It is a bit of a clichÃ© to describe Moors Valley Country Park and Forest on the Dorset / Hampshire border near Ringwood as having 'something for everyone', but for once, the clichÃ© just happens to be true.
Country parks come in all shapes and sizes and Moors Valley is a big one (around 1000 acres - or about 400 hectares in new money) with an amazing range of activities for grown-ups and children of all ages and abilities. And with an estimated 750,000 visitors each year, this fantastic facility, run jointly by East Dorset District Council and the Forestry Commission, is definitely doing something right.
Named Best Large Visitor Attraction in the 2015 Dorset Tourism Awards, the Park offers plenty of way-marked walking and cycle routes, a tree top trail, narrow-gauge steam railway (of which more anon), cycle hire centre, 18-hole golf course and adventure Play Trail.
Thrill seekers can swing through the trees on the Go Ape Tree Top Adventure, navigating tree to tree using ladders, walkways, bridges and tunnels and whizzing down zip wires. And the thrills aren't limited to adult adventurers, as there is a special Tree Top Junior course aimed at the 6-12 year old age range.
Moors Valley is a fantastic place for children of all ages to play and explore. Out in the forest they can discover the Play Trail with its huge wooden play structures along a one-mile walk through the trees. Kids can crawl inside a giant 'Ants Nest', wriggle through giant snakes in the 'Snake Pit', attempt the 'Crocodile Crossing' and balance on the fallen forest of 'Timber'.
Half way along the Play Trail you can divert onto the Tree Top Trail. This 5-metre high, 200-metre long wooden walk way takes you up amongst the trees and offers a real bird's eye view of the Forest.
Two imaginative play areas close to the Visitor Centre help kids to burn off some more energy. The Adventure Play Area, designed specially for older children, includes a zip slide, huge space net, climbing boulder and a fortress of towers and crossings with a long tube slide. Younger children will be enthralled in the Castle and Sandworks area with its gentle slides and swings, all set atop a safe sandy floor.
And for youngsters brave enough to come face-to-face with the Gruffalo, Moors Valley is one of only a few places in the country with a lifesize sculptures of the Gruffalo and the Gruffalo's Child located in the Forest picnic area.
Not many country parks can boast that they are home to a narrow gauge steam railway, but not only does Moors Valley have one, but it also happens to be the longest fully-signalled 7 1/4" narrow gauge railway in the south!
Like Go Ape and the Moors Valley Golf Course, the Moors Valley Railway is a privately-run business and long-standing tenant of the Park. In fact the railway can lay claim to being fully operational from 1986, a full two years before the official opening of Moors Valley. Today the railway is home to 21 beautifully engineered and colourful miniature steam locomotives and around 100,000 passengers enjoy the trip around the one-mile circuit of the Park every year.
Back in the forest, cyclists can drop in to the Cycle Hire Centre and choose from a range of adult and child bikes in various sizes, plus child seats, trailers and tag-a-longs. The fleet also includes one tandem and two wheelchair bikes (a bike with a built-in wheelchair on the front). Adaptive bikes, including hand-powered cycles, are available during regular Accessible Cycling sessions.
Within the wild grandeur of the forest is the rather more manicured landscape of the Moors Valley Golf Course. As well as the 18-hole course running along the Moors River valley, there is a five-hole pitch and putt course and an 18-hole putting course. And in an innovative development, visitors can now enjoy Footgolf where the object is to get a football into nine special extra-large holes using feet only!
Drop in to the Visitor Centre and you will find art exhibitions on display, a gift shop, and fully accessible toilets with baby changing facilities. A helpful Information Point provides all the information you need to enjoy your visit. You can also enjoy a home-cooked meal at Seasons Restaurant or, weather permitting, in the delightful courtyard picnic area.
Of course, a country park isn't a country park without an amazing range of wildlife and Moors Valley has a mixture of habitats including coniferous forest, deciduous woodland, lakes, ponds, rivers, meadow and heathland which support a huge variety of creatures. Downloadable activity sheets (http://www.moors-valley.co.uk/kids-only/fun-activities/) help children to find out about the animals, trees, birds, bugs and minibeasts that live in or visit the Park, and also provide fun activities that you can enjoy at home.
The Park is open all year round (except Christmas Day) and disabled access and facilities are provided including wheelchair and mobility scooter hire.
The Ranger team offers a programme of activities for adults and children throughout the year. Events and facilities at Moors Valley are constantly developing, so the best way to stay up to date is to go to www.moors-valley.co.uk or follow them on Facebook www.facebook.com/officialmoorsvalley