Okay, so we might not get many hot days, but when the sun is shining there is nothing quite like playing in water for kids. In the North East we are really lucky to have a quite a few options for where to cool down when it warms up. Lets face it though, we could have a cold and wet summer and most kids would still love to play in a splash pad or take a dip in a paddling pool. Read on for some ideas about where to head and information about opening hours.
My toddlers LOVE Thomas and Friends and I consider the fact that I can sing the (quite complicated) theme tune in full, one of my specialist skills. If your kids are Thomas super-fans then they are in luck as the Thomas Playstation is on a UK tour and there are 2 stops in the North East.
The Playstation is a mobile play space with 8 stations of different activities, including;
I'm back, after a summer of neglecting my blog, I've eventually got around to writing an actual post. We had a great summer, went to lots of places, have thousands of photos clogging up my phone and memory card, loads of ideas for blog posts, but it iss just so hard to find the time to actually sit down and write them. Especially now I am no longer a lady of ... leisure doesn't sound right... more like multiple nappy changes and cold cups of tea, as i'm now back at work! Mr Sprog is on paternity leave, looking after the kids until Christmas, so expect blog posts devoted to craft beer and Fifa to be uploaded soon.
So back in August I finally got around to visiting Shiremoor Adventure Playground. My sister had mentioned it to me a while ago, she had said they had toys, scooters etc, but I couldn't really picture it. Well when I got there it wasn't what I was expecting. There is a certain 'rough around the edges' element to it, and it reminded me of Byker Grove in that it has a youth club feel to it. There is sooooooo much to do, and I think older kids would adore it. As a parent to a toddler and baby I was slightly horrified about how big some of the equipment looked, but I feel the same when I watch kids on skateboards, or free jumping or whatever other fun kids have whilst putting themselves in danger.
But what is is? Even after visiting i'm not sure I can adequately describe it. A youth club and park? There is a huge wooden frame, a massive sandpit, some terrifying rope swings, an allotment with chickens, a pool table, a basketball court, roller-skates, scooters and on the hot day that I visited there was the biggest paddling pool that i've seen too - but I'm guessing as it took me so long to write this post that won't be there any more.
What it is though is FREE, which is amazing for what they have on offer. It's also staffed, and you have to sign in, so it shouldn't ever get too busy to the point of it being over-capacity. They are only open at certain hours (specific times at the bottom of this post) - afternoons after school, but during the day on weekends and school holidays. They are also closed until 13th September 2016 due to maintenance. What is also great about it, is that they run some sessions specifically for children with disabilities and their carers.
WOW. This afternoon we went to the family friendly opening of their newest exhibition, and interactive hands on selection of giant playground equipment. It's absolutely brilliant, one of the few activities that I think all kids from babies up until teens will enjoy, and it's perfect for a rainy day. Also like all the other exhibitions everything else in the Baltic it is FREE!
Turns out that we were well jammy getting an a ticket for the opening event, because not only did we get to see the exhibit first, but the lovely people at the Baltic had even put on a spread for us. Drinks, cakes and fruit platters. Shows that it is worthwhile keeping an eye out on Facebook for event invitations, I'd seen this on on the great Family Explorers Facebook page.
If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise...Well, not if you've read this blog because I've taken pictures of all of the lovely surprising bits, but if you go for a walk in Plessey Woods Country park I think that you'll like it.
Earlier in the year I saw on Facebook that Plessey Woods were having an opening weekend, after they had added some sculptures and activity bits within their country park. I hadn't got around to visiting until this weekend, when the weather was beautiful. The warm sunshine probably helped, but even so it was a lovely place to take the kids for a walk. Our toddler managed to walk lots of it, loved stomping in the puddles and was happy to play along with me when I propped him up on some of the sculptures. I'd like to tell you the distance of the walk we did, and how long it took, but in typical me style the battery on my phone died half way through so I lost the data from the distance app that I was using. If we're doing confessions then I might as well fess up that we took the wrong turning at some point, so we missed at least one sculpture area (Totem Poles) and ended up carrying the double buggy up an exceptionally long and steep flight of stairs. So it's probably best that you look at the pretty pictures, and take no notice of any advice that I might give as I think most people would have done a better job at navigating a buggy friendly walk than we did.
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.
On a freezing cold Saturday in April, we headed out with a few friends to Ridley Park in Blyth. I'd never been to this park before, but my husband had told me it was really impressive. Well he wasn't exaggerating. It was a lovely park, big enough to have a meander through for 15-20 minutes, green space for a kick about, loads of equipment for kids of a pretty wide age range and a cafe to grab a coffee and bit of cake.
Parking: There was a decent sized car park which was almost empty when we visited. I can imagine on a sunny summers day the car park would be heaving pretty early on, but if so there were plenty of spots to leave the care on the road surrounding the park.
Play areas: A short flat walk from the car park led to the main park where there were 3 distinct playing areas. A playground for 10 year olds and under, a junior park for 11 and over and a water feature area.
UPDATE: TWITTER TELLS ME THE WATER FEATURE WILL START ON 28TH MAY 2016 FOR THE SUMMER. The water wasn't on when we visited. The northumberland council website tells me that it's on 'most days' during the summer, from 11-6pm. I can imagine the toddler going nuts for this when it's operational, and as it was freezing cold it was probably for the best so my toddler was exposed to fewer risk factors for hypothermia. You could see from the placement of water pumps that it would probably be quite dramatic when it was on, but unfortunately without the water sprinkling, my trusty iPhone photographs are a bit bland. The ground was a soft, anti slip material, although I feel like those 6 rocking animals might act like a magnet to excitable kids' heads when they are running around in the water.
The Junior park for under 10s, was really well equipped with a few pieces which were different from the usual swings or roundabouts that you see in most parks. Below are photographs of all of the equipment in this section of the park. Including climbing pieces, slides, and water and sand features. The water feature, which was a tap with a series of tubes, turbines and mills for the water to travel through, wasn't on when we visited. Perhaps this is something else which is only operational during the summer months? Our toddler didn't seem to mind though and still had a play on it.
One of the things which set Ridley Park apart from the other parks that I've been to before was the area for over 11s. The equipment in this section was frighteningly big. The type of park which is great when you are 11, then as soon as you have kids and lose your sense of humour and ability to see any fun in taking risks, it is quite terrifying. Mainly the climbing apparatus. I don't think my photos show just how high some of it went.
As well as the play areas there were lots of grassy patches which you could spend a while walking around, have a picnic or play games on.
Cafe: There was a really sweet cafe in the centre of the park, with places to sit both inside and out. I spotted at least two high chairs for the little people, and dogs were welcome inside too. The cafe supplied some games equipment (which in the interests of full disclosure I must point out some of it was tired, like when Eddie Izzard completed 50 marathons tired, a couple of the balls looked like they had been salvaged from a dog's mouth, but there was enough equipment in good enough state to have a kick about with) like balls, hula hoops, and a mini kids slide. I thought this was a really nice touch, and we had a good time chasing around one of the balls each time our toddler kicked it in the opposite direction to us. For the size of the cafe it had a very big menu, not just offering coffee and cakes, but full meals. We saw a few people tucking into baked potatoes and paninis and they looked really good. We treated ourselves to a millionaires shortbread and hot chocolate whilst I fed the baby, and they were lovely. Slightly disappointingly they'd added synthetic tasting chocolate sauce when decorating our plate which distracted a little bit from the rich, slightly bitter taste of the chocolate on the shortbread. Millionaires shortbread is one of my favourites, and this was definitely a really good one, and tasted home made. I'm sure it was, as we saw them bring out big trays of freshly cooked scones from the oven. The only downside to this cafe was that if you needed the loo, you needed to go outside and brave the elements, as the only ones available were the parks toilets.
Toilets: Now for the weird bit of the review. With a baby and toddler needing their nappy changing, what feels like every 15 minutes, the toilets are pretty important to me. Important enough to take photos of, it seems. These pics were taken on my iPhone, but I think even a top of the range SLR couldn't save these pics from how grim they are. Probably my only negative part of the review of this park, but there were only one sets of toilets open. So two female toilets, and absolutely nowhere within them to change a baby. The green porta-cabin building were toilets too, but these were all locked up. Perhaps there were baby change within the disabled toilet? But I had asked within the cafe if there were any baby change in the park and they didn't know, so I'm not sure whether there are any baby change places in the park. Thankfully on our trip there were no tell-tale smells indicating an immediate nappy change required, so both the toddler and baby just had to wait until we got home.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely, it was a perfect park for the colder weather, lots to entertain the little ones, bits of games equipment for us to use, and a lovely cafe for a cake. We'll definitely go back in the summer so that we can see the water area in action. We live about a half an hour drive away, but I think that if we were heading out for a day it would be worth making the trip to Ridley park for the great play spaces.
Have you been to Ridley Park? What did you think? Did you find any baby change facilities? Have I missed anything out of this review? Leave me a comment below.