Joanne Mace and her family travel to the award-winning Sandy Balls resort in the New Forest National Park

First published Thursday 24 July 2014 in Travel by Joanne Mace, Leisure Editor

THIS was our second visit to the Sandy Balls resort in the New Forest National Park and we felt blessed as far as the weather was concerned.

It was once again a beautiful weekend, and the whole of the long-established holiday park at Godshill, near Fordingbridge, was packed with families, couples and large groups staying in the caravans, camping and lodge areas of the award-winning 120 acre site.

As for its distinctive name, as the website explains: “Sandy Balls first appeared on maps and other documents in the 15th Century as Sandyballas, which is the description given to the dome-shaped sand and gravel outcrops on the estate’s western boundary. These formations still exist today.”

After a friendly welcome, we drove to our lodge to get organised. It was well-equipped and spacious, with clean bedding and white towels in every room.

One, two and three bedroom luxury woodland lodges sleeping two, four or six guests and four-berth static holiday homes are available. All are fully equipped, centrally heated and have a DVD and TV. All lodges have their very own decking and barbecue area and some even come with a private hot tub.

Premium lodges include a dishwasher and an iPod docking station in addition to towels and bathrobes, complimentary early check in and use of the gym, and the Premium Vista Lodges, which were previously only available for purchase through a shared ownership scheme, are also now available for short term breaks.

Also new for 2014 at Sandy Balls are stylish camping pods which offer a little more luxury to campers. A seating area converts into a double bed and two single pull out chair beds offer accommodation for four guests. There is also a fridge, kettle and a TV, and you can choose from a pet friendly or a pet free pod.

Once we were out and about exploring what was new on the site, we did notice a few changes.

The restaurant in the centre of the main area, formerly The Pizza in the Piazza, is now known as The Forest Table. We had been there previously, so opted instead to sample the fare in the newly refurbished Woodside Inn.

The latter looks terrific and has a lovely new deck at the front where diners are permitted to enjoy the company of their canine friends. There is also a cosy corner with books and board games to borrow and several families came in while we dined to enjoy sitting down together to play one of the latter.

The very welcoming team in the Woodside showed us to a corner table and left us to peruse the menus. We were impressed by the selection and couldn’t make up our minds what to eat.

The new menu includes a fantastic selection of flatbreads – there’s a pulled pork option, or one with avocado garlic mushrooms and mozzarella – and kids’ meals are just £4.95, which includes squash and scoop of ice cream.

My other half finally opted for a New Yorker 6oz beef burger with smoked bacon, onion rings and BBQ sauce – served in a Kaiser bun with sweet potato fries (pictured below) – whilst I couldn’t resist falling back on my old favourite of fish, chips and mushy peas.

Dessert-wise, the Mississippi mud pie with a scoop of toffee ice cream was too good to resist.

On one morning, after enjoying an early dip in the swimming pool – perfectly timed, given the pool’s later closure to an electric fault – we enjoyed the opportunity to relax in the beautiful surroundings.

We took a trip down to the banks of the River Avon and took a few of the kitchen chairs out onto the deck to enjoy squirrel spotting and watching the birds manoeuvre amongst the trees.

We also spent a lot of time in the excellent Northfield Adventure Playground, which is on two levels and caters for both older and younger children.

And we also made the most of the bike hire facilities, heading out on a route recommended to us by a very helpful young man in the cycle shop. Our daughter is now four years-old and was able to ride along behind her dad on a fantastic tag-along (priced £8 for 9am-5pm hire), which attracted many admiring glances from young children who fancied having a go on something similar.

My dodgy back was appreciative of the support offered by my comfort bike and its upright riding position, front suspension and suspension seat post. Aside from my being knocked into a verge by the driver of a black Audi, it was a fantastic experience. We all felt better merely because we were all outside, in the fresh air, together, and doing something which didn’t involve any form of technology.

The cup of tea and scone we enjoyed mid-route was one of the most satisfying I’ve ever had!

Sandy Balls has been running now for almost a century and it offers a fantastic opportunity to unwind, relax and enjoy what is one of the most beautiful areas of the country, offering walks around the Ram Valley nature reserve, to the riverside recreation and picnic area, Giant’s Grave and Folk Moot Circle, all within the boundary of the holiday park’s site.

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