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32


Family Favourites Ideas for what to do with little ones.


By Philippa Hutton Ponies, trains & trees for free


Christmas, with presents galore, always takes its toll on the bank balance. But in our house, the January sales are worse, because I’m an absolute sucker for a bargain. So whilst I frittered away my pennies on ridiculous kitchen gadgets and table-settings that will spend most of the time gracing the back of a cupboard, I try to compensate for my extravagance in the early months of the New Year with free entertainment for my son. Basically, it’s Nkuku’s best crockery for me and kicking a ball through some mud for Rafa. He seems to love it though – so why change?


A free outing is the best type of outing – all worries about ‘value for money’ are put to one side and we just get on and enjoy ourselves. Here are some of our faves:


THE MARE AND FOAL SANCTUARY Near Berry Pomeroy, Totnes This is a marvellous, little gem of a place. I say “little” but the number of horses they rescue, look after here and seek to re-home is fairly staggering and it’s an impressive operation. You can drop in any day of the week and normally there will be a horse or two exercising in the indoor school. The remainder are in the stables, which you can wander around at your leisure, patting the friendly equine noses that present themselves over the enclosure doors – every nose has a name and they are all clearly well loved and looked after by the team of dedicated volunteers. Horses large, horses small – some minuscule Dartmoor ponies who are always rather comical and a definite hit with a toddler, who can almost look them in the eye – horses of every shape and color. It’s not a day out in its own right but if you have a spare half an hour to an hour then it’s not too far off the beaten track and definitely worth a drop in. Rafa loves it and the whole visit is spent making the sound of horses’ hooves trotting with his tongue behind his teeth; “yes it’s a horse Rafa, very good,” “click, click, click,” “yes darling, a horse, lovely.” We continue like this most of the way home. The sanctuary is free to enter but


donations are welcomed – and I would encourage them. Check out the Facebook page or website www.mareandfoal.org for directions etc.


THE SOUTH DEVON STEAM RAILWAY Buckfastleigh Okay, so not technically free if you actually go on the train. But the point is, that you don’t need to. There is really a lot on offer here for the young vehicle enthusiast, or in my case, train obsessive – yes, apparently I’ve managed to breed a train-spotter over the course of the past sixteen months. Actually, all credit must go to my husband


and my father, who has earmarked a protégé in his grandson. I am positively stoked (no pun intended). We can spend hours down at Buckfastleigh station


“It gets Rafa’s thumbs up every time”


on a weekend – you can sit on the platform and wave at the train and the drivers (this is the hub of the railway so there’s always a train to be had as they refuel the water tank and the staff – also volunteers – are very friendly). Then there is a great museum just off the platform, where kids can also play with toy trains to their hearts’ content. The shop (if you are feeling flush) is well stocked and worth a look even if not spending as it has a model railway in huge glass cabinets along one wall. Finally, over the far side of the platform – nearest the car pack – is a lovely grassy area for picnics, with benches, overlooking the hustle and bustle of the station and complete with a mini ride-on train. Kids can run safely around and there’s also a short walk, along the river, accessible by a gate and clearly sign-posted. It gets Rafa’s thumbs up every time and “Choo, choo, choo,” replaces the “click, click, click.” No less annoying sadly but you learn to take the rough with the smooth. Visit www.southdevonrailway.co.uk


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