Autumn’s a wonderful time for a getaway. Even the glorious highs of summer are no match for the simple pleasures of a torchlit evening walk with golden brown leaves crunching underfoot.
And you’d be hard pushed to find happier children than mine as they scaled the heights of a wooden adventure playground climbing frame, wellies caked in mud.
Simple pleasures like these are something of a speciality at Sandy Balls.
It’s got the holiday camp standards like a decent pub with family entertainment, a well-run swimming pool and leisure club, soft play area and playgrounds.
But its biggest asset is its setting – in the heart of the New Forest amid acres and acres of beautiful, tranquil woodland.
In the summer, the holiday park is a useful hub for seaside days out to Bournemouth and Poole or perhaps a thrilling (and exhausting) day at Paultons Park.
But this visit, a long weekend at the end of a busy half-term break, had a different kind of charm.
If you make the conscious decision not to tear around soaking up the local tourist attractions, then even a relatively short break can see time appear to expand.
We made the most of our visit by turning up early on the Friday morning.
Although keys to lodges are not handed out until 3pm – a rule the staff seem to stick to rigidly – guests are welcome to use the site’s facilities during the day,
First stop was the cycle hire shop, where knowledgeable staff kitted me out with a mountain bike – and, to great excitement from my two young daughters, both under four years old, a trailer on the back with enough space for the pair of them.
This gave their mum a chance for a rest while we tore around the park as fast as my tired legs would allow.
After that we were hungry, so it was off for pizza and pasta in the site’s Italian restaurant, which includes a play area with a film showing for the little ones.
Once that had gone down it was off for a swim. At busy times the pool operates a system of wristbands to allow guests a one-hour swim.
These are handed out on the hour for the following hour, so it’s worth picking one up an hour before you want to take a dip.
Once we’d dried off we were ready for a sit-down, so we were thankful that it was time to get our key.
There are camping and static caravans available for visitors on all budgets, but I reckon a lodge is worth the extra.
Ours was spacious, warm, clean and, most importantly, equipped with a TV and DVD player to keep the children entertained for the duration of a well-earned cup of tea.
Then it was back off to the main square for the evening’s entertainment – a circus show that the kids loved.
Saturday followed a similar pattern, although we decided to eat off site at nearby pub The Fighting Cocks, which has a climbing frame outside and a little children’s area with books, games and jigsaw puzzles indoors.
Back at base, Saturday night’s entertainment was even better than the previous day’s – a spooky Halloween magic show with a fancy dress disco afterwards.
Adults weren’t required to dress up –but that didn’t stop some of them.
Sandy Balls is popular – it’s now taking bookings for spring – but there are some good deals to be found, particularly for weekend breaks, if you keep an eye on the website.
Sandy Balls is near Fordingbridge in the heart of the New Forest, just south of the village of Godshill.
The postcode for sat nav systems is SP6 2JZ.
Drive carefully on the roads around the park – beautiful wild New Forest ponies roam freely in this area.
Don’t forget to pack your wellies – it can get muddy around play areas and on the forest walks.
A weekend break in a four-berth woodland lodge starts from £199, going up to £749 at peak times.
Week-long stays are only available during peak summer weeks and over Christmas.
A week’s break in a four-berth woodland lodge starts from £649
Camping and touring pitches start from £15 per night, going up to £40 per night during peak season
For more information visit sandyballs.co.uk or book on 0845 270 2248