Thursday, 28 August 2014

Rowntree Park, York

This is a lovely park near the river close to the centre of York. Set on land donated to the city by the chocolate company, it has plenty of space for bikes and scooters and playground equipment for a range of ages. There are several climbing frames, swings, slides and a long balance course.

Elsewhere in the park there is a mini golf course, skate park and there was a bouncy castle when we were there (extra charge). There are flocks of ducks and geese on a small lake and a more formal garden.

So far, so good. But the real point of difference in this park is the lovely community cafe, which hosts a small public library. It's an arts and crafts inspired building and has a balcony which overlooks the park. As a cafe it is cosy and welcoming, with magazines alongside the library books. The selection of books has been chosen by the Friends of Rowntree Park, a group which seems to be very active in support of the park and should be commended. When we were there the cafe was busy, and plenty of people were reading, to themselves and to their children. I suspect it had more visitors than many libraries on a Saturday afternoon.

At a time when local authority budgets are being squeezed, I think public services need to be innovative. This partnership of local authority, community group and cafe is working well and delivering a really attractive offering.

Round up
Café latte price: £2.50 for a large one
Favourite cake: £2.50 for a huge piece of Victoria sponge
Child friendly highlights: Great playground, babyccino for £1
Buggy friendly: yes
Parking: £2.40 for up to 2 hours

A public library in a (lovely) cafe, in a (pretty good) public park. What's not to like? A lesson to local authorities everywhere.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

National Railway Museum, York

Sooner or later every small child seems to have a phase of being obsessed by trains. I assume this happens to little girls too. When it does, you can do worse than get yourselves to the National Railway Museum in York. It is free to get in, although there are lots of opportunities to spend money once you are in.

The highlights include many large steam engines, including the record breaking Mallard, a replica of the Rocket, a Eurostar, bullet train and various royal trains. There are also some impressive model railway layouts, which my son was very excited by. You can go on a Mallard simulator, which recreates the 1930s record breaking speed attempt, for an extra charge. You can buy a children's guide and spend lots of time in the large shop full of train related goodies.

Outside there is a large play area for 3-8 year olds and a ride on model train (extra charge). There are inside and outside picnic benches, and during the school holidays there are a series of hands on activities to take part in, some of which also have an extra charge.

There is plenty of in house catering to choose from. We sampled the Mallard cafe which provides surprisingly good quality drinks, snacks and lunches in the middle of the Great Hall, surrounded by steam engines.

Round up
Cafe latte price: £2.75 for a large one in the Mallard Cafe
Favourite cake: Choc peanut butter brownie for £2.95
Child friendly highlights: Big trains, small trains, trains in the playground, kids lunch boxes in the cafe
Buggy friendy: Yes
Parking: Come by train or park and ride

Although free to get in, the extras can mount up quickly, but this can be a full day out for train enthusiasts of all ages.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Markeaton Park, Derby

Deciding whether to include this Derby City Council run park on this blog was a real dilemma.  It’s a great place for small kids.  One of the highlights is a huge paddling pool, which is open in the summer, and has several fountains for added splashy fun.

The playground area is also huge, with signs of extensive recent investment.  My son had a great time in the pirate ship area, and the big slides set into the bank.  Toddlers get swings and a fire engine climbing frame and older children can play on big rope climbing frames.
There are plenty of picnic benches if you’ve brought your own lunch.

Most of this is provided for free.  Additional charges apply for hiring canoes on the boating lake, and the light railway, but these are reasonable, and you can have a good time in the park without doing either.

So far so good.  But this blog is about coffee and cake.  The only coffee I could find was at a takeaway kiosk where it came out of an instant coffee jar, topped up with boiling water.  Add your own milk and sugar, for £1.20.

I’ve since looked at the website, and there is apparently a café. We missed it completely, and even if it is there, it seems to be missing a trick to have it so far away from the children’s play area.

Round up
Café latte price: £1.20 for an instant coffee
Favourite cake: those my friend packed in the picnic
Child friendly highlights: Great paddling pool, huge playground, miniature train
Buggy friendly: Yes, very
Parking: £1.50 for up to 2 hours, £2.80 for up to 4 hours, £3.70 for over 4 hours
The park is great, and full marks for the investment. But my plea to Markeaton Park: invest in a cappuccino machine in your kiosk, add some homemade cake to the chocolate and ice cream selection, and this would be a perfect family destination.