Natural Play: Ringwood Toll, Sheffield Park and Garden

path through a woodland
They’ll always be wondering what’s around the next corner in Sheffield Park‘s Ringwood Toll…

I grew up in the Far East. Each summer we would escape August’s blistering heat, and come home to England.

My sister and I lived for things like Sheffield Park and Garden’s play trail. You couldn’t be anywhere else in a wood like this. It is quintessentially English.

If you’ve read my post about Groombridge Place, you’ll know I love magic. There’s plenty to fire up their imaginations here. Which is a plus as I often feel that everything’s spelled out for them at most modern ‘attractions’.

It’s also parent-friendly. After wandering its loop, you’ll feel like you’ve been to a spa.

I do not say that lightly. I know what going to a spa would signify to me right now.

a little boy looking at a tree stump and foxgloves
Tree stumps and foxgloves in Ringwood Toll

THE ESSENTIALS

Drive: 20 minutes

Address: Sheffield Park, East Sussex, TN22 3QX

Tel no.: 01825 790 231

Website: nationaltrust.org.uk/sheffieldpark

Hours: Parkland: year-round, dawn-dusk; Garden, restaurant, shop: 1 Jan-3 Mar, 10.30am-4pm; 4 Mar-3 Nov, 10.30am-5.30pm

Price: Entrance to the Parkland, including Ringwood Toll, is free. Entrance to the Garden without Gift Aid is Adult £8.50; Child £4.25; Family £21.25

logs etched with steps and little boy
Log ladders at the third point on the Play Trail

THE DETAILS

  • Sheffield Park and Garden is a National Trust property of over 400 acres.
  • It incorporates the beautiful Garden, in which five huge ponds (more like lakes) are fringed with a variety of tree species. The ‘Park’ bit comes from its 300 acres of parkland. This area is is situated across the drive from the main Garden entrance.
  • The Parkland is separated into South and East Park. There are four walking trails of varying length to explore.
  • The play trail’s name is Ringwood Toll. It’s a circular loop in a little wood about a 10-minute walk across a field from the car park.
  • The loop itself takes approximately half an hour without stopping. But factoring in dawdling, exploration and play, set aside at least an hour for the loop. To make it truly leisurely, don’t have a time limit.
  • The Bluebell Railway is right next door. If you set aside the whole day, you can do the Garden, Parkland AND Railway together. This would be a serious treat day in our book (the combined price of is eye-watering). The station is a short walk from the car park of Sheffield Park and Garden.
  • The East Grinsted extension to the Bluebell Railway means Sheffield Park is an easy day trip from London. The staff at the Garden entrance say people meet friends from London and their kids and spend the day here.
  • There’s enough to do in the Park and the Garden alone to set aside a whole day. And I think the price of entrance to the Garden is worth the money. It’s beautiful.
  • There are picnic tables in the Parkland and a café near the Garden entrance (although if you’ve read my FAQs you’ll know how I feel about most cafés at attractions and places to go. This one is no exception).

LITTLE LEWES LOVES

The Possibility of Foxes 

foxgloves in a wood
Foxgloves as far as the eye can see in Ringwood Toll

In Ringwood Toll, tall purple foxgloves studded the greenery around us. These will be there (or not) depending on the season.

The boys enjoyed observing the bell-shaped flowers, how the bells were tiny at the top and bigger towards the bottom.

My son asked why they were called foxgloves. My friend said perhaps the bigger flowers were for foxes to put their little paws in if they got cold.

My son is not known for his courage, and was a bit concerned about there being foxes in the woods. Were they watching us?

A conversation about nocturnal animals allayed his fears. As did the mention of the foxes not really digging our noise.

>> THANK YOU KIND READER ANNA FOR REMINDING ME TO POINT OUT THAT FOXGLOVES ARE POISONOUS. THE FOXES CAN PUT THEIR PAWS IN THEM, BUT CHILDREN SHOULD NOT!<<

Gruffalo-Spotting

two burrow openings in ringwood toll, sheffield park
Who lives here? Speculation was rife…

We came across two burrow openings. The boys chatted about the fox (back on that again) in The Gruffalo, and his underground house.

They deduced that someone lived in the left hole. But that the right one must be empty as there was a spider’s web sewn across it.

We looked around the wood for similarities with the Gruffalo wood. There were many!

My son was unsure about this too. Could a Gruffalo actually live here? And (again) was he watching us?

Nature’s Adventure Playground

two boys on a seesaw made out of a log
Seesaw, Marjory Daw, nature-style

This section is misleadingly titled. My point is that this is a play trail and not an adventure playground.

The play trail has no formal playground structure. I mention this because my son kept asking where the playground was.

I wish I’d said we were going on a woodland walk – that we’d be playing on nature’s own play equipment.

The ‘seesaw’ above, made from a log over a tree stump, was the only thing resembling ‘traditional’ playground apparatus.

That’s definitely not a complaint, more a helping hand in managing kids’ expectations.

tree stumps in a path as stepping stones
The winding path of the tree stump stepping stones

‘Play equipment’ along the trail included:

  • Tree stump stepping stones
  • Gnarly fallen trees to climb on
  • An arc of vertical logs with grooves etched out of them that we called ‘log ladders’
  • Little chairs carved out of tree stumps
  • The log seesaw above
  • Log ‘balance beams’
  • Dens ( below)
a line of logs with grooves cut into them
The arc of ‘log ladders’ at the third stopping point

Informative and Educational

huge 300-year-old oak tree
This huge three-hundred-year-old oak towered over the third stopping point

At various points around Ringwood Toll were stopping points. At each we found laminated fact sheets, helpfully placed in boxes near seats.

These pointed out species of plant, moss, and mushrooms to look out for.

At the third stopping point, where we lingered longest, an almighty, three-hundred-year-old oak tree towered over us.

The sheet told the story of this tree. The boys were captivated, and so were we.

The Dens

several dens set up around trees in Ringwood Toll trail
A whole village of dens have been built in Ringwood Toll

There were dens built around several trees along the trail. The first was opposite the first stopping point.

The boys weren’t quite brave enough to go into a den, but they were fascinated by them. Who had built them? Did anyone live in them? (And again were they watching us?).

The dens represented fantastic opportunities for storytelling.

a den in a wood made of sticks
Who lives in a house like this?

TO BE AWARE OF

• The staff at Sheffield Park and Garden don’t think the field to and trail around Ringwood Toll is buggy-friendly. I carried my one-year-old in a sling. But the field and the trail are flat, so unless you’ve got a useless city buggy (like me, and yes, I do mean a Bugaboo Bee), you’ll be A-OK.

• This is definitely an outdoor activity, as is the Garden. The woods are dense and covered, but if it was raining you’d get soaked on the way across.

• There’s a lot of sheep shit in the field going over. For kids who can’t avoid it: wellies. For kids who aren’t daydreamers and look where they’re going (lucky you if you’ve got one of those!): trainers/walking boots.

A WORD ON THE GARDEN

We’ve been to the Garden part of Sheffield Park and Garden before. It’s amazing and I’d highly recommend it. I can see scooter-loving kids adoring it.

Now is a lovely time to go as the rhododendrons are in full bloom. But I’ll do a post in the autumn, as I’ve heard the autumn colour is mesmerising. In the meantime, have a look at the Little Lewes Pinterest board of images of Sheffield Park and Garden.

>> Thank you to Little Lewes reader Sophie for suggesting Ringwood Toll! <<

bright red rhododendron bush at Sheffield Park
The rhododendrons are dazzling in June at Sheffield Park and Garden

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I’m Kate, a copywriter, brand consultant and editor who creates messages that are clear and clean. I create these for brands and agencies both big and boutique, in areas including design, homes and interiors, travel, fashion, lifestyle, beauty, food, and kids and families. I believe clear, clean messages bolster brands and businesses. They evoke emotion and ignite inspiration, and when written well, they’re easier to absorb – and respond to. I live in Copenhagen and am half-English, half-Danish. I write as comfortably in American English as in British, and behind the scenes I'm also studying Danish. Need help getting your message out? Contact me.

3 thoughts on “Natural Play: Ringwood Toll, Sheffield Park and Garden

  1. This all sounds amazing except I just have to point out re scooter loving kids loving Sheffield Park….I couldn’t agree more but if the staff are anything like those at Wakehurst Place you will have no chance at all of sneaking anything resembling a scooter in. Ours got confiscated at reception by a woman so scary that even my kids didn’t try and argue with her!!

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