Days out · london · Parenting · Play

Valentine’s Park -Ilford, Greater London

This weekend just gone we braved the cold weather and went along to Valentine’s Park and Mansion -partly because they had a Christmas fair on and partly because I was hoping we’d get to eat cake at the cafe.

Valentine’s Park occupies 52 hectares of open space of what was part of a Georgian estate. The mansion house still stands in the grounds, once used as council offices has now been transformed and restored to its former glory partly as a museum but also as an event space, artists’ studios, and community hub.

On the day we went, the mansion was host to a Christmas fair which was spread out across its many rooms and floors. It was a really nice idea as you got to explore the house bedecked in Christmas decorations as well as all the goodies offer. Unfortunately, as is the way with a lot of things when you have a toddler, if it isn’t a slide, a swing, some sort of animal, or cake, he isn’t interested so our visit to the fair was brief. We left Nanny and Auntie to it and headed in search of the playground.

One of the many great things about Valentine’s Park, other than the grottos, lakes and ponds, and most importantly two cafes, is that it well known for their tame squirrels. For the love of all things fluffy that you can chase, The Toddler was rather excited by the fact you can quite literally have them eating out of you hand. Feeding the squirrels is very much welcomed at the park. The cafe sells bags of squirrel food but they will happily chomp their way through most things and whilst they are probably the best fed squirrels in the whole of London, stick to healthy squirrel fodder if you are planning a visit. Although, that said I have seen a squirrel eat part of a mint Club biscuit but whether it lived to go tell the tale or not I don’t know…

Being parents of two small children, we of course had a few raisins on us found some lurking in the seat of the pram which provided The Toddler vast amounts of joy once he realised if you don’t throw a raisin at the squirrel’s face, it will come and take it from you. This caused great excitement.

Once we had fed the squirrels and cleaned out the pram of raisins, and when The Toddler was done kicking leaves, we went over to the playground. The playground, like many, has both over and under 5’s play areas. The play equipment is fairly decent and clearly well used but equally accessible for most age ranges whilst still being challenging and fun.

My one gripe with a lot of play areas is that the equipment isn’t alway that well thought through for the ages they are catering for. They are either too difficult to use or not very exciting. There are two parks near us for example that illustrates my point quite clearly. At one park, there are two slides. One is really high with steps, and the other is medium sized but had a rope climbing frame thing in place of a ladder. The Toddler knows no fear so he isn’t put of by a challenge but he can’t climb up to the age appropriate slide but he can get up the steps of the big slide on his own, and it’s taller than me at 5ft 5″. At the other park near us which has an under 5’s play area, the slide is only about 2ft high so it’s not really much of a slide at all. Anyway, I could write a whole rather inane post all about how badly designed what’s-the-point-of-that play equipment but that’s just me.

Back to Valentine’s, The Toddler spent a good half hour at least running around, The Husband made several attempts to capture him and convince him it’s time to get warmed up. It was not an easy feat but used the promise of cake to lure him down from the slide. Valentine’s Park boasts 2 cafes, one by the playground, and one in the gardens by the mansion. We plumped for the one in the gardens as we were meeting Nanny and Auntie post fair. It’s small but there is sheltered seating outside too and most importantly, has decent sized portions of cake!

Valentine’s Park could easily become my new favourite Park to go to but I don’t think about going as often as I could. It’s easy to forget that there are such fab places locally, especially green spaces, that can make you feel like you are miles away from being in a big city and, to sound incredibly twee about it, with bringing up kids in London, it’s really important that they get a chance to enjoy the great outdoors. It is particularly beautiful in autumn and what small (or big!) person doesn’t like kicking leaves?!

Valentine’s Park is free to the public with tube, national rail, and bus links near by with some free parking at the mansion.


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