The perfect day out with a toddler is a balancing act. You need to find somewhere they can run off their energy in safety. Somewhere the parents can relax a little. Where food and drink and loos are on hand and plentiful. And preferably some cute animals for the whole family to go “Ahhh” at.
Hobbledown Farm in Surrey gave us all this in a few small acres on the edge of London’s urban sprawl. In fact, it was the most succesful family day out we’ve yet had.
A day out with Little B brings with it a range of stresses and distractions that have sometimes left us wondering if we should have stayed at home. We are getting better at it but I think there is a lingering desire to have the kind of trip we got used to in the previous decades of our child free life.
Our foolish heads are still full of country walks, languid picnics, afternoon teas in bucolic villages. Now we have to factor in ‘walking the toddler’. This is much like walking a dog but with even less control over where the walk will take you. Little B’s limit for being transported in his buggy is now around an hour max. After that he will start to get thoroughly hacked off about it and demand to be let loose on the world.
I’d be exactly the same. Once you know how to get around on your own two feet why would you want to be pushed around by your parents? Unless you’re tired and fancy a nap.
So when planning a day out we have a set radius from our home in south London from where we can strike out before buggy limits are reached. Thankfully, our childminder had already scoped out Hobbledown Farm with her two boys so we knew if was within the safe zone.
It would be much easier to get there by car but for now we’re restricted to public transport. So a short train journey to Epsom went down very well as it gave Little B ample opportunity to pursue his new hobby of Train Shouting. This is a bit like Train Spotting but whenever you see a train instead of noting it down in a little book you shout “Traaaaaiiinn” as loudly as you can. This game got us to Epsom, which has a station with cashpoints, a Costa Coffee and a Tesco – all parent essentials.
You walk left out of the station and round to the bus stop under the railway bridge to catch the E9 bus that takes you on a 15 minute ride almost to the farm entrance. We were pleasantly surprised by how friendly and helpful the bus driver was. Nothing like the grumpy sods we get in London – and we were only half an hour outside the city!
We arrived around 11am and there was already a packed car park. This was the August Bank Holiday weekend so we had expected it to be crowded, however once through the gates there was enough room for everyone.
The best way I can think of to describe the Hobbledown concept is a farm that’s been transported to a Harry Potter/Hobbit world. As you enter you’ll find tents and what looks like a training ground for miniature Knights. Paths weave temptingly out in different directions with signposts suggesting you visit the Field Of Confusion or The Crystallite Mine!
If you have older children this fantasy world, complete with its own narrative and challenges will captivate them. Little B simply ran off down a path at random and we followed. This is what we do, but not having to worry about him running into a road or a river or losing him took the stress away. We were happy to amble after him and take turns at having a sit down on the many benches and picnic tables.
Our adventurer led us to the afore-mentioned mines where a giant sand pit has been laid out with hillocks with tunnels running through them, stockades, buckets on chains that you can move around, and a small assault course perfect for younger children. After watching the older children for a while I realised they were hunting for ‘gems’ in the sand which can be exchanged for a lollipop at the cafe! Little B was happy going in and out of tunnels and up and down hills.
The only thing to watch out for is what I think is the gem-panning area where a small pool of water has formed in the sand from jets that occasionally erupt out of a totem pole! Of course, Little B went straight for it and had a good splash before I had chance to put his wellies on. Never mind, his shoes needed a wash anyway! But then he fell splat face down in the water and had to be scooped up and taken off for a complete wardrobe change.
After that we decided to move on and found the first of the menagerie – a family of meerkats.
I would have happily stayed and watched these guys playing but Little B was on a toddler mission so we had to move on.
There is a great range of animals for those of you with children who’ll appreciate them. There are the usual breeds of farm animals – pigs, goats, sheep, cows, hens and geese – alongside the more exotic Alpacas, Rhea’s and Parrots. Best of all are the ones you can get up close to! In a carefully managed pen were guinea pigs, rabbits.
Sometimes when I see animals like this I feel worried that they are stressed by all the petting. But at Hobbledown I can report that the handlers were on the lookout for over eager and excited children. And there were more little fellows resting in Bundles Barn so it looked like they were taken out for short petting periods and then had a nice break!
There must be wizardry about however as we also found two poor animals who’d been turned to stone! Little B tried to magic them better with his special Huugz spell but it didn’t work.
Next we checked out a massive Tipi where there was soon to be storytelling – but Little B had no time to wait around for that!
Eventually we wandered back to the Barn for food and a quick scamper in the soft play area.
This is an amazing place perfect if it’s raining but great fun anytime. If it’s busy you’ll be given a time slot but if not your little ones can play as long as they like. There were two main sections – a classic enclosed soft play area all surrounded by mesh and slides and tunnels between different levels. And opposite that what looked like an indoor castle, with ramparts and cannons for the defenders firing soft cannon balls at the attackers!
After all that you’ll all be ready for something to eat. There is a big indoor cafe and food hall, plus a pleasant outdoor seating area in the farm-yard surrounded by more sand pits and places to explore, so adults can have a break while the children play safely.
Children’s dishes are around £3.50 which is very reasonable; Little B had fish fingers with rice, peas and sweetcorn. I felt that some of the adult dishes were a bit on the pricey side however; £6.40 for four Moroccan meatballs and a few mouthfuls of rice. The food is good quality overall, although my healthy slaw did look like it’d been hanging around a while. These are minor points however and the wraps looked good value at £4.50. But you can always take a picnic if the weather allows.
There are lots of activities going on throughout the day – face painting, storytelling, and at the end of the day a mini-festival in the Field of Confusion; all very Glastonbury! We also found some child-friendly zorbing and a high-ropes adventure course for older children (or small adults).
Hobbledown pitch themselves at a wide age range of two to thirteen and there was certainly plenty of variety. It was great having clearly defined zones with space to wander between as we were never worried about Little B getting jostled by older kids or finding himself in a tricky situation on a climbing frame!
Entry for two adults and two children will cost £52 at weekends and Bank Holidays before 3pm. So if you are going to come more than once it’s probably worth looking at some of their annual season ticket offers. You can certainly get your Hobble-worth of fun for the money though as the farm is open from 9am until 8pm on Saturdays and closes a little earlier during the week.
Overall, I’d recommend Hobbledown as a great family day out with plenty to occupy children of different ages. Little B fell asleep before we’d even said goodbye to the RumpleTump and happily kicked his legs all the way home, dreaming of running through Hobbledown Village chasing rabbits.
*This is NOT a sponsored post – we went to Hobbledown of our own accord but we’d be very happy to go back! 😉