Just recently I’ve been wanting to make more time for us as a family. We’ve gotten into a bad trap of turning weekends over to sorting out the house, sitting in front of computer screens and wasting the weekend away. But no more. Hubs and I sat down and wrote a list of places we could visit over the coming year, and days out can add up to a lot of money…so, to that end, I thought I’d start a series of posts entitled “Things To Do For Free In…”
Today I’m starting with the county I live in – Essex, but I will be including London, since that’s only down the road, and probably into Hertfordshire and Kent too!
Today we are off to Hainault Forest Country Park…336 acres of greenspace on the borders of Essex and London.
With a fishing lake (requires a license, currently £10 per day), adventure areas, nature trails, bridleways, fields, dog-free picnic area, woodland, a cafe (loos as well!), and a farm. In short, there is plenty to do here for free!
Back in the day, when my son was younger, you could park here for free, with some paid access in the summer by way of a toll-booth as you drove in. Now, it is all paid parking using the pay and display metres located in the two carparks. It is currently £1 per hour or £3 per day. Parking is free for blue badge holders.
The park is open from 7am to dusk, 7 days a week, and in summer it can get super busy! We’ve been turned away before in the past because there was no room left to park!
At the moment, a lot of the fields are fenced off. This is so that the ground can recover (at least, that is what I read on the web). With the recent extreme wet weather, they’re also undertaking drainage works to relieve the flooding.
Like I said, there is lots to do in the park – we’ve spent many hours walking through the woods, or around the lake, or just sitting in the sun enjoying a picnic, but today, I’m going to concentrate on Foxborough Farm which is located within the park.
Entrance into the farm is free, and is open 9:30-15:00 in the winter and until 17:00 in the summer. Within the farm, there is also two play areas for children – play towers for children aged 8-13 years, and a play trail for younger children.
We’ve spent many a sunny (and wet and windy and snowy) hour or so here over the years! And even now that the boy is 15, I will still take him to the farm! A walk around Hainault Forest is not complete for us until we walk around the farm and look at the animals.
The last time we went (December 2013), was a very cold day, but the sun was out in force. There were a lot of families with young children, and it is a great place for the young kiddies to see all these animals, great because it is F-R-E-E!
We spotted a peacock and a peahen – all the birds and fowl are able to wander around the farm, so you may end up face to face with a chicken or duck or goose!
Facilities are provided to wash your hands should you or your children touch any of the animals.
Not many of the chickens were out on this cold day – but I’ve seen lots of different breeds there in the past, as well as a huge turkey that makes the funniest huffing sound! There are also ducks and geese to be seen too.
Foxborough Farm is home to rare breeds and also to a family of meerkats…although, the meerkats must have been hiding because I’ve not seen them when I’ve visited! Will have to check them out next time we go.
There are horses – both big and miniature! The big horses were in the stables, but they do go out on the fields when the weather is warmer. It’s lovely to see the miniature horses trotting around!
You are asked not to feed the animals, and do be wary if you go to pet any of them as there are also warning signs that some animals bite. As I said earlier, there are hand-washing facilities (at the farm entrance) but it’s probably also worth taking a bottle of anti-bac in your bag.
There are a couple of donkeys, again, they go out on the fields when the weather is warmer!
And so many different breeds of sheep and goats too! Children who love farm animals will love this place – I know my boy loved visiting here when he was little – and it was a bonus for me back then, when I was a single mum on benefits as I only had to pay to get there.
I have seen cows at the farm before, and there were also a couple of pigs too the last time (before this, that is) that we visited, but I think they must have been hiding in their sheds.
As well as all the large animals, there are also smaller furry friends including rabbits, guinea pigs, and I think, a chipmunk! He was burying himself into some dirt, so I couldn’t get a photo of him! There were also some quails, and I remember that they used to have a couple of owls as well.
By no means is this a huge farm – you could probably walk up and down it in about half an hour or, but for a fun free activity and a way to see some farm animals, it’s a great way to spend some time. Of course, you could take longer, looking at the animals, talking about them with your children, and playing in the adventure areas. Plus you have the rest of the Country Park to explore. You could easily spend a day in Hainault Forest on a lovely warm summer day!
And whilst you can see all of the farm animals, don’t forget to look out for wild animals too! You’ll always see a squirrel, and there are lots of wild fowl on the lake!
So if you’re in Essex/London and looking for somewhere new to go, why not give Hainault Forest Country Park a try? Get there early, especially in summer, take a picnic and enjoy the beautiful open spaces that this county has to offer.
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