The magical staycation kids will love – with witch tales, ponies and beaches

IF you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a spooky surprise.

At least you are in Burley, at the edge of the New Forest National Park in Hampshire — where ancient witchcraft is still very much alive.

Buried in woodland among tall trees and twisted trunks, the tiny village is a maze of winding roads, thatched cottages and traditional countryside pubs.

In the middle of the last century it was also the home of infamous white witch Sybil Leek, who was forced out of town by villagers after she announced her spell-binding talents — just after the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951.

But her presence still lives on in the quirky local shops today. The Coven of Witches and Witchcraft Gift Shop are crammed full of oddities, including shimmering crystals, shiny goblets and ouija boards.

Around the corner, opposite the fudge shop — which sells every flavour from Biscoff to cherry Bakewell — kids were posing as witches and wizards, pushing their faces through holes in a photo board.

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Even the Burley Ice Cream stand seems magical, offering big swirls of vanilla topped with luminous sauces and decorated with even brighter sherberts, chocolate sticks and crunchy cereals.

For me though, the village is worth a visit for the cracking pubs alone. At the top end sits the Queens Head, old-fashioned from the outside but done up on the inside and with a big garden.

You’ll have to stand in line for a pint though — and not behind the usual punters.

On the day we visited, a group of wild ponies had gathered outside the front door, much to the delight of children who were cheerfully petting them.


Judging by the horse poo in the roads, this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence either.

Meanwhile, if you’re after a slap-up roast, then head to The White Buck, a little farther out of the village and even more entrenched in woodland.

On a sunny day, the outside area is heavenly, with a huge tipi that hosts opera and Shakespeare evenings.

After loading up on pork with crunchy crackling and honey-roasted veg drizzled in gravy, a family boardgame night, all slumped on the sofa, was just what the doctor ordered.

We were staying about 50 minutes east from Burley, in a huge countryside farmhouse that’s completely geared up for big family staycations.

The five-bedroom Lower Fifehead Farm has two living rooms, one for lounging and one for games — including table football — as well as a tennis court outside.

If you are after a secluded staycation with all the gang then this will definitely fit the bill, as there’s enough room for ten people.

And the large kitchen has everything you need — and more — for cooking up big feasts.

There’s even a coolbox, which came in handy for trips to the beach.

Loaded with sandwiches and wine, we headed for the famous Lulworth Cove on the Jurassic Coast where the sea at the pebble beach is full of paddleboarders. It’s always busy in summer so get there early if you want to enjoy it away from the crowds.

If you’ve got sturdy shoes, and stamina, walk part of the South West Coast Path and climb the steep hill towards Durdle Door — a huge rock formation jutting out from the cliffs that is shaped like an open doorway.

If you are not up for walking, there is still plenty of beach fun to be had, with cafes selling homemade ice cream, a watersports centre, and bodyboards to buy.

Or venture 14 miles east to sandy Weymouth where classic arcade games, beachside carousels and traditional Punch and Judy shows will keep kids happy for hours.

This seaside town has also got some great fishmongers.

With our now-empty coolbox, we stocked up on fresh lobsters and prawns caught only that morning.

And for dessert? Doughnuts and sticky cinnamon swirls from the local Oxfords Bakery up the road from our farm home in Sturminster Newton.

None of this indulgent food put us on good form for our final tennis tournament of the trip, though.

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But our best Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu enactments were being judged only by the horses in the field opposite, who had probably never seen such poor serving.

If only we’d borrowed a little Burley magic to help us out.

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