“I do love the beginning of the summer hols,’ said Julian. They always seem to stretch out ahead for ages and ages.”
― Enid Blyton,
If the prospect of those endlessly stretching summer holidays strikes fear deep in your core, then you may have just found your plaid comfort blanket. I had to start this post with a Blyton quote, pretty much because no mention of Studland Bay and the Purbeck region can escape the Enid Blyton references. So, if you fancy going all Blytonesque Pinterest village vintage – then this is the place. All you really need is a picnic and a bucket and spade. Hmm…and probably some towels, sunscreen, change of clothes, bunting, gingham picnic blanket and wicker basket, thermos, wooden rowing boat and a crate of Ginger Beer. And a dog. To really be authentic.
Rather than wait until the summer holidays, I would suggest you make like a local, and visit out of season- before the beachgoing hordes begin their descent and mean you will have to park miles away from the beach. Potentially you may even have to park on a verge and carry all your Blyton props for quite a long way.
May, September and October are your best bets for good parking and sunshine, with November and December having just about every car park space free. That’s because this time of year is better suited to generating that “healthy glow” after being slighty battered by the wind and partially frozen during a brisk walk. This sounds a bit rubbish but comes with the plus side of making you look like a really outdoorsy, adventurous, sporty family on your Instagram feed. Especially if one, or more of you, wear a North Face jacket- or anything by Berghaus.
Whenever my friends and their children come down to visit from London, this is where I take them. Year round. I’m a pretty optimistic person so I have been known to join the August throngs- but there was a Cider and Beer festival on at the Bankes Arms during that time (August 11th-14th) so that eventually made up for sitting in traffic for hours. If you are smart you will get a bike like everybody else, park up further away from Sandbanks on Shore Rd and cycle over, crossing by the chain ferry.
Even going on the Sandbanks chain ferry to Studland is an adventure. I still get excited by it now and refuse to go the road way (past Wareham) whenever I visit. Just getting out the car while it is parked in a queue on the road seems incredibly daring. Getting out while on the ferry to climb upstairs and get some fresh air evokes memories of school trips to France and in a few short moments you can actually begin to start to think you are on holiday. It’s a pretty cool view.
Plus the chain ferry can give some respite from whatever carnage is potentially occurring in the back of the car by offering a distraction. Distractions are the key to parenting in my book. If all seems peaceful in the back, then sit back and enjoy the view (or nip out for an ice cream/ quick fag, whichever floats your boat.) Do note that it can be a bit pressed for space on the chain ferry, and it doesn’t take very long. If you need to open the car doors wide to wrestle a small child from their car seat to go admire the view, or you are pretty useless with the car seat and strapping your child in, you might be best to make up some reason why children can’t get out and content yourself with the knowledge that nothing lasts forever and about 5 minutes drive after the toll booth you will reach….The Beach.
My “beach of choice” (as there are a few) is Knoll Beach. They all have really great National Trust names, like South Beach, Shell Bay and the cleverly named Middle Beach.
The picture below is from Knoll Beach. In May. Call me a beach snob- but I always hire a beach hut if I can. The National Trust hire some of them daily- ranging from £12-£30 depending on the time of year. Essentially what you get for that is a wooden shed, with two deckchairs in it and a dustpan and brush. Far more importantly though, the kids get the adventure of finding it and you get the feeling of superiority over other beach users who don’t have the luxury of their own dustpan and brush for the day.
You also get the added bonus of a sand dune to either protect you from the howling wind, or turn your beach hut sand garden into a mini San Tropez (albeit with deckchairs and not sun loungers.)
The National Trust also have an office at this beach, and can provide treasure hunts, those funny sticky pom pom bugs on a ribbon, membership and all kinds of things to keep the children busy. It means you have to get up from your deckchair- but such are the sacrifices us parents have to make. You could probably sell it to yourself with the fact you can get a nice hot chocolate up at the cafe, or go have a wee. There is also a shop, which sells all the stuff you really need at the beach, but won’t remember to bring with you next time. If you want to do your own dinner down at the beach and you remembered to pack all your Blyton props, then there is a designated BBQ area. Really, if you want to be all modern day Blyton then you will have to shop at Waitrose for the coals and have a kettle BBQ. Like I do.
Once you tire of the beach- the good news is- you still have loads of options. Depending on time of year I would recommend (summertime) visiting The Pig-On the Beach, about 5 minutes drive on from Knoll Beach. There are amazing grounds, where your small people can be free to roam, and an outside bar and wood fired oven so you don’t need to.
Off peak times, and especially during winter months- head back over the chain ferry to The Sandbanks hotel. Here they have a lovely warm bar, but not only that, there’s the added bonus of a beachfront playground, where you can sit with one eye on the beautiful beach and coastline- and the other on your kids attempting to blast themselves into oblivion on the see-saw.
Down the road you will find Sandbanks Beach, with a huge play park and a crazy golf course, plus obviously- a beach…again. There is a cafe serving fish and chips or if you are feeling really posh (and brave taking children) then venture over to the new Rick Stein restaurant where you can merrily dispose of your holiday budget and the kids pocket money while enjoying a lovely view. If you are a bit cheap (like me) then I would forgo that idea and instead head back up Sandbanks Road to TJ’s fish and chip shop. You can then eat in the car across from Brownsea Island while watching the parasailers (this is a year round activity). Or just head back to the Beach, seeing as it’s everywhere.
Including, by now, all over the inside of your car.
Have a great trip.