Saturday, 26 January 2013

Apple Tree Cafe, Barton Marina, nr Burton uponTrent

Barton Marina is within the National Forest, on the Trent and Mersey canal and combines shops, places to eat and a lakeside walk with a busy canal basin.

Among the smart clothes and gift shops there is a toy shop and museum and The Butcher, The Baker and the Ice-Cream maker, which sells meat, bread and ice-cream (genius!) as well as fruit and veg.

On a fine day, you can take a walk around the lakes and spot the ducks or admire hundreds of canal barges moored within the marina area.  We visited as the snow was melting and the lakeside path was a mudbath, so bring wellies!  There is no playground area, and I wouldn't bring a bike, but there is enough space to wear out a busy toddler.

There is a choice of places to eat, but if it's coffee and cake you need, Apple Tree Cafe is the best choice.  It describes itself as an ethical coffee shop, delicatessen and fine foods company.  It has a beautiful interior and calming music.  The coffee is good, and the hot spiced apple drink (£2.40) is also worth a try.  There are plenty of varieties of cake to choose from, and it's a lovely spot for lunch with good soup, sandwiches and salads.  We like the Bargeman's Platter (£9.95) and the Croque Monsieur and soup combination for £6.95.  We've been bringing our toddler here since he was 5 days old, and it is friendly towards children of all ages, but they need to be on good behaviour!

One final point, this is a popular spot and food is cooked to order.  On busy days you may find yourself queueing for a table, then queuing to place your order and then waiting for the food to arrive.  You may want a book/crayons/toys in your handbag to prevent toddler meltdown.

Round up

Cafe Latte price: £2.50 for a large one
Favourite cake: Lots of great choice.  Coffee cake is good, as is the Millionaire's shortbread.
Child friendly highlights:  £4.95 for a child's lunch box (sandwich, drink, dried fruit and cookie).  High chairs, babyccino for 75p.  But no baby change (the Waterfront Pub has baby change if you are stuck) and none of the water areas are fenced off.
Buggy friendly: Cafe and marina is, lakeside walk generally ok but can get muddy
Car parking: Plenty of free parking


This is a good place for a walk with a great coffee shop, and some of the best coffee in the area.  The Apple Tree is welcoming to families but not overly geared up for lively toddlers.  Bring grandparents or a book to keep the peace.  Or just keep it as one for indulgent child-free moments!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Cannock Chase: Marquis Drive Visitors Centre

Cannock Chase Country Park attracts mountain bikers, ramblers, dog walkers, horse riders and yet more mountain bikers from miles around.  It is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and includes forest, heathland and park areas.

If you have smaller children, the best place to start is the Visitors' Centre on Marquis Drive, where you can get to a host of paths suitable for buggies, scooters, trikes and bikes.  We like the paths marked on this map which provide enough distance and gradient for a small boy on a bike with stabilisers.  There are also family cycling trails of 3.5 to 9 miles, which we haven't tried yet.

The Visitors' Centre also has a good outdoor playground with swings, climbing frames and a good collection of wobbly bridges and balancing beams.  But it turns into a mud fest with the slightest amount of rain, so come with splash suits, old clothes and welly boots!  There is also a big area for picnics (including barbeques), frisbees and ball games.

The cafe is basic, but it does a range of hot and cold drinks, snacks, sandwiches, jacket potatoes (about £3) and bacon butties (£2.50).  And all those mud caked mountain bikers mean your kids will never make too much mess.

Round up

Cafe Latte price: £1.65
Favourite cake: Chocolate covered flapjack £1.50 - it was so chunky we shared 1 piece between 3
Child friendly highlights: highchairs, children's portions including beans on toast for £1.50
Buggy friendly: Most of the paths are ok, the playground is a bit harder going
Car parking: £1 for up to 3 hours or £2 over 3 hours, but plenty of roadside parking too


Very much an outdoor destination, with the cafe not much more than a convenient pit stop, but a great place for bikes and good value food and drink.