10 things to do around East Anglia before you’re nine-and-three-quarters
By the age of 10, your children can probably ride a bike, do their times tables and beat almost anyone on the games console. But what if they could add finding their own fossil, walking on the UK’s longest pier and spotting a seal to that list? Here are the ultimate regional experiences every child should do in their first decade.
1. Search for fossils on the Deep History Coast
Known as the cradle of British civilisation, north Norfolk’s Deep History Coast is where the first humans crossed over a land bridge to the UK from Europe more than 850,000 years ago. The area is a living museum: you’ll find footprints nearly a million years old, the world’s biggest mammoth skeleton and a flint axe made 500,000 years ago. Kids can look for their own piece of history with a fossil hunt on Sheringham, Cromer, Happisburgh or West Runton beaches, where they might also find amber, sharks’ teeth and fossilised coral.
2. Go alien hunting
Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk was the site of a major UFO sighting in 1980, and ever since it’s attracted people keen to find out the reason behind the mysterious twinkling lights. In fact, it’s so popular that the Forestry Commission has set up its very own UFO trail to help visitors explore the area. This easy three-mile loop takes you around the forest, including the exact spot where the lights were seen, now marked by a specially commissioned statue. Even if you don’t spot any aliens, pick up a leaflet from the Rendlesham Forest Centre and little ones can have fun decoding the symbols on the waymarkers to spell out a secret message.
Nearest station: Melton
3. Walk in the footsteps of kings
Take a step back in time at Sutton Hoo and explore ancient Anglo-Saxon burial mounds. Kids will be fascinated by the story of the Anglo-Saxon king who was buried in his ship with all his treasured possessions, only to re-emerge 13 centuries later – one of the most significant British archaeological finds of all time. The National Trust has just transformed the site with a £4 million makeover, adding walking trails, exhibitions and a new viewing tower.
Nearest station: Melton
4. Run around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
The site of London’s 2012 Olympic Games has now been transformed into a massive public park that’s absolutely crammed with things to do. Kids can watch the professionals in action at the Copper Box Arena, the velodrome and the London Aquatic Centre, or have a go at a new sport themselves. For little daredevils, book a trip down the world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide at the ArcelorMittal Orbit – a massive, twisting tower that was designed by Anish Kapoor. There are also lots of parklands, waterways and playgrounds to explore, plus plenty of cafes.
Nearest station: Stratford
7. Catch a crab off Cromer Pier
Cromer is well known for its crabs and their particularly sweet taste (which is apparently due to the fact that they live on the world’s longest chalk reef), and children can fish for them straight off the pier. Check out this step-by-step guide to crabbing, then get each family member a bucket and line, bait your hook (mackerel and squid seem to be crabs' preferred nibbles) and see who can catch the heaviest specimen.
Nearest station: Cromer
4. Explore the history of computers
If your child has ever wondered how their Xbox works, a trip to the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge will be right up their street. Tracing the history of personal computers from Sinclair Spectrums right up to Raspberry Pis, you can get nostalgic over the exhibits while your children wonder why a simple game such as Pong was so popular. The museum also hosts regular family gaming nights, where you can challenge your kids to classics such as Pac-Man, Spaces Invaders and Tetris.
Nearest station: Cambridge
6. Take to the skies at IWM Duxford
Part of the Imperial War Museum, Duxford is where the history of aviation comes to life. Set on a massive former RAF base, kids can get up close with a huge range of original aeroplanes housed in huge hangars, from Second World War Spitfires to modern Typhoons. There’s plenty of space to run about, a playground and a great cafe.
Nearest station: Whittlesford Parkway
5. Stroll along the UK’s longest pier
Southend’s iconic pier is the longest in the UK – and the second longest in the world. Get the kids to run for as long as they can along its 1.3 mile length, then treat them to an ice cream before getting the pier train back. And while you’re in the town, you can also go up the Cliff Lift, which transports you up 40m at a 43 per cent gradient from the Western Esplanade to Clifton Terrace – all for just 50p.
Nearest station: Southend
9. Spot a seal at the Naze
The Naze peninsula on Essex’s coast is a wonderful place to see both grey and harbour seals. These gentle creatures hang out on the mudbanks, which is the reason for their unusual colour – their fur turns red due to the iron oxide in the mud. The area is rich in other wildlife, too, especially seabirds, making it a young nature spotter’s paradise. Fun fact: Arthur Ransome’s book Secret Water (part of the Swallows and Amazons series) was set around this area.
Nearest station: Walton-on-the-Naze
10. Learn about childhoods past
What better place for kids to visit than a museum dedicated entirely to childhood? This wonderful free museum, part of the V&A, is full of toys, clothes, furniture and more that explore the lives of children through the ages. Children can also join in with daily arts, crafts and storytelling sessions.
Nearest station: London Liverpool Street, then the tube to Bethnal Green