Blackberry marshes

Blackberry picking is no fun for kids, is it?

This was the comment from another mum, after her family stopped cycling to watch us getting covered in scratches and pink juice. I’d offered her a spare container for her kids to join in and she was rather taken aback. 

I suppose she’s right that it’s not the MOST kid friendly activity, what with the thorns, and the best berries inevitably out of reach. Though at least adults and children are on a fair footing as those grape-sized, glossy ones are often just beyond everyone‘s grasp…

But, I’ve been conditioned to blackberry picking as a late summer habit since before I could walk, and can’t imagine walking past a patch of brambles at this time of year without at least *trying* to stuff my face.

So last weekend we cycled up to Hackney Marshes and picked blackberries.

Here are the ways it WAS fun:

It makes a lovely purpose for a cycle ride, and Finn the 3-year-old loved being blackberry patch lookout as we ride along.

We rode through the Olympic Park and along the River Lea, all the way up Hackney Marshes and on to Walthamstow Marshes. 

The further you go up the Lea, the urban-wilder it gets, with a profusion of giant marsh plants along the riverbanks, shady woodland and a huge wide sky out over the Marsh football pitches. 

We passed the enormous, still-being-made Walthamstow Wetlands centre, which I hadn’t heard about until we cycled past signs to it – it’s opening in September and I can’t wait to visit.

The blackberry picking was fun for a bit too. It was! Really blackberry eating for the kids, and a parent doing a bit of quick surreptitious picking into a box while their mouths are full.

The toddler-on-shoulders trick to reach high up berries is good entertainment (obvs the berries never make it into the pot in this scenario) (we stopped and headed for Tumbling Bay playground when tipping the blackberries out of the pot onto the ground became the fun thing).

If you’re cycling back via the Olympic Park then the Timber Lodge cafe is a family-friendly stop for a snack, next to the fantastic Tumbling Bay playground.

And then of course there’s the reward: blackberry and apple crumble!See here for a sugar-free crumble recipe if that takes your fancy. 

Dreamland, Margate

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Last year, I wrote about a weekend break in Margate, which was supposed to include a trip to Dreamland – except I hadn’t checked if it would be open…

… And it wasn’t.

Never mind, it gave us a reason to return to Margate.

A visit to Dreamland is easily done in a day, with the journey from Stratford International taking not much more than an hour on certain trains, but we like Margate – and we know there’s plenty to do – so we went for a long weekend again.

The weather couldn’t have been better. Okay, it was a bit too hot for me, but that’s the kind of problem I like to have.

We went to Dreamland on Saturday, and here are some things you might find useful to know if you go yourself.

But, first, it’s worth saying this. I don’t like rides, theme parks, fairgrounds or anything like that. I can’t tell you how it compares to Alton Tower or Legoland or even Peppa Pig World because I’ve never been. But I think it’s fairly significant that I’d happily take my kids to Dreamland again.

  • It’s actually quite small. You can easily walk around the site without fear of losing anyone or having to carry young companions.
  • There were no queues.
  • It didn’t feel like a completely commercialised experience designed to drag every penny out of you.
  • It was fun – especially seeing my three-year-old on the big slide with her dad.
  • Dreamland has charm. The vintage fairground rides are clearly very loved, and there’s something rather beautiful about some of them – the bright colours, and the craftsmanship behind them. The roundabout made of tiny vintage Austin cars in different shades is one example – sadly no one more than 1 metre 20 can ride them.

Prices

It’s free to go into Dreamland, so you can pitch up, wander round and work out how many rides you and your child(ren) are actually going to go on. There are two ways of paying for rides.

  1. A wristband valid for the day (or weekend for a higher price) that means you can enjoy as many rides as you want.

What’s great is that, with a wristband, you can go in and out of Dreamland as you please. So you can, for instance, go on a few rides in the morning, pop to the beach for a bit, then return to Dreamland and use your wristband later in the day. Buy your wristband online beforehand for the best price.

  1. A dream pass (like a gift card) that you can charge up with money to pay for each ride. So you can put a few pounds on, then charge it up again around the park.

This would be suitable if you were just going on a couple of rides. And if you have money left on the card, I believe it is valid for up to a year.

Rides for toddlers

There are quite a few rides toddlers can enjoy. The people running the rides carefully measure the heights of kids to make sure they are tall enough to enjoy them safely.

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The carousel at Dreamland

Gallopers – this traditional carousel is great for toddlers. Those under 0.9 metres need mum or dad to ride with them.

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The amazing slide

Born slippy – this amazing 65 metre slide was a big favourite. “Again,” she said, as soon as she got to the bottom. And again. And again. You travel down with your feet in a sack-type thing. If your child is under 1 metre, you need to go down together.

Mirror maze – Anyone of any age can enjoy this with no danger of getting dizzy, but some chance of getting lost and bumping into yourself.

Big wheel – Travel up and enjoy the view over the golden sand, and out to sea. You need to be over 0.9 metres to ride, and anyone under 1.2 metres and 12 years old needs an adult companion.

Swing boats – these are so benign even I’m happy to go on them. Sit in a little boat with your toddler and pull the rope to make it swing back and forth.

Teacups – yes, I can manage these too. Sit yourself in a Wedgewood teacup for a gentle swirl. You need to be over 0.9 metres to ride. If you’re between 0.9 and 1.1 metres you need an adult to travel with you.

Austin cars – see above. These are seriously cute little cars.

Double decker – choose a motor bike on the bottom layer, or climb up and ride in a rocket above. You need to be under 8 years old to enjoy this ride.

Helter Skelter – closed when we were there. Boo.

Rides for bigger kids…

The Scenic Railway – Sounds gentle doesn’t it? But beware names can be deceptive. This is actually the UK’s older rollercoaster. As the trains clattered over the wooden tracks, swooping high and low, we watched people screaming with intermingled fear and delight. “That looks like fun,” said the three-year-old. “That looks awful,” I thought to myself. You have to be over 1.25 metres to ride it, so we’ll have to come back some time in the future for her to get a go.

Dodgems – sadly, you have to be over 1.2 metres to ride the dodgems.

Click here to read about the other rides for big kids.

There are other attractions at Dreamland, including a soft play called the Octopus’s garden, and a roller disco (these aren’t included in the regular wristband price). There are also cafes and bars, so there’s no danger of going hungry.

Click here to see some of the extra events that are held at Dreamland, including on Thursday 27 July 2017 from 12 noon a visit from Peppa, George, Mummy pig and Daddy pig – presumably enjoying a day out in Margate.

All the information you need to plan your visit is on the Dreamland website here.

My previous post about places to visit, eat and stay in Margate is here.

Visiting the Sea Life London Aquarium

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I’ve been promising my three-year-old a trip to the Sea Life London Aquarium for ages, but then I never seemed to find the right time to go. A few things were putting me off:

  1. The cost.
  2. The thought of the crowds.
  3. Working out the logistics of taking the baby along too, when for longer than I care to remember sleep has been strictly limited to a maximum of two and a half hour blocks, leading to that feeling. You know the one – fuzzy, confused, where you can just about cope if you’re doing things you’ve done before, but there’s a danger you might burst into tears if you face any additional, unexpected challenge.

Enough of that. Last night, I booked some tickets for us to visit this morning, while the baby was otherwise occupied. And here are some things that it might be useful for you to know if you’re thinking of visiting yourself.

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Victory Park

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Victory Park, Stratford, E20

This is the second in an occasional series celebrating the smaller parks and playgrounds in our corner of East London (last time, it was Rounton Park). If you live near them, they’re a godsend – enabling you to nip out with your toddler for a change of air and, sometimes, a change of mood. If you don’t, you might never think to make a special trip out to explore them, but some – like Victory Park – are easily combined with another task (like shopping at Westfield) or indeed with a trip to another park (we popped to Victory Park on our way back from the QEOP) .

Victory Park is a small patch of green that’s now surrounded by flats for people lucky enough to live on the edge of the Olympic park. There are sometimes events held there as a local community starts to develop in London’s newest postcode (E20).

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Toddler take over…

Watch out! There’s a toddler take over at the Museum of London, Docklands this weekend (20 & 21 May, 2016). There are loads of great activities to entertain restless little ones, which will be especially welcome if the weekend is as rainy as it is right now.

I love the sound of Rise & Shine yoga for toddlers. There are two sessions at 10.45am and 11.20am on both Saturday and Sunday, although by that time most toddlers will have risen and been shining for a number of hours…

But that’s just one of a whole two days of activities aimed at under fives – from balloon modelling and baby jazz performances, to activity trails and the chance to try ballet.

Take a look at what’s happening here.

20 and 21 May, 10.30-4pm. All events are free and tickets are available on arrival.

Rounton Park, E3

The blog I read the most (apart from this one, of course) is Spitalfields Life. I love the way the Gentle Author finds inspiration in his/her home patch of London, uncovering story after story – which, in turn, inspires me to try and do the same. Because I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you keep exploring – wherever you are – you’re never bored.

And to let you in on a secret, I spent much of my childhood feeling very bored indeed. As a result, if there’s any one thing I want to equip my children with, it’s an enquiring mind, so they aren’t needlessly bored, and find interest and inspiration around them.

So when my three-year-old looked out from the bus and spotted a small park with a play area and said, “Mummy, one day can we go to that playground”, I was only too pleased to oblige. Not the same day, mind, I was in need of a sit-down and cuppa, but the next morning when we had an hour or two to fill, and needed a jaunt outdoors.

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Seeing dragons

“Where are we going today?” asks the three-year-old on Easter Monday.

“On an adventure,” I say. This is my stock answer when we are going somewhere I haven’t been before and I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep. That way leads to horrible shouting.

Thankfully, the promise of an adventure was enough to get her out of the house.

I’m glad I didn’t say, “We’re going on an Easter Egg trail,” which was the intention, because I’d have been wrong.

And I never even thought of saying, “We’re going to see dragons”, because that would have been insane. But it is what we ended up doing. That’s the good thing about adventures. You don’t know what’s going to happen – even when you’re just going to Rainham in Essex.

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