Weather: Blustery but sunny… and shockingly scorching when the wind died down. (Of course my cherubs were sun cream free and glowing like the ready-brek kids by the end of the day.)
Logistics: This is a local place for local people so bike, foot or bus are preferable but to be honest we usually go by car. You will probably need to use sat nav as it’s signposted in that grand British tradition of putting up a couple of signs vaguely nearby and then just leaving you guessing when you are very close to it. There is usually enough parking in the car park by the cafe.
Activities: This is a country park that has just had a rather fantastic refurbishment so it has plenty to recommend it.
The playground looks supercool and seems to have enough activities to keep children of all ages entertained. (There are also an abundance of pokestops and pokemon to keep a bored teenager/disengaged mother entertained to boot.) I didn’t even look at my kids for over an hour so it definitely wins points from me. There is an adult outdoor gym next to the shiny new playground but this is often covered with small humans who have spilled over from he other equipment - as is always the case.
There is also a bright new building which offers eco-friendly activities such as bug hunts and park ranger skills, led by a team of exceptionally enthusiastic and kind young people who clearly get enough sleep and time to brush their hair. (I would like to hate them but they were wonderful.) They were brilliant with the kids and kept them engaged for over an hour in a range of activities. The hub offers a range of activities, some for free and some for a nominal charge (mainly to ensure attendance). As the park used to be the grounds of an asylum the walls of the learning space are decorated with some rather lurid tales of its history for the more eagle-eyed early readers. I certainly found reading the stories of its gruesome past more enjoyable than building my hundredth bug hotel of the summer.
If your mini-beasts still have energy to burn after all their wholesome activities, there is also a sculpture trail which is worth exploring. It is always charming to listen to a 7 year old pontificate about art she doesn’t understand, especially as she gets progressively irate - like a tiny Daily Mail reader. Still, there are enough different types of sculpture to suit a range of tastes. Our favourites were the moving mirrors and the bomber which kept the kids entertained until I was utterly bored. It is a charming way of marking the history of the area from World War II to the nearby film studio of the present day seem worthy of note to the under tens.
Roam where you want to…
My one tip is to look for the sculptures on the map of the whole park, as the sculpture trail map itself has been simplified to the point of incomprehensibility.
Apparently there is also a cycle hub where you can get someone else to teach your kids to cycle when your back gives out. You can also dump old bikes to be renovated and reused by someone who might actually be grateful for the bloody thing. (Sending serious side eye towards Big Kid right now.)
Coffee: I didn’t get to sample the coffee because the queue was too long, which I guess is a recommendation in itself.
Food: All picnics, all the time. The cafe does do food and I am sure it is very nice but i am so very glad that my children are finally resigned to my parsimony and will accept a manky tortilla with ham, washed down with some delicious water with only a low level grumbling to be heard.
Grounds: I have always enjoyed this park, even before its fancy new refurbishment. There are some nice brisk walks that will suit little legs, studded with bits of wooden climbing apparatus of varying interest. There’s an orchard and some wild areas to encourage the bugs and beasties.
Accessibility: The walks are accessible - most paths are smooth and easy to navigate and there may be some parts of the playground that could be accessed by children with physical impairment but, as is usually the case, it feels like more of a token effort. When will councils start employing Occupational Therapists to consult on this kind of thing? It is endlessly frustrating when you can see what might have been if they had spoken to people actually trained in this kind of thing.
Overall: We have been really pleasantly surprised at the upgrade to this park and we will definitely be using it considerably more in the future.