Website: You don’t really need this, it’s just a park - but just in case…
Weather: A blustery day - the kind that makes you think of honey pots and bees and balloons and Winnie the Pooh
Logistics: For years I have driven past those huge mounds by the side of the A40 and wondered about the people trudging up their spiral paths. Who are they? How did they get there? Are they super-humans, to be climbing so high? I am proud to say I am now one of them. It’s actually relatively easy to get to - I’m sure there’s quite a bit of public transport nearby but as I’m a suburban mum we came by car. Sat nav is your friend for this one (UB5 6UR if you need it) but bear in mind the car parks are both quite small and will fill up quickly on a sunny day. Also it’s all gloriously freeeeeeeee! (Except for the dodgy carny rides but that is a negotiation between you and your spawn)
Activities: Northala Fields offers a heck of a lot on offer in just one site. There are hills, ponds, sculptures, fields and playgrounds. And it’s free. Have I mentioned that?
First up there’s the hills - brilliant for burning off a bit of energy after sitting in London traffic. I was surprised at how easy it was to get to the top of most of them - they have the advantage of making you look a lot more impressive when you are at the summit than the actual effort of climbing the things would warrant. That said, if you do manage to climb all four hills then some sort of medal is definitely in order. The spiral paths do eke out the journey a bit and the largest hill will leave you puffing but it’s totally worth it when you get to the top. The views are spectacular and they have through fully provided signs to identify what you’re looking at - the kind of sign I struggle to get my children to look at let alone study.
The playgrounds are fantastic as well. There are 2 pretty standard playgrounds, thoughtfully separated into age accessible equipment but still allowing you to keep a line of sight on multiple kids. God bless civic park designers these days. I must admit though I preferred the big adventure playground. I lost sight of my kids after about a minute and didn’t see them again for about an hour. Perfect. The equipment offers kids a real sense of adventure with enough variety to allow for rough and tumble, death defying feats, flights of fancy, games with rules, games without rules, games that once had rules but have degenerated into some sort of Mad Max-esque death match. The rich tapestry of childhood can be stitched right here.
The ponds and fields were pretty good too. I did like the wooden paths that crossed the lakes and enjoyed watching my kids spot fishes and other fauna as we tripp-trapped along. My friend had her two year old with her, who has just reached that stage where he wants to hurl himself headlong towards anything even vaguely life threatening. I am not convinced she enjoyed this bit as much as I did.
Coffee: The thing I miss most about living in London is being able to just pitch up to a cafe in a park and know you will get a good cup of coffee. The dragonfly cafe delivered just that. Bliss.
Food: Picnic, natch. The food in the cafe looked good though - standard non threatening child fare such as pasta, humous, potatoes and the like. There were ice cream vans dotted about as well, because who does’t want a day out to include at least some whinging and begging?
Grounds: The grounds are the activities so consider this section covered. Have I mentioned that this entire place is free?
Accessibility: For kids with energy to burn there is plenty to do - chances to get right into the thick of it but also ample space for alone time if needed. There is the perennial issue where apparently one bucket-seat swing makes an entire playground ‘accessible’ so there isn’t a huge amount that a physically impaired child could do. I think that municipal planning simply has a long way to go before children’s play areas are truly accessible. That said, all walk ways were wheelchair friendly and it would be possible to get to the top of the 4 hills, though you may want to bring a triathlete along with you to do the heavy pushing.
Overall: This is a great day out - I came home with bone-weary children who were too tired to even ask for ice cream from the ice cream van as we made it back to the car. Now that is a mark of day well spent.