NHM Readers Recommend: Local Country Parks

An NHM Reader recently asked: “Would anyone be able to recommend some local country parks? We like Wellington but it’s so expensive!” 

Many thanks to the NHM Community for all of your responses, listed below in no particular order.

Please bear in mind that listings may change in subsequent years, but hopefully they will still be a good base point for your own research.

NHM Readers Recommend: Local Country Parks

Andrea said “All about a 30-50 min drive away. Dinton Pastures, Itchen Valley, Moors Valley, Royal Victoria, all free except for parking.

Clare saidAlice Holt has the gruffalo trail and in the summer  Moors Valley in the New Forest is great for a while day with only parking to pay”

Charlene saidAlice Holt, Virginia Waters

Dan saidFleet ponds is lovely to walk around.”

Sarah saidCalifornia country park just pay parking”

Jo R saidAlice Holt, Bracknell look out (cheaper later in day) outside free. California country park. Dinton Pastures. Frensham big and little ponds. Elizabeth Country Park. Sign up to National Trust for less than £10 a month then go as many times as you can!

Vicky saidSome great suggestions! We went to California country park for the first time in October and we’ll be going back in the summer to try out the paddling pool (think it’s a £2.50 charge for the pool).”

Tracy saidBeale Park season ticket is very very good value!”

Emma L said “Defo Alice Holt and there’s one in Reading Dinton I think”

Rebecca said I love California country park

Aimee saidDinton Pastures is awesome”

Jo W saidVirginia Waters is beautiful”

Alison saidThatcham discovery centre and Charlton lakes are great

Heather saidQueen Elizabeth Country Park in Petersfield. All free exc small parking fee and brilliant. Drive right to the top for excellent play areas and open spaces. And an obstacle course.”

Jenny saidAlice Holt and Dinton both fab – only pay for parking”

Rachel saidDinton Pastures is brill and free apart from parking. Also nature discovery in Newbury which you just have to pay parking for.”

Emma H saidMoors Valley, you just pay for parking. It’s ace!! There’s also one in eastleigh but I can’t remember the name”

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NHM Readers Recommend: Places to go that include Train Rides

I recently had a question from an NHM Reader that I asked the NHM Community to help with: “Can anyone recommend places in Hampshire or close by that include train rides?”

Many thanks for all of your replies, listed below in no particular order.

Please bear in mind that listings may change in subsequent years, but hopefully they will still be a good base point for your own research.

NHM Readers Recommend: Places to go that include Train Rides

Stefanie saidThe watercress line in Alton. There is also a miniature railway at Viables in Basingstoke.”

Amanda saidWellington country park has a miniature railway”

Becky said “There is a train at Beale Park near pangbourne which is Berkshire but not too far from the Hampshire border”

Wendy said “There’s this one in Eastleigh but most will be shut throughout Jan and Feb http://www.steamtrain.co.uk/

Jo saidRoyal Victoria country park…we went there yesterday.”

Pixie saidDidcot and Swindon but a bit further out.”

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NHM Readers Recommend: Free holiday activities for families 2019

In July 2018, a NHM Reader asked: “Do you have a list of free activities over the holiday which includes older siblings?”

Thank you for all your responses, they are listed below in no particular order. All opinions are the readers own and are not that of NHM.

NHM Readers Recommend: Free holiday activities for families 2019

Jools said, “Basingstoke children and families page has loads of free stuff or very inexpensive including things at Westside cc, viables community centre, Popley fields and Streetz which happen across Basingstoke and caters for older children. Things on every day mon-fri.”

Vicky said, “We did pets at home workshop. Had booked both girls in, who are 6 and 9, but my 9 year old backed out my my 6 year old got to hold a rat, bunny and guinea pig which she loved then there was a small activity box to take away with you. There were mainly younger ones but only half an hour and free! You do have to book online though as max of 12 kids. The lady was very knowledgeable.”

Becky said, “Good question. With a 4 yr old and a 12 year old it is difficult to find things on offer that allow both younger and older children.”

Louise said, “Blackberry picking?” Also check out the free sessions at your local Apple Store. They do educational sessions twice a day that you can book on for free. 

Rebecca said, “Hobbycraft do lots of free craft activities which both kids might like. Included slime making today and you take home the slime you make, that is good or bad depending on how you look at it!”

Hannah said, “We took our three (eldest 10/youngest 3) to the splash pad in popley (Chineham Splash Park) today….they all loved it and didn’t want to come home. Normally I struggle to entertain the 10 year old but he came away having had the most fun and asked to go back. Best bit was it costed nothing!!!!! The library are also running various craft bits too.”

Kate said, “A trip out to local woods (such as Micheldever) to go exploring?”

Hannah said, “Check out viable community centre as they have lots going on at the mo.”

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NHM Readers Recommend: Best Soft Play

I recently had a question from an NHM Reader that I asked the NHM Community to help with: “What are the best soft play places in Hampshire? Or are they all pretty much the same?” 

Many thanks for all of your responses, listed below in no particular order.

Please bear in mind that listings may change in subsequent years, but hopefully they will still be a good base point for your own research.

NHM Readers Recommend: Best Soft Play

Play Days, Basingstoke

Ellie said “Definitely play days in Basingstoke, have tried them all and this was my favourite. It’s clean, the cafe is nice and the balls are in the ball pit!”

Marie said “Playdays is the best, but the parking is limited. We could do with one the other side of town (hatchwarren/ Brighton hill way).”

Michelle said “Agree playdays is great. Always clean, decent prices, can stay as long as you like and staff all friendly. Has a baby bit and a much larger bit, so good for siblings of different ages…would say probably up to 5/6 years max though”

    • Leah said “depends on the child I think, my 7.5 year old still loves going to Playdays”

Anna said “Playdays is great. My son always had so much fun here!”

Jungle Adventure Soft Play (previously Play Den), Basingstoke

Laura said “Play Gym in Festival place… cleanest place around!”

Helen H said “The play den in town is nice and clean and generally the service is good.”

Active Tots, nr Bramley

Melanie said “For little ones I would highly recommend Active Tots.”

Helen H said “Active Tots near Bramley is lovely and clean, but pricey and the customer service is awful. I’ve been 3x and every time the staff are rude and unhelpful.”

    • Melanie said “Helen I’ve always found the staff lovely and very accommodating to those with allergies.”
    • Helen said “As I say, only been 3x and each time was a horrible experience. But I can’t fault the cleanliness of the place at all. It’s a lovely facility.”
    • Catherine said “and it has windows and natural day light.. which is less depressing for me!”

The Adventure Barn, Winchester

Lisa saidMy favourite is The Adventure Barn its extremely clean (closed every Tuesday 1/2 day to be cleaned) Staff are friendly, it also has a great outdoor play area in the summer. Is suitable for tiny babies up to 9/10 year olds (depending on the child). You can see all areas of the soft play so you can keep an eye on your child and don’t ‘loose’ them. The food is lovely (proper adult food) as well as kids meals, healthy and not so healthy snack for the kids. They do toddler sessions where you get a free biscuit and squash. Its near Marwell. Can be tricky to find the first time. Overall brilliant though…”

360 Play Farnborough

Amy said “It’s really good there. Lots to do but it’s pricey and the food was terrible when I went! Too far for us to go and not have lunch but wouldn’t be in a rush to go again for that reason. That said my little boy had a great time!”

Alison said “Its great but it is expensive. It has great role play areas, carousel, bumper cars, lego building plus usual soft play. My nearly 5 year old loves it. I’ve eaten there a few times and its been fine. Parking is a bit of a pain. The parking outside is time limited so we’ve parked in the multi storey down the road so we can stay all day and make the most especially as its expensive to get in.”

Joellie said “I’m here now! It’s expensive but lots to do

Helen said “Joellie I thought the same about price, especially as on 1st visit you have to register and pay a one off £5 reg fee. But saying that there is loads to do. I agree parking close is limited to 2hrs but next time will park on multi storey as someone else suggested. Definitely will visit again.”

Other and Multiple Recommendations:

Leah said Frankies fun factory in Romsey is big, so much to do & fun! Kids2day in Eastleigh is good. Playdays in Basingstoke. Gym tots in Basingstoke sports centre. Sure there must be one in reading.”

    • Carrie saidkrazy kids is in reading and really good”
    • Leah said “ah knew there would be lol. Not been there yet…”

Leah also said  “Also, fun house in Basingstoke…There’s also one at Finkley Down Farm I think – go for a day out & enjoy. Also, 4 kingdoms play activity centre near Newbury – great outdoors stuff & big soft play centre inside. Marwell zoo has one nearby the zoo – not in the zoo but further down the road (can’t remember what it’s called though)”

    • Lisa said “The Adventure Barn (I’ve mentioned above x )”
    • Leah said “ah yes that one lol.”

Wendy said “I find soft play is very specific to age, active tots is fine for under 1s but a bit pants once they can walk. The sports centre is good for 1 – 4, play days sees them to about year 1. Flip out has a playframe that over 7s absolutely love and my kids love both the indoor and outdoor ones at 4 kingdoms.”

    • Natalie said “Wendy, can you just buy tickets for the soft play bit? Or is it you have to buy for the whole place?”
    • Wendy said “Natalie you have to get tickets for the whole place. Last year they had a ticket sale around March where you could buy discounted tickets with no use by date.”

Steph said “We love the soft play in The sports centre in festival place, it’s clean and reasonably priced. Active Tots is fab for younger children. We love kids in action too but that’s in winnersh”

Alison saidEddie Katz Newbury! (OK Berkshire.. But only just) Also for little ones Active TotsPlay Gym in Basingstoke sports centre”

Vicki said “Love The Adventure Barn near Marwell, Kids n Action in Winnersh and, it’s a bit of a drive, but Sprouts Playbarn near Abingdon is seriously the best I’ve ever been to.”

Kimberley said “Active Tots is really nice for 1-3 year olds however over the top price wise. They even charged a friend of mine over £5 for her 4 month baby which wasn’t going to be using equipment. Play den in town sports centre is also great for younger ones but no cafe anymore. Playdays has a smaller area for younger children and is always clean – not much parking though x”

    • Helen H said “Kimberley they charged us £5 per person to sit in the cafe ! When I had my son with me to use the equipment and two adults who weren’t using it or with kids but would be buying a coffee in the cafe!”
    • Kimberley said “Helen shocking really!”

Julia said “I don’t think anyone has mentioned Madhouse next to the Madejski Stadium in Reading. It’s not too far from Basingstoke, always very clean, staff always friendly when I have been. It does work out pricey if you have lots of kids and eat there too, but I find all the good ones do.”

Michelle saidRosie and Bean cafe in fleet is good for imaginative play, also has a bouncy castle, lovely staff and great food!”

Jessica said “There was a really nice one in Camberley . Magic Kingdom/Dragon or something. That was very good”

Sarah said “Kids n Action is brilliant and something for all ages”

Catherine said fun house

Ruza saidJake’s playworld, with inside and outside space. One of the cleanest I’ve been to and great for the kids. Near tri-lakes”

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NHM Readers Recommend: Best Water Parks and Leisure Centres

I recently had a question from a Reader that I asked the NHM Community to help with: “What are the best water parks / leisure centres in the area for pre-schoolers?”

Many thanks for your responses, listed below in no particular order

Please bear in mind that listings may change in subsequent years, but hopefully they will still be a good base point for your own research.

NHM Readers Recommend: Best Water Parks and Leisure Centres

Laura said “I’ve just been to Coral Reef today as we had an inset day. It’s £6.65 for adults, free for under 5s. The big slides aren’t open on weekdays but there’s lots of fun and slides for smaller kids”

Wendy saidAquadrome has just refurbished their toddler bit. Tadley has the best temperature locally. QMC on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon is the best value for money, Just a simple pool but they chuck loads of floats and woggles in. In the summer, Chineham park splash pad in Popley.”

Victoria said “Been to Guildford Spectrum today- great for all ages and loads to do there”

    • Amanda replied “Agreed :)”

Lene said “We went to Windsor leisure park a few weeks ago. We thought it was great. Not massive but had slides, kids bit, wave pool, couple of bigger slides and plenty of changing facilities.”

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Review 2019: Stonehenge

Stonehenge, one of the wonders of the ancient world, a place of religious significance for some, a place of magic and mystery but, if you grew up locally, chances are you see it as that place you get stuck in traffic when going on holiday to Cornwall or Devon. Having been stuck there a few times themselves my children asked “Can we actually go in there one day?” so in Summer 2018 we did.

We pre-booked our tickets on their website, plus parking. The site is managed by English Heritage and the surrounding land is owned by National Trust England so those with these memberships can get in for free, (Free entry is not available to those with National Trust Scotland membership). Prices are quite high for those without membership (Details here) so it may be worth looking at getting it if you wish to visit. Walk in prices are higher so pre-booking is advised.

A short walk from the car park brought us to an impressive, modern visitor centre. From here we got a ticket to the bus that brings you to the Henge, you can walk but it was a really hot day. Whilst on the bus I felt a bit guilty, surrounded by people who had travelled thousands of miles to see the stones and I‘d never been bothered to pop in on the many occasions I had driven past. As we got off the bus the stones were very impressive but after a few initial wows my 7 year old and 4 year old were over them pretty quickly and almost had to be forced to walk the whole way around. We made our way back to the visitor centre and they quickly went from bored children, underwhelmed by one of the world’s most iconic sights, to children completely in love with the display of how those who built the Henges (there are lots of them, many within walking distance) used to live. Brought to life by the volunteers who give talks, the displays include replicas of the housing the builders lived in. The museum also makes use of different kinds of technology to really get them engaged with the history. Also, being surrounded by fields and several walks, there is plenty of room for children to work off excess energy.

We ate at the restaurant which was busy but manageable, even in August, and we found tables easily. The food was good but the price was what you would expect for a global tourist attraction, this goes for the gift shop too although there were some very cool items. All other facilities were really good. Pushchairs would be fine although at busier times you would struggle to take a pushchair on the bus so bring a sling or be prepared to walk.

We went on a sunny day but it would be doable on a day with some rain. I would recommend this as a day out for children, be prepared to spend more time in the visitor area than at the stones, but at just under £50 for a family ticket it is pricey so I would consider putting £50 towards one of the memberships that lets you in for free.

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NHM Readers Recommend: Best Places to Visit Santa with a One-Year-Old

In November 2018, a NHM Reader asked: “Where are the best places to visit Santa in the Basingstoke area for a 1 year old? I’ve seen loads of places advertised but don’t know where is recommended?”

Thank you for all your responses, they are listed below in no particular order.

Please bear in mind that listings may change in subsequent years, but hopefully they will still be a good base point for your own research.

All opinions are the readers own and are not that of NHM.

NHM Readers Recommend: Best Places to Visit Santa with a One-Year-Old

Wendy said, “Proteus would be well worth a visit at that age, then I would just do festival place for the present and photo op, your looking at £10 minimum for almost all other Santa’s.

Charlotte said, “4 kingdoms is always brill have taken my son since he was a baby and now he’s 4.”

Samantha said, “We took our 9 month old last Christmas to the Santa in Festival Place. Did the job and you didn’t pay for all the other bits. On reflection, perfect for the age but probably once they hit 18 months plus you’d be looking for a bit more of an ‘experience’.”

Mary said, “At Proteus the show is interactive and sensory, made especially for little ones. You move around the space so little ones aren’t expected to sit still for long stretches. Here’s a link: http://www.proteustheatre.com/whats-on/the-magical-christmas-toy-shop Santa will feature but it’s very gentle and not a one on one grotto experience.”

Joanna said, “Active tots is good but is just outside of Basingstoke.”

Becky said, “We went to Miller’s Ark. Our little one was a little young at 8 months but the doggie there made her day!”

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Little Play Town is Closing

We are so sad to say that Little Play Town is being closed down by the Council. We would like to thank every adult, baby and child that came to Little Play Town. I’ve loved seeing your reaction when you come in. All the wows! And the smiles, all the fun, the learning and the experiences that the kids and adults had. Creating Little Play Town was a dream come true and I’m forever grateful for every happy moment I’ve seen and every kind word to said to me. Thank you for sharing the Little Play Town experience with me and all the staff. I’ve tried to make every person feel welcomed and included and I’ve met some wonderful people, both big and little!

Sadly, our neighbours from downstairs reported us to the Council as soon as Little Play Town opened and have been campaigning to shut us down ever since we started. It has come to light after working diligently with the Council that the building has foundational issues and although we have tried every sound proof solution currently available in the U.K., we can not fix the foundations of the building. And as we can’t fix it, the landlord is evicting us to pre-empt any problems for himself.

We would like everyone to know that we had no idea that the building would provide issues when we signed the lease and we never had any intention to make a noise and upset anyone. The Council gave us a D2 recreational lease for a nursery. We do not make any noise that you would not expect from any child, baby or adult at any nursery across the U.K. and we did not at this point receive any objections from the 2 downstairs neighbours during our application. All parties knew exactly what we were going to do. We’ve been working every day for over a year to rectify the problems that the neighbours have subsequently had, but frustratingly the Council has turned down the planning application to put steel plates and pavement slabs in the building make the foundation stronger, so that it will be able to hold the very heavy soundproof floors which weigh 100kg per square meter. It’s a beautiful old listed building – the light is stunning and the first time I walked in I could imagine how lovely it would be to have a role play facility for little ones in the area and what a special place it would be for the children to enjoy.

We were completely unaware that and when anyone walks on the floors the noise could be heard below, especially when the building had previously been used as an office. We feel we have been treated very unfairly by some of those opposed to our business; we passed two professional sound testing tests and we are within normal limits for residential and commercial building regulations using our current padding solutions we have in place at present. But due to continual campaigning the Council have decided that these professional tests are not good enough. We feel it’s unfair that we pass testing but we are still not allowed to stay open due to opposition by vociferous individuals who are prominent in the community.

There is still one solution available that can save Little Play Town, and that’s to put a suspended ceiling in the gift store below. Structural engineers have been working closely with us in the past year: this solution can be put into place in 4 days and then the noise is gone. And we will pay for it all for the sake of continuing our special Little Play Town. We needed the approval for this situation from the gift store below, as this the only way to fix the building. But the individual in charge is refusing. And although the individual in question knows that we will be closed down and lose all our savings of 85K which will have a terrible impact upon our family, she has said in every meeting to us and the council that ‘it’s not her problem.’ We always wanted an amicable, mutually supportive relationship with our neighbours, but we feel they have been set against us from the start and just want us out whatever we do.

The final straw happened this week, when we emailed the gift store, the coffee shop owners, the Council and the landlord. We wanted to say that we have a party this Saturday with kids with disabilities, and that some noise might occur. We wanted to do the right thing and tell them as we didn’t want another complaint from the owners to the Council on Monday, so we though it best to inform them. Within the hour of receiving our email, the Council received a call from the gift store to complain. I really couldn’t believe it. At Little Play Town ALL kids are welcome. And for us to be told by the Council that ‘these” people – disabled kids – should not be let in at Little Play Town if they are going to cause more noise, I am flabbergasted. Demanding that we do ‘anything’ to prevent noise, even if it means to turn kids with disabilities away, is against everything we stand for and shows how irrational and narrow minded the opposition we have faced is. I believe role play is very beneficial for any child and my door has always been open to anyone that wishes to come in.

We’ve spoken to the MP, who is across the road from us. He has been invited a few times to come and see what Little Play Town offers the families of Odiham and surrounding communities, but so far he has shown no interest. We have also spoken to the Parish Council and the Councillors of Odiham. We have applied for a grant to help us pay for the floors the council wants us to put in which cost just under £20000, but were not successful. They have put us in an impossible position. We have 10 staff members at Little Play Town and all of us stand to lose our jobs. And most of my staff live in Odiham. Little Play Town is such an asset to the community and we could do so much more but for the entrenched, short sighted, and very personal opposition to us.

In the end, my husband tells me that my health is more important than the business which I love so much; having to be rushed off in an ambulance thinking that I’m having a heart attack over all the daily stress of the pass year, and getting heart palpitations daily when I enter Odiham, being afraid of entering the car park of my own business – all of it is just not worth it. We’ve come to realise that the neighbours weren’t willing to give us a chance and work with us – the first verbal attacks happened while I was still unpacking Little Play Town and we hadn’t even opened. Since then I have been attacked by the coffee shop owner and the police had to be called. After the police spoke to them they agreed that they will not enter Little Play Town again. But this hasn’t stopped me from always having to be on guard, always wondering if I will be attacked or intimidated again.I would like to thank the mom and child who were also verbally abused by the coffee shop owner, writing a statement to the police regarding the incident, as the same happened to me minutes later.

So here we are. We are not sure if we have 1 week, 2 weeks or 1 month left. I’m sure there will be a few that will be happy that we are gone, but I’m hoping that most of you will feel it is a loss and a shame. I have written this from the heart and I’ve never been very good at writing but I’m not going to edit this. We are good kind and honest people, and we have been trying very hard to fix this problem but we can only do so much but the 2 owners from downstairs have no intention of meeting us half way or at all of that matter. My kids want heir mommy back, as all they see is me crying every day.

So if you love Little Play Town, come and visit us for one last time. As I’m not sure for how much longer we will be here for. My heart is broken. I love Little Play Town and I’m struggling to come to term with this, but it’s been taken out of our hands. I hope you remember those moments with your children at Little Play Town as fondly as I do – I will miss you all. All the smiles and laughter. All the happiness.

Thanks you for reading my story. Feel free to share it on.

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Review 2018: Stonor Park, Henley on Thames

Thank you very much to Emma for today’s NHM Secret Review! She’s done an awesome job :-D.

About

Stonor Park is a beautiful stately home found in the sprawling countryside near Henley on Thames. The house itself is open on various dates throughout the year and showcases art, treasures and a step back in time. However, as beautiful as it is, the reason that we loved our visit to Stonar Park was for the Wonder Woods play area that has been built and the beautiful gardens you can explore.

The adventure play area is really big and includes massive slides, swings, water play, climbing frames and gigantic zip wire. We arrived as soon as Stonor park opened at 10am and by 12.30pm the kids were still merrily throwing themselves around on the play equipment. We had to remind them that they needed to eat!

Once we had exhausted the play area we took a wander around the grounds and the children really loved all of the little winding pathways that they could run off and explore – it felt a bit like ‘The Secret Garden’ – really magical.

Alongside all of the exciting things to see, the facilities are also excellent. They have wonderfully clean toilets, a baby changing room, on site parking, gift shop and a café.

Tips

Take a picnic if you feel that way inclined, as they have a lovely big picnic area for you to enjoy whilst watching the Deer frolic amongst the trees.

Be aware that the play area is set on a very steep hillside. I had my baby in a pushchair and I managed to take it all the way up to the top but it was quite a work out to do so, perhaps leave it in the car and grab a sling instead! I also don’t think it would be particularly accessible if you had any mobility issues.

You can pay to visit the whole site (including the house) or just for the gardens and Wonder Woods.

Finally, I suspect that the day was made by the beaming sunshine – it is quite an exposed spot so I am not sure if it would be the same in the pouring rain.

Rating

We had a wonderful day out and I think in good weather it is most definitely a top scoring location! 5/5!

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NHM Readers Recommend: Buggy Friendly Walks with a Tea/Coffee Shop at the End

I recently asked the Friends of my “Louise nhm Smith” profile on Facebook if they could help with the following question: “Do you know of any buggy friendly walks with tea/coffee shop at the end? Know of Eastrop, Beggarwood and War Memorial.”

Many thanks for your responses, listed below in no particular order:

NHM Readers Recommend: Buggy Friendly Walks with a Tea/Coffee Shop at the End

Rebecca said “There is one in Rooksdown on Thursday morning. We haven’t started to yet but have been talking of ending the walk at a local Costa or with a picnic.”

Mary said “Basingwoods is good for buggies. There is sometimes a cafe in the popley fields community centre but i can’t remember dates etc. Also from there you can walk up to st Gabriel’s which sometimes has a cafe. I think you need to check their websites for times.”

Emma said “Sherfield on London is nice! Take the little ones to see the ducks, play on the park, walk all around the big greens and across the streams and then there’s a lovely cafe on the corner with a post office in the back”

Wendy said “Greenham common are on the verge of opening their cafe in the old control tower. It will be staffed by volunteers so not open every day. Check their facebook page for details. https://www.facebook.com/GreenhamControlTower/

Lauren said “Beggarwood is ok and the community centre has a really nice cafe”

Karen M said “Kempshott/oakley multi user path and jolly ollie’s in oakley or kitty’s in kempshott”

Karen J said “Go on ready steady mum’s group”

Ruza said “Farnham great park, and the cafe is reality good.”

Ruchira said “Ready steady mums walk at Eastrop park on a Wednesday at 1”

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