My daughter squealed with delight as the waves rushed over her legs. I'd never heard her so excited before. She was having the time of her life.
I honestly hadn't expected too much from our week's holiday at Sandy Balls.
With a name like that, it sounded more like a Carry On film than a week's vacation. I was wrong. Sandy Balls far exceeded my expectations. It couldn't have fitted the concept of a family friendly holiday any better.
It's hard to know what to do for a holiday once you have children. Old favourites -quiet hotel,beautiful beach and good night life - go out of the window. You want facilities, especially safe ones, on tap, a pleasant room to spend all those holiday evenings baby-sitting and, if at all possible, the luxury of not having to share quarters with your offspring.
It should also not be too expensive. Once you have a child,money magically becomes tighter.
Sandy Balls,deep in the New Forest, came up trumps on all those counts and more. Within 120 acres of parkland are about 80 lodges and 50 caravans, with plenty of room for campers. The resort can hold a maximum of around 5,500 visitors in peak season -and offers an abundance of activities for children.
So named because of the dome shaped sand and gravel outcrops on the western boundary of the holiday centre, Sandy Balls is about five minutes drive from the delightful town of Fordingbridge (which has its own lovely park,complete with duck pond).It's a great location because there's a multitude of daily excursions available within 40 minutes'drive.
My young daughter's squeals came from a trip we took to the seaside at glorious, Southbourne in Dorset. A winner of various clean beach awards,it was indeed beautifully clean -and remarkably empty.
After building sand castles for a while, we ventured down to the sea,and 16- month old Jessica couldn't contain her excitement.
She was also delighted with a trip to Exbury Gardens,enjoying the different flowers she saw and the ducks and swans by the ponds. Even more exciting was the trip in the steam train that we took around the grounds. This was a holiday of new experiences, which also included stroking a two day-old chick at the Long Down activity farm (near Winchester), not to mention encountering pigs and goats and being thrilled by the multitude of horses and foals ambling around the New Forest.
Cleverly holidaying with my parents, who provided in built baby-sitting, my husband and I made a few trips without our baby. Salisbury (just 20 minutes away by car) was gorgeous and we also made a trip to Romsey, for a fascinating afternoon at Lord Mountbatten's historic home, Broadlands.
Even with all these days out, there were still so many other places we didn't visit. We could have gone out every day, but we didn't,because we also wanted to relax a little and to enjoy facilities within Sandy Balls itself.
They include a toddlers'play area,adventure playground and an activity room for older children. The surrounding land is lovely to walk around and more swans and ducks sail by on the River Avon.
There is also a huge activity field, just perfect for running around or for playing cricket and football. Being on the active side, Jessica also enjoyed her dips in the two baby swimming pools, while I grabbed the opportunity to swim in the adults' pool.
Braver souls than us will tackle the large outdoor pool and on-site gym. And we didn't even manage to fit in a game of table tennis nor a trip to the local stables. One afternoon we did hire bicycles from the site's cycle centre. We could have put Jessica in a trailer,but instead she sat in a child seat and happily sang her way around Fordingbridge. We were exhausted, but she loved it.
There is a range of accommodation, offered at various prices,in Sandy Balls. We stayed in one of the plushest of the lodges, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The bedrooms were small and - unless you book an upgrade - you make your own beds and take your own towels and tea towels.
However, lodges are well designed and equipped. Video and TV made our babysitting much easier, while our decking balcony at the front,easily closed off by two gates, was in use each morning as our little tornado hurled a ball about and ran up and down with glee.
Sandy Balls has numerous smaller lodges,as well as caravan sites and space for camping too. At peak times, I suspect it may become very crowded indeed,but when we visited in June, it was great. All in all, Sandy Balls was perfect for a family holiday. It even had its own Spar supermarket on site for when you run out of milk or fancy an ice-cream.
It was not the most luxurious holiday I've ever had, but I don't really want that now I've got a child, and it had everything you need for a enjoyable family break.
(This article was written in 2003 and was published in more than 20 regional newspapers via the Press Association. Sandy Balls is still going strong.)
Labels: Dorset, Exbury Gardens, family holidays with a baby, Fordinbridge, New Forest, Sandy Balls