Describe Surrey in three words: Leafy, safe, social.
Coolest coffee spots: G!ro in Esher is great. I think it’s meant to be for cyclists (which we’re not), but it’s a far cooler spot to grab a cuppa than the local soft play. We also go to The Pheasantry in Bushy Park, which is within walking distance of our house and has resident deer, wild walks and friendly ducks, and is as close as you can get to living in the countryside while retaining all the perks of town life. The Pheasantry isn’t the best cafe in the world but it’s right in the middle of the woodland gardens, which are beautiful and a great place for picnics and walks with babies and kids. The Fallow Deer in Teddington is also a great brunch spot – think avocado on toast and reclaimed wooden tables.
Best family-friendly restaurants: The Red Lion in Thames Ditton is our go-to family-friendly pub, and on a weekend evening it becomes a pretty cool grown-up hangout too. It’s a bit quirky, with a bar made from old doors, and it does a good selection of local beers and even has some toys to distract little ones. This place welcomes kids but is by no means ‘made’ for them – it’s more of a grown-ups’ pub where kids are welcome. Piazza Firenze in Hampton Hill serves the best Italian food I’ve had this side of Italy and also has branches in Teddington and Godalming. It’s perfect for family dinners and date nights,with super-friendly staff who are really welcoming towards kids too.
Favourite park or green space: This is what really sold Surrey to us. The green spaces are endless and we can visit a different one every day of the week and still be spoilt for choice. Bushy Park is like Richmond Park without the hills: loads of space for walking and riding bikes, a huge play park, beautiful woodland gardens with a cafe, some flat areas to ride bikes, and plenty of ponds and streams where you can feed the ducks. Even on a hot summer’s day you’ll easily find a private picnic spot there. The Esher Commons is just five minutes from our door and everything you could want in a wood – throw on a hiking rucksack and you can walk for hours. RHS Garden, Wisley is a huge, beautifully manicured gardens that’s just down the A3. Annual membership is well worth the cost and it’s a really safe place for kids to run around. They always have activities in the school holidays, such as Easter egg hunts, Christmas light shows and summer trails.
Best local museum or gallery: We’re five minutes from Hampton Court Palace. They offer a fairly reasonable yearly family membership and you can do so much there. The gardens are beautiful, there’s a maze and there are often events going on inside the palace, such as food festivals, evening carol singing and ice skating – not to mention the Magic Garden playground, where kids can play with water and sand, climb, and even meet a ‘real’ dragon.
Coolest kids’ shops: We’re a bit short of specific kids’ shops but we spend a ton of time at the two local kids’ charity shops, FARA Kids in Teddington and All4Kids in Hampton Hill (both a 5-10 minute drive). We’ve recently picked up some amazing bargains from The Little White Company, Joules and Baby Gap for a tiny fraction of their original price (but shh, that’s my best-kept secret!).
Favourite under-5s class/activity: One thing we’ve learned over the past 14 months is that we’re pretty rubbish at attending classes, although there’s so much to choose from that we’d never be stuck if we wanted to. There’s a coffee morning for under-ones at The Grove pub in Surbiton, which is totally up our street, and a walking mums’ club that walks several times a week in various Surrey locations.
What makes Surrey great? The green spaces, absolutely! We love being outdoors and hanging out in nature. That said, I haven’t been able to make the jump to the countryside as far as work goes just yet and for now it’s the perfect balance. There’s also a great community called the State of Seething just down the road in Surbiton that runs hilarious events year round, including Surbiton Ski Sunday where they turn the hill in the high street into a ski course and send willing volunteers careering down the road with their feet strapped to giant ice cubes; or The King’s Soup, a community play where everyone brings leeks and potatoes and makes a soup together for lunch in the park. Their events are great fun, full of creatives and brilliant for bringing everyone together.
What’s the best thing about living in London?: There’s always something going on. We’re just 30 minutes from central London (15 when we were closer to Surbiton), so the options are endless. We can also jump in the car, head in the other direction and be in the countryside or at the beach in around an hour.
And the worst?: You need a car to live where we do – or be happy to spend a hell of a long time waiting for a bus! There’s plenty within walking distance but to get the full benefit of what’s on offer you can’t rely solely on public transport.
Photo credit: Megan Rossiter