Keeping the kids busy and entertained during the school holidays is a perennial problem for parents but if you are anywhere near the South Downs National Park this summer there’s no excuse to be bored and it shouldn’t break the bank either.
Here’s some ideas for fun and interesting activities:
1. Big Butterfly Count
If the weather is clear and calm with a bit of sunshine, find a meadow or chalk grassland and see how many butterflies you can count. Butterfly Conservation (BC) are running their annual Big Butterfly Count (from July 14 – August 6) aiming to get a feel for the health of the butterfly population around the country. Do your bit to help by noting the number of any species you spot and then logging the results with BC.
Don’t worry if you don’t know your Peacock from your Red Admiral, BC have thought of that and have a handy butterfly chart to download or a free app for iOS and Android to help identify and record the butterflies you spot. You’ll probably find that the children pick it up faster than you do! Every entry counts so see how many you can see.
2. Rock-pooling at Birling Gap
Our partners The National Trust manage the coastal site at the iconic Birling Gap with views of the Seven Sisters cliffs. Take a picnic and head down the steps from the car park to spend the day on the beach. As the tide goes out there’s a myriad of sea creatures such as baby fish, pink anemones and small crabs living in the pools left at the shore side. You may even be lucky enough to spot a starfish. Tracker packs for rock pooling can be picked up from the Visitor Centre. Check tide timetables to plan your day.
3. Make a bee house
One of the activities we have put together for National Parks Week (July 24 – 30) is to Make a Bee House. The South Downs National Park is home to lots of curious insects like the red mason bee, leaf cutter bees and sand wasps.
This can be easily made at home (some adult assistance with cutting may be required) and then installed in a sheltered location in your garden or outside space. Bees and other insects will enjoy taking up residence in the spaces provided, laying eggs ready to emerge next spring.
4. Secrets of the Heath
Nature reserves are an inspiring place to take children and the South Downs National Park has many to choose from. Summer is a fantastic time to visit our heathlands to see the heather in full purple bloom. There are heathland reserves such as Iping and Stedham Common, Harting Down (NT), Lavington Common (NT) or Petersfield heath. Go and visit these at any time but if you prefer an organised event why not investigate our “Meet the Cattle” event or one of our “Reptile encounters“. Just before the kids go back to school we have the Secrets of the Heath event at Petersfield Heath over the weekend of September 2 & 3. A FREE community event with interactive educational activities for the whole family to highlight what makes these rare and beautiful heathlands so special.
Geocaching is a real-world treasure hunt that combines being outdoors, exercise and technology. It has become a hugely popular activity for families – particularly those with older children. We have created the South Downs GeoTour (England’s first GeoTour) to help you to discover the hidden gems in the National Park.
There are 30 geocaches in the tour. Join in the challenge to earn your own souvenir GeoCoin. Collect points by visiting geocaches, attending special events, travelling sustainably, eating and staying locally. You can now also grab bonus points for cycling to caches on the cycle network. Read more about Geocaching in the South Downs National Park.
6. Enjoy our Cultural Heritage
The South Downs National Park doesn’t just celebrate and protect our natural spaces and wildlife. They also have a duty to conserve and enhance the cultural heritage of the area. As well as the castles (Arundel and Lewes) and the numerous museums that we all love and recognise as part of our cultural heritage there are the hidden landscapes and forgotten stories that make up our national park. In the west of the park try visiting Old Winchester Hill National Nature Reserve. Known not only for its stunning views and chalk grassland which is home to a rich variety of wildlife and plants, it is also an important archaeological site with Bronze Age burial mounds and well preserved Iron Age hill fort ramparts.
Central to the park near Amberley in West Sussex and worth a visit is Bignor Roman Villa – the stunning remains of a Roman home with world-class mosaic floors in a beautiful down land setting. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children costs £16.
Further east enjoy the cultural heritage provided by some of the 20th Century’s most influential artists, writers and thinkers – those of the “Bloomsbury group” who made Charleston House their home. Visit the house and see how the South Downs’ landscape influenced their art and writing, experience the extraordinary interior decoration of the house and the beautiful artists’ garden.
Of course this year all over Britain we have been celebrating the life of Jane Austen, one of our most cherished authors who was born and died in the South Downs National Park on the 200th anniversary of her death. There are lots of Jane Austen inspired events around the Chawton, Basingstoke and Winchester areas where Jane was based. For more details see janeausten200.co.uk which brings together all the exhibitions, talks, walks and events happening this year.
7. Further inspiration
There are many fun and interesting organised events happening this summer around the National Park – many of which are free. In fact there are so many events that it is impossible to list them all here. However you can search the directory from our Events Calendar, input a particular date or event type and see if anything catches your eye.
For further inspiration, check out our “Enjoy” section on our website – southdowns.gov.uk/enjoy.