Welcome to my first ever review and my first day out with my Coffee, Kids & Ice Cream hat on! I would love to say I was super organised and made notes, but sadly this would be a big fat porkie pie. But I did manage to pack nappies, which is one up on the day before.
Coco is a big fan of The Gruffalo, so I knew a wander round the Gruffalo trail would go down well. We’ve had the touch and feel book since she was tiny so the story evokes good memories. I also worked on a PR campaign for the TV film and consequently now have to disguise a mild nervous twitch when it’s on the box, but that’s another story.
I think there are a few Gruffalo walks dotted around, but the trail we visited is in Thorndon Country Park near Brentwood. As you enter there is a large car park and situated next to it is the Visitors Centre. This is where you’ll find the loos, a small café and the gift shop, filled to the rafters with every piece of Gruffalo and Julia Donaldson merchandise known to man. In the gift shop is also where you can purchase your Gruffalo map for 50p a pop.
Of course we immediately set off in the wrong direction, despite said map, and had to be gingerly shown the beginning of the course marked by our first sighting, the squirrel. Although I think this is more to do with sleep deprivation and our complete inability to read maps, rather than the map itself. Proven further more when we got lost for a second time later. Once on the right track, Coco and her mate Eliza eagerly ran off ahead, giving the mums a much needed 5 minutes to catch up on the latest gossip i.e. who is sleeping (or not) and who’s toddler is most annoying (mine).
The book characters are massive and true to the Axel Scheffler’s animations, meaning each sighting was meet with a wave of fresh excitement from the girls. It was only towards the end their enthusiasm began to dampen as their little legs became tired and shoulder rides had to be dished out.
Even without the Gruffalo element, the woods in Thorndon Country Park are beautiful and the buggies can be easily pushed along the tracks making it a much more pleasant experience for the mums. Despite initially fearing the worst when encountering a school bus of pupils on arrival, the woods were nicely busy with the odd splattering of families and friendly dog walkers, although chances are it may be busier on a sunnier day or at the weekend.
Once the walk had finished and we had met the main man himself, we decided to thrown caution to the wind and venture into Brentwood for lunch. However, upon inspection the café, although reasonably basic, looked well stocked and had a nice array of hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, crisps and some hot food such as panini’s. There was also a small play area with toys for the kiddies, so mums and dads can enjoy their cappuccinos in peace. There is also a lovely fenced picnic area, which I will definitely use once the weather gets a tad warmer.
I stupidly forgot to check if there is baby changing facilities on site (if anyone knows, please share!), however my friend was happy to whip her baby’s bare bum out in in the windy woods and no one seemed to bat an eyelid.
After an hour or so of pegging it around in the morning, the day took a slight downward trajectory once the children became tired at lunch and predictably started having a meltdown along the lines of “I don’t want to eat that”, “I want my juice”, “I want cake”, “wahhh”. However this didn’t stop me gobbling down the delicious food and coffee on offer at The Brentwood Kitchen. Not dissimilar to the Larder in Wanstead, it was jam packed with mums and their monkeys, all making similar sounds to Coco, meaning I didn’t have to leave too red faced when she practically threw herself on the floor at the thought of going home. The menu caters for kids, they have a lovely play area, and they even serve homemade mush for the babies so you can leave your own homemade mush (Ella’s pouches) at home.
In short, a fab day out was had by all. The only thing I would do differently? Wait for a sunnier day and make the most of the picnic area. The Brentwood Kitchen is definitely worth another visit, and I am sure I will be sampling their brunch menu very soon, but after an energy zapping morning I’m not sure small confined, public spaces with toddlers are ever a good idea (until the next time!).
In order to make your visit as stress free as possible, here are my top tips:
- Park in the Thorndon Country Park North car park
- The car park is pay & display so bring plenty of change – £3 gives you 2 hours of parking (thanks Nicola!)
- Bring a plastic bag for your rubbish; there are no bins en route (thanks Becky!)
- Leave the kids at home (joking!)
- Address: Thorndon Country Park North, The Avenue, Brentwood, CM13 3RZ
- Opening Times: 8am until Dusk
- The Brentwood Kitchen – http://thebrentwoodkitchen.co.uk/#blog
FYI – For all die-hard fans of The Gruffalo, The Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Ave is showing The Gruffalo Live on 1 Jul – 6 Sept (http://www.gruffalolive.com) I will definitely be braving the journey there with my two and will let you know once we have booked tickets