Family days out in Dorset

The four-mile stretch of sand at Knoll Beach in Studland. Image: David Levenson

The four-mile stretch of sand at Knoll Beach in Studland. Image: David Levenson - Credit: Archant

Looking for things to do with the children during the holidays? Here are five ideas to keep the family entertained.

Corfe Castle has a rich history waiting to be discovered. Image: National Trust

Corfe Castle has a rich history waiting to be discovered. Image: National Trust - Credit: Archant

Play hide and seek at Corfe Castle

The jagged remains of Corfe Castle loom over the village of the same name, guarding the only natural route through the chalky Purbeck Hills. The earliest part of the castle was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and Corfe remained a royal fortress until the 16th century when Elizabeth I sold it to her Lord Chancellor, Sir Christopher Hatton.

The romantic ruins that now dominate the skyline are the result of Corfe Castle being blown apart with explosives by Oliver Cromwell’s men during the English Civil War. To get an idea of how magnificent the castle once was visit the model village, which depicts the castle in 1646 before it was razed.

Quite apart from searching out the numerous hiding places, arrow slits, portcullis grooves and murder holes - gaps through which soldiers could drop rocks, hot ashes or boiling water onto the enemy - 21st-century kids can contemplate life in the dungeon of a medieval castle.

Out in the sunshine kids will love playing on the slopes beneath the ramparts which are ideal for rolling down. Another ‘must do’ is a visit to the Ginger Pop Shop, which not only sells lashings of ginger beer but also stocks more than 150 Enid Blyton titles. The famous children’s author first visited Dorset in 1931 and holidayed in the nearby seaside resort of Swanage three times a year for more than 20 years. In the summer Enid would swim around the piers each evening before dinner.

The Rock Pool at Kimmeridge Bay is a fun day for all the family

The Rock Pool at Kimmeridge Bay is a fun day for all the family - Credit: Archant

Corfe Castle is thought to be the inspiration for Kirrin Castle in the Famous Five series. To arrive at Corfe Castle in Famous Five style park at Norden Station (pay and display) and step aboard a Swanage Railway steam train for a two minute journey into the heart of the village.

Corfe Castle is owned by the National Trust which runs a huge variety of events at Corfe including historic re-enactments, knight and damsel schools, jousting and falconry displays.

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Rock Pool Safari at Kimmeridge Bay

Kimmeridge is at the centre of the Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve and is a great place for snorkelling and diving as well as rock pooling and exploring the shoreline.

On the site of an old fisherman’s hut, by the slipway, is the Fine Foundation Marine Centre. Run by Dorset Wildlife Trust, in summer you can watch the goings-on underwater via a live seabed camera and view some local residents in a seawater tank. Wildlife wardens run regular events including rock pool rambles and face-only snorkelling to start you on your journey into another world.

Entertain the whole family at Moors Valley Country Park

Entertain the whole family at Moors Valley Country Park - Credit: Archant

There are guided rock pool rambles from the Marine Centre on dates in May and August (call 01929 481044 for dates and times). For a self-guided rock pool safari hire a Seashore Explorer back-pack (£5 from the Marine Centre). The pack includes a seashore ID guide, magnifying bug pots and eco crabbing kit which you can keep. For older children and adults a kayak safari in clear-bottomed kayaks with goggle finders gives you a unique window into the underwater world. Cost £25 pp, 12+ yr-olds only.

Booking is essential. Call the Marine Centre on 01929 481044 to book.

Cycling at Moors Valley

The New Forest, just over the border in Hampshire, is the Forestry Commission’s most popular site in the UK and one of the main points of entry to the forest is through Moors Valley Country Park, owned by East Dorset District Council.

The four-mile stretch of sand at Knoll Beach in Studland. Image: David Levenson

The four-mile stretch of sand at Knoll Beach in Studland. Image: David Levenson - Credit: Archant

From here you can walk or cycle round a choice of way marked trails. Early in the morning you may catch a glimpse of a roe deer, in the shimmer of midday watch dragonflies hovering over one of the park’s many lakes or as dusk falls hear the churring of nightjars.

There’s a permanent orienteering course with 50 markers as well as a 2-mile fitness trail, with benches, parallel bars, beams and hurdles offering exercises for different muscle groups. A giant ants’ nest, a snake pit and an enormous spider’s web, all made from timber and rope, are part of a mile-long trail to entice families with small children away from the playgrounds, steam train and central lake and into the deep, dark, wood.

Sections of the route take you ducking under overhanging branches, while above your head whizz older children and adults enjoying Go Ape - a high-wire assault course of zip lines, Tarzan swings and rope ladders for adrenalin junkies. If hurling yourself from the treetops seems a bit much, you can still get a great aerial view of the forest from an elevated walkway 5metres above ground level. Stand on the wooden platform, close your eyes, inhale the smell of pine and listen to the wind whispering through the trees.

There is a visitor centre and ample car parking. Bikes, including trailers, tag-a-longs and a free wheelchair bike, are available for hire. There are regular ranger-led cycle rides in the forest and mountain bike events for kids in the school holidays. To go on the high-wire assault course, book in advance for Go Ape on 0845 0948634.

Studland Beach and Sand Dunes

The ancient village of Studland was the inspiration for Toytown in Enid Blyton’s Noddy books but it’s the beaches round the curving bay that most people come to enjoy. The 4-mile stretch of golden sand shelves gently into the sea and at Knoll Beach (where you will also find a café), which is the hub, you can hire kayaks and pedalos - even a beach hut for the day or week if that takes your fancy. In high summer a big attraction for children is the ice-cream boat that cruises along selling drinks and lollies. Seahorses have been discovered in the bay, where they live among the beds of eel grass, and there is so much else to explore.

The beaches are backed by sand dunes and heathland of the type vividly brought to life by Thomas Hardy in The Return of the Native. This rare habitat, part of a National Nature Reserve, is home to all six native British reptiles: smooth snake, sand lizard, common lizard, slow worm, grass snake and adder.

Rising out of the sea are the white chalk stacks of old Harry Rocks, old Harry being a popular term for the Devil, or perhaps they were named after the 15th-century pirate Harry Paye, who regularly attacked merchant ships leaving Poole harbour. In the cliffs are caves called the Devil’s Den, which are always warm - the fires of Hell have left their mark there.

Studland Beach and Nature Reserve is owned by the National Trust who also run a number of events during the holidays including pirate and smuggler-themed days, seashore scavenges and paddle board and canoe events for adult.