A day out at Beale Park has lots to offer young children, as CATHY RANSON found out when she took her son and friends along
HAVE you ever driven along the M4 near Reading wondering where the brown road signs with the antlers lead to? Well, this week I found out as I followed them for a school holiday day trip out with some friends.
Beale Park is a 350-acre wildlife park and gardens in Lower Basildon, which sounds like it should be in Essex, but is just off junction 12 of the M4 and only 50 minutes from our Uxbridge home.
With tickets at just £8.50 for adults and £6 for children, I didn't think there would be enough there to occupy us for the day but I couldn't have been more wrong. We arrived at lunch time, planning to spend the afternoon, but by the time it was closing and we had to leave, there were still many areas we hadn't seen.
Alex and his friends Louis, Eva, Tom and Danny loved seeing all the animals, including meerkats, lemurs, monkeys, birds, goats, deer, rabbits and much more. The special thing about Beale Park is that you can get up really close to all the animals, which is great for the littlest children who often can't spot a monkey hiding in a tree no matter how hard you try to explain which branch they're sitting on!
I'm not a big fan of 'zoos' in general; I find it disturbing when the animals look bored, aren't in great shape or are pacing their too-small cages. But here the animals all looked great, had massive enclosures and they seemed to enjoy interacting with the children, as several came close to the edge of their enclosures to see the children!
As well as the wildlife at Beale Park, there are a couple of superb adventure playgrounds for the children, a very large sandpit area and two big paddling pools.
The pools are a real highlight. It wasn't a warm day when we went, but the kids still insisted on going in and had a whale of a time splashing around. And there's more! A steam train ride around the park, water fountains, walkways, lakes, bridges and big green spaces to run around in - it's a good outdoorsy day out for all ages.
Beale Park is also home to the only Little Tikes Village in the UK. The iconic Little Tikes Cosy Coupe red and yellow car was one of Alex's favourite toys as a toddler and this place is full of them, as well as other ride-on toys and all the houses and climbing equipment you can imagine.
The Village has a sports area with basketball nets, a village full of the Little Tikes houses, a garage area and, of course, all the climbing, sliding and activity equipment. If it rains there's also an indoor play area filled with Little Tikes favourites, including ride-ons and rocking horses, slides, activity gyms, kitchens and play houses.
With the countdown to the end of the school holidays nearly upon us, if you fancy a reasonably priced day out with the kids, you can't beat Beale Park.
5 things to take to Beale Park]
1. Bucket and spade and other sand toys: The sandpit is massive and the kids will spend ages making sand castles and digging holes.
2. Comfy clothes and trainers suitable for climbing on all the adventure play apparatus: This is not the kind of place for party dresses or flip flops!
3. Swimming gear, including arm bands for non-swimmers: The paddling pools are superb but, even though they are shallow, non-swimmers will be safer with arm bands.
4. A big waterproof-backed picnic blanket: Even if you are not planning to picnic, still take a big blanket because there are very few places to sit down, especially around the paddling pool area.
5. Plenty of snacks: The kids used up lots of energy in the paddling pools and on the climbing equipment and we ran out!