SEND Camping at Aldenham Country Park: Truly a ‘Free Range Experience’.

Loving having a real fire!

Aldenham Country Park is a multi-activity country park in rural Hertfordshire. We were familiar with the park; we’ve visited many times for their SEND provision (inside and outdoor play spaces for children with additional needs and disabilities) so I decided to book their camping cabin for Eden’s first camping trip.

Cabin Camping

We stayed in ‘Alfred’ a wooden cabin that sleeps 4. It has an extremely comfy double bed, 2 single camp beds and a wood burner. The cabin is set in its own little fenced off area that has a picnic table and fire pit. There are three cabins in this area; Alfred stands alone in one side of the clearing and the other two are fenced in together- perfect for two families who want to camp together as you have shared outdoor space but your own cabins. Each set of cabins has its own parking space and water tap.

The wooden cabins are basic but you have everything you need – think of it like camping without taking the tent- and bring all the equipment you would expect to, including sleeping bags/bedding. I think that the cabins are perfect for children with additional needs as they are situated within the SEND adventure playground next to the SEND Pavilion – an indoor play space that offers play, activities and a sensory room- unfortunately it is closed until May 2021 due to Covid restrictions. Still, the kids made full use of the adventure playground- you have it completely to yourself outside of opening times. As you are inside the playground, it is completely safe for the children to roam freely. They are fenced in and the gates are locked in the evening.

Panoramic shot of the cabin interior – basic but functional! Very comfy bed and warm fire.

Facilities

Aldenham Country Park is popular with families and gets busy on weekends and school holidays. They have a large car park- £4.50 parking fee- Winnie the Pooh themed 100 Aker Wood, a playground, natural play area, adventure playground in the SEND pavilion, 1.7 mile reservoir walk, a children’s farm with farm shop and a restaurant and kiosk. There is lots to do onsite so we spent most of our 4 days at Aldenham exploring and enjoying the park.

100 Aker Wood

100 Aker Wood is a circular walk in one of the fields- it took us about 30 minutes. There are eight stops on the walk, all places of interest in the story- Eeyore’s Gloomy Place, Pooh Bridge, Pooh’s house, Roo’s sandy pit etc, and it’s a popular walk with families with small children. My two have done this many times but they still enjoy running from one house to the next to peer in the windows and see who lives there. There is a large field in the middle and some picnic tables; it’s a nice spot for a picnic on a sunny day.

I would suggest that 100 Aker Wood could do with a bit of love. It’s been there a long time and could use a little TLC. It’s a shame that people post their litter in the character’s post boxes as little kids have taken the time to write a lovely little note to piglet – that sits alongside crisp packets and other litter.

Play Areas

There is a small playground next to the kiosk and beside this is a natural play area in the trees. Kids build bivvys out of branches and climb, swing, balance using what they find. There are picnic tables dotted around so parents can sit and have a coffee while the kids explore. The adventure playground is specifically designed for children with special needs. It opens at 10am and the first hour is for children with SEND only, after 11 it is open to all but must be pre-booked. It costs £3 per child for a two- hour session. If you are camping in the cabins, you are inside the playground space so you have open access all day for the duration of your stay. My two were on the zip line at 6am and 9pm! When the SEND Pavilion opens again, there will be more activities on offer too – have a look at their website for information.

Farm Trail

The farm trail at Aldenham is currently pre-book only so they can manage the numbers. It is a lovely little farm with a good variety of animals and you can buy food to feed them on your way around. They have ‘big’ animals such as horses, donkeys, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, alpacas and a variety of ‘small’ animals including rabbits, guinea pigs, loads of birds – everything you would expect. The staff are lovely, very helpful and willing to chat. My two had loads of questions and all the keepers took the time to chat. The farm cost £19 for one adult, two children and three bags of food – you get three bags of different food for £5. Adults £5, children £4.50. There are no concessions for disabled/carer. If you are camping and you pay for access to the farm, you get to visit multiple times – definitely worth it. It is busy during school holidays and the slots sell out quickly so plan your trip and book ahead.

Walks and Nature Trails

Aldenham is a lovely place to walk. As well as the Winnie-the-Pooh walk for little legs, you can do the 1.7 mile walk around the reservoir and see what wildlife you can spot. There are other woodland walks too and you can see the sheep and lambs in neighbouring fields.

Food and Drink

When camping, you can have a fire and hire a barbecue if you want to. There are options to buy a breakfast box or a meat hamper from the sister farm for your barbecue. The farm shop is pretty limited when it comes to food options and camping supplies but we did buy gluten free burgers and sausages from the farm shop for our BBQ. Unfortunately, the meat in the farm shop is all frozen so we had to let it defrost and have it the next day. The Clockhouse Kiosk is great for takeaway coffee, snacks and ice cream – not the cheapest so if you’re camping make sure you have your kettle and supplies. The Rustic Rhubarb is open 10-4pm (last food orders at 3:45) and has lovely outdoor seating area and delicious food. We ate here a few times and tried a few different things on the menu – the food is fresh and very tasty and the staff are very friendly and helpful. Adult breakfast is £8.50 and the kid’s version is £4.50. Breakfast for one adult and two children including drinks cost around £20.

Showers and Loos

Cabin campers use the toilet block in the main park, there aren’t separate loos. Generally this is fine but it’s a bit of a pain at night as, although only a short walk, you have to unlock two gates (you have the codes to the padlocks) to get there – so don’t leave it to the last minute! 🙂 There is a simple shower that is shared by campers; you are given a time slot and the showers is thoroughly cleaned between uses.

Final thoughts…

We really enjoyed our stay at Aldenham and would definitely go again – we’re thinking of trying glamping in the bell tent in the summer! The staff are all very friendly and helpful and go out of their way to make you feel welcome and make sure you have everything you need. My kids took a particular shine to Holly, the camping manager, who was super helpful, made our trip very easy and enjoyable, and was always happy to help.

I would recommend cabin camping at Aldenham Country Park to single parents with young children, families with children with SEND and reluctant campers – it’s a wonderful experience to be surrounded by nature, but not as intimidating as regular camping. It’s also very reasonably priced compared to similar venues.

I love Aldenham’s tagline: ‘A Free Range Experience’. This resonates with me as that’s exactly what it felt like. Surrounded by nature, my kids had the best time wandering free and feeling very safe doing so… from fires, night walks, star gazing, animals…it was a trip they will remember, I’m sure!

Happy camping, folks! Amy x

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