Last week we had an eventful visit to Wheelbirks, the farm shop and cafe in Stocksfield. I was having one of those days where everything goes wrong, mainly because I was making terrible decisions and mistakes every five minutes. I had parked up on the road leading to the farm to take a call, ended up talking for longer than I had realised and drained the car battery, leaving me stranded. After packing up the kids into the buggy and walking the rest of the way to the cafe, I realised the baby's nappy had exploded and handily my change of clothes for her were still in the car - so if you happened to be in Wheelbirks last Tuesday, I was the flustered sweaty one with the half dressed and suspiciously stained baby. I'd only planned to pop into the cafe for a coffee, but ended up there for hours waiting for the AA to rescue us.
Whilst it wasn't ideal, even through my occasional bouts of tears (I was particularly emotional/sweary when I returned to the car and managed to drain the battery for a second time) I was at least aware that as far as places to be stranded in go I'd picked a good one. As well as having all of the sweet treats I needed to get me through the experience with minimal tears, it also has indoor and outdoor play space so my toddler could roam around and burn off some energy. The farm shop and cafe is based on Wheelbirks farm in Stocksfield, Northumberland. It has been decorated beautifully, the ice cream which is made on site is to die for, the play space keeps my toddler entertained for ages, and there are loads of tables in the orchard to sit and catch some sun if it's a nice day. All in all I think its a bit of a hidden gem.
Getting Here: To get to Wheelbirks you need to drive, I'm not sure how far out of Stocksfield it is, as I don't know the area that well, but as someone who has foolishly drained their battery on the road leading up to cafe, I know that it's about a 15 minute walk to Wheelbirks from the main road. Getting there by car is simple enough, there are signs from the main road. There are loads of parking spaces, some right in front of the cafe, and an overflow car park in the main farm area.
Play spaces: Whilst the cafe in general is lovely, and I would happily return even if I didn't have children, it is the great kid's spaces which really sets this place out to me, so i'll cover those bits first. The pre-school area of the cafe is at the back of the cafe. There are quite a few tables, loads of high chairs, a microwave to heat up baby food and a really beautiful little play area which has something for the littlest of babies and much older children. My toddler particularly liked the small farm with animals, which worryingly he seemed to enjoy over to the play kitchen to cook - hopefully we have a future chef on our hands as opposed to serial killer. The pre-school area can be hired for parties, so a sign stated that it's often not open to the public between 10am-12pm on a Sunday.
This area had everything that you could need for little ones. Including a dustpan and brush and a sign asking people to clean up any excessive mess. This isn't something i've seen anywhere else but I actually really like this idea. I always try and clear up before I leave places, and that'll generally involve bending down to collect whatever mess we've made on the floor using wet wipes or napkins. I'd far rather use the dustpan and brush, so pleased that they have one on offer to use.
Outside Spaces: There are more places to play outside. Within the courtyard on your way to the entrance of the cafe is the Playbarn. The area inside the play barn is suitable for older children, with the minimum age being 4. It was closed when we visited, and the sign stated it would be closed until further notice due to a leaking pipe, so if you are thinking of visiting to use the barn then check Wheelbirk's website before heading there. It was open last time we visited and we saw there were stacked hay bales and swinging ropes inside. When it is open there is an entry fee of £3.50 for this area. Outside the play barn is a small area for pre-school children, and a sign states there is no charge for under 5s to use the sandpit, toys or small playhouse.
Accessible from inside the cafe is a gorgeous orchard. Its fenced in on all sides, which any regular readers will know is a huge plus for me and my toddler whose hobbies include sprinting away from me whenever he has the chance. Within the orchard there is a slide, large swing and balance beam. The trees which also created areas for children to play, with arches to go through and explore. The fenced sides of the orchard looked out onto fields with horses, cows and a chicken coop. We spent ages out here with my toddler screaming for all of the animals to come over to us - strangely enough they didn't take him up on his offer.
The rest of the cafe is just as pretty, with lots of seating areas, and even an adults only area so people who don't want to listen to the dulcet sounds of toddlers asking for more ice cream don't have to. Ice creams, and other dairy items can be bought to enjoy at home. We took home some organic butter, which at £1.60 for 500g was actually really good value, and it was really tasty. There are also some home decor, stationary and kids items to look at in the shop area.
Weirdly, one thing that I did want to mention here is the signage. There was quite a lot of signs within the cafe with requests for customers. I have seen signs like these in places before, but I think it was the number displayed made it noticeable. I've included a selection below. All make perfect sense, as to why they would be displayed, but seeing them all together, put me slightly on edge that I might inadvertently do something wrong and alarms would go off because I'd taken a swig of water from a bottle in my bag. I must say though that all of the staff I came into contact with were really helpful, and very friendly. One staff member carried my tray over to my table so I didn't need to grapple with it with the buggy, and when heading to the toilets another member of staff cleared a path for us. I only visited the baby change toilet, which was really roomy, and nice and clean.
Food: Below are a selection of the menus, if you click on the images they should be big enough to read. Both times we've visited we have had coffee and cakes, as opposed to proper meals, but they looked nice when I was nebbing at other people's food. They are fully licensed so serve alcohol here - I was almost about to reach for a pre-mixed gin and tonic during my car and baby poo drama, but I thought there could be mass calls to social services if I had been there with my inappropriately dressed baby, tearaway toddler, whilst on the phone to the AA and drinking G&T, so instead settled for a coffee and a caramel shortbread which was lovely. I got my toddler an ice cream which was served in a plastic mug to take home. The staff member showed him the different designs and was very patient whilst he took about two minutes to decide between the cow and the giraffe. We picked peaches and cream flavour ice cream which was gorgeous. The ice cream, served with two toppings and in the reusable mug was £3.95 which I thought was pretty good value. Overall my coffee, caramel shortbread, post apple juice and ice cream came to £10.50 which I think is really reasonable considering that all of the kids entertainment that toddlers will be using is free. I really liked the idea of the toddler platter which for £2 gets you a selection of rice cakes, cheese stick, cucumber, tomatoes, grapes and raisins. My toddler has got a huge appetite so I wouldn't have considered it for him, but my baby will be weaning the next few weeks, so its nice to be able to buy something with lots of variety and which isn't expensive so it doesn't matter so much if they decide that actually they aren't hungry at all anymore.
On our way out, we stopped at the animal barn which had some very young looking calves in there, which were so cute. Last time we were here there were some lambs which people could bottle feed at certain times of the day. It's lovely that there are these additional touches that make it a real family day out, as opposed to somewhere you would only go to eat and then leave.
And then finally, 8 hours after we had left the house it was time for home, the AA gave us the heads up they were on the way, so off we trotted to meet them. The baby being unconventionally wrapped up in her brothers hoody, having gotten poo on all of her blankets.
Would I recommend it? Yes and I already have, to loads of people. The indoor play area is big enough to keep toddlers entertained for ages, and it isn't manic like soft play. I also really like that there are picture books to look through, safe places for little babies to play and that they have a cheap snacky option for weaning babies and toddlers with small appetites. If the weather is good the orchard is perfect for catching some sun whilst the kids can play on the slide and look at the animals. Obviously the home made ice cream and cakes are always a big draw too. I love it here.
Tel: 07717 282 014
Monday - CLOSED
Tuesday - Sunday - 10am - 5pm
Have you been to Wheelbirks Parlour? What did you think? Leave us a comment to let us know.