Christmas train Special Christmas train at Audley End Miniature Railway. Picture: David Johnson

Santa’s coming to town: Santa’s grotto and stop off points in West Essex and nearby for Christmas 2015

*FOR WHERE TO FIND SANTA THIS YEAR VISIT THE 2016 SANTA’S GROTTO POST HERE*

Yay! It’s November which means I can officially start talking about Christmas. I love the festive season but my partner finds my over-excitement a bit much so I’m banned from breaking out the Christmas songs until now. As the little one is two this year, I’m hoping he’ll really get into the whole Santa thing. He certainly understands what presents are now. So I’ve rounded up some places where you can take your kids along to meet Father Christmas, special Santa grottos in Essex and nearby as well as family-friendly places with plenty of festive atmosphere for the children and grown ups.

Santa at North Weald station for Santa specials train rides Epping and Ongar railway

Some things like the Santa train in Epping get booked up early so it is worth getting tickets as early as you can. Other events have yet to publish their full details and I will be adding to this post soon as I get more information, so keep checking back.

 

SANTA SPECIAL TRAIN, EPPING AND ONGAR RAILWAY

Santa special Christmas train Epping and ongar railway

All aboard for a fabulous festive day out. We took the Santa special train last year and had a fabulous day. On arrival, there is mulled wine and mince pies for the adults and juice and snacks for the children. Then the classic steam train will arrive at the station where you can board for the short journey through the countryside to Ongar. There are children’s entertainers on board and Santa and his elves come round to deliver gifts to all the children. The train stops for a short while at Ongar where a brass band plays carols and you can stretch your legs before boarding the train back to North Weald.
There is limited parking at North Weald so it’s advisable to get one of the special vintage route master busses from Epping or Ongar. All in all it feels very festive and if your little one loves trains they will have a brilliant time.

Dates & times: Santa specials will run on the 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 22, 20, 23 and 24 December. Departures from North Weald are at 09:45*, 11:25, 13:05, 14:45** & 16:25** (*excluding 5 & 6 December, **excluding 24 December).
Price: Adults £16, children £13 respectively but some busier days will costs slightly more for adults. You can also book out entire train compartments for large groups.
Address: Trains depart from North Weald station, CM16 6BT
More details: Epping and Ongar Railway website

SANTA’S GROTTO, CHIGWELL NURSERY
reindeer at chigwell nursery for christmas
This is where we get our real Christmas tree to I love the fact that the whole nursery feels Christmassy and is full of decorations. To be honest, this is not the place to go for a big flashy grotto but a great way to fit in a visit to Santa while picking up your tree and decorations. There’ll also be local carol singers from 2:30pm on Saturday 5th December.

Dates & times: Saturdays: 28th November; 5th, 12th & 19th December: 9:30-12:00 & 2:00-4:30. Sundays: 29th November; 6th & 13th December: 9:30-2:00
Price: Free. A voluntary collection box will be present, with all donations going to local community group Youth Plus.
Address: Chigwell Nursery, High Road, Chigwell, Essex, IG7 5BL
More information: Chigwell Nursery Website or call 020 8500 2690

SANTA’S GROTTO, ASHLYN’S FARM SHOP

We love the soft play centre at Ashlyn’s farm shop as it’s a great place for the little ones to run off steam and is clean, safe and friendly and it has a brilliant farm and outdoor playground. For Christmas, they are offering tractor rides to visit Santa and his deer in his grotto. There’ll also be festive treats like mulled wine and mince pies available to buy.

Dates & times: Farm opening hours during December, call to confirm.
Price: £12.50 per child which includes 2 accompanying adults. Booking advised, call 01992 523 118 to book.
Address: Ashlyns Farm Shop, Epping Road, Epping, Essex, CM16 6RZ
More information: Ashlyn’s Farm shop website

ADVENTURE TO SANTA’S GROTTO, WESTFIELD STRATFORD
Sometimes an all-singing, all-dancing Santa experience is what you’re after and the grotto at Westfield Stratford delivers. We had a lovely time there last year and it starts with an interactive film featuring the children and the highlight for my son was a huge moving train set. This year Shrek and Donkey will be helping Santa out with a 4D cinematic sleigh ride which will transport you through the skies to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole. Each child will have the chance to speak with Santa and receive a gift and photo packages will be available to purchase after your visit. Last year we got a really sweet little snow globe with a photo inside of our son with Santa. And it’s worth noting that there is a buggy park near the grotto.

Dates & times: 16th November – 24th December 2015
Price:  Peak single: £10, peak family (4 people): £35, off-peak single: £8, off-peak family (4 people): £28. Peak and off-peak sessions are displayed on the date & time selection page of the booking site.
Address: Adventure to Santa’s grotto is located outside at Chestnut Plaza beside Cafe Football and Omega. Westfield Stratford, Montfichet Road, Olympic Park East London E20 1EJ
More details: Westfield Stratford Santa’s Grotto website

SANTA EXPRESS, AUDLEY END MINIATURE RAILWAY SAFFRON WALDON
Christmas train Special Christmas train at Audley End Miniature Railway. Picture: David Johnson

It’s a bit further away in Saffron Waldon but the Audley End Miniature Railway transforms its usual enchanted fairy and elf walk into a Christmas special. Families take the Santa Express train into the woods to visit Father Christmas and his elves at his woodland Grotto. Each child receives a present and there’s letter writing in the craft tent for older children and a bouncy castle which is an extra £1.50 weather permitting. For adults there’s some complimentary festive roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and tea or coffee.

Dates & times: Open on the 28th & 29th Nov, 5th & 6th, 12th & 13th, 16th – 24th December. Trains run 11.00am – 4.40pm.
Price: £8.00 per person on the 28th & 29th November, £10.00 per person on the 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th, 16th – 24th December, Under 2s are free. It is advisable to book tickets in advance but tickets are also available on the day.
Address: Audley End Miniature Railway, Audley End Road, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB11 4JB
More details: Audley End Miniature Railway website

MEET SANTA IN HIS GROTTO, REDBRIDGE CENTRAL LIBRARY

Santa will be stopping off in his cosy, twinkly grotto at Redbridge Central Library during December. His merry elves will be on hand to keep you amused and spread some Christmas cheer.

Dates & times: Saturdays 5, 12 & 19 December 11am – 4pm. Tuesdays 8 & 15 and Thursdays 10 & 17 December 11am – 1pm. Monday 21 – Thursday 24 11am – 3pm.
Price: £3.50 per child with a gift included, book in advance at the library or online at The Little Box Office
Address: Redbridge Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford, IG1 1EA
More details: Redbridge Central Library website

***UPDATE: THE SANTA’S GROTTO AT THE VIEW IS NOW ALL SOLD OUT***

SANTA’S GROTTO, THE VIEW CHINGFORD PLAIN EPPING FOREST
Although the details on their website are currently minimal, one of the people who works in the View told me that this is a lovely magical weekend. Santa’s Grotto is inside the Queen Elizabeth Hunting lodge which gets decorated and there is festive music to get everyone in the mood. Booking is essential and as it is only on for a few days it’s likely to get booked up quickly.

Dates & times: Saturday 12 & Sunday 13 December from 10am – 3pm
Price: **UPDATE: TICKETS ARE NOW ALL SOLD OUT** Booking is required and costs £12.95 per child which includes a gift. You can buy tickets in person at The View or by telephone on 020 7332 1911
Address: The View, 6 Ranger’s Rd, London E4 7QH
More details: Epping Forest events website

If you know of another stop off on Santa’s busy schedule that you’d like me to include just comment below or tweet me @westessexmums.

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What’s on in West Essex this October half term: Monday 26th – Friday 30th October 2015

It’s finally starting to feel like Autumn and the October half term will be here before you know it. So here’s some inspiration for child-friendly activities and things to do around West Essex and London.

ALL WEEK

MICHAEL ROSEN’S BEAR HUNT, CHOCOLATE CAKE AND BAD THINGS EXHIBITION, DISCOVER CENTRE STRATFORD

Michael Rosen Going on a Bear Hunt exhibition Discover Centre Stratford

Opening on Friday 16th October, this interactive family exhibition at the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford is suitable for children for both to 11 years old. I’m sure we’re one of millions of parents across the country who end up reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt on repeat so this is bound to be a popular exhibition. There’s even a Bear Hunt trail for younger children to swishy swashy and stumble trip through. It’s not only the work of he much-loved children’s author Michael Rosen that features in the exhibition but even things that provided inspiration for his writing such as his grandparents sitting room and his classroom. You can also step inside a humungous chocolate cake and explore the Bad Things in the Dread Shed. There’s also a chance for older children to create their own poems and find out some fun facts about Michael Rosen as they go around the exhibition.

Price: £5 per adult or child, £18 family of 4, free for under 2s
Opening Times: During half term and weekends you’ll need to book one of the following slots: 10.20 (half term only), 11.20am, 12.20, 1.20, 2.20, 3.15 and 4.15pm. Then during term time you can drop in on weekdays between 3-5pm and there is no need to pre-book.
Address: Discover Children’s Story Centre, 383-387 High Street, Stratford, London E15 4QZ
Further information: Discover Centre website

VARIOUS DRAWING & STORYTELLING EVENTS,  V&A MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD BETHNAL GREEN

Daily drawing drop in sessions which take children on an adventure around the museum and are suitable for all ages. Illustrator Salvatore Rubbion, author of A Walk in London will be running the Explore and Draw sessions on Monday and Wednesday. Using drawing and collage children will help to create a long fold-out picture exploring the special things about the capital. Illustrator Heidi Deedman will be helping children create their own Toy Stories, a book and story inspired by the real toys from the Museum’s collection on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
The Enchanted Forest Toy Theatre Workshop will be a chance to create your own story in a quintessential magical setting with illustrator Frances Barry who will help you draw trees, characters and creatures.

Price: Most are free but the Explore and Draw, Toy Stories, Enchanted Forest Toy Theatre workshop all cost £5 (with parent or carer) and you can sign up on the day. These three activities are most suitable for ages 5 – 12 years.
Opening Times: Activities 11am – 4pm, museum is open daily from 10.00am to 5.45pm (last admission 5.30pm)
Address: V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA
Further information: V&A Museum of Childhood website

SPOOKY SECRET ISLAND, ROYAL GUNPOWDER MILLS WALTHAM ABBEY

Spooky Secret Island, Royal Gunpowder Mills

Professor Nitrate’s evil twin Dr Gore will be hosting science shows and cooking up some diabolical experiments, much to the amazement of all those present in his crazy Mad-Lab.

An array of frightfully fantastic activities will be available for all ages. Try hat and mask making to transform yourself into a witch, monster or other spooky character for the day. Be prepared to get messy with some ooey-gooey monster slime making, freaky monster skin, and make gruesome discoveries in the feely boxes.

Price: Adults £8.77, children £6.97
Opening Times: 10am – 5pm (last entry 3 pm)
Address: Royal Gunpowder Mills, Beaulieu Drive, Waltham Abbey, Essex, EN9 1JY
Further information: Royal Gunpowder Mills website

MONDAY 26 OCTOBER

FESTIVAL OF STORIES, VALENTINE’S MANSION & GARDENS ILFORD

This special half term event for children 3 years and upwards features local authors hosting talks and workshops on storywriting, illustrations and craft activities.

Michael Rosenberg, author of Chilly Goes to Australia, will be carrying out hour long readings and workshops at 11.30, 12.45 and 2.00. And Julia Habgood, who wrote and illustrated Esmeralda and the Prancing Parasols, will be sharing her wealth of knowledge on drawing and illustrating in her 45 minute workshops, followed by 15 minute readings from her debut published childrens book, also at 11.30, 12.45 and 2.00.

Price: Free entry and no need to book
Opening Times: 11am-3pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

TUESDAY 27 OCTOBER

PRESENTING BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, VALENTINE’S MANSION &  GARDENS ILFORD

Spooky storytelling Dracula may well be getting the audience involved and they recommend coming dressed in your scariest Halloween outfit for a spine chilling visit to Valentines. Suitable for all ages.

Price: £5 per child (maximum 1 adult per child), Pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Opening Times: 2pm – 2.40pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

WEDNESDAY 28 OCTOBER

GHOULISH SPIDERS, PUMPKINS & GHOSTS, VALENTINE’S MANSION & GARDENS ILFORD

There’s a chance to get creative and make your own pom-pom spiders, pumpkins and ghosts to decorate your home with this Halloween. Suitable for children 4 years and over.

Price: £5 per child, pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Opening Times: 10am-11am
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

HALLOWEEN LANTERNS, VALENTINE’S MANSION & GARDENS ILFORD
Have fun transforming old jars into amazing Halloween decorations, guaranteed to create a spooky atmosphere at home! Suitable for ages 4 years and older.

Price: £5 per child, pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Opening Times: 2pm-3pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

FAMILY ASTRONAUT: COMETS & METEORS, EPPING FOREST FIELD CENTRE

An illustrated presentation on Comets and Meteors: their relationship and how to observe them. Audience participation with practical activities and time for questions. Given clear skies, there will be the chance to observe some notable objects with a 15cm Newtonian reflecting telescope. Take appropriate clothing and footwear in case the ground is muddy. Suitable for children aged 8 and over (must be accompanied by an adult).

Price: £6 per person, booking required.  Email enquiries.ef@field-studies-council.org or ring 020 8502 8500.
Opening Times: 6pm – 8pm
Address: Epping Forest Field Centre, Paul’s Nursery Road, High Beach, Loughton, IG10 4AF
Further information: Field Studies Council website

THURSDAY 29 OCTOBER

PUMPKIN CARVING, THE VIEW EPPING FOREST 

Join us at The View for an afternoon of pumpkin carving. From jack-o-lanterns to spooky faces, learn how to create a design that will impress any trick or treaters – with prizes for best-carved designs!

Price: £5 for a pumpkin and tealight, and a free hot or cold drink. £3.95 if you bring your own pumpkin. £1 for non-carvers. Booking required (2 hour time slots) call 020 7332 1911.
Opening Times: 10am – 3pm
Address: The View, 6 Ranger’s Road, Epping Forest E4 7QH
Further information: For more information and to book, please contact The View on 020 7332 1911. The View website

FOREST FAMILIES: FREAKY FOREST, EPPING FOREST FIELD CENTRE

Join in with creepy crafts, monstrous makes and a spooky scavenger hunt in the forest. While siblings of all ages are welcome, the activities are aimed at children aged 5-11. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear in case the ground is muddy.

Price: Children £4, adults £2, booking required.  Email enquiries.ef@field-studies-council.org or ring 020 8502 8500
Opening Times: 10am-noon
Address: Epping Forest Field Centre, Paul’s Nursery Road, High Beach
Further information: Field Studies Council website

If you know of any other events that you think local mums should know about just leave a comment below or tweet me @WestEssexMums.

What’s on in West Essex this bank holiday weekend: Friday 28 – Monday 31 August

ALL WEEKEND

BEACH EAST, OLYMPIC PARK STRATFORD

Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

It’s your final chance to visit the UK’s largest urban beach if you haven’t done so already, as Beach East closes on Monday. The kids will love the sand, paddling pool and fairground rides all within the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford and close to Westfield. Read my full review of Beach East here and my advice is to get there early and bring you own picnic to avoid the expensive food on site.

Price: Entrance is free and rides are £2-£4
Opening times: 10am – 10pm
Address: Stratford Waterfront, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, next to Westfield E15 2DU
More information: West Essexs Mums review or Beach East website.

OLIVER JEFFERS EXHIBITION, DISCOVER CHILDREN’S STORY CENTRE STRATFORD

Oliver Jeffers real life rocket at Discover Centre Stratford

If the weather is true to bank holiday form, there may be some rain to contend with this weekend. If so, it’s the final few weeks of the current interactive exhibition at the Discover Centre in Stratford featuring the work of the brilliant children’s author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers. My son loves his ‘How To Catch a Star’ book so I’m feeling bad I haven’t taken him yet so I’m keen to get down there before it closes on the 6th September as friends have told me it’s great. The magical worlds of his books are brought to life and you can take a trip to the seaside, row a boat and make friends with an alien and a penguin. There are also activities for children aged 0-11 years old.

Price: Free for under 2s, £5 for adults and children, £18 for a family of 4
Opening Times: 11am – 5pm
Address: 383-387 High Street, Stratford, London E15 4QZ
More information: Discover Children’s Story Centre website

SUNDAY 30 AUGUST & MONDAY 31 AUGUST

MINIATURE STEAM & ELECTRIC TRAIN RIDES, RIDEGWAY PARK CHINGFORD

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 15.26.15All aboard! On Sunday and Monday afternoons you’ll be able to take a miniature steam train ride at the back of Ridgeway Park. A friend of mine takes her little boy quite regularly but we’ve yet to give it a go so this could be  good option for Monday. It’s run by the Chingford & District Model Engineering Club and prices are pretty reasonable with free parking in the park and on local streets.

Price: Kids under 3 are free with a fare paying adult, costs depend on the track in use but are 60p or £1.50.
Opening times: From 2pm – 5.30pm
Address: back of Ridgeway Park, Chingford. E4 6XU. (Near the Green Man pub near the top of Chingford Mount)
More information: Chingford & District Model Engineering Club website

SUNDAY 30 AUGUST

FUN DAY SUNDAY FEATURING MINI BEASTS, VALENTINE’S MANSION AND GARDENS

ladybirdAs part of their regular Fun Day Sunday, this weekend the family-friendly drop in session will focus on mini beasts. You’ll be able to make bee finger puppets, rocking snails, butterfly masks and ladybird crowns. You’ll also be able to explore the Valentine’s gardens to see how many mini beasts you can find living there.

Price: free entry, no need to book you can just turn up
Opening Times: 11am-3pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA,UK
More Information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

MONDAY 31 AUGUST

THEYDON BOIS FAMILY FUN DAY, ST MARY’S CHURCH

Part of the flower festival that is on all weekend at the church, the family fun day will involve children’s games, a bouncy castle, a BBQ and other refreshments as well as stalls.

Opening Times: 10.30am-4.30am
Address: Between Coppice Row and Piercing Hill, Theydon Bois, CM16 7DN.
More information: St Mary’s Church website

What’s on in West Essex this weekend: Saturday 8 – 9 August 2015

It looks like a warm and sunny weekend ahead, so here are a few ideas for fun family-friendly activities to enjoy in the open air in the local area.

SATURDAY 8 & 9 AUGUST: GO EAST FEST, QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK STRATFORD
Not content with hosting the UK’s largest urban beach this summer (you can read my review of Beach East here) the Olympic park is going all out with a whole weekend of free kids activities suitable for a wide range of ages. There’ll be music and aerial and acrobatic circus performances from NoFit State’s Open House, the UK’s leading large-scale contemporary circus company. They’ll also be hosting introductory workshops and performing impromptu stunts so catch them at 4pm on Saturday, 11am and 2.45pm on Sunday at the South Park Lawn.

Folk Dance Remixed

Folk Dance Remixed

If your kids are more into dance, then they’ll love the Folk Dance Remixed Festival, a mash up of popular dances to live music. It is promising to be a high energy and unique mash up of maypole, clogging, ceilidh, street, house and breakdance with a hint of African and Bollywood, to a live soundtrack of fiddle & beat boxing. There’ll also be a special native Māori performance as well as dance workshops on both Saturday and Sunday between 1pm-5pm at the Fountain Room, South of the Park.

As part of Taste The Music, across both days there will also be a whole host of performances and free music taster workshops rom samba style drumming to reggae vocal sessions. And if that’s not enough, the Arcola Theatre will be performing Bella Bartok’s famous Opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, in the scenic parklands using puppets as well as professional opera singers.

And I love the sound of the Giant Storytelling Snail, home of two eccentric storytellers Sheldon and Shelby, who travel the lands and gather stories as they go. They will actually be at the Olympic Park for the whole of August with daily storytelling trails at 12pm and 3pm but they will also open their home for reading, colouring and drawing all day. This weekend it will be open from 10am-6pm and the Snail will be opposite the Timber Lodge and Tumbling Bay Playground in the north of the Park.
Further information: Go East Fest website

SUNDAY 9 AUGUST – KIDS FEST, MARSH FARM CHELMSFORD
Although Marsh Farm is a bit further away in Chelmsford, there is loads going on at their Kids Fest it looks worth the trip. They are billing it as Glastonbury for kids with lots of favourite characters and children’s TV personalities on stage. Your children will no doubt recognise Mr Bloom from CBeebies and apparently quite a few mums admit to a little crush (I hear he’s also starring in Hollyoaks too, anyway I digress). There will also be Lloyd from Disney’s Art Attack, Mad Science, Shaun the Sheep, Happy’s Circus, Hupsilly Hill and all the Partymen. There will also be bubbles, the biggest inflatable village in the South East, dinosaurs, Punch and Judy, Horse World, robots and lots more. The ticket price also includes entrance to the farm and if you’re quick you can currently buy tickets for 20% off (making them £19.99) via the Little Bird website.
Further information: Marsh Farm website

SUNDAY 9 AUGUST: BUSHCRAFT, RUSHEY PLAIN EPPING FOREST
Rescheduled from 21 June, between 1pm – 4pm children can learn Learn bushcraft skills such as fire lighting, den building and the responsible use of knives. Suitable for ages 5-15 the event is free but you do need to book in advance so hopefully there are still places – call 020 7332 1911
Further information: Epping Forest website

BONUS EVENT – WEDNESDAY 12 AUGUST, KIDS OPEN AIR THEATRE WANSTEAD PARK

Sorcerers apprentice poster

And although this isn’t strictly on this weekend, I thought it was worth pointing out that an open air play suitable for children is on this Wednesday at the The Temple Enclosure in Wanstead Park. We went last year to see George’s Marvellous Medicine by the same theatre company and even though th little one was a bit small he enjoyed it and I loved it. It’s a great event to go to, just pack a picnic and an umbrella (we got rained on a bit last year but it was still great). This year the play is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the traditional tale of a lazy wizard’s apprentice and his runaway ensorcelled broom. A play promising more water than you’ve ever seen on stage before! Gates open at 2pm and the performance starts at 3pm.
More information: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice booking website

As ever I’d love to hear what you think if you visit any of the events listed, so feel free to add a comment below or tweet me @westessexmums.

Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

Review: Beach East at Olympic Park, Stratford

I was really excited to hear that the UK’s largest urban beach was opening just down the road in Stratford, so this week we headed down to Beach East at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to check it out.

Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

Luckily, the weather was warm and sunny on the morning we visited as this definitely helps with the beach vibe! I parked in Westfield shopping centre but you could also park at the Aquatic Centre or get the tube or bus to Stratford. We arrived just after it opened at about 10am and though it was fairly quiet when we arrived, it quickly filled up and by the time we left the place was getting pretty rammed. Obviously, with schools just breaking up this is to be expected but this was a weekday, so afternoons and weekends are going to be super busy.

boy on Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

The ‘beach’ is basically a little complex near the aquatic centre with fun fair rides, food stalls, picnic areas and a large sandy area complete with paddling pool. You do have to walk past a lot of rides to get to the beach area so the pestering starts straight away. However, if you can drag your kids past that the sand was lovely and clean and we brought along a bucket and spade which is always good for simple but effective entertainment of toddlers.

boy playing in sand at Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

While there are some food outlets as I’ve mentioned, they are selling stuff like hotdogs, chips and other fast food so if you’re trying to be a bit healthier or just want to save money you are allowed to bring in your own food and drink (although no glass bottles etc). Personally my little one is so fussy at the moment that I resent paying out for food he’ll barely eat so we packed a little picnic to eat on the beach. A few mouthfuls got eaten before he wanted to run around and play in the sand again. But if you can get them to sit still for long enough a rug is a good idea. There are a few deck chairs but these did all get commandeered by  10 am and they are not very comfortable for little ones. Be warned though – that fine sand gets into everything – gritty sandwiches ahoy! We had packed the swimming stuff for our little ones but they didn’t seem that interested and frankly, I was pretty glad because it was getting very busy with older kids as time went on. But if your kids are a bit older, I’m sure they’ll be desperate to have a splash about and a paddle in the water.

boy near food stalls Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

As soon as we arrived, my little one had spotted a ride with little cars so he spent most of the morning talking about the green car and attempting to run off to have a go. Most of the rides suitable for younger children seem to cost £2 but others go up to £4 and you need to buy tokens at the kiosk first. Despite initially enjoying sitting in the car, when the ride started it did go round the corner quite fast and my little one got a bit scared and started to cry. It was all a bit heartbreaking as I couldn’t get him out of the car until the ride stopped but my friend’s son of the same age was fine so, as ever, who knows how your toddler will react! However, I did notice the lady running it let some younger children on and quite a few of them seemed to be crying! So I’d suggest watching some kids go round on the rides first to get a sense of it and what age group they are and if you think your child would enjoy it (of course this is no guarantee with the unpredictable little monkeys!). There are lots of other rides for older children, such as mini roller coasters and swing seats that all look great fun – although I can imagine it could quickly get expensive.

boy in toy car at Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

Apart from the unsuccessful ride, we had a lovely morning there and when the sun was shining it definitely felt like we were on a beach and it had a distinctly holiday vibe. As it is open until 10pm and has bars, we decided it would be an interesting place to go on a date night for something different on a  warm summers evening. Not that we actually ever go out on date nights, but if you are the kind of parents that can get your shit together to do that I’m sure it would be fun!

Beach East is open until 31st August 2015. It’s open from 10am – 10pm and entry is free. You can bring your own food and drink and pushchairs but no dogs.

Beach East website

Address: Stratford Waterfront, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, next to Westfield E15 2DU

Have you been to Beach East? I’d love to know what you thought of it, just add your comment below.

What’s on in West Essex this weekend: Friday 10 July – Sunday 12 July

SATURDAY 11 JULY

BEACH EAST AT THE PARK, STRATFORD

I’m really excited about this. We already love going to the sandpit at the Olympic Park near Westfield Stratford and were commenting just the other day how great it would be if there was a paddling pool. And then I find out they’re going one better with an urban beach! Opening this weekend and open until the end of August, it will be the largest one in the UK with a huge kid’s paddling pool overlooking the canal, one thousand tons of sand as well as funfair rides, beach bars and lots of events and activities. So grab your bucket and spade and we’ll see you there.

Beach East at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Stratford

TIME: Open daily 10am-10pm from 11 July to 31st August

PRICE: Free

ADDRESS: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

MORE INFO: Olympic Park website

FAIRY-TALE FINDERS A TEATRO VIVO ADVENTURE, VALENTINE”S MANSION

Teatro Vivo Valentine's Mansion

This looks like a really interesting immersive theatre experience at Valentine’s Mansion. It promises that families can meet famous characters from fairytales and listen to their version of the stories we know and love in some unusual places and inventive spaces. Look out for the hungry wolf, a wet Frog Prince and Snow White’s wicked stepmother. Suitable for children 6 years and older

TIME: 11am, 3pm & 7pm (60 minute performance)

PRICE: £8 adults, £5 children and concessions, £20 Family ticket. Booking advised via Redbridge website

ADDRESS: Valentine’s Mansion & Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA

MORE INFO: Redbridge website

FREE FILM SCREENING, LEYTONSTONE

My Neighbor Totoro film poster

As part of a Free Film Day, the Leytonstone Film Club is showing the wonderful children’s film My Neighbor Totoro by brilliant Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki. The award-winning film follows the two young daughters of a professor and their interactions with friendly wood spirits in postwar rural Japan. If you want to expand your children’s horizons beyond Disney, this is a great introduction to the films of Studio Ghibli.

TIME: 2.30pm

PRICE: Free but seats are limited and will be allocated ona first come, first served basis

ADDRESS: Leytonstone Children’s Centre (Former Harrow Green Library, ground floor), 8 Cathall Road, E11 4LF

SUMMER FETE & SPORTS DAY, ST JOHNS SCHOOL CHIGWELL

After a weekend full of school fete’s last weekend, there are a few more going on this week before all the schools break up. So check your local one and if you’re near Chigwell, this one at St John’s school looks like a traditional offering with a BBQ, raffle, home produce, stalls and refreshments.

TIME: 12- 3PM

PRICE: £1 adults & 50p children (free for school students)

ADDRESS: St John’s RC School, Turpins Lane, Chigwell, IG8 8AX

MORE INFO: Ring 0208 504 1818

SUNDAY 12th JULY

COMMUNITY OPEN DAY, NORTH WEALD AIRFIELD

Aeroplanes at North Weald Airfield

My Little One is obsessed with aeroplanes and helicopters so we are already regular visitors to the North Weald Airfield and the great child-friendly café they have there. It was on a visit a few weeks ago that I saw posters for their open day and air display and I know our son will love it. It is being put on to celebrate the75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and will feature Second World War fighter planes, military vehicles and classic cars. An air display will begin at 2pm featuring Spitfires and Hurricanes plus aerobatic displays. Plus there will be helicopter pleasure rides, family friendly activities with magic tricks, fairground rides and a bouncy castle in the children’s adventure corner. And the day will end with a parade at 4pm by the Royal Air Forces Association.

TIME: Gates open 10am

PRICE: £5 per person available on the day, babies 12 months and under free

ADDRESS: Merlin Way, North Weald, Essex CM16 6HR

MORE INFO: North Weald Airfield Facebook page 

PAWS AT THE VIEW, CHINGFORD

There’s four-legged friends at The View on the edge of Epping forest in Chingford. There’ll be have-a-go agility, displays, stalls, tombola and a companion dog show. Visitors can also take in ‘Tudor Stuff’ at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge between 2pm and 4pm.Costumed guides will bring The Hunting Lodge to life and there will be Tudor art and craft activities on offer.

TIME: 11am – 4pm

PRICE: Free entry, £1 entry to the dog show and £1 for craft activities

ADDRESS: The View, Rangers Road, Chingford E4 7QH

MORE INFO: Ring 020 7332 1991 or visit www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/eppingforest