Woking, the place of the mad, the bad and the dead: the introductory phrase as you enter the Woking Story museum send chills down my spine. We’re happy to report that modern-day Woking is not that scary anymore and that we had a good time there. Read on for more information including lots of photos, costs and our version of things to do in Woking with children.
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Summary of Contents
- Why Woking?
- About Woking
- Things To Do in Woking:
- Chobham Adventure Farm
- The Lightbox & The Woking Story Museum
- WWF Living Planet Centre
- Pool in the Park
- Woking Park
- Dinner Sorted
- Ambassadors Cinemas & New Victoria Theatre
- Public Art & Sculptures
- The Big Apple
- Treasure Hunt
Our next destination as we travel across the UK is as much a surprise to us as it may be to you. Where we go next is revealed a few weeks ahead of time when Brendan gets an update on his work schedule. Yes, we don’t know where we’ll be more than two weeks from now!
The mystery and suspense is exhilarating, but it makes finding our preferred type of accommodation difficult. Most of the time last-minute searches in popular places end with the dreaded “fully booked” result and we have to widen our search. That’s how we end up in random places like Woking, which turned out to be fun.
Some are perfect for us to explore and others, well I might rather stay indoors with the kiddies. So far we’ve been lucky. Only one place turned out to be bad enough for us to leave earlier than planned and that was Slough.
Not Sure About The Nightlife
Woking central at night has a slightly bad rep, so being overly cautious we made sure that we were indoors with the kids before sundown. Especially over the weekend. It’s a bit like zombie-time out there when strange characters creep out at night and gather in certain areas.
Honestly, we cannot comment on the nightlife in Woking because with small children we’re just not into it so much anymore and my apprehension stems from other online reviews.
I suppose it’s like many other busy town centres that are less family friendly at night. Maybe you’ve experienced nightlife in Woking and can kindly share insight by commenting at the bottom of the post.
Our interest, like most families, lies in mostly day-time activities and excursions that suit all of us. Excursions that are not only entertaining but also educational and if it gets us closer to nature, even better.
Woking is an ancient town mentioned in the Domesday Book as far back as 1083 and was held by, amongst others, King William The Conqueror.
Did you know that Woking had a palace? King Henry VIII spent a lot of money on it. During the Tudor era, Woking Palace was an important palace, but now there is sadly only ruins left to explore.
An interesting story about the royalty from this era is that they were terribly horribly disgustingly stinky. Really. I don’t have other words to describe the smell. They rarely bathed! Check out this post about our visit to the Woking Story museum to read about how we were unfortunate enough to find out. The BBC’s Horrible Histories and Gory games, Nick’s absolute favourites for British history, confirms it too.
Taking only 30 minutes to get into London, Woking Railway station is one of the busiest stations in the London commuter belt.
Our Airbnb apartment was centrally located so we rarely needed the car. It was parked near the railway station and Royal Mail and often in front of Dominoes Pizza. From there it’s a short walk under the railway bridge to town or to Woking Park. Only when we went to Chobham Adventure Farm did we use the car as it’s a fifteen-minute drive away.
Firsts In The UK For Woking
Proud trailblazer, Woking had a few firsts for the UK up its old sleeve.
Woking Crematorium, founded in 1878, was the first Crematorium in the United Kingdom and is closely related to the history of cremation in the country. Hmmm, now “the place of the dead” description makes sense.
The first purpose-built mosque in the UK, the Shah Jahan Mosque, was built on Oriental Road in Woking in 1889.
Place Of The Mad
From its opening on 17 June 1867, Brookwood Hospital also known as Brookwood Asylum or Surrey County Lunatic Asylum, was the leading mental hospital for the western half of Surrey. The hospital had a productive community and had a dairy farm, a cobbler’s workshop, a large ballroom, and had its own fire brigade, gasworks and sewage farm.
During World War II the Hospital served as an emergency war hospital. Due to the Care in the Community Act that came into power in the mid 1980’s the Hospital was closed in 1994. The estate has been extensively redeveloped since then and sadly the original hospital was demolished.
Digitised by Ancestry, recently released archives show patients admitted for a host of reasons which include; love affair, religious excitement and puberty from 1867-1900 and children as young as 4 and 5 were admitted with reasons such as “imbecile” or “idiot”. A mother admitted her 18yr old daughter for being “in love”.
Heartbreaking, but these records show the lack of knowledge of that era and how far diagnosis of mental illness has come since then. These records now help thousands of people to find out what happened to their ancestors who were admitted here and how they lived.
Things To Do
1. Chobham Adventure Farm
Leah turns 8 on Easter Sunday and we invite a few friends for a visit to Chobham Adventure Farm to celebrate.
There is plenty for children of all ages to do including slides, a very high (too high for me, but not for the other adults who all have a go or two) red vertical slide, a large indoor play area, a baby soft play area, zip line, massive outdoor jungle gym, more play areas and a large sandpit area outside.
They offer a good selection of cold and hot foods and the 3 for £5 deal is nice. Snackboxes are also available and their coffee is not too bad.
Everyone enjoyed it. The only thing I’d warn others about is the automatic door that leads to the outside picnic tables and play areas. When you go back in it opens up very fast when you are very close and I was caught off-guard a few times. They should consider setting the sensor to open it while you are just a little further away.
Also, keep a close eye on your children. The slides are very high and other children push in their excitement. Leah got pushed off and hurt her foot. All-in-all the facilities are good and I think it’s going be worth every penny once the additions they are currently working on is completed.
PEAK TIME pricing: Mon – Fri (School Holidays) + Weekends
- Babies (0 – 6 mths): FREE
- Toddlers (6 mths – 2 yrs): £2.50
- Children (3 yrs – 18 yrs): £9.50
- Adults (18+ yrs): £5.00
- OAP’s & Military Personnel: £3.00
- Play + Eat – £10
- Carers, Nannies & Childminders: FREE
The Lightbox Museum
2. The Lightbox & The Woking Story Museum
The Lightbox Museum is worth a visit if you are a lover of art or would like to learn about the history of Woking. The building was designed by Marks Barfield Architects who also designed the London Eye and it opened in September 2007. You pay a small entrance fee. There is a cafe and a gift shop.
Unfortunately, I know very little about art, but having a daughter who is serious and passionate about art I want to brush up on the topic as a show of support. While we were at the Lightbox they exhibited works by Picasso which attracted art connoisseurs from everywhere. With Kate, aka Little Whirlwind, I stay clear of these exhibits for now, but you can read more about our visit to the Woking Story Museum here.
The Woking Story Museum is an interactive museum which the children enjoyed, and entrance is free.
£7.50 Annual Pass – entry to the Main and Upper Galleries for a year
£5.00 Day Pass – entry to the Main and Upper Galleries for a day
50% off Annual Pass with a National Art Pass
Under 18s Free
General admission to The Lightbox is free which includes the, , and museum.
3. WWF Living Planet Centre
- Cost: Free
- Open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
After our walk around town to admire the martian and the sculptures at Jubilee Square, we cross over Basingstoke Canal on the bridge where the Bedser Twins stand guard, to visit the WWF Living Planet Centre.
You need no more than half an hour in total to explore each of the uniquely designed interactive zones. Each zone shows different videos and describes the different projects of the WWF around the world.
The children enjoyed fiddling with the interactive stations, peeking into holes to discover footage of endangered animals and scrambling through the little entrances to the zones. Very informative and worth a visit. When you leave peek to your left as you exit to spot the fabulous work of art, Pegasys.
Entrance to the 4 zones are free, but you can donate towards the cause and buy gifts and curious.
4. Pool In The Park
A fifteen-minute walk from our first-floor Airbnb apartment overlooking Woking Railway Station, is Woking Park, the leisure centre, a great play park and the Pool in the Park.
You can easily spend all day here if time and the weather allow it. Luckily we have plenty of both. The children are armed with nature observation tasks and we are so ready for a good long swim.
Pool in the Park is in the Leisure centre, complete with a wave session and rapids, where you can splash to your heart’s content for two hours. Almost every town in England has a Leisure Centre with an indoor heated pool for the use of the public. Isn’t that great? As we line up to get in, I hear locals complain about cold water, the slides that are closed and the waiting times.
After an annoying half hour wait, and with me now almost as worked up as the disgruntled residents around me, we get in. As soon as we change, find a locker that works with the 20p coin I thankfully found lost in my purse, and we slip into the water, I understand and appreciate the annoying wait. Crowd Control!
Crowds are managed well by allowing only a number of people in each session and they monitor it with different coloured armbands. This is perfect because we have plenty of room to safely swim without rubbing shoulders with strangers all the time. There are lockers for everyone, changing cubicles for families, showers, toilets and hairdryers (you pay to use them) all without any queues.
The water temperature is just right and despite the closed slides, we have a great time in the pool which of course results in manic screaming when I try to remove our unhappy toddler.
- Cost: £5p/p for 2hrs.
- Check the website for up to date times and prices.
5. Woking Park
Cost: Free Entry (and whatever you spend at the kiosk)
After our swim, we dry off and head outside to get an ice-cream for them and a coffee for me from the kiosk. Before I can even check for cash, Nick informs me that the kiosk accepts cards. Thank you, mister! Mommy’s not using the “aw gee, cash only” excuse this time.
The play park is awesome, big, full of other children having fun and the kids can happily play here all day if I let them. They played up a storm before we went swimming and they play more afterwards.
On our way home we walk through the park and spend more time around the pond to do nature observation, climb trees and watch birds as a mommy duck parades and swims with her cute chicks following close by. A cheeky but curious little squirrel comes very close to the children and runs away over and over again as they try to lure him in with cones from conifers.
By the time we exit the park Kate falls asleep in my arms and refuses to go in the stroller. Like so many times before, I end up carrying her all the way home while the stroller serves its new-found purpose of transporting bags and accessories rather than children and is pushed by our big boy, Nick. Thank goodness for older siblings.
6. Dinner Sorted
Woking has a variety of restaurants and fast food outlets to cater to every taste and pocket.
One of our favourite things here is that some of the fast food outlets we like the most and missed in SA, is so close to our Airbnb first floor apartment opposite the train station.
With a nice Chinese restaurant downstairs, Dominoes Pizza around the corner and Nandos, a firm favourite in the UK (it’s different to Nandos in SA, just not the same), and Taco Bell a five minute walk away we had our menu for the week planned.
Not easy on the budget or the waistline but being back in the UK after a long time and with temptation so nearby we give in and decide to be naughty, forget the healthy eating plan and live on the wild side.
Eat-out Cost: £20 – £50 (family of 5)
7. Ambassadors Cinemas & New Victoria Theatre
The New Victoria Theatre is one of the largest receiving house theatres outside London with the main theatre seating approximately 1,300 people. The smaller, 228 seat Rhoda McGaw Theatre is a performance space owned by Woking Borough Council and managed by The Ambassadors, Woking. With the Main theatre, the small studio theatre, plus the six-screen Ambassador Cinemas and bars in the same building cinemagoers and theatregoers alike are spoiled for choice.
- Cinema: £9,50 adult & £7 child
- Victoria Theatre: £13 – £60
- Rhoda McGaw Theatre: £10 – £30
The above costs are just a guide based on the cost of shows running at the time of posting and can vary depending on the show, time slot and seating selection.
8. Public Art & Sculptures
Woking is a great place to visit if you’re into art. The town centre is notably dotted with impressive commemorative public artwork and sculptures. In fact, there are so many large works of art in the town centre within close proximity that creating a treasure hunt and map with clues for the children is a ton of fun. Read to the bottom of the post for my treasure hunt game suggestions.
A series of giant-sized statues sprung up over-night in 2017 to the confusion of many residents. They appeared to blend in with shoppers at Jubilee Square and Peacock shopping centre and with commuters at the railway station.
The statues were erected as part of an art trail, advertising an exhibition at The Lightbox museum of the work of Sean Henry, an internationally renowned sculptor who was born in the town in 1965. Woking Borough Council eventually bought the statues from the artist to keep as permanent fixtures. Some were kept in place and a few others were removed to be re-installed later this year on other spots.
The Martian was designed by Michael Condron and unveiled in 1998. The tripod alien is a tribute to author HG Wells, who lived in the town and wrote The War of the Worlds there. In the story, the Martian invasion lands at the nearby Horsell Common before leaving a trail of destruction through the Surrey countryside.
HG Wells, author of War of The Worlds, welcomes you to the Lightbox MuseumWoking has two large-scale murals. Over a hundred feet long, the mural painted on the north side of the railway station, alongside the High Street, depicts a typical shopping scene in Edwardian times. The other is a tile mosaic and celebrates the penning of The War of the Worlds in Woking, situated in the subway on Chobham Road, by The Lightbox.
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The Bedser Twins, Sir Alec and Eric Bedser are regarded as England’s greatest cricketing twins, and grew up in Horsell in Woking, with Eric later playing first class cricket for Surrey and Sir Alec representing England during the 1950s. Two of Woking’s famous sons are honoured with a fabulous sculpture on the bridge over the Basingstoke canal near the Lightbox Museum.
Pegasys, was born from an old oak tree that was badly damaged by a tornado in 2007. The Horsell Common Preservation Society came up with the brilliant solution to, instead of felling the tree, commission Captain Chainsaw and his crew to create an artwork from the trunk. The result is the stunning Pegasys.
9. The Big Apple
A Hawker Hunter jet, the last one ever made, towers in front of the Big Apple. Behind the jet, the building looks tired and unwelcoming, but once we’re inside things look brighter.
The plan is to play arcade games for a bit and then go bowling. We go on a weekend morning and find the place quiet. Perfect. No queueing for games. It’s our last morning in Woking and we’re all keen for some family play time. Food first. I order a platter of snacks that everyone will enjoy for £15 and drinks. Service is relatively fast, the food is really tasty and more than enough for the five of us. Some of it was polished by the time I got a chance to take a photo.
Looking at the size of the arcade section you’d think the time needed to run it through would be 1 hour at most. When we look up from the hypnotising lights and sounds three hours are gone. GONE. Look down at the wallets and they’re empty. We are suckers for games and with all our time spent taking over the arcade, bowling and Lazerquest is left for another day.
A steady line forms behind us as we feed the ticket machine the millions of yellow tickets we won to claim the grand prize of more small plastic made-in-china nonsense for the kids. We don’t have space for my hairdryer! The kids are happy and we all had a ball so we leave Woking on a happy note.
- Meal and drinks: £20. What we spent for a family of 5.
- Arcade: £ __ The cost depends on you. For 3hrs we spent close to £30 with games costing £1 and £2 a go.
- Bowling: £6,95 adult & £5,95 child
- Laserquest: £6 (non-members
10. Treasure Hunt
Here’s an idea for a treasure hunt game in Woking. If you can’t put together a treasure hunt give them the clues on a piece of paper and offer the reward or a treat if they find all or some of the clues. All the clues are within close proximity of each other. For bigger groups see which group can solve the clues first. My clues are lame so please come up with your own more original descriptive rhyming clues if you can to make it fun and more of a challenge. It’s not necessary but include street names with your clues and a map of Woking if possible.
Cost: Free (except for the cost of treats/reward of your choice.
Ideas for clues:
- Start your search at the Town Gate where more clues await. (They must find the Woking Town Gate at Jubilee Square to start)
- She struts her stuff like a giant Peacock. (Find the giant lady in Peacock Centre)
- Beautiful panels in the market will reveal your next clue. (Find the Market Walk that features the legacy panels, detailing Woking’s Celebrate activities as part of the Olympic and Jubilee Years)
- He is lost in a square outside a church. (Find the man in front of the church in Jubilee Square)
- A champion hero playing ball on a roll. (Jubilee Square, find a sculpture of Paralympic wheelchair basketball champion, Ade Adepitan MBE.)
- An alien invasion of a Martian tripod is a scary occasion. (This one is obvious)
- Brothers born in the same hour become sporting legends and now over you, they tower. (Find the statues of The Bedser Twins on the bridge over the Basingstoke Canal, situated between The Living Planet Centre and The Lightbox.)
- Find the author of the War of the Worlds sitting by the box of light with your last clue. (Find the sculpture of HG Wells in front of the Lightbox Museum)
- Race to the final point at the centre of the square where angels gather.
Other popular public sculptures to look out for in Surrey are:
The Surrey Scholar by Allan Sly in Guilford.
George Abbot, Guildford. By artist, Faith Winter. Unveiled in 1993. Of George Abbot, a former Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Linocutter at Staines
Dorking Cockerel standing proudly on the Deepdene roundabout is a 10ft high sculpture created by sculptor Peter Parkinson of Leatherhead’s Fire & Iron Gallery (well worth a visit!).
Out of Order, Kingston. A must-see for any visitor, Out of Order was designed by David Mach in 1988 and has provided many a photo opportunity for tourists.
The Right Way, Camberley. By the renowned sculptor Rick Kirby, 2009. A well-known landmark in Camberley town centre, this striking piece of public art stands at the junction of Park Street and Obelisk Way and adjacent to The Atrium entertainment and retail centre.
Alice and the White Rabbit, Guildford. 1984 by local sculptor Edwin Russell. A tribute to author Lewis Carroll (or the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson as he was really known) who is buried at The Mount cemetery near Guildford.
Dame Margot Fonteyn, Reigate. By Nathan David in 1980. A bronze statue of one of the finest classical ballerinas of all time outside Watson Wyatt’s building near Reigate Station. Margot danced with the Royal Ballet and was appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta by the Queen.
The Blacksmith, Abinger Hammer. Completed in 1909, the famous Abinger Hammer clock celebrates the role of the blacksmithing industry in the village’s past. It was built in honour of Thomas Henry Farrer, who established much of the village.
Information is correct at the time of posting, but please check websites for up to date information, prices and opening times.
- Exploring Surry Past