If you fancy getting your kids off-grid and immersed in ancient heritage crafts of the forest and self-sufficient living, head down to Forest Garden Shovelstrode in Sussex.
The brainchild of Lisa and Charles Hooper, this piece of ancient woodland which has been in Lisa’s family since 1971 and was once part of John of Gaunt’s hunting park and before that part of the Anderida Forest filled with giant oaks.
It is now home to Lisa and Charles’s on-going project to create an open woodland ecosystem where families can come and experience what it feels like to live in the forest and also to learn about green wood working, bee keeping, clay oven building, sour dough bread making, mushroom foraging and the art of jam, jelly and preserve making.
The green woodworking workshops are led by Charles, who can happily transform an ash tree into a rocking chair. The course uses unseasoned wood and ancient hand tools, giving children over 10 a real insight into age-old techniques. And if you’re in search of something a bit more pampering, Lisa can teach you about creating lip balm out of beeswax and even rustle up an Alice in Wonderland tea party with vintage crockery.
Families can make a weekend of it by staying in the hand built Idaho Cabin. If you ever wanted to bring alive the feeling of being Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Little House on the Prairie, albeit in the heart of rural Sussex, this is it! The snug wood cabin has a cosy wood-burning stove and great insulation ensures things get toasty inside, especially if you’re sleeping up top on the double bed in the eaves. Downstairs there’s a mini kitchen area with gas hob, and plenty of artfully placed candles to create a warm glow once night falls. Kids can cosy up on a sofa bed and there’s also an ingenious bench by the dining table that pulls out as another bed.
There are throws on the wall and warm blankets draped over lovely wooden chairs to wrap around you. Outside you have your own porch with a covered table, great for eating breakfast in the woods. At night, it’s fun to light your very own outdoor fire pit which comes with its own grill, perfect for cooking sausages and roasting marshmallows. In true glamping style, there’s a hot shower and toilet in a rustic building beside Lisa’s vegetable patches and wheelbarrows, but it’s a walk up through the woods, which adds to the adventure, especially at night. Torches at the ready!
There’s plenty for families to explore around Forest Garden. Just a half-hour drive over the border in Kent is Hever Castle. A must for any child studying the Tudors, this childhood home of Anne Boleyn is a fabulous day out. Children can discover Anne’s bedroom and King Henry VIII’s bedchamber, marvel at the delicate silk clothes she wore as a baby and hear all about the machinations of Henry’s many marriages. The gardens are equally enthralling with their yew maze and fun water maze (parents prepare for wet kids). There’s also an adventure playground and a vast lake with rowing boats for hire named after Henry’s six wives. Other nearby attractions include the Bluebell Railway at East Grinstead and Ashdown Forest.