Wanstead Park: The bluebells are here!

Boy walking in Bluebell Wood Wanstead Park

When we first moved to the area, I was pregnant and living in a temporary flat in Leytonstone waiting for our house purchase to go through. I remember heading to Wanstead Park when I went on maternity leave hoping that what people said about a long walk might really bring on labour.

Long walks proved to be completely ineffectual, but I did get to happen upon the Bluebell Trail in Wantsead Park completely by chance and was overwhelmed by how beautiful it is. It felt like stumbling on a little secret (it’s often very quiet in the week) and it’s quite magical in among the fragrant woodland with the carpet of blue in all directions. I remember thinking that I’d bring our son there one day to run around the bluebells and this year he was finally old enough to toddle about. If you live locally at all, I would definitely recommend a visit but be quick as part of their appeal is that the bluebells are only around for another few weeks.

Bluebells in Wanstead Park

We’ve become regular in Wanstead Park now and it’s always worth visiting the little cafe where they sell home made cakes, tea in proper mugs and what I think is the best 99 flake around. (Trust me, I like ice cream a lot and have sampled my fair share but the ice cream here is properly creamy rather than full of air and the portions are very generous.) It’s just by the lake, a short walk from the temple and has lots of chairs and benches to watch the world go by. Although, watch out for the geese as they can be a bit over-friendly or aggressive depending on your outlook!

cafe in Wanstead Park

And if you live anywhere near the Bluebell Railway in Sussex then now is the time for a trip. The Bluebell Specials run until the 8th May and you can ride in a special 1918 observation steam train through the countryside with full panoramic views of the bluebells.  I haven’t been since I was little and I’m desperate to take the Little One as he is obsessed with trains but I’m not sure we can fit it in this year – it’s definitely on the list for next year.

Wanstead Park website

Bluebell Railway website

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What’s on this weekend: Mother’s Day special

With Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday, I’ve reminded the boyfriend a number of times that he has to make the day special until the Little One is old enough to make me tea and burnt toast in bed. I’ve dropped lots of hints, well ok demands is probably more accurate. There must be breakfast in bed, flowers and a card. It’s only my second Mother’s Day as a mum but I think it’s important to set the ground rules early! And I want to get out-and-about with the Little One and I definitely do not want to cook. Not too much to ask really.

As the boyfriend has been lacking inspiration, I’ve been suggesting things we can do and I thought it might be useful to share some of the local places we’ve been considering. Hopefully, by next year he can just surprise me! So if you haven’t quite decided how you’ll spend the day together or if you want some inspiration to share with your other half, here are a few ideas for kid-friendly places visit.

WALK IN EPPING FOREST & LUNCH AT BUTLER’S RETREAT

boy walking in Epping Forest

If your don’t want to be tied down to a lunch booking or if you’ve left it too late, one of my favourite ways to spend any Sunday is a walk in Epping Forest followed by lunch at the lush Butler’s Retreat café. And as we don’t do it often enough, this looks like it could be a front-runner for us this weekend. Run by the same people behind The Larder in Wanstead, the food at the Butler’s Retreat is great and it’s very child-friendly with lots of space to run around outside. Perfect if, like me, you have a toddler who is against sitting still for 5 minutes. Hopefully, by next year he’ll be at an age where he can sit nicely at the table without a meltdown and we can go somewhere a bit fancy. But until then, open spaces and outdoor tables mean we don’t have to worry about noise or making too much mess.

Address: 12 Rangers Road, Chingford, E4 7QH

More info: Butler’s Retreat website

GUIDED TOUR OF COPPED HALL

Flowers in Copped Hall garden

Run by a charitable trust, this Georgian mansion is currently being restored and they open the doors to the public once a month. It’s set in grassy parkland and so at their open day and tour this Sunday you’ll also get a chance to see the gardens. There’s a shop that sells produce from the walled garden and refreshments available on site. You don’t need to book and the tour lasts between 2 – 3 hours. Kids under 14 are free and it is £8 for everyone else.

When: Sunday 14th March 2015, The gates only open between 10-11am on Crown Hill.

Address: Stables Courtyard, Copped Hall, Crown Hill, Epping, Essex CM16 5HS

More info: Copped Hall website

EASTER BARNS AT NORPAR BARNS

Easter barn at Norpar Barns Essex

I’m a big fan of Norpar Barns. It’s a lovely drive out into the Essex countryside and the barns are down a peaceful country lane. A visit to their Christmas barn is already a family tradition. Last year, I went along to the Easter barn and it really does get you in the mood for spring. There’s also a small tearoom where you can have tea and cake. It depends on the age of your children and how well behaved they are if you want to bring them. Babies and older children will be fine. For the moment, while the Little One is a mischievous toddler who wants to grab everything I think we’ll wait a bit longer before bringing him back. However, it would be the perfect place to take your own mother if you want a few hours away from the kids!

Address: Navestock Hall, Navestock, Romford, RM4 1HA

More info: Norpar Barns website 

FLAMINGO FAIR FOR MOTHER’S DAY

Based in Wanstead library, this local fair is holding a Mother’s day special this Sunday 14th March 2015. It’s child friendly and there’ll be stalls from local artists and craftspeople as well as jewellery, vintage furniture and haberdashery. Open 11am – 4pm and it is open to all ages

Address: Churchill Room, Wanstead Library, Spratt Hall Road, LONDON, E11 2RQ

More info: Flamingo Fair Wanstead

MUMS EAT FREE AT HARVESTER WOODFORD GREEN

I haven’t actually eaten here before but I noticed that The Castle Harvester restaurant in Woodford Green is offering a free main meal to all mums who eat with them after 6pm. There’s no voucher needed and you can read more about the offer on their website. The website claims they are kid-friendly so I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has tried it out.

Address: 393 – 395 High Road, Woodford Green, Essex, IG8 OXG

More info: The Castle Woodford Green website

Weekend adventures: Free and child-friendly fun in Brighton

We’ve recently returned from a lovely weekend in Brighton. But dear god it was cold, so flippin’ cold. We went to visit my sister and her husband to celebrate her birthday and the Little One had a great time. My sister was apologising that she hadn’t looked up any child-friendly places to go and should have found out about a soft-play centre or something. But who needs that over-priced forced fun? There’s loads to keep children and toddlers entertained and most of it is free.

Boy in Noddy car on Brighton Pier

Firstly, the train from my sister’s house in Hove to Brighton was super exciting, (it still amazes me how our son has turned into such a stereotypical boy and is obsessed with trains) but here are three fun and almost free things to do.

1. CHEAP AND CHILD-FRIENDLY BRIGHTON PIER 

Despite the bitter cold, the pier turned out to be a hit with the Little One. Firstly, we watched the swallows dance over the water as the sun was going down and then enjoyed all the colourful twinkling as the lights came on. The amusement arcades were warm (hooray!) so we spent a considerable amount of time in there. There are plenty of small ride on cars for toddlers and my top tip is never put any money in them to make them move! I know this won’t work for older children but as my Little One has never known any different, he thinks sitting in the cars, spinning the steering wheel and pressing the buttons is the ride. And long may that continue.

boy on car game Brighton Pier

He also sat on the ‘adult’ driving games; on motorbikes, at steering wheels and on a flight simulator – all for free and having the time of his life with the flashing lights and car noises. He also enjoyed the racehorse machine (where the plastic horses run to the finish line, no idea what it’s really called) and watched that intently for ages. So my goal is to keep trips to the pier as cheap as possible for as long as possible. Let’s see how that goes!

Brighton Pier website

2. PEBBLES ARE A TODDLER’S BEST FRIEND 

It was actually a bit too cold and wet for lolling around on the pebbles this time, but last time we were down in Brighton the Little One spent a very happy couple of hours sitting, climbing and crawling over the pebbles. You can collect different colours, build towers or just throw them in the sea. And the best thing of all, is it’s free and the worst thing is the crying when you attempt to drag them away.

boy playing with pebbles on Brighton peach

3. PUDDLE PARTY IN THE ROYAL PAVILION PARK 

If your toddler is like mine, puddles are the best. This does however mean that if I have forgotten the wellies and try to steer him away from them, a meltdown quickly follows. So sometimes I just close my eyes and don’t think about the ruined (they cost how much?) shoes and wet toes and just let him have the time of his life. And the Royal Pavilion Park usually has some people playing great African music, so all in all a very cheap way to spend some time happily splashing to the music.

Royal Pavilion website

Hopefully during our next visit we might actually see the sun and feel our toes!