On a beautiful stretch of the Suffolk coast between Aldeburgh and Southwold lies Minsmere, one of the RSPB's most successful and oldest reserves. A series of trails leads you across heath and reed beds, pebble beach and dunes. Minsmere, though in the shadow of Sizewell nuclear power station, is an extremely pleasant place to spend a day whether you are interested in birds or not. It is one of the UK's premier bird-watching sites with well-placed hides. It has more varieties of butterfly than almost anywhere in the country.
Wildlife explorer backpacks (free with deposit) provide children with binoculars and several guidebooks and information sheets to identify trees, butterflies, insects and mammal tracks as well as birds. Also included are a map, a bug viewer and an excellent booklet rather like an I-Spy book with points for spotting particular species as well as information about each one. The beach is great for skimming stones, jumping around on the Second World War tank traps and swimming - weather permitting.
There are regular guided walks for new and occasional bird-watchers or you can just walk around with binoculars. Staff and experienced birders are usually happy to help with advice on where to look and a sheet is published every morning on what is around on that day. Minsmere has an unusually broad range of bird species because of its variety of habitats and its coastal location. It is home to a significant proportion of the UK population of rare bitterns, while the many wading birds commonly seen range from the brightly coloured oystercatcher to the aptly named redshank, and elegant black and white avocets, the RSPB's mascot bird. Other likely sightings include the unusual bearded tit, kingfishers, birds of prey and many kinds of ducks and geese.
There is an excellent café with tasty, good-value hot meals as well as jacket potatoes, sandwiches, organic juices, snacks and cakes. There is plenty of space inside and out and if you sit near the fence you can birdwatch while you eat.
Many of the trails and hides are buggy-friendly and some are wheelchair accessible, though this does depend on the weather. A wheelchair and a battery car are available free of charge (book in advance).
Open daily (except 25 and 26 December) 9am-dusk. Adults £5, children £1.50, concessions £3, family £10, RSPB members free.
How to get there
RSPB Minsmere (01728 648281; rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/m/minsmere), Westleton, Saxmundham, Suffolk IP17 3BY.
By car: Signed from the A12. Follow the brown signs via Westleton village. Free car park. By train: Train to Darsham, then Coastlink bus (book a day in advance on 01728 833526) will meet you off the train and take you (and any bicycles/ wheelchairs) to Minsmere.