FOLKESTONE COASTAL PARK
There’s more to Folkestone than its beaches. Overlooking the Channel is the Folkestone Coastal Park. One of the oldest in the county, it was created in 1784 when a huge landslip produced a new strip of land between the beach and the cliffs.
Today it is split into three zones – wild, fun and formal. Make your way carefully down the zigzag path, turn right and the kids will soon find the Fun Zone. It’s home to the largest adventure playground in the South East. It’s packed with tube slides, towers, net tunnels, aerial slides, climbing walls and pirate ship. The kids will have a field day. The park is also a good spot for sunbathing, a picnic or maybe an impromptu gig at the amphitheatre.
Address: Folkestone Coastal Park Lower Sandgate Road Folkestone CT20 2JP
Opening times: All year round
Cost: Admission free
Contact: See www.shepway.gov.uk or ring 01303 247376
A proper adventure of a playground, Crusoe’s World at Groombridge Place was inspired by TV series Crusoe and original props from this TV series can be spotted. Two tree houses are linked together with rope bridges and a central viewing tower.
They are on several levels with decking and platforms, sheltered under sail roofs. There is a lookout post high above one of the tree houses, providing fabulous views over the canal, open countryside and the steam trains of the Spa Valley Railway. Also look out for mystical play spots throughout the Enchanted Forest, a boat ride from the main gardens.
Address: Groombridge Place Groombridge, Groombridge Hill, near Tunbridge Wells, TN3 9QG
Opening times: Daily 9.30am to 5.30pm. Last admission is 4pm
Cost: School holidays and special event days, adults £9.95, children £8.45. £1 off ticket prices outside these peak times. Family tickets available
Contact: See www.groombridgeplace.com or ring 01892 861444.
Trees that were felled by the wind over the winter have been turned into a fabulous children’s natural play area at moated medieval house Ightham Mote. Children can sit on fairy toadstools, totter on balancing bridges and clamber on a series of obstacles.
The gardening team and a dedicated group of volunteers have turned an area at the north end of the beautiful garden into this unusual natural play area for children. Imaginations will run riot in this leafy spot, where youngsters of whatever age can make as much noise as possible.
Address: Ightham Mote Mote Road, Ivy Hatch, near Sevenoaks, TN15 0NT
Opening times: Ightham Mote and the play area open daily all year 10.30am to 5pm. House opens 11am.
Cost: Admission price is for house and grounds, adult £11.50, child £5.75.
Contact: www.nationaltrust.org.uk or ring 01732 810378.
Brand new for 2014 is the Squires’ Courtyard playground at Leeds Castle. Prepare for a long stay, because your little ones will be enchanted by the climbing turrets, zip lines, swings, slides, an undercover sandpit and a dungeon.
Its neighbour in the castle grounds is the Knights’ Realm Playground. The Knights’ Realm is suitable for those aged five and includes a scale model of the castle. These unforgettable playgrounds are close to the Maze Cafe and toilets.
Address: Leeds Castle, near Maidstone, is just off junction eight of the M20.
Opening times: Leeds Castle is open all year round but closed to day visitors on special ticketed event days and Christmas Day. Gates open at 10am daily with entry to the castle from 10.30am
Cost: Includes castle and grounds. Day tickets, adults £19, children four and above £11, under fours free. Regular visitors can buy an annual ticket for a small extra payment.
SHORNE WOODS COUNTRY PARK
The revamped play areas here are among 288 acres of rolling woodlands, wetlands and meadows. Children can hide out in dens, climb the rigging and have a generally wild time before you finally manage to rein them in. There’s a visitor centre, cafe, with good choice of kids’ meals, and toilets. The site is run by Kent Country Parks.
Address: Shorne Woods Country Park Brewers Road, Gravesend, DA12 3HX
Opening times: 9am to dusk or 9pm (whichever is earlier)
Cost: Admission free, parking Monday to Friday £2, weekends and bank holidays £2.50
Contact: See www.kent.gov.uk or ring 0300 333 6488
TROSLEY COUNTRY PARK
The play area close to the Bluebell Cafe at this 170-acre Kent Country Parks site is extremely popular. Letting off steam is a speciality at this fresh open-air spot, so a great one for boisterous little boys and exuberant little girls alike. While you wait, look out for the pretty Chalkland Blue butterfly as this is chalk grassland and is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It was once part of the Trosley Towers Estate.
Address: Trosley Country Park Waterlow Road, Vigo Village, Meopham, DA13 0SG
Opening times: 9am to dusk or 9pm (whichever is earlier).
Cost: Admission is free, parking on weekdays is £1.50. Weekends and bank holidays £2.
Contact: See www.kent.gov.uk 0300 333 6486.
Nuthatches, swans and swallows will be watching from a safe distance as the kids descend on the play area at this 52-acre park. Once part of an 18th-century estate created by Thomas Douce, Manor Park is now a diverse location with an impressive variety of habitats and landscapes to explore. Wildflowers to look out for include birdfoot trefoil, stitchwort and buttercups. The revamped play area is comfortably close to the car park, lake, toilets and cafe. A great place for a family picnic and just a 15-minute stroll from the mainline station.
Address: Manor Park St Leonard’s Street, West Malling, ME19 6PE
Opening times: 9am to dusk or 9pm (whichever is earlier).
Cost: Admission is free. Pay and display parking is £1.50 Monday to Friday £1.50 and £2 on weekends and bank holidays.
Contact: Ring 0300 333 6488 or see www.kent.gov.uk