We’d originally planned a day trip to the New Forest but whilst browsing for inspiration came across the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and decided to change our plans. The park lies at the western end of the South Downs and includes a large managed wooded area and chalk downland.
We visited over a busy Easter weekend and were initially put off by the large number of visitors. However, we soon realised that the majority were only there for the Easter egg trail around the visitor centre, and egg rolling on Butser Hill. Away from these areas the trails were pretty quiet.
After a look round the centre and a drink in the cafe we decided on three activities – the Juniper adventure trail, orienteering and a walk up Butser Hill. There’s plenty more to do in the park though, including mountain bike and off road cycle trails which looked good fun.
Juniper adventure trail
This is a large circular course with lots of obstacles for older children. It has a variety of rope nets, logs to balance on and chains to hang from. The kids raced round it a few times, and declared it awesome.
There are several picnic tables, and BBQ sites dotted around the trail. There’s also a seasonal kiosk which sells hot drinks, ice cream and a small selection of snacks.
You can drive up and park almost next to the trail, which is handy if you’re bringing a large picnic. However, we walked up from the lower car park. Be warned, it’s a steep climb up through the woods!
There’s a smaller playground near the visitor centre for the under eights.
The park has three permanent orienteering courses, with varying levels of difficulty. We purchased an orienteering map from the visitor centre, and decided on the ‘yellow’ course. This is the easiest of the three, and involves finding eight controls which are generally visible from the main paths.
The leaflet explains how to complete the course. I recommend taking some time to decode the colours as they’re different from what you’d see on a normal OS map. The scale is also larger than usual, so the map includes a lot of detail.
We didn’t make a great start as we couldn’t find the start marker in the car park! After a while we gave up looking, and started on the rest of the controls. Fortunately these were all straightforward to spot. When you find a control you need to mark the number and letter onto the section on your map. If you complete your course you can download a certificate when you get home.
The kids really enjoyed the trail, and it was just the right level for them.
We finished our day with a walk up Butser Hill, which is signposted from the visitor centre. It’s difficult to get lost – just head towards the large radio mast on top of the hill! Alternatively you can drive over to the car park towards the top of the hill if you’re feeling less energetic.
Our kids were getting tired so there were a few moans as we headed up the bridleway to the 270m summit. Butser Hill is one of the highest points in Hampshire, and from the top there’s a great view over the surrounding area. It was pretty cold and windy on the day of our visit though so we headed down quickly once we’d had the obligatory photo stop at the top.
The orienteering was great fun as you got to run around the woods. It was quite hard climbing the big hill at the end.
- You’ll need to bring your own bikes with you if you’re going to ride one of the trails as there’s no cycle hire available.
- You should pre-book if you want to use the on site BBQs.
- The visitor centre and cafe are wheelchair accessible, but the surrounding terrain is pretty hilly and the woodland paths are not suitable for those with limited mobility.
More info: http://www3.hants.gov.uk/qecp