If you've got kids of varying ages, you know how hard it is to come up with a day out that'll keep them all happy. The answer lies a few miles outside of Reading, where fairies, dinosaurs and goats roam, and playgrounds and a miniature train can all be found in close proximity.
Wellington Country Park, affectionately known as 'Welly', is very cleverly designed, with families at the forefront of everything it offers.
Situated around a lake in very natural surroundings, it's an outdoorsy day out. That's not to say you need walking boots and a hiking pack — all areas are accessible for families with a pushchair or toddler in tow, and dogs are allowed in some areas too. Rather, as you wander underneath trees, and alongside the lake, it's easy to forget that you're close to the thundering main road between Reading and Basingstoke.
While upwards of £13 per person sounds steep for entry to something which describes itself as a 'country park', Wellington is much more than lakeside walks and nature trails, and is well worth the money. Other activities range from sandpits and toy diggers for toddlers, to crazy golf and adventure playgrounds for older children, plus a farmyard and miniature railway for... well, we're fully-grown adults and we loved them.
Our tip? Stock up on animal food at the entrance, then head straight to the animal farm when it opens. Goats, ponies, sheep, alpacas, pigs and donkeys are all up early and awaiting the first visitors of the day — and the all important paper bags of goodies they wield in their hands. Take your time feeding the animals before it gets busy.
Back in the centre of the action, the miniature railway is well worth your time. Board 'Arthur' the train at Wellington station, and enjoy a brief, relaxing ride through the trees. Older kids can look out for the alphabet spelt out in the branches above, while smaller visitors can spot the different areas of the forest, including the digger zone, dinosaur paddock, fairy woodland and Barking station. As with everything at Welly, it's brilliantly thought out.
When it's time to let off steam, there are ample adventure playgrounds, from the towering hillside Snakes and Ladders slide complex, to a smaller toddler's playground, and the Enchanted Forest, with its toadstool play equipment, and fairy doors nailed to the trees.
Follow the roaring sound through the woods to discover a gathering of dinosaurs, with various species represented in huge models. So captivated was the toddler in our party, that we caught him squaring up to a triceratops several times his size, growling under his breath.
In yet another clever design idea, the park is laid out so that different kids can play in different areas, and their adults supervise them all from one spot. The only niggle in the kid-friendly layout is that lake in the centre — it's beautiful, but it's not fenced off.
Despite (or maybe because of) its family-centric ethos, Wellington Country Park avoids the over-commercialisation found at theme parks and other attractions. Sure, a couple of cafes and food kiosks are dotted around the place (some only open on very busy days), so you're never far from the next drink or snack, but they're designed to blend in with the landscape, so parents could easily avert young eyes from the ice creams on offer if necessary.
Similarly, the Splash Zone is tucked around a corner between the dinosaurs and the Snakes and Ladders playground, so if you've forgotten to pack their swimsuits, you can easily gloss over the water-based fun, and they'll be none the wiser.
Picnics are encouraged at Wellington, with ample, well-spaced picnic benches dotted all over, whether you want to tuck into your sarnies on the main lawn at the centre of the action, in a quiet spot by the lake, or hidden away in a secret woodland area.
Exhausted at the sound of it? A simple walk around the lake or through the nature trails is also an option, and with wooden play equipment dotted along the path, there's plenty to keep the kids happy while parents and grandparents simply enjoy the stroll.
Located between Reading and Basingstoke, Wellington Country Park is within easy driving distance of London — and if you do it right, the kids might just sleep all the way home.
Wellington Country Park, Odiham Road, Riseley, Berkshire, RG7 1SP. Advance booking is recommended (and required at certain times). Entrance tickets start at £13.95. A couple of attractions (miniature railway, crazy golf, Welly Wheels cars) incur a small additional charge, payable at the entrance on the day (card payments only, no cash). Animal food is also sold at the entrance.