Pensthorpe – a jewel in Norfolk’s crown

Today we headed out to one of our favourite Norfolk family destinations; Pensthorpe Nature Reserve.
I’m a huge fan because it encompasses everything I want for a day out with children. Fresh air, beautiful places for them to run and hide and use their imaginations plus, it doesn’t have loads of garish rides and over priced ‘fun’.

Pensthorpe is in North Norfolk just outside Fakenham and is a wonderful reserve which really has something for all ages. Walking through the beautiful gardens you can’t help but be wowed by the plants and amazing water gardens.

Through the gates and we were greeted by the ducks and geese who waddle around waiting for food. You can buy the food from the shop on your way in and the children loved watching the birds go crazy for the contents of their brown paper bags!

Luckily the rain held off and the sun came out so we stopped at the pond dipping area and had a wonderful time with one of the volunteers who spent ages with the children talking them through how to scoop the water and helping them on their little voyage of discovery. The joy on their faces when they found a tiny fish or a water spider was priceless – although the adults were a bit peeved when we could even catch weed!
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We could have stayed there a lot longer but the call of the amazing WildRootz outdoor play area was calling. It’s a totally supercharged playground with amazing wooden structures, fantastic slides and even a musical area where walking across the wooded sets creates wonderful sounds!
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The stream running around the outside is a firm favourite and the children were soon down to their undies and running around having the best time ever.
I love the fact it’s all wooden, all in keeping with this beautiful reserve and the attention to detail is stunning – even the benches have animals carved into them and every area is homage to the educational ,and conservation work they do.
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You can watch the Red squirrels, scatty and crazy, running through their enclosures and look up and you’ll see signs letting you know things like:” bats always turn left when they leave their caves”. Every corner you turn captures nature in its finest hour.

Pensthorpe has just opened its new indoor play area too. Hoots House is in keeping, all made out of wood and a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours if the weather isn’t kind.
There’s a cafe inside and they’ve very sensibly divided times so you book a slot. We had 1.30 til 3 pm, so it means it’s never too crazy busy. The children had a wonderful time and it kept three four year olds and a five year old fully engaged for well over an hour. There is an area for under fives and the rest is based in ability so you can make a judgement. Lots of hiding places, a great slide and some fantastic wooden walkways made for a great indoor adventure.

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There is a seating area upstairs but it would be nice if there was some seating downstairs as this would make it easier to watch the children and have a coffee without having to run up and down stairs. The staff were very friendly and explained everything really well. I also noticed they always had a couple wandering round to keep an eye on the children which is reassuring. It’s a great addition to Pensthorpe and I love that they’ve kept the theme to match the glorious outside space too.

Pensthorpe has so many options. You can take a walk around the whole place and get your stamps to collect your badge at the end. You can take in the red squirrels, flamingos and gigantic stalks. There are wonderful walks through the maintained gardens or around the waterways. You can even watch feeding time sitting inside the viewing area – this is highly recommended on a colder day. We’ve been when it’s got chilly and the children have loved sitting and watching all the birds on the shore ‘ having their tea’.
It offers fodder for their imagination, a chance to learn without really realising and a wonderful experience for adults too. Pensthorpe does have a special place in my heart and somewhere we’ll be coming back to year after year.

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