As a family, we love being outdoors and discovering new places. We first visited Moors Valley Country Park a few years back but didn’t get to stay very long and then just kept forgetting to drive back to explore it further. Located in Dorset, Ringwood near to Bournemouth, it is around an hours drive for us so it definitely needed a whole day dedicated to returning and now that both of the boys are at the stage of being able to enjoy things together, it seemed like the right time to head back down there.
About Moors Valley Country Park
The country park is completely free to enter but there is a car park fee if you choose to drive there. All day cost us £12, but as a family of 4, this actually works out as a pretty cheap day out for all of us. Most attractions we visit will charge an entry fee per person and most are not overly affordable to do often, for example, our local country park may not charge car park but they do charge for entry and a child’s ticket now costs the same as an adult one, £13.75! So, we were happy to pay parking. However, if you live nearby or know somebody who does, you can walk into the country park for free.
The park has a visitors information post, a gift shop, a cafe, Go Ape, play areas, a large pond you can walk around, miniature steam train, a Ranger Den, Zog trail, woods with trails and cycle areas as well as planned events throughout the year. One thing they don’t have, though, are bins. The park would like you to take all of your rubbish home unless you purchased from them, so be prepared and take a rubbish bag or pack using reusable boxes, drinks bottles, beeswax wraps and so on.
The park is run by rangers who are employed by Dorset Council. They are responsible for the management of the Country Park area including the play areas, lakes, rivers, meadows and woodland areas. They also provide environmental education sessions for school groups, organise and run the events programme and provide visitor services in the Visitor Centre. The forest is looked after by the forestry commission and both work closely together in order to maintain a beautiful space for the public to enjoy as well as preserving and protecting the wildlife and environment.
Onto the fun…
The play areas are just so much fun for all ages. The first area you go into is for slightly older children. Jake is 5 and loved some of the activities including the slide and tyre swings but he is still a little nervous about climbing high up, so the climbing frame and larger slide was a bit daunting for him. If you walk through this play area, you’ll see a low tunnel which will bring you out into the smaller play area which is perfect for little ones up to around 6/7 I would say. This area is also sandy so don’t forget your bucket and spade!
Both of the boys loved this second play area and spent plenty of time happily playing together and with other children, exploring and climbing the equipment. It is all enclosed so feels nice and safe, plus the floor is all sand which makes it perfect for any falls.
The Miniature Steam Train
Probably the most popular attraction at the Country Park, the miniature steam train runs all day long running between two stations, Lakeside and Kingsmere. Lakeside is located next to the lake and picnic area and you can purchase tickets in the kiosk. From here it runs to the next station where you can enjoy a snack and drink plus a wander around the shop and then enjoy the return journey which takes you through tunnels, around bends and the play areas. The children go crazy for the train and it’s not hard to see why. With real steam, whistles and toots, drivers in full uniform and more than one running at once, it is almost like the Island of Sodor has come to life!
You can see the joy on William’s face as we got going! He was buzzing the entire time. Once at the next station we were just amazed by the detail and layout of it all.
The shop is full of Thomas the Tank Engine trains, toys and products, Moors Valley souvenirs and other train collectables for the avid collector. Of course, we didn’t come away empty-handed!
Once back outside the boys enjoyed watching the toy trains on their tracks as well as the trains coming and going whilst waiting for our ride back.
There is a small charge for the train ride per person and you can choose whether or not you want a single ticket or return.
We took our own snacks and water but thought we’d grab lunch whilst we were there. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day which meant that inside was packed out. We opted for some sandwiches and pasta to take away. I didn’t get a chance to look at what hot food was available as we knew we couldn’t sit in with it which was a shame as I would have preferred to have had a warm meal on such a damp day but I guess everybody else had the same idea. I think next time we will take our own packed lunch because none of it was plastic-free, even my pasta came with a plastic fork which was really disappointing to see. However, they do sell very, very nice cakes!
The Ranger Den is an area inside the building which is dedicated to educating visitors on wildlife, nature and the Moors. Open during the school holidays, you can come in and get hands-on, speak to rangers about the displays and learn so much more about what creatures are living in the area. Both of the boys loved it inside the den, the staff were super friendly and informative and it was lovely to see all of the families getting so involved.
The Play Trail
Not only is the forest a great place to explore it also holds other things to discover. At the entrance is Go Ape which is a treetop climbing activity for adults and children 6+. It looked like so much fun but Jake isn’t quite old enough yet. As we wandered into the woods we saw the sign for the play trail and came across several wooden play areas which were ideal for both children.
We didn’t manage to get around all of the areas due to the rain and time getting on but there is just so much here that I think you could easily come back and discover something new each time. We didn’t get a chance to even look at the Zog trail. I would love to venture further into the forest next time.
Overall, Moors Valley Country Park is a winner for us and we’d highly recommend you go for a visit.
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