Suffolk/Essex: Can you entertain the children during the summer holidays without breaking the bank? Read our days out for a fiver guide
- Credit: Lucy Taylor
Suffolk and Essex are tourist meccas at this time of year so why not join the daytrippers and holiday makers and discover what the region has to offer - without breaking the bank.
Here we look at how you and your family can enjoy a day out for under a fiver this summer.
You finally decide to take the children to a theme park as reward or bribery for this year’s good behaviour, writes mum-of-three Kate Dodd.
After re-mortgaging the house to pay for tickets, you then pay for ice cream, a hot dog (luke-warm) in a stale bun with floppy fries, somehow get talked into buying a blue slushy drink in a twirly giant cup with free refills and after an hour’s trudge around the gift shop, buy a stuffed koala in a logo’d T-shirt just to avoid a scene.
You’re seriously out-of-pocket and it’s only week one of the school holidays. It can be very easy to spend silly amounts on your children. According to a new survey by insurer LV=, families typically spend £660 on each child for activities over the summer holidays and a third of them say they struggle to find the money.
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Of course theme parks have their place – I love them – but I also know that my girls are just as happy sticking feathers and leaves to cardboard. Or scooting to the park with cheese and tomato sandwiches in their Hello Kitty lunchboxes.
Nothing beats a day on the beach and in Suffolk and Essex we are spoilt for choice. Frinton is a particular favourite. Free parking, shallow water, no gift shops to tempt the children – it’s a lovely spot.
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We also enjoy a trip to Alton Water at Holbrook to watch the water sports. The path is easy going for bikes and buggies, and the view over the lake is stunning.
Another favourite is the Suffolk Food Hall on the outskirts of Ipswich. Of course, you could easily bust your £5 budget with lunch at The Cookhouse and stunning home ware to tempt you. But the children enjoy the giant bouncy pillow and the ice cream or cake from the little cafe. Again, the views from the Orwell Bridge down the river make it a worthwhile visit.
I daresay there will be days when I’m counting the hours until the start of school. However, with a little bit of creative thinking and a lot of help from our beautiful surroundings, at least I’ll keep on eye on the bank balance.
The best things in life are free
Angie Bentley from Sudbury. Mum to Jack, six and Tommy, seven.
“I’m a big believer in the old adage “the best things in life are free” and there’s a host of things to do around Sudbury that cost next to nothing. For starters, a walk on the town’s famous meadows - a County Wildlife Site – will always turn up something of natural interest. This week, we spotted herons and grass snakes.
A cycle ride along the Valley Walk into Long Melford and a picnic by Liston Mill guarantees a cheap but special day out while a game of football at Belle Vue Park costs me nothing but my pride.
Fruit-picking at Wheldons Farm at Newton Green or Spencers Fram at Wickham St Paul needn’t cost too much if you keep it to a punnet per child. It’s fun, outdoors and you have some lovely fruit to take home with you.
If the weather is not too great, a visit to the library always helps pass some quality time, while the museum in the town hall, featuring items and a photograph archive of Sudbury’s past.”
I recommend a visit to library
Ipswich’s Donna Sadler, mum to Beth, four, and two-year-old Chloe.
“For book lovers I recommend a visit to Ipswich Library. You can spend hours reading, taking part in the summer activities and then taking your favourites books home.
One of my favourite ‘outdoor’ places is Holywells park. The playground is great, but my children especially love the water sprays - perfect for a hot day. They also love the ice cream van! Another favourite is Bourne Park, with the paddling pool that can keep the girls amused for hours.
Hollow Tree Farm in Semer is another brilliant place on a budget. It’s £2.50 for entry and we have hours of fun feeding the animals and playing on the playground. It’s also a great place to picnic.
Felixstowe is another favourite spot in the summer holidays. By utilising one of the many free car parking spaces along the front you can take the short hop to the promenade so the children can scoot or ride their bikes from one end to other.”
Nick Sadler, dad to Josie, 6, from north Essex.
“Bike rides, trips to the park and building dens are all great ways of keeping children amused for free but the novelty soon wears off.
When boredom sets in, why not try crabbing at Felixstowe Ferry? A ball of string costs less than £1, and you can usually find a bucket, net and suitable weight - a few large nuts work well - in your garden shed.
Most butchers will offer you scraps as bait for little more than a charity donation.
Remember some spare change for parking and to check the tides.
Get there two hours before high tide, as the tide comes in, so will the bites.
Another option, is the Southwold Maize Maze. At £5 for adults and £4.50 for kids, it just about qualifies. And if you log onto their website now you can download a voucher.
Kids will burn lots of energy, and after collecting their stickers they can jump around on the bouncy pillow and climb the tower. Take a picnic and stay for the whole afternoon.”
Have fun at local village fete
Liz Nice, mum to Rudie, 5, and Redford, 7, from Bury.
“The boys loved Legoland, but it costs nearly £200 once you factor in petrol, food, snacks, and tickets, for a day standing in a queue, interspersed, very briefly by the five rides we got to go on.
I’m going to think very carefully before doing anything like that again because the things we’ve had most fun doing have cost nothing.
We made a movie in the woods by our house, written by and starring the children called Zombie Adventure! I don’t think Spielberg will be signing us up any time soon but we were stars and we loved it.
I also set up an obstacle course in the garden which got everyone involved, including my teenage nephews who became very competitive with my other half.
And there is great fun to be had at your local village fete for next to nothing too. My sons entered the sack race and the three-legged race at Fornham fete and were as thrilled with their well done stickers than with anything else money could buy.”
Baby-friendly days out
Naomi Gornall, mum of ten-month-old Maria, from Ipswich.
“Finding stuff to do with a baby can be tough so when they’re too young to run around and know what’s going on, it’s best to do things you want to do – while ensuring facilities are child-friendly.
RSBP Minsmere is perfect for that. They have buggy-friendly paths meandering through the reserve and ramps up to some of the hides, meaning that you can enjoy a spot of bird watching (while they hopefully sleep). The cafe has plenty of highchairs and the friendly staff make you feel welcome.
There are parent and child parking bays, signs indicating it is a ‘breastfeeding friendly’ venue, and baby changing facilities are good too. As under 5s get in for free, I found it was a great way to wile away an afternoon. Plus when they get older, there are all sorts of special events laid on for children.”
So much to do, so little time
Claire Jennings, mum to Erin and Jacob, of Ipswich.
“Six whole weeks or as a friend says, 40 days. Not sure which sounds the longest, although when you minus the weekends, our two-week holiday and a stay with granny and grandad, it isn’t as daunting.
On our free days, we will visit Ipswich Museum and Christchurch Mansion, which have special events on during the summer. I’ve also been on the look out for ‘minimum spend days’.
The Horrible Histories tour around Ipswich is only £3 per child, and a trip on the open top bus which goes over the Orwell bridge is £2, both inexpensive and only enjoyed at this time of year.
The sports centres have family roller skating and junior football. And on a rainy day there are junior showings at Cineworld for £1.50 each.
My two are also looking forward to putting the garden slide into the paddling pool. Priceless.”
Flying high after kite day
The Williamson family from Fornham St Martin had never dreamt of making kites before, so tried their hand at Nowton Park, Bury St Edmunds, with ranger Dwaine Gray in the run-up to official kite-making day on July 30.
Mum Emma, a nurse at West Suffolk Hospital, dad Dave, a rear crew member on a search and rescue helicopter, and children Freya, six, Logan, eight, and Macy, 10, pictured above, made five kites out of recycled materials as a practice for the big day next week.
“It was amazing fun and all the children loved it, especially Logan,” said Emma. “I even had a go myself and soon picked up the basic skills. Nowton is perfect for kite-flying with the wide open spaces and hills to run down, and especially ones you have made yourself. Just goes to show that so much fun can be had without spending a fortune. A whole day’s fun for all the family for the price of a Big Mac!”
Logan said: “It was awesome. Mine was over two feet wide and flew straight away. They teach you really well how to put a kite together. It’s really easy when you know how.”
Freya said: “I chose the colours, assembled it, and I love it! Best thing is, you can take them home and then can play with them there too! It took me 30 minutes to make and I flew it for two hours non-stop. It was a great day and I am so proud of my kite!”
• Wednesday, July 30 ? kite-making, Nowton Park, Bury St Edmunds. “Let’s go fly a kite!” Build a colourful kite, test-fly it around the park and take it home to show your friends; £4.
For more summer fun, visit our summer pages here