Little Surrey: family friendly things to do in Surrey
PUBLISHED: 15:14 12 September 2012 | UPDATED: 20:30 20 February 2013
In a new Surrey Life series, Emma Ward searches out the best things to do in our county with the kids
Surrey Life's Emma Ward searches out the best things to do in the county with the kids
Abridged versions ofSurrey Life'smonthly Little Surrey column below.
As well as the best of the month aheadsevents, Little Surrey also regularly includes:
Cool places to eat in Surrey with the kids
What: Baby Caf @ G Live
Where: G Live, London Road, Guildford GU1 2AA
Tel: 0844 7701 797
We love it because: This recently refurbished caf is large, light and welcoming, adding an extra dimension to one of Guildfords leading entertainment venues. Located within the theatres existing caf/bar area, the baby section benefits from the donation of some great toys from Espace childrens furniture, plus there is plenty of space to park buggies while the children play and the grown-ups chat over a coffee. My sons and I enjoyed a delicious light lunch together at the Baby Caf after watching a studio production of Edward Lears The Owl and the Pussycat from Hiccup Theatre earlier this summer a wonderful play with the most captivating dancing pig we had ever seen!
What: Leatherhead Leisure Centre
Where: Guildford Road, Fetcham, Leatherhead KT22 9BL
Tel: 01372 377674
We love it because: Although the caf in this recently refurbished leisure complex is small, it serves a decent selection of child-friendly food and parent-friendly hot drinks. Staff are pleasant and very willing to accommodate individual nutritional needs. The best thing about this caf, however, is its proximity to a fantastic soft play area, with ball pools, ride-on toys and plenty of climbing and sliding fun for children up to eight years old. What better way to start training the British Olympians of tomorrow?
What: The Boathouse, Chertsey
Where: The Bridge Hotel, Bridge Road, Chertsey KT16 8JZ
Tel: 01932 565644
We love it because: The Boathouse Restaurant and Bar adjoins The Bridge Hotel a beautiful riverside hotel in Chertsey and offers a special childrens menu. Now that summer is just around the corner, the terrace is a great place to have your meal, drink or snack, while enjoying views of the river and passing boats.
What: Arty Caf
Where: Station Road, Belmont, Sutton SM2 6BH
We love it because: Open Monday to Saturday (and Sundays for pre-booked parties), this sophisticated caf/ceramics studio allows the family to create a masterpiece and enjoy a delicious meal, snack or hot drink at the same time. There is a studio fee of 4, and then ceramic items start from 4 each. What a great place to hold your creative son or daughters birthday treat! The caf also runs messy play sessions for pre-schoolers on Monday and Thursday mornings during term time.
What: Eddie Catz Caf
Where: Locations in Wimbledon, Putney and (just across the county border) in Newbury.
Tel: 0845 201 1268
We love it because: The Eddie Catz soft play centres in Wimbledon, Putney and Newbury are already well known to many parents across Surrey, but have you tried out their cafs yet? Youll find a good selection of childrens meals, together with hot and cold drinks that are reasonably priced. Plus, the handy location, right next to the soft play areas, means that your children will be kept well-entertained while you can enjoy a cup of freshly roasted coffee. Open seven days a week, check online for prices and opening times.
What: Grayshott Pottery Caf Bistro
Where: School Road, Grayshott, Hindhead GU26 6LR
Tel: 01428 604404
We love it because: Not many cafs offer food and drink on their own handmade plates and cups, but the caf at Grayshott Pottery is an exception, serving hot and cold meals on attractive crockery made in the pottery. It opens all week and, while it gets busy at weekends, there is usually no need to pre-book. Particularly recommended are the generously filled ciabattas, while the childrens food is, according to my youngest son, yummy.
What: La Piccola
Where: 129 High Street, Epsom KT19 8EF
Tel: 01372 730307
We love it because: Located near Marks and Spencer on Epsom High Street, La Piccola looks rather small when first encountered, and it might be difficult for parties with more than one pram to fit in when its busy. But once inside, it opens up into a very pleasant area with a decent number of tables. La Piccola sells very good hot drinks, snacks and (largely Italian) patisseries. Staff are welcoming and you can also buy delicious continental cakes to enjoy at home.
What: Crafty Caf
Where: Ewell Road, Surbiton KT6 6HA
Tel: 0208 390 1999
We love it because: Cure the post-Christmas blues with a trip to this fun and spacious caf in Surbiton, where you can enjoy hot drinks, cakes and pastries while creating something unique and very personal. From printing T-shirts to capturing your babys footprints on a ceramic tile, the range of projects and colours is huge. The Crafty Caf is open every day except Mondays. Finished pottery projects are left behind to be glazed, then you can collect them a few days later. Pre-booking not essential, but advisable on weekends and holidays.
What: Priory Farm Cafe
Where: Sandy Lane, South Nutfield, Redhill RH1 4EJ
Tel: 01737 823304 ext 240 / www.prioryfarm.co.uk.
We love it because: Arrive early in the morning for a delicious breakfast the eggs come from resident chickens, while the sausages are made by the farm shop butcher. Ingredients are sourced locally as much as possible and dishes include jacket potatoes, sandwiches, scones and quiches. Children are made to feel welcome, with snacks, high chairs and clean changing facilities. Afterwards, there is the popular Discovery Walk and brand new Labyrinth play area to enjoy, as well as the farm and gift shops.
What: Maison Blanc
Where: Holly Parade, High Street, Cobham KT11 3EE
We love it because: This lovely caf exudes French charm and sophistication, with its mouth-watering selection of cakes and pastries and delicious light lunches. Part of the highly successful boulangerie-patisserie empire of French chef extraordinaire, Raymond Blanc, the Cobham caf is well set out, with plenty of amenities for children. Food lovers can even extend the gastronomic pleasure by taking home a loaf of warm, freshly-baked bread from the bakery that is, if it lasts the journey without little fingers making in-roads into it on the way. Visit www.maisonblanc.co.uk
What: Applegarth Fruit Farm Caf
Where: Headley Road, Grayshott
We love it because: Afternoon tea served in this delightful restaurant is an experience not to be missed, with a good selection of mouth-watering homemade cakes and pastries that will make the liveliest child sit still and eat in awed silence. There is also a farm shop and deli selling equally delicious products for families to replicate the experience back home.
The farm is worth a wander round to see the autumn crops.
What: TazZa Coffee
Where: 188 High Street, Sutton
We love it because: Opened at the end of 2010, TazZa Coffee not only produces delicious drinks, cakes and light lunches, but also aims to help the wider community through charitable giving, responsible ingredient sourcing and courses for local residents. A popular snack for children is the decorate your own cake, which comes with its own pot of sprinkles! There are also free weekly storytelling sessions in term time.
What: Beanies Childrens Caf
Where: Middle Street, Croydon
We love it because: Newly-opened in June, Beanies is the place to be for toddlers in Croydon. This child-friendly caf comes with activities galore, from crafts, dressing up and dance classes to football, computers and action figures. The caf serves seasonal, nutritious meals and snacks, and parents will also enjoy browsing the baby goods for sale.
What: Priory Park Caf
Where: Priory Park, Bell Street, Reigate
We love it because: This bright and welcoming caf, run by the independent Urban Kitchen, is right in the middle of Priory Park: a wonderful facility for locals and visitors to Reigate, especially families. The caf sells a good selection of snacks and drinks, although prices are sometimes a little higher than average. Close to a large playground, with equipment ranging from zip wires to toddler sandpits and slides, there is also parking in nearby Bell Street car park or Morrissons. A great summers afternoon option: www.urbankitchen.co.uk.
What: Village Ceramics
Where: Station Way, Cheam. Tel: 0208 661 7837
Why: Bringing a whole new meaning to the words caf culture, customers can make their own ceramics at the same time as enjoying a bite to eat. Children are well looked after, with drinks and biscuits included in the price, and staff are more than happy to demonstrate different ceramics techniques and to help with the tricky bits! See www.villageceramics.co.uk
What: The Devils Punch Bowl Caf (National Trust)
Where: Devils Punch Bowl, near Hindhead (off the A3): 01428 608771
We love it because: This family-friendly caf with plenty of parking offers hot and cold meals, drinks and snacks that are perfect to fuel the troops before a late spring walk around the glorious Devils Punch Bowl. As well as discovering wonderful countryside and wildlife, the more engineering-minded will appreciate the chance to view the 371 million project to re-route the A3 under the landscape at Hindhead. For caf opening times, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/southeast
What: Abinger Hammer Tea Rooms
Where: Abinger Hammer, on the A25 between Dorking and Guildford. Tel: 01306 730701.
We love it because: If you like your scones laden with jam and your surroundings quintessentially English, then you will settle right in to this cosy caf. Not for families in a hurry, the service can be a little slow at times, but it is always warm and welcoming. On sunny spring days, children can run off steam outside on the village green outside the caf once they have eaten their sandwiches and cake.
What: Fannys Farm Shop tea room
Where: Markedge Lane, Merstham
We love it because: Ever taken tea in a tree house? Well, heres your chance to book a special lunch or high tea in the purpose-built tree house at the wonderful Fannys Farm Shop (booking essential on 01737 554444). There is also a separate tea room serving morning coffee, ploughmans lunches and afternoon tea, plus a play area for the children to burn off excess energy.
What: Centre View Restaurant
Where: Third Floor, Bentalls Department Store, The Bentall Centre, Kingston-upon-Thames
We love it because: A perfect place for a break from the crowds, this family-focused pit stop offered us a wide choice of cuisine at reasonable prices, with child menus, high chairs and clean baby-changing facilities. A great place to take the weight off for a while before plunging back into an afternoon of hard-core shopping.
What: Garsons Farm
Where: Winterdown Road, Esher KT10 8LS
We love it because: Even in wintertime, when the pick-your-own crops have been picked bare, an excellent restaurant serves hot and cold meals for all ages. The gift shop is laden with toys and books, while the farm shop offers the perfect introduction for children to learn more about the food on their plates.
A Pint & a Bib!
Child-friendly pubs in Surrey
MARCH 2012: Situated opposite the racecourse, this famous pub is in a lovely position right at the heart of Epsoms history and heritage. It is not geared at very young children as the pub has a policy of not allowing pushchairs and buggies indoors unless they are folded. But they are allowed outside in the beer garden and older children can join in family meals inside. The menu is very comprehensive, with dishes ranging from traditional English fare to Mediterranean favourites. The decor is unashamedly equine sure to be a hit with horse-mad youngsters and from the outside you can see wonderful views all across Surrey.
Derby Arms, Epsom Downs, Epsom KT18 5LE. Tel: 01372 722330
FEBRUARY 2012: This is a beautiful pub, with an excellent menu that changes every month. Families will especially enjoy their Sunday roast (served between 12noon and 2.30pm) and there is also a large garden if the weather isnt too cold for children to run off steam. An added attraction is the pubs close proximity to the Pride of the Valley Sculpture Park, which contains dozens of fascinating modern sculptures. Admission does cost extra, but children under five can enter for free.
The Pride of the Valley, Tilford Road, Churt, Farnham GU10 2LH. Tel: 0844 6831209
JANUARY 2012: At first glance, this attractive country pub doesnt seem to cater for children, having neither a special menu nor high chairs. But staff are willing to halve portions on the main menu, which specialises in seafood, and there are also plenty of popular child-friendly options, such as scampi or ham and chips. Or you could visit on a Sunday for a delicious roast that appeals to all ages. In addition, the atmosphere is friendly, the surroundings beautiful and the parking good.
The Running Mare, Tilt Road, Cobham KT11 3EZ. Tel: 01932 862007
DECEMBER 2011: Located near junction 9 of the M25, close to Oxshott and Malden Rushett, this is an ideal meeting place for families getting together over Christmas. It is large and friendly, with excellent parking and baby-changing facilities, plus an impressive childrens menu. The real log fire is a draw on colder days. You can also purchase gift vouchers to spend in the pub: a lovely Christmas or New Year gift.
The Star, Kingston Street, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 0DP: Tel: 01372 842416
NOVEMBER 2011: This riverside pub boasts a large menu, which changes seasonally, plus a breakfast menu that is perfect for families wanting o fuel up before a spot of pre-Christmas hopping in Kingston. It has a heated outdoor area, weather permitting, with views over the river and its passing swans and other wildlife. Highchairs, baby food warming and childrens portions are available on request and families are made to feel welcome.
The Boaters Inn, Lower Ham Road, Kingston, SurreyKT2 5AU: 0208 541 4672
OCTOBER 2011: There is plenty of choice for children on the British and Mediterranean menu of this attractive country pub. Prices arent as low as some family eateries, but this is an excellent option for Sunday lunch with the family or for a celebration. There are good baby-changing facilities, with staff happy to accommodate childrens needs where possible. The Arkle Manor is located in the beautiful Mole Valley, with plenty of rolling countryside nearby for a post-lunch walk.
The Arkle Manor, Reigate Road, Betchworth,SurreyRH3 7HB: 01737 842110
SEPTEMBER 2011: If you like your pubs set in spectacular countryside and off the beaten track, then this is the place for you. Located in a 15th century farmhouse on the Titsey estate, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Botley Hill Farmhouse offers a pleasingly large childrens menu with prices starting from 3.95 for two courses. Not to mention a very nice beer garden.
Botley Hill Farmhouse Pub, Limpsfield Road, Warlingham, Surrey CR6 9QH: 01959 577154
AUGUST 2011: At this nicely decorated, welcoming pub, children are allowed inside until early evening, plus theres a pleasant beer garden and Thai restaurant for families wanting to stay a little later. A large menu of Thai food and some English dishes will cater for most childrens needs, while the baby-changing facilities are small but clean. Busy families could also take advantage of their takeaway service for a Thai meal at home.
The Organ and Dragon,London Road, Ewell, Surrey KT17 2BL: 0208 393 2242
JULY 2011: This lovely country pub has a large beer garden and excellent childrens play area. Theres a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, and a regular programme of family events too. The childrens menu offers popular, tasty dishes, and the changing facilities are clean and presentable.
The Fox Revived,Norwood Hill, Horley, Surrey RH6 0ET: 01293 862312
JUNE 2011: Okay, so not what you might expect from a standard pub, this hotel is right next to Chessington World of Adventures. Overnight packages include theme park entry and novelties like breakfast with cuddly meerkat characters. Non-guests can enjoy a meal at the African-themed bar and grill, along with stunning views over the African reserve and village.
Holiday Inn, Leatherhead Road, Chessington, Surrey KT9 2NE:01372 734600
MAY 2011: Literally round the corner from Kew, this watering hole is perfect to round off a day spent admiring the plants at the world-famous botanical gardens. It boasts child-friendly menus and facilities, including high chairs and clean changing areas. It is light and airy and has a wide selection of food.
The Botanist, 3-5 Kew Green, Kew, Richmond upon Thames, SurreyTW9 3AA: 0208 948 4838
APRIL 2011: The Bear serves afternoon tea every weekday from 3pm, complete with fresh cream cakes, which makes a superb after-school treat for the kids. A wider dining menu is also available, which includes plenty of child-friendly options. For warmer visits, there is a small barbecue garden where families can enjoy an alfresco meal.
The Bear, Leatherhead Rd, Oxshott, Surrey KT22 0JE: 01372 842747
MARCH 2011: At the Kingswood Arms, youll find a friendly atmosphere, clean changing facilities, easy parking and a safe childrens play area. An ideal place to hold an inter-generational family reunion, theres plenty of space indoors and in the beer garden, a wide choice of food and a pleasingly high tolerance amongst staff of young children.
Kingswood Arms, Waterhouse Lane, Kingswood, Surrey KT20 6EB: 01737 354 053
FEBRUARY 2011: Searching for a child-friendly hostelry on our way to Legoland in Windsor, we came across the delightful Swan Hotel in Staines. Overlooking the Thames, with a lovely view, staff were attentive to the childrens needs and tolerant of their noise. Tempting menus, adequate baby-changing facilities and easy parking added to our satisfaction.
The Swan Hotel, Staines, Surrey TW18 3JB: 01784 452494
JANUARY 2011: This month, were loving the Cricketers on Stamford Green in Epsom, an attractive family pub with plenty of good menu choices for all the family, clean loos and easy parking. Plus, theres a large pond on the doorstep thats home to dozens of ducks and geese, so dont forget to bring some bread to feed them on your way home.
The Cricketers, 1 Stamford Green Road, Epsom, Surrey KT18 7SR: 01372 729 384
Each month, Emma Ward and her two young sons will visit a different town to find out how family friendly it is
AUGUST 2012: CHESSINGTON
The low-down: Chessington is a town known to hundreds, if not thousands, of children across the country as the home of Chessington World of Adventures: a fabulous adventure theme park with exhilarating rides, live shows and a huge collection of birds and animals from around the world. When it comes to shopping, the town itself is a little limited; however, there are still some nice places to browse. One particular gem is Craft Genie; a paradise of stickers, ribbons, glue and sequins located close to Chessington North railway station. Children with holiday money burning holes in their pockets can also spend it at one of the charity shops on the North Parade. Another highlight of the area is Chessington Garden Centre, just down the road from the World of Adventures. The garden centre has a very popular family restaurant (note the excellent changing facilities, plenty of space for pushchairs and decent childrens menus). Plus, there is a large aquarium centre where the kids can watch hundreds of different fish swimming in their tanks; ranging from dainty goldfish right up to massive piranhas!
JULY 2012: SPORTING SURREY
This month, we have compiled a round-up of some Surrey towns that have connections to the Olympics, Paralympics and sporting greatness in general. Be sure you make time in the holidays to drop by for a visit...
Dorking: This historic market town last welcomed the Olympic torch back in 1948, when 4,000 people lined the streets to watch a formal hand-over outside the White Horse Hotel on the High Street. Today, the town is home to plenty of cafs and restaurants for a family meal, as well as charming boutiques and a range of antique shops that are perfect for searching out vintage sporting memorabilia.
Guildford: Pop along to Guildfords Spectrum leisure complex or Surrey Sports Park this month and, if youre lucky, you might just see some Olympians! Athletes from countries including Antigua and Barbuda, New Zealand, Canada, Croatia, Singapore and Dominica are all training in Guildford. If you fancy joining in the fun, these venues offer excellent sporting facilities and run a host of activities for children over the school holidays. For details, visit the websites at www.guildfordspectrum.co.uk and www.surreysportspark.co.uk.
Epsom: This town has its sporting credentials firmly in place, playing host as it has for many, many years to the worlds greatest flat race: the Epsom Derby. Furthermore, Epsom and Ewell Council is putting on the Epsom and Ewell Olympics from Monday July 2 until Friday July 13: Olympic-style games for schoolchildren across the borough. Epsom is worth visiting during July as it has lots of green spaces to run about in, plus plenty of shops: drop by Lester Bowden, a traditional store that specialises in equestrian and sporting wares, not to mention the dreaded school uniform.
JUNE 2012: DIAMOND JUBILEE SURREY
This month, we have compiled a round-up of a few Surrey towns with royal connections, and given reasons why they are worth a visit this Jubilee month...
East Molesey: Lets start with a biggie: Henry VIIIs magnificent Hampton Court Palace is located in East Molesey right by the river. After visiting the palace and learning about its long regal history, you could browse the antique shops in the town: many have pocket money items for young bargain hunters.
Richmond: Home to one of the most beautiful of the Royal Parks, Richmond has been popular with royalty for centuries. Both Henry I and Richard II lived there for a time, and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, visited in 1952 to open the refurbished town hall after it was damaged in World War Two. Today, Richmond has a lovely family feel, with a good choice of childrens clothes and toy shops.
Kingston: In the tenth century, seven Saxon kings were reputedly crowned in Kingston. The Coronation Stone, located near the Guildhall, has their names written around its base. Nowadays, the town is a family magnet, with its many shops and markets. Some lovely cafs and restaurants can be found alongside the river for a bite to eat with the kids.
Camberley: Home to the training base used by the Auxiliary Training Service (ATS), where Princess Elizabeth the future Queen Elizabeth II carried out her training as an ATS Officer during World War Two, today Camberley is a lively town with plenty of family-friendly shops.
MAY2012: GREAT BOOKHAM
The low-down: Although Great Bookham is a fairly small village, it has a fair amount to offer families. For a start, its semi-rural setting means that it is a very peaceful place to visit, which can be a relief after all that retail madness in larger towns. There is also a train station with excellent links, plus reasonably good parking along the High Street and Church Street. Children can spend their pocket money in one of the well-stocked charity shops along the main High Street or in Mimis Teas and Gifts a delightfully pink paradise selling highly original gifts and snacks on Church Street. Meanwhile, parents will appreciate the quality of the wares in Casseldens Shoes a superbly traditional family shoe shop on Church Street while the best place to stop off for an edible treat to take home is the Taste deli on the High Street. Real-life, family shopping as it used to be.
Top thing to do before leaving Great Bookham: Take the kids for a play in Polesden Laceys Squirrel Corner a specially built wooden play area in the woodland of the National Trusts magnificent Edwardian mansion close to the centre of the village. Then, grab an ice cream (its nearly summer, after all) from the Polesden Lacey restaurant or deli. If you can spare the time, why not also make a day of it with a visit to the excellent Bocketts Farm just down the road?
APRIL 2012: REDHILL
The low-down: Well-connected to London and surrounded by beautiful countryside, Redhill itself offers a decent enough shopping centre, The Belfry, with easy parking and a good collection of shops, eating places and changing facilities. The centre also hosts regular kids workshops, events and competitions, and theres a childrens club too (find out more at www.redhillbelfry.co.uk/kidzone). For younger kids looking to spend their pocket money, a particular favourite is The Works, a great shop for affordable books and a whole range of other bits and pieces. Nearby, youll also find Donyngs Recreation Centre, which recently underwent a 4.1 million refurbishment and includes a dedicated childrens soft play facility, a 25m swimming pool with viewing gallery and teaching pool, a crche, a caf, and even a Junior Gym for 11 to 15-year-olds, among other facilities.
Top thing to do before leaving Redhill: The towns theatre, The Harlequin, often puts on family shows during school holidays and weekends. Theres also a cinema with a Saturday morning film club for kids (childrens tickets are 3.50 and with every child ticket purchased an adult goes free). See www.harlequintheatre.co.uk.
MARCH 2012: COBHAM
A charming town filled with interesting shops, plentiful parking and a family-friendly atmosphere, Cobham is also a great place for rubbing shoulders with the Chelsea football team who train in nearby Stoke dAbernon! Some of the specialist shops and cafs are slightly pricier than in other Surrey towns, but its still a good place to find kids presents (try the toyshop Funtasia or clothing chain JoJo Maman Bebe on Oakdene Parade), plus gifts for the whole family (check out The Lemon Tree on the High Street or Inside Out in Holly Parade).
Top thing to do before leaving Cobham: If the kids like seafood, head over to Loch Fyne on the Portsmouth Road, slightly out of town, where youll receive a fantastic welcome. Childrens menus are available, along with activity packs and excellent changing facilities.
FEBRUARY 2012: ASHTEAD
The low-down: Ashtead is not especially large, but it has a charming example of an old-fashioned high street with surprisingly few major brands and chains and a genuinely friendly, family atmosphere. Local retailers are championed here, with several independent shops, such as fancy dress shop Abracadabra and jewellery shop Temptations (gentlemen, take note: Valentines Day is upon us), both on The Street. In fact, such is Ashteads emphasis on supporting local traders that it even has its own loyalty card for shoppers. Children can spend pocket money in the charity shops such as Age UK and the Princess Alice Hospice and, in this Leap Year, ladies might enjoy a browse in the bridal shop, Brides Visited, situated at the top end of The Street.
Top thing to do before leaving Ashtead: Grab a drink in Watsons Coffee Shop before going for a walk on nearby Ashtead Common. Or book a Valentines Day meal at Italian restaurant, Zia Vitalia.
JANUARY 2012: WIMBLEDON
The low-down: Wimbledon has much more going for it than simply hosting an annual tennis tournament; not least the advantage of being close to the capital without its character being swallowed up in the vast London metropolis. General shopping is easy in Centre Court Shopping Centre with three floors of shops and cafs. But wander into the heart of Wimbledon for more independent shops, such as traditional wooden toyshop Little Rascals on Merton Road and Wimbledon Party Shop on The Broadway. While on The Broadway, drop into the YMCA for some great soft play for under fives on Monday to Thursday mornings (4.25 per session).
Top thing to do before leaving Wimbledon: Book a show at the Polka childrens theatre and while there take a ride on their gorgeous vintage rocking horses in the foyer.
DECEMBER 2011: RICHMOND
The low-down: The historic town of Richmond came under the international spotlight this summer when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie visited. During their trip, Angelina treated some of her children to a browse in the local toyshop, Toy Station, on Eton Street (toy-station.co.uk). This is a well-stocked shop that will delight parents with its old-fashioned charm and well known brands my two sons were in Lego heaven there! As well as high street brands such as Mothercare celebrating 50 years since opening its first shop in Kingston upon Thames Richmond also has plenty of unusual, independent shops that add character and make Christmas gift shopping highly enjoyable.
Top thing to do before leaving Richmond: Brave a winter walk along the river or, alternatively, in nearby Kew Gardens. Open all year (except Christmas Eve and Day), it offers gorgeous surroundings, top quality, if slightly pricey refreshments, excellent play areas and unbeatable views.
NOVEMBER 2011: WOKING
The low-down: Woking is exceptionally well off for shops and is an ideal place for families to while away a Saturday. Children will be delighted with the toy shops on offer, chief of which is the large Toys R Us store in the centre of town on Church Street. There is also a branch of crafting giant, Hobbycraft, a little way out of town in the Lion Retail Park.
Up-to-the-minute young fashion and clothing is well catered for as well, with branches of Next, H&M, BHS and New Look.
More general shopping can be done in Wokings impressive shopping centre, Peacocks, where large retail chains abound, including family favourites such as Claires Accessories, Hawkins Bazaar, Tk Maxx and Debenhams. There are also dozens of lovely cafs, fast food outlets and other options for quick and easy bites to eat, plus several ATM facilities and a large car park. All in all, shopping made extremely easy.
Top thing to do before leaving Woking: Pick up an events leaflet from The Lightbox on Chobham Road to find out whats on for families over the coming weeks at the towns museum and gallery. Opened in 2007, as well as major exhibitions, they hold regular events for children. Find out more at thelightbox.org.uk
OCTOBER 2011: GODALMING
The low-down: An attractive, welcoming town, Godalming also has plenty of child-friendly shops. The Toy Box on Wharf Street offers lovely, if slightly pricey, old-fashioned toys that will last for generations. They also run a good loyalty card scheme, giving repeat customers money-off vouchers, plus discounts for a nearby coffee shop. Another good place for toys is the very large, well-stocked Barnardos charity shop on Bridge Street.
Custard Clothing is a nice little childrens clothing shop on the High Street, specialising in organic products. Also worth a browse is the nearby Tots N Teenys, near the Pepperpot Clock.
As for somewhere to eat, Secretts the garden centre down the road in nearby Milford boasts a wonderful caf, excellent changing facilities, regular events and even more toys, games and little curios to browse (find out more at secretts.co.uk).
Top thing to do before leaving Godalming: Visit on a Friday to enjoy a browse round the towns popular weekly market, next to Crown Court Car Park, where youll find lovely, fresh produce for sale.
The low-down: A charming place to while away a day, whilst Reigate may be relatively small, specialist childrens shops abound.
One of our favourites is the Lillifoot shoe shop on Church Street, with helpful staff and cool designs (as I am reliably informed by Son Number 1). Toys and games can be found in the straightforwardly-named The Toy Shop on the High Street. The several charity shops dotted around sell excellent pocket money toys, books and clothes. School uniforms can be sorted out for older children in Swots, on Church Street.
Finally, lunch is well taken care of, with plenty of family-friendly places to eat, such as Strada and Caf Rouge, though its worth checking out the independent places, with Urban Kitchen (in Church Street and Priory Park) a favourite locally.
Top thing to do before leaving Reigate: Visit the excellent playground in Priory Park, complete with its own pirate ship, or theres also a skate park for older kids.
AUGUST 2011: SUTTON
The low-down: Sutton has the advantage of a wide range of shops with slightly less inflated prices than some other Surrey towns.
Central to the experience are the two covered shopping centres, the St Nicholas Centre and Times Square. Both have plenty of parking, nice places to eat, decent baby-changing facilities, fun ride-on toys and, above all, interesting shops.
There are perhaps fewer independent specialist shops to be found overall in Sutton, but two that caught our eye in the St Nicholas Centre were Chocobox, selling a nostalgic collection of penny sweets from times past, and the Little Angels Emporium a bright and brash toy shop with pleasingly large quantities of Lego, Sylvanian Families and other perennial kids favourites.
Sutton is well-equipped with high street names selling clothes, toys and treats for the little ones. These include Asda (for some great pocket money toys), Marks and Spencer (for the dreaded school uniform), Early Learning Centre (need I say more?) and many others.
Finally, a quick trip down the road towards Cheam is well worth doing, as this neighbouring village also has some nice shops and places to eat. In fact, Cheam has one of the best-stocked charity shops we have ever come across in the shape of St Raphaels Hospice shop on London Road in the North Cheam section of the village. Books and toys galore, with larger scooters, ride-ons and bikes available if you are lucky enough to spot them.
Top thing to do before leaving Sutton:
Check out Cheam Park. Backing onto the popular Nonsuch Park, it offers children excellent sporting and leisure facilities, including tennis courts, football pitches and a great playground. There are also some lovely formal gardens to admire and plenty of grass to enjoy an impromptu chasing game. Theres fairly easy parking, plus a caf serving drinks and snacks during the summer months and at weekends.
JULY 2011: DORKING
The low-down: Famous for its antique shops, mainly grouped together around the attractive West Street, Dorking is a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon. While hunting for old furniture might not sound terribly appealing to younger families, overall the towns shops offer a pleasing number of pocket money finds, and are generally very friendly to (well-behaved) children keen to start training their eye for a bargain or two.
The town is also well represented by high street names, yet independent shops thrive here too, including Dorking Models present in the town for more than 35 years catering for model enthusiasts of all ages. Fun and Games in St Martins Walk is also a treasure trove for children, selling as it does traditional toys and declaring itself a battery-free zone.
Hungry shoppers can find plenty of little cafs that will fit the bill, including Caf Crme on the High Street and Caf Rialto on South Street, both of which serve decent childrens meals. Families can also eat at the Dorking Halls too, which offers concerts, films and exhibitions not to mention plentiful car parking.
Finally, those looking for unusual birthday presents or locally-made souvenirs can experience even more retail delight on Sunday July 17 when the Dorking Craft and Gift Fair comes to the Dorking Halls from 9.30am until 4.30pm. Plus, shoppers can get in for free when they pay to visit the Dorking Antiques Fair thats happening at the same time. Bargain!
Top thing to do before leaving Dorking:
Head for Denbies Wine Estate, the countrys largest vineyard, where youll find an established programme of family-friendly activities, from arts and crafts to a fun and bumpy trailer ride through the glorious countryside.
JUNE 2011: ESHER
The low-down: Esher gives off a quietly well-to-do vibe, with its neat high street and pleasing collection of independent retailers. Although the choice isnt vast, you can find most things you might need in this charming town. The large Waitrose is especially enjoyable to browse and has a good-sized car park, while Eshers charity shops provide the kids with somewhere to spend their pocket money.
There are plenty of options for lunch too, including popular French eatery Caf Rouge (check out their website for regular voucher deals) and the Aphrodite Caf on the high street. Eagle-eyed visitors might also catch sight of some famous faces too, as Esher and nearby Weybridge are home to several celebrities, from Max Clifford to Eamonn Holmes and Theo Paphitis.
Top thing to do before leaving Esher:
A short walk or drive from the centre of town is Garsons, a large pick-your-own farm that is right at the start of its new season at this time of year. Home-picked strawberries are an especially tasty June treat; the perfect accompaniment to Wimbledon fortnight. Also on site at Garsons, youll find a well-stocked gift shop, with an adjoining farm shop for those who prefer to leave the fruit and veg picking to other hands.
MAY 2011: LEATHERHEAD
The low-down: Leatherhead is a small town, but offers decent shops for the family in need of some retail therapy. However, there is a lack of large department stores or especially chic boutiques. High street names are well represented though, both along the high street itself and in the Swan Shopping Centre, which also houses a large, reasonably priced car park. In fact, Leatherhead has several reasonable car parks, although the signposts towards the main centre can sometimes be confusing on first visiting the town. There are plenty of places to eat, with favourites including locally-owned Italian Vecchia Trattoria on the high street.
Top thing to do before leaving Leatherhead
If the children are tired of shopping and just want to run off some excess energy, there are a couple of places to do just that near the town centre at the Leatherhead Leisure Centre. Crazy Tots is the leisure centres own soft play area, where children can enjoy slides, rope ladders, climbing equipment, ball pits, ride-on toys, goal nets etc. Open every day (mornings only at weekends). During the week, the neighbouring Leatherhead and Dorking Gym Club runs Fun in the Foam sessions for under-fives soft play centred on a huge foam pit for children to scramble in for an hour or so (sessions start at 12noon). My boys love it!
The low-down: This month, we went west to visit Farnham, with its quiet market town feel and beautiful Georgian buildings. Ostensibly there for a shopping trip, we enjoyed looking round and found it easy to get to, with plenty of parking. The boys enjoyed exploring Farnham Castle, and, once I dragged them away to see the town, also had fun looking in the windows of the many child-friendly shops along the refreshingly old-fashioned high street.
It was a nice change to see some smaller, independent shops in town. Toyshops included Wooden it be Lovely, a delightful store in Lion and Lamb Yard, and Enchanted Wood in East Street. Another nice place to browse was Elphicks on West Street, the towns main department store, which again provided a rare chance to experience some good old-fashioned retailing. There was a pretty decent range of kids clothing, friendly assistants and a nice caf (if perhaps slightly pricey?) with clean baby changing facilities.
Top thing to do before leaving Farnham: If you have enough time after shopping, it is only a short trip to nearby Birdworld and the Rural Life Centre. Both are superb places to take children, with plenty to see, refreshments and good gift shops with pocket money items on sale. See www.birdworld.co.uk and www.rural-life.org.uk.
MARCH 2011: KINGSTON UPON THAMES
The low-down: Renownedfor its fantastic shopping, the historic town of Kingston also retains an individual character making it an interesting place to stroll around. The Holy Retail Grail that is the Bentall Centre has dozens of shops and cafs, plus cashpoint, washroom, crche and other easily accessible essentials. Centre highlights include Bentalls department store and the Build-a-Bear Workshop store where kids can create their own cuddly companion. However, smaller independent shops are thinner on the ground than in some shopping centres.
Away from the Bentall Centre, John Lewis on Wood Street has a superb childrens wear floor and haberdashery section, as well as excellent baby changing facilities and car parking. Another highlight is its caf just as well, as there seems to be a slight lack of child-friendly places to eat in the centre of town.
We have enjoyed meals at both Pizza Express and the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, but had to wander further towards the river to find somewhere more independent.
Top thing to do before leaving Kingston: Enjoy the authentic market experience as you browse the varied stalls in Kingstons historic market square. Regular events turn this space into an even more enticing prospect, with recent examples including the German Christmas market and a chocolate festival.
FEBRUARY 2011: GUILDFORD
The low-down: Guildford is a magnet for retail therapy devotees of all ages, and with its historic, pedestrianised High Street, its ideal for families. Parking can be tricky, however, so consider the train or the bus, which will take you right into the centre, or the Park and Ride scheme (around 1.80 for an adult return).
For the kids, youll find everything from Mothercare and ELC to JoJo Maman Bb and The Entertainer toyshop. A real gem for childrens books at low prices is the Oxfam bookshop on Upper High Street, though you do have to be prepared to get down and rummage. For a welcome break from pushing a laden pram across the cobbles, pop into The Friary Shopping Centre, home to a mix of familiar names and independents.
Another of Guildfords main attractions for families is the huge choice of restaurants that cater for, and actively welcome, children. We have never been disappointed by TGI Friday on North Street, and the Giraffe caf on Upper High Street comes up trumps, too. Both offer excellent childrens menus and activity packs before the meal. My sons were captivated by the balloon models our TGI Friday waiter fashioned for us in three minutes flat. Amazing.
On a final point, the best place for baby-changing facilities is in Debenhams on Millbrook. Debenhams, incidentally, also serves up rather delicious cakes. Obviously, these had to be sampled in order to provide Surrey Life readers with the complete picture of the Guildford shopping experience
Top thing to do before leaving Guildford: Take a stroll down to Dapdune Wharf and the Wey Navigations, just a few minutes walk from the main shopping area. This beautiful National Trust-maintained stretch of river offers tranquil towpath walks and a chance to explore the restored Wey barge, Reliance. See nationaltrust.org.uk.
JANUARY 2011: EPSOM
The low-down: Walking is the easiest way to get around this pushchair-friendly town, but there is also plenty of safe car parking it costs 1.20 for an hour in The Mall Ashley shopping centre or slightly more in the Ebbisham Centre, which also houses an excellent library.
The Mall Ashley is home to both independent retailers and familiar high street shops, such as Boots, M&S and Next. Hungry shoppers have some pleasant cafs to choose from and baby changing facilities in both the centre itself and upstairs in Dickens and Jones are clean and serviceable. For kids with birthday money burning holes in their pockets, Early Learning Centre and Toy Barnhaus are both great hunting grounds for toys, while The Works stock childrens books at reasonable prices.
Lunch out with two toddlers can be a mission, but in Epsom, there are several places to choose from, including Jimmy Spices and its all-you-can-eat international buffet and Caf Rouge with its childrens menu for 5.95. Also, for groups of new mums (or dads) meeting up with pushchairs and paraphernalia in tow, Chapters, on the first floor of the Ebbisham Centre, is spacious, highly tolerant of infant noise and mess, and serves good quality, inexpensive food.
Top thing to do before leaving Epsom: For my sons, youd have to go a long way to beat a go on the Thomas the Tank Engine ride in The Mall Ashley, near to Waitrose. For just 1, they can sit aboard Thomas and his trucks as the world spins (safely) round before them.