Like all new parents, sometimes I found that I just had to get out and about with Baby J, needing a change of scenery. But where could I go? Would it be baby friendly? Could I get in there with the buggy? These were my worries, and through trial and error I've come up with a few suggestions where you could travel to near by with baby and relax knowing that you can get in.
Burford Garden Centre - only a 10-14 minute drive on the A40 from Witney, well signposted and easy to find. Lots of parking, and accessible spaces so you can get baby in & out. They have a lovely cafe which has a baby area, with facilities to warm up baby's food, and park the buggies. Lots of clean safe high chairs on hand, and the seating is easy to manoeuvre around. Changing facilities very close by too [nothing worse than a long trek] The decor in the cafe area is excellent for babies, lots to see and keep them engaged, Baby J spent ages looking at the lights and pointing at their designs The cafe area is cleverly located near the children's section, which again has lots to do for young people, and lots to tempt parents to buy!The garden centre itself is well laid out, I had no issues getting around with the buggy, and again there was lots for baby to see so ideal on rainy days. The downside would be the prices, they are little high, so nice as a treat but for me not a weekly outing. 4*'s
Millets Farm Centre - about a 20 minute from Witney on the A415, again well signposted and very easy to find. A fair size car park with an overflow carpark too. Parking spaces fairly accessible. I visited the garden centre side of the park, and found the cafe there very welcoming. Lots of clean, safe highchairs for baby, although the seating was a little crammed in so manoeuvring in and out could be tricky at times. Changing facilities are in the garden centre too although not immediately next to the cafe bit. I went near Christmas time and there was loads for Baby J to see, lots of displays at his height, things he could reach for [and not break] He especially liked the model Christmas village. They had an ice rink and a chance to meet Santa too! In between the garden centre and the restaurant / farm shop is a wonderful animal area, where they are goats, sheep, cows, ponies and other small animals in pens that you can show to babies / children... and best of all its all free. Even on the grey day we went Baby J's face lit up when he saw the animals, especially as he saw some 'quack quacks' it was a tad muddy but nothing dangerous. It can get busy during peak times so well worth trying to plan ahead to avoid these times. Prices are middle of the range, really nice place to go 4*'s
Yarnton Garden Centre - about a 25 minute drive from Witney, head out through Long Hanborugh - Bladon, take the 3rd exit at the roundabout, over the next roundabout and then the 1st left at the next one - follow the signs which will lead you there [hoping my memory serves me right on directions!] There car park is fairly big, and the spaces are accessible. The garden centre is spread out with a welcoming cafe that has a zone for children. Highchairs are available and a decent amount of seating, it may be difficult to manouver with wheels if its super busy. Changing facilities are not close by, and are back out in the car park...not the best of locations. Lots to see for little ones. Mummy G often takes Baby Ja and he loves looking in the pet centre at all the fish. There is some clever merchandising in certain areas, after wheeling Baby J round a corner he squealed with delight at seeing himself in a mirror, and loved looking at the wind chimes. Some displays felt a little tight so those with a bigger buggy beware! The cakes were really lovely and worth the trip alone. Great for a rainy day. 3.5*'s
Bicester Avenue - a 30 minute drive away, head for Bicester on the A34 and follow the signs. Bicester Avenue has a large garden centre, a pet shop, Laura Ashley shop, Hobby Craft, to name but a few. Lots of accessible parking and over flow parking. When I came after a nose round the shops I went in the garden centre for a cuppa. Its really well laid out, easy to get round and lots to see. The cafe is great, lots of choice, a fair amount of seating and facilities to warm baby food too. When I last came Baby J hadn't quite mastered crawling, but now he has I'm hoping to bring him back as there is a fab looking soft play area [which I understand you can use for a small charge] and a very children friendly cafe bit next to the main one. Outside there is small play area as well. Changing facilities are great - very clean. The prices are very good, and if you sign up for their free membership card you get sent vouchers through the post and get a discount in the cafe area. Even hubby is happy to come with me as there are some shops that appeal to him too. Nice 'mini day out' shame it wasn't closer. 4*'s
For the shopoholics there is also Bicester Village which is just down the road, loads of parking and lots of discount shops to visit. It can get very busy at peak times with bus loads of tourists. Baby changing is available, and there are a few different places where you can get a cuppa and a bite to eat.
Hilltop Garden Centre - a 10/15 minute drive through Hailey heading towards Charlbury, and as the name suggest its at the top of a hill. Lots of parking suitable for the size of the garden centre, and accessible too. The garden centre has a nice range of household, gifts and garden supplies. The cafe is well laid out but can get busy. There is also some out door seating available and on a warm day would be lovely to sit out looking at the hilltop views. Highchairs are available. I didn't use the changing facilities on my trips but have been told by others that they are good. Its a small centre in comparison to the others but well stocked, there is a wildlife trail for older children, and the displays are well placed with things for children to see and aww over, although some displays have lower items that are easily grabbed - as I found out! Prices are reasonable, with a fair range of food including scrummy cakes. Great for a 10 minute breather. 3.5*'s
Blenheim Palace - and I saved the best to last! a 15 minute drive from Witney, just head for Woodstock and you really can't miss it. This is the only one of my days out where there is an initial entry free, but you buy one day and get 12 months free... yes 12 MONTHS FREE! Always worth keeping an eye in the local papers too as they sometimes run golden ticket offers where you get 18 months free. Parking is ok, its on grass / gravel and can get muddy. Its about a 5 minute walk from the main palace. I love coming here as you will see from my other posts. If you head for the main house you can wander around the palace [some areas can be tricky with the buggy] or you can head for one of the many walks [the info desk has maps] my favourite is the lakeside walk which is about a 40 minute brisk walk, taking in the lake, waterfall, & rose garden. Ask at the visitor desk for the disabled access code and you will then be able to get into the garden side with no issues. Its not all flat there are some inclines / declines but nothing too challenging. The paths are fairly level just the odd one or too unevenness. The view are spectacular, Baby J loves looking at the ducks on the lake and the gushing waterfalls. We often get surprised by a pheasant popping up and running across our paths too. Lots of green areas on this walk to stop and use for picnics. Back at the main house the cafe is great, and very reasonable. The staff are on hand to get you a high chair and in my case carry my coffee and cake to the table. The changing facilities have recently been re-done and are great, although they could do with another one in the main area. The gift shop is well laid out too. From the main house you can take the little train down to the pleasure gardens, which has a butterfly house, model village, play area, and adventure play area for bigger kids. There is also a car park near this bit if you wanted to head straight here. I love this section and the butterfly house is fab for little ones, Baby J is enjoying it more and more. Lots of outside seating in the pleasure garden cafe bit, although not huge amounts of high chairs. There is also baby changing in this area too, well appointed and kept clean.
For the more adventurous there are longer walks round the estate, I've seen families with dogs on leads and kids on bicycles taking advantage of the paved paths. Lots of areas to stop for a picnic and green areas to explore. The Slummies did a walk round in the summer when all the babies were in prams, and we really enjoyed it. Looking forward to going back this summer now the babies are a bit bigger and can enjoy the picnic with us. Although there is a charge for a pass, it does give you discounted if not free access to events too, so well worth it. 4.5*'s a firm favourite.