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Sandy Balls Holiday Centre, Nr Fordingbridge, Hampshire (Self-Catering)

“Forget the credit
  crunch and Pound
  vs Euro fiasco —
  book your family
  holiday in the UK.
  And you can’t go
far wrong at Sandy
  Balls in Hampshire,
  with excellent
  facilities and the
  outstanding natural
  beauty of The New
  Forest on your

LAST AUTUMN WE FOUND OURSELVES in a handsome new Nissan 350Z Roadster heading down to The New Forest in torrential rain perhaps not the best way to start a well-deserved and much-needed mini-break, but who cares when you have such a cool, sporty convertible to take you there and a cosy Rustic Retreat lodge at Sandy Balls Holiday Centre to look forward to.

Oh... the name! Sandy Balls can be traced back to the reign of Henry VII when it appeared on maps as 'Sandyballas', referring to the dome-shaped sand and gravel outcrops on the Western boundary of the centre that were formed in the Eocene era between 54.8 to 33.7 million years ago.

The estate was bought by Ernest Westlake in 1919 and the Westlake family still has a connection with Sandy Balls today. It was Ernest's aim to conserve areas of fine woodland and make it accessible to those who enjoyed visiting places of natural beauty. Sandy Balls is in a perfect location, set in 120 acres of woods and parkland within The New Forest National Park. The first chalets were erected in 1934 so there is plenty of experience on hand to help you to create your perfect UK holiday.

Our detached four-berth Rustic Retreat was a delightful two-bedroom pine cabin with a spacious bathroom fitted with a free-standing bath and a shower. The large living room has comfortable chairs, a dining area and a fully-equipped kitchenette — there's even a dishwasher. But that's not all. Each cabin has a generous-sized verandah with good quality wooden garden furniture and a small lawn with a barbecue and picnic bench along with plenty of space for parking one or two cars.

We settled in right away. The cabin was pleasant and easy to live with and the beds firm but comfortable. Everywhere was freshly cleaned — a personalised note from the 'chamber maids' (a nice touch) lets you know who was responsible. Bed linen, fluffy bathrobes, towels and tea towels are provided with the Rustic Retreats and the kitchenette really does have everything you need for self-catering.

There is a television with DVD player (DVDs can be hired from a good selection at the Country Store) and an electric mock 'wood-burning stove' that adds to the rustic appeal and provides a warm focus to the living area of the cabin. The low-noise policy after 11pm means that you're assured of a good night's rest.

Enjoy relaxing
woodland walks,
getting up close
(but not too personal!)
to the local wildlife,
and a gentle stroll
along the banks
of the River Avon
A welcome pack includes helpful advice, including details about the on-site facilities, ideas of where to go and what to do in the area and a list of on-site activities for the current week of your stay.

Everything is geared up for a stress-free break. Being spoilt for choice is something of a tradition — it comes with the territory. From the very warm welcome as you drive through the gates to the beautifully-presented accommodation and helpful staff, Sandy Balls is worthy of the accolades the holiday centre has already received: The David Bellamy Gold Conservation Award; English Tourism Council 5-Star Award; The Rose Award from the AA and The English Tourist Board; Tourism Excellence Award and the Green Tourism Gold Award. Sandy Balls is also the only holiday park in the country to have twice been awarded Caravan Holiday Park Of The Year.

Fancy dining out on-site? You can walk to the bistro for breakfast, coffee, snacks, afternoon tea or an appetising, Mediterranean-inspired meal using locally-sourced fresh ingredients. You can also eat at the The Woodside Inn — or enjoy quiz nights, discos and family entertainment. Try the reasonably-priced and very satisfying breakfasts; wholesome pub-style meals; local ale; or a well-chosen takeaway that includes pizzas, curries and burgers. On brighter days you can eat alfresco in the courtyard or pack a picnic to eat at the Riverside Recreation Area. Or you can chill out on your decking, have a barbecue then watch a movie in your own private space. Even rainy days can be fun!

The Country Store carries a good choice of basic groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables, small household goods and a selection of frozen ready-meals to cook yourself. Other on-site facilities include a gift shop, a leisure club with a gym and swimming pool and a sensibly-priced beauty parlour offering alternative treatments.

Why not hire bikes from The Cycle Centre? Or, for a reasonable price, 7 to 12-year-olds can take the Guided Cycle Experience. You can arrange guided nature walks and horse-riding through the parkland or even kayak lessons on the River Avon. If in doubt, the information desk next to the gift shop has a plentiful supply of leaflets to inspire your outings.

Children are well catered for with a host of activities to keep them safely occupied and a children's adventure play area, Toddler's Wood soft play area for the under-fives and a Family Fun Room. During our week at Sandy Balls there were various classes available on-site for both adults and for children, including making beaded jewellery, painting, biscuit-decorating, basket-making and drawing. Some are free and others cost just a few pounds.

Entertainment on the Piazza includes magicians, jugglers and story-tellers. Children will love 'The Hamster Ball' sessions at the outdoor pool and dogs are also welcome in some cabins — there is a dog exercise area and pet-free areas are well marked.

Every step brings you closer to a stress-free stay. Families at Sandy Balls enjoy a unique and safe environment. For adults flying solo it is an ideal base from which to explore the magnificent surrounding countryside.

We enjoyed relaxing woodland walks, getting up close (but not too personal!) to the local wildlife, and a gentle stroll along the banks of the River Avon. Even the rain didn't dampen our enthusiasm! There are many places of interest within easy reach, including the coast, and large towns such as Portsmouth and Southampton are close enough for major shopping expeditions.

The traditional riverside town of Fordingbridge is just a few minutes' drive away and has antique and gift shops, a mini-market, a book shop, tea rooms and a museum. Fordingbridge Museum is small, but has some interesting focal points such as a large, furnished Victorian dolls' house and famous ship's cat Able Seaman Simon, the Hero of HMS Amethyst. The Royal Navy frigate was fired at without warning by Chinese Communists in 1939 while patrolling the Yangtze River. The incident was later made into the film Yangtze Incident. Find out more at The Fordingbridge Museum. Leaflets on sale include a walk through the old town.

Within easy driving distance is the Heavy Horse Centre with farm animals, snow dogs, pony rides and vintage tractor driving and a café and gift shop; Breamore House & Countryside Museum (01725 512468) with a maze; Martin Down National Nature Reserve guided walks (01980 620485), Rockbourne Roman Villa (01725 518541) and The Wall Art Gallery (01425 654560).

Tickets for various attractions are available from Guest Services, including Beaulieu Motor Museum, house and gardens and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and Spinnaker Tower. Or visit Corfe Castle and steam railway just over the border in Dorset.

A warm welcome awaits you at Sandy Balls Holiday Centre, so if you want a child-friendly, value-for-money holiday or a relaxing, get-away-from-it-all haven from a busy lifestyle where you can tailor-make your holiday to suit yourself, look no further — Sandy Balls offers an amazing break away for any season, in any weather. And no wasted, boring hours spent in airports or currency fluctuations to mar your stay.

Drawbacks? We couldn't find any. Those we spoke to with children praised the facilities, the location and the staff. For us, two adults seeking a haven in which to escape our workload and recharge our batteries, it was perfect. The icing on the cake was that while lingering around The New Forest on our way home we found a lovely, friendly pub in which to enjoy a leisurely lunch — if you're passing, check it out yourself: the 15th Century Green Dragon at Brook, Lyndhurst.

Sandy Balls is easy to find and accessible from almost anywhere in the country. There is a good choice of accommodation — the rustic retreats, holiday homes, ReadyTents and even pitches available if you prefer to bring your own tent or caravan. Or you can opt for the new Teepees and Tall Trees Experience where you can spend the night under the stars in a Native American-style tepee. How! — Maggie Woods, MotorBar

Sandy Balls Holiday Centre
is at Godshill, Fordingbridge, Hampshire, SP6 2JZ | Telephone 0845 2702248.