwood is at Herne Common, CT6 7LQ, on the A291 between Canterbury and Herne Bay.

Visit www.wildwoodtrust.org or call 01227 712111.

Wingham Wildlife Park
Wingham Wildlife Park

Park life

The attraction that had the biggest demand for tickets in this year’s My Kent Big Weekend was WINGHAM WILDLIFE PARK, near Canterbury. It was the third year in a row the park received more applications than any other venue in the county. See what all the fuss is about for yourself and get curious about such creatures as amphibians, tigers, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and mammals. Ever met a linnaeus two-toed sloth before? You will at Wingham! Open daily from 10am to 6pm. Entry costs £14 for adults, £11 for children and £44 for a family.

Visit www.winghamwildlifepark.co.uk or call 01227 720836 for further information.

(Front page pic of kids eating ice cream - credit: Christina Burrows)

Kids eating ice cream. Picture credit - Christina Burrows
Kids eating ice cream. Picture credit - Christina Burrows
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