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!

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!

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.

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.


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.

Pensthorpe – a fantastic family day out.

At the weekend we jumped in the car and trundled off to Pensthorpe. A beautiful nature reserve set in the tranquil Wensum Valley, just outside Fakenham. I wasn’t sure what to expect, would it simply be walks around wetland and spotting some pretty birds and butterflies?

I was hugely impressed, I mean really impressed with the place. Not only is it beautiful but it’s interesting, fun and interactive all at the same time – without relying on huge rides and lurid lighting. It’s nature at it’s best, with a few ma nmade additions which sit respectfully alongside and only add to a magical experience.  We walked through the gift shop, got our badges and maps from the friendly, helpful staff and off we went on an adventure.

Pensthorpe is a wonderful natural playground and we explored most of it. We did the bug walk and Arthur spotted centipedes and butterflies. We wandered up to the bird hide and later Arthur saw his first red squirrels - a testament to the conservation work happening all around the reserve. The wildflower meadow is just beautiful and all around there are places to sit, picnic and take in the views. It’s extremely well thought out and catered for everyone with really good wheelchair access and clear sign-posting throughout.

Didn't we have a lovely time the day we went to Pensthorpe

Our walk was punctuated with I-spy moments were tiny natural treaures had been placed under a magnifying glass for children to wonder at. I say children, but we were looking too. When else do you get the chance to slow down and really see what’s around you. I absolutely loved watching his face when he saw a dragonfly or watched a swan in the water – he was amazed and what more can you ask from a day out!

It’s utterly stunning and the sunshine helped oil the wheels of our walk – with stops for lunch and a few other things we managed to while away five hours and that’s with a toddler walking most of the time too. Arthur loved it because we could let him run around and enjoy being free.

He built dens with daddy, went pond dipping with the nets provided searching for tadpoles and Boatman. We found a lot of slimey grass and not many insects but he was very happy! He was fascinated by the cranes which stood back from the main path and just kept shouting,’mummy, let’s see big birds!’.


Geese wander freely and you can buy special feed for the numerous wildlife swimming in the water and enjoyig the sun. It was clear it appeals to all ages and we saw lots of older people, wheelchairs and large families all enjoying the day.

Pensthorpe also run their own Wensum Discovery tours which you can book when you arrive and is a chance to see some of the areas you might have missed during a walk.

The amazing new Wild Rootz adventure Playground was a huge hit with Arthur and is really worth a visit – although take a towel and some spare clothes because the little stream is a hugely inviting for small people! Arthur and his dad spent ages on the fantastic twisting slides and we all loved crawling through the rabbit and mole tunnels.

The sandy area is great and Arthur loved sitting on the digger and making piles of sand. I really enjoyed the musical area with a vertical xylophone, jingly jangly triangles to play and a fantastically addictive seesaw board which plays notes when you stand on it. We could ahve spent a lot more time there but I wanted to make sure we saw as much as possible.

Wild Rootz was great for Arthur at two and a half and works for all ages with ropes to climb, zip wires, and the wonderful sandy stream which surrounds the area. It’s beautifully done and even the benches and tables are carved wood with owls and other creatures carved into them – attention to detail is second to none and really adds to the experience.

No day is complete without trying the cafe and we were not disappointed. It’s all locally sourced and fresh with specials ranging from local sausage baguettes to creamy mushrooms on toast and delicious looking cakes and scones, We wanted to sit outside but sadly the wasps had had the nod it was busy so we made an escape indoors where it’s spacious and bright. Well worth a visit.

I would go back in a heart beat. There are few places you can go where you have a genuinely fantastic day but also know you’re helping to keep the natural world alive and healthy. Pensthorpe surprised me and I can’t recommend it highly enough.