A Family Friendly Short Walk in Somerset

Ferne Animal Sanctuary

Finding places where you can escape for a few hours, especially if you have small children, is one of the challenges of being a parent. Nestled in the depths of the Blackdown Hills right on the South Somerset Devon border you will find Ferne Animal Sanctuary. It’s not just for children, everyone will enjoy a stroll here. This lovely place, only 5 miles north of Axminster is suitable for all ages and really is a little gem and perfect for a family friendly short walk.

I took my girls here often when they were small. It was lovey to return recently and see how much has been developed and learn more about the history of Ferne and it’s links back to World War 11. 

I can also confirm that we were served the most amazing scones,  so I would definitely recommend use of the little cafe that serves light lunches as well

Family friendly short walk in South Somerset - duck

What to expect

You enter through a relatively new visitor centre that has a display showing the history of the sanctuary which is really interesting (see below).  There is also a large meeting room to the side so if you are ever looking for a good room to hire for an event it’s worth enquiring.

Just outside is a sensory musical garden for children.

This leads out to the main sanctuary and a lovely wooden gazebo with a reading chair.  Level tarmac paths throughout make it ideal for pushchairs and wheelchairs. 

A Family Friendly Short Walk in Somerset sensory garden
A Family Friendly Short Walk in Somerset playpark

Along the route you will discover the small children’s play area and then onto a nature trail and pretty ponds.

Don’t forget to enjoy the stunning views across the hills as you encounter a range of farm and domestic animals as well as and ducks that have been rescued.  There are also exotic birds and even a group of chinchillas.

A Family Friendly Short Walk in Somerset with cafe

cafe and gift shop at Ferne

Finally on your way out there is a small cafe and a lovely gift shop which is perfect for finding a birthday present or present for someone as it’s well stocked with good quality items. 

The history of Ferne Animal sanctuary

Ferne Animal Sanctuary was founded at the beginning of the Second World War by Nina, the late Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon. She was distressed at hearing of people having to abandon their pets, or have them put to sleep (by order of the Government). 

While in London, the Duchess placed a call out on the BBC radio. Nina requested that any people who might need a home for their animals reach out to her. With a country home in Shaftesbury, Ferne House, she said would assist by taking as many as she could. Upon returning to her London home after placing the broadcast, Nina found a queue of owners with their beloved dogs, cats, and even a parrot at her front door desperate to find somewhere safe for their animals.

There was no time to loose and help was needed quickly. More and more animals were presented daily.  It is estimated that during the war Nina and her team of dedicated staff and volunteers took in and provided sanctuary for over 6,000 animals. It’s clear that we have long been a nation of animal lovers.

A Family Friendly Short Walk in Somerset tree walk

Ferne moves to Chard

Ferne relocated to Chard in 1975, bringing with them a handful of animals and staff. The site has slowly grown, and now has 70 acres of land with over 300 resident animals of all shapes and sizes. The Sanctuary receives no government funding so is entirely reliant on the donations of money and time that Ferne’s fantastic supporters give so generously. This helps to make sure it can continue to look after the animals  to a high standard.

A huge part of what Ferne does is aimed at educating people about better animal welfare, especially young people.  The Education Officer puts together child-friendly trails and activities so children can learn about animal care in a fun way, so they don’t know they’re learning.  The playground is a firm favourite as well, and over half-term and holidays there are often pond-dipping activities or crafts going on so there’s plenty for all ages.

Special Events and a Family friendly short walk in South Somerset

Look out for special events throughout the year that are advertised on their website and Facebook pages.  These events often charge per car so are great value and are needed to raise much needed fund for the sanctuary.

The Sanctuary took the decision a while back to charge for entry (previously it has been by donation). Being a lot less well off than other well know animal charities and sanctuaries this is totally understandable. Your best bet is to buy an annual family pass on your first visit. even if you only go back once more it will nearly pay for itself. It really is ideal for a family friendly short walk at any time of year.

Entrance (2019)

£4.95 Adult (Annual pass £12.50)
£3.95 Child (age 3-16) (Annual pass £9.50)
£18 for a family of two adults and up to three children (Annual pass £40.00)
You can also sign up to give a small regular monthly donation to help with the running costs of the Sanctuary.Overall this is a super little place for a few hours. As the paths are well  maintained it’s find even if the weather is not quite on your side as it will not be muddy.

Rehome an Animal from Ferne

Since 1939 Ferne has been rescuing and re-homing animals of all shapes and sizes, from cows to chinchillas (and back in the 1940’s even some raccoons). Now you can enjoy the beautiful site that has been created. Ferne also re-homes cats and dogs and occasionally other animals such as ponies and rabbits, so it’s worth taking a look if you are thinking about getting a pet.

Looking for More Days Out?

There are lots more ideas for days out and walks on my blog.  I have written a post with ideas for Pushchair Friendly Walks as well as a great guide to Rock-pooling in East Devon.  Also take a look at the Events listings which I keep adding to. have fun. 


Ferne Summer Fair poster
Ferne Dog First Aid Course poster
Ferne Dog Show poster