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10 Places To Take Your Pre-Schooler In South West England

20/07/2010 13:12 | Updated 22 May 2015

If you've got small children, you'll know that South West England is a great holiday destination. I've had some brilliant holidays with my family in Devon and Cornwall, cycling on the Tarka Trail and scrambling over rocks looking for fossils on the coast.

With all the extra palaver that travelling with small children involves, it's great to be able to head off in the car and know you'll soon be at a lovely beach enjoying an ice cream.

But it's not just about beaches, there are any number of adventure playgrounds, animal parks and sanctuaries, and opportunities to explore the historical and natural beauty of the area.

Take a look at our ideas for the Top Ten things to do to while visiting South West England with pre-schoolers:

1. The Tarka Trail is available to cyclists between Braunton and Meeth, using the old railways of North Devon. It is a traffic free, and therefore stress-free, bike ride, passing through the largely unspoilt countryside described by Henry Williamson in his classic novel 'Tarka the Otter'. You can hire bikes, tag-alongs, trailers, child-seats and children's bikes at local bike shops . I hadn't cycled in years before managing about 16 miles of this flat route, so it can be done by anyone.

2. Crabbing is enjoyed equally by young and old - debate the perfect bait, compete on catch numbers and then race them back into the sea at the end of the day. Brixham Harbour in Devon is a great spot to catch some crabs and during their Heritage Festival they offer a crabbing competition. Other places where the crabs bite in South West England include Poole Quay and Torquay.

3. The National Seal Sanctuary at Gweek in Cornwall offers children the opportunity to encounter seals, otters and penguins in their underwater viewing areas. You can visit the Seal hospital and meet resident sea lions. Interactive talks and feeding sessions add to this interesting day out. And if that doesn't get them there's an adventure playground to burn off some steam.

4. Who'd have thought you could see camels, wallabies and rheas on a farm in Cornwall? At Cornish Camels on the Lizard Peninsula you can see all this plus the usual English farm animals. Lots of small children are used to visiting farms where they can pet and view animals, but not many have not come face to face with camels! Worth a trip to see the look of surprise on their faces.

5. For something to capture the imagination of your little dinosaur fan, try fossil hunting at Charmouth on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset. Bones of extinct animals are continuoully being revealed as the cliffs erode. You can go it alone or take advantage of the guided fossil hunts organised by Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre.

6. Monkey World in Wareham, Dorset holds a lot of interest for small children. It is home to over 230 rescued and endangered monkeys and apes and kids have the chance to make up feeders of treats to give to the primates and then watch as they eat them. There are also playgrounds to keep them happy and facilities to feed and water them. You may know this place from the TV series on Five. We had a great day out here a few years ago, definitely a source of many happy memories.

7. At Bishops Lydeard in Somerset you will find the West Somerset Railway, Britain's longest heritage railway, with regular steam and diesel train rides available from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead. For any pre-schoolers with an avid interest in Thomas and friends, it's the place to go.

8. Much of Wiltshire is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the best way to explore it is on foot. If you have older pre-schoolers who like to walk or smaller children that you can carry on your back then visit Lacock, a beautiful National Trust village, where a walk along the river and down local lanes will afford you some lovely views and the opportunity to stretch your legs a little. There is good walking to be had throughout South West England but another area worth noting for those with small children are the accessible nature reserves of Somerset, for example at Ham Hill.

9. When planning a trip to the South West Bournemouth can be easy to overlook, but ignore it at your peril! In 2007 Bournemouth was voted the most child-friendly resort by Mother & Baby magazine. Between Bournemouth and Poole there are ten miles of safe, gently shelving sandy beaches. Why not hire a beach hut for a few days, somewhere to store the deckchairs, make a cup of tea, get changed and put down roots for a few days.

10. The Oceanarium in Bournemouth has one of those amazing underwater tunnels where you can watch the sea creatures swim above your heads. And if that's not enough for you there is a fully interactive dive cage, the world's first apparently, where touchscreens take you through a series of animations (some a bit scary if you don't like Great White Sharks!). Children under 3 enter free.

Where have you enjoyed visiting in the South West with your family? Leave a comment and add to the list

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