Canoe believe it?
Paddles at the ready! Muddy takes to the water on a family canoeing adventure in the New Forest.
I’m not exactly what you’d call an ‘outdoorsy’ type. I love the countryside and all it offers, but I would not be the first person you’d expect to see scaling a cliff face or partaking in some deep-sea diving. So, to say I was a little apprehensive when I agreed to take on a family canoeing experience with New Forest Activities, would be pretty accurate but I was ready to be proved wrong.
New Forest Activities do the lot – archery, kayaking, bushcraft treetop climbing and Battlefield Live (outdoor laser tag) – if you want to get the kids and the grown-ups having fun in the outdoors, there’s definitely an activity for that.
The experiences all take place across the New Forest National Park and most of them year-round (yep, even in the rain!), making them perfect for a kids party with a difference or even a casual paddle down to the pub.
The Family Canoeing activity is suitable from 18 months+, so I strapped the small ones into the car and set off for an adventure (and hoped to not to fall in in the process).
The activities take place across the area, depending on what terrain is required. Armed with a postcode to pop in the SatNav and the knowledge that the New Forest can be a little tricky to navigate during busy times, we were able to find Bailey’s Hard surprisingly easily. It’s well sign-posted and has ample room for parking, along with a little covered over area, toilets, changing rooms and an Honesty Cafe so you can fuel up before you get started.
The stretch of water the canoeing takes place on is the Beaulieu River which is actually private land (and water) owned by Lord Montagu.
When we arrived it had been raining extremely heavily and we were very relieved when the sun poked out. Our group was made up of four instructors in two canoes, as well as two other couples. Before we headed down to Bailey’s Hard we were each kitted out with a lifejacket and paddle, before running through some safety tips. They also offered a safe lock-up for valuables just in case of erm… capsizing.
My husband sat in the rear of the boat (the stern) and I at the front (the bow), we had our 3-year-old and 1-year-old with us, so they were put in the middle. It was relatively comfortable and, while I was nervous as we were pushed into the water, the river was very calm and allowed us to get a bit of practice using the paddles and steering before we set off.
One thing I thought was really good was that we didn’t feel rushed at any point. With the kids ‘helping’ with their paddles, we managed to get pushed off course (and spin a full 360) a few times. One canoe of instructors split off with us slowpokes and gently guided us to the next checkpoint along the river.
One of my concerns with the activity beforehand was my boisterous toddler, who has a tendency to climb and throw herself about a bit. However the kids were so mesmerised by the novelty of being on the water, spotting all the jellyfish and birds in the habitat, they both managed to stay engaged and entertained for the entire 90-minute duration.
The instructors were extremely knowledgable about the whole area from the wildlife on the water to the buildings on the water’s edge. I had quite a few questions and they were all answered really well and with plenty of insider knowledge. I managed to snap some photos on my phone (no mean feat while trying to paddle at the same time) but the area is so breathtaking it really needs to be experienced first-hand.
When we got back to our starting point I felt incredibly relaxed and immensely proud of myself for avoiding ending up in the water (though they do suggest bringing spare clothes just in case).
OUT & ABOUT
The activities are nice bite-sized times and allow plenty of time for exploring the local area. Nearby to the activity centre is Buckler’s Hard village which is the pretty little location of the Maritime Museum and The Master Builders (perfect for a riverside lunch). Also within close proximity is Exbury Gardens and Beaulieu with its National Motor Museum, Abbey and Palace House.
Plus being the heart of the New Forest there are beautiful stops where you can take sights of the free-roaming animals the area is famous for.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: An alternative family day out or birthday party. The canoeing is suitable from 18 months+ and the water is calm and easy to navigate for total novices. They also cater for hen and stag parties, plus do plenty of school holiday activities and clubs as well.
NOT FOR: Those who have limited mobility may struggle with getting down the slipway and because they run through all weathers (except high winds and electrical storms) there is the slight risk of getting wet.
THE DAMAGE: ££ – Adults are £27 and kids are £15, making a family of four £84, which considering its unforgettable nature is very good value. Its the perfect alternative for a family day out if you want to skip the usual theme park or heritage site, and well worth the money. New Forest Activities also offer a 20% reduction for any return bookings made within a month, so if you enjoy it you can get some money off another visit.
New Forest Activities, High Street, Beaulieu, SO42 7YA. Tel: 01590 612377