TEN GO MAD AT SANDY BALLS
Published: February 2006
This month she’s travelling once more with her family to the heart of the New Forest…
Last month I was talking about Spain's premier theme park, Port Aventura, and this month I'm reviewing one of the UK's most popular holiday parks. So what happened to the "adventurous traveller" you may ask?" Well, she's still here. Adventure is all about the unknown and for someone who merrily treks through the Himalayas (watch this space next month!), a trip to Sandy Balls Holiday Centre in the New Forest was certainly something new and different.
First off, the name. Who on earth calls a family holiday park "Sandy Balls"? The centre's quirky name can be traced back to the reign of Henry VII when it appeared on maps and documents as "Sandyballas", a reference to the dome-shaped sand and gravel outcrops on the centre's western boundary. Today's holiday centre is named after those gravel outcrops, many of which remain, the best examples being Good Friday Hill and Giant's Grave. Not the most exciting of explanations perhaps but at least it clears that up.
The second mystery must surely be why on earth would I choose to review a holiday park for families? Well, back in October 2004 as regular website browsers will remember from August's feature "Shepherds del Sol" we enjoyed a three-generational family holiday at a villa on the Costa del Sol". Now it was my brother's turn to organise and this time there were 10 of us; two parents over 70, brother and sister-in-law and their four children under 10, and one other sister. Between a villa in Spain or a log cabin in the UK, you could argue that my bother had drawn the short straw. Far from it, Sandy Balls specialises in multi-generational traditional family holidays. In fact back in August, four generations of the Clay family, a total of twenty people enjoyed a week's holiday. Matriarch Mrs Madge Clay aged 83 first visited Sandy Balls when she was a child of 14 and has stayed there on and off since 1935.
The UK is famous for its holiday camps; Butlins, Pontins, Haven and the like. They now call themselves "holiday parks" and have joined by several more upmarket options for families; Centerparcs is probably the best known whilst Sandy Balls boasts The English Tourism Council's 5 star award, the highest grading possible. Sandy Balls is privately owned and has been welcoming guests for over 75 years. The centre is set in 120 acres of park and woodland in the New Forest, close to Fordingbridge in Hampshire. The location is great for exploring the forest and the surrounding Hampshire countryside.
Accommodation includes four and six berth traditional timber lodges. All the lodges come fully equipped with kitchen, central heating and many have en suite facilities. Eleven of the luxury timber lodges have recently had a £120,000 makeover. They have patios, a bbq and come with beds ready made with crisp linen. Admittedly the rooms were quite small (slightly larger than a cruise liner cabin) but for the children, this all added to the appeal of staying in their very own "Wendy House". And if you're the sort of person who likes to travel with your own 'home away from home', be it a touring caravan, motor caravan or tent, then there are plenty of quality-serviced pitches on offer.
Sandy Balls also has a selection of luxury four and six berth caravan holiday homes but to enjoy the total Davy Crockett experience we opted for two adjacent lodges. The holiday centre is designed to blend in with the forest surroundings as much as possible. So much so, that it's been a gold winner of the David Bellamy Conservation Award no less than seven times.
There's a wide range of leisure facilities set around a village-style centre that serves as a focal point. You can take advantage of a first rate gym (we didn't), health club and indoor and outdoor pools. The pools were pretty basic; the indoor one, heavily chlorinated and the outdoor one small, shallow and cold but then again, it's the UK and how many days a year can you swim outdoors. The indoor pool had an adjoining jacuzzi, something you don't get at your local swimming baths and it was a big hit all round. If you're looking for a little more activity, there's also horsing riding and a highly recommended cycle centre. You can bring your own bikes but better still hire them at a very reasonable rate. Twenty-one speed mountain bikes, children's trailers, trailer bikes and even tandems are all available.
The Sandy Balls brochure describes the staff as having a single mission: To ensure that when you leave, you want to return. In all honesty, we had very few dealings with the staff. It's the sort of place where you can do as much or as little as you want. We were happy to use the pool and explore the surrounding area on our rental bikes. It was also more fun to bbq on our "deck" than to eat at one of the onsite restaurants. However, generations of guests seem to be very happy with the service and return year after year.
Once you've arrived at the Park there's no real need to leave. There's a fully stocked Spar shop (admittedly slightly more expensive than you'd find outside) including necessities like meat for the barbie, a daily newspaper and fine wines, and there's a bakery. If you don't fancy cooking, you have a choice between an Italian restaurant, Valencios or a more lively pub, The Woodside Inn, both offering takeaways.
With Sandy Balls as your base, you have the whole of the South Coast on your doorstep with lots of sights and activities to keep you busy. The cities of Salisbury, Portsmouth and Southampton are just a short drive away. Beaulieu, home to the Montagu family since 1538 and now home to the world famous National Motor Museum is one of the most popular attractions in the area and well worth a visit.
If you're the sort of person who is constantly on the look out for somewhere new to go for half term or a long weekend with the children, then Sandy Balls has plenty to offer. Adults can rest assured that they're in a safe and scenic place and with fishing, great woodland walks, riding, biking and a spa, there's plenty to keep the grown ups amused as well. I was pleasantly surprised by the accommodation and facilities on offer but the best selling point was the location within the New Forest. Having the UK's newest National Park on your doorstep was a real bonus.
Sandy Balls has recently announced a multi-million pound investment project. It began last month and on completion, the area at in the park centre will be transformed into a traffic-free pedestrian zone. Plans include the introduction of a host of new facilities including an innovative in-car check-in system, road infrastructure, a guest services centre, new retail outlet, bistro and beauty therapy. Plenty of new things for all those repeat visitors (54% of all guests) to enjoy in years to come. Who knows? I might end up one of them.
If you've visited SANDY BALLS , I'd like to HEAR FROM YOU.
TEN GO MAD AT SANDY BALLS
Petra joined Travel Channel for its launch back in 1994. She looked after research and worked on all original productions. Petra was one of the most recognisable faces in the the travel industry and when not on the canape circuit promoting the channel, she spent every free moment travelling. She's visited over 80 countries, mainly as a back packer as opposed to in 5 * luxury, unless of course it was in the name of research!