I am a planner by nature. But sometimes spontaneous is good. And we had a lovely spontaneous day recently when N arrived home off the farm at 9.45am announcing that he wanted to go swimming.
How many people defuzz regularly unless they swim all the time? Spontaneous swimming wasn’t going to happen. Instead I offered up a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon and the paddling pool there. The weather was hot, and we would still be early enough to miss the worst of the crowds. When you’ve a 7 year old, it doesn’t take long to get packed up with drinks, snacks and swim gear before getting out the door.
A water play day out at Stratford upon Avon
30 minutes later we were parked in the recreation ground car park, with N determined to get his scooter out. At high 20C temperatures I wasn’t keen to walk too far, but he was off, so we walked and scooted, having a nosy at the tennis courts as we went past.
Thankfully the gym equipment was calling and it was back to the shady cover of the trees for a bit of exercise. N is bossy and like to tell me what exercise to do. It’s amazing to see how much he’s grown since we were last there. He can now pedal the bike and sit down, and also reach the pull down arm bars (just about)
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The splash pool was calling, but first an ice cream stop. Talk about inflation since last year, and compared with one bought at a village fete the day before.
I love a park with a splash park. Yes, some of the children can be annoying. And with most parks in tourist areas, parents come across the paddling pools and children are let in in just their underwear. That’s fine once they’re potty trained, but seeing a baby toddling around in and out of the pool with a saggy non-swim nappy made me want to cringe…just thinking of all the pee going round there (just like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid film with Greg in the public swimming pool. Shudder).
N was in like a shot. Very different from previous years where he’s been more wary if the pool’s been busy or not sure about the depth. This time he turned up with his dive sticks, goggles and bouncing on water ball….forgetting that it’s about knee depth only.
It’s so lovely to watch him enjoy the water now. His swimming journey has been a long one, but he was happy to try (not totally unsuccessfully) his breast stroke and then his butterfly legs. N still doesn’t understand why other children started picking up his dive sticks to give him. But he’d never dream of saying anything to them – whether to ask them to join in, or to tell them he wanted to do it himself. Maybe one day he’ll get over his shyness and say something.
The paddling pool at Stratford is gorgeous. Face the hedge and it almost feels like you could be at a small hotel pool in the Mediterranean.
Added to the mix was the Big Wheel in Stratford this summer. N’s never been on one of these, and I tried to explain the London Eye which he told me he’s never going on…because 40 minutes is far too long. But he was keen to go on the Big Wheel.
I love the feeling of moving around above the buildings and people below, although Stratford-upon-Avon doesn’t have the most amazing views. N enjoyed it too and was surprised at how many rotations he had. When we were stopped at the top he did a rendition of Sound of Music’s So Long, Farewell that they’ve been practising at school for the leavers service. I’m sure the people in the next pod found it very amusing.
Lunch is essential when we go to Stratford and we decided not to walk all the way into town. Instead we just stopped into The Pantry in Cox’s Yard alongside the river. It’s a lovely small café, with delicious sandwiches, presentation and décor.
After a lovely day we had to chill out at home. The hot weather just makes me want to flake out. We certainly need to visit more parks with splash pools in. Although for us, we need to travel nearly an hour for most of them.
UK splash parks and lidos
I’ve never thought there were many splash parks in Oxfordshire around us, but nowadays there are a lot more opening. From paddling pools, to splash parks. From outdoor pools and lidos to temporary inflatable courses. They’re a great way to enjoy hot weather, and let children have fun. Catering for different ages, you just need to time your arrival right to ensure you get there before they get busy. My advice is always to pre-book where it’s based on ticketed entry. A couple of times we’ve been to countryside ‘beaches’ and seen people being turned away without tickets.
Here’s some of the best splash pool / paddling pool parks that were recommended to me, most of which you just pay for parking. So take a picnic, bikes, scooters or outdoor games to enjoy a full day out. I’ve included lidos, because so many of these have closed over the years, we should try and support them in order to keep these outdoor pools (many historical) open. These may have time restrictions at busy periods, and are all ticketed.
Splash parks and paddling pools in UK parks
Midlands splash parks
Bosworth Water Park, Nuneaton – a manmade beach with play areas alongside and water sports and pedalos on the main lake, this does get busy, but it’s not expensive for the parking.
Stratford upon Avon – recreation ground, huge grass area, mini golf and river walks as well as a great playground with a paddling pool. There’s also now a bike training course in the recreation ground and new wooden play area suitable for older children.
St Nicholas Park, Warwick – traditional park with fun fair rides, mini golf and paddling area.
Stanwick Lakes Northamptonshire – massive climbing frame, slides and water play area
Dartmouth Park Splash pad, West Bromwich – free to use over the summer months and next door to Sandwell Valley country park with more playgrounds and activities.
Walsall Arboretum Splashpad – next to the arboretum, a large splashpad and water play area.
Brinton Park splashpad, Kidderminster – alongside a play area and skate park, let children enjoy the water cannons and water play features.
Droitwich Spa Lido – 40 metre saltwater outdoor pool with children’s wet play area and an art deco building.
Markeaton Park, Derby – paddling pool open in the summer, in the large free park with lots to entertain.
Cliff Lakes water park, Tamworth – inflatables course, and water sports.
South England splash parks
Abbey Meadows, Abingdon – splashpad open in summer in the park. There’s also an outdoor pool in the vicinity too.
Hinksey Lido and splash park, Oxford – situated in Hinksey park, there’s water features and splash fountains, along with the outdoor lido alongside. Make a day of it with the park having tennis courts, table tennis, play areas, and a boating lake.
Cutteslowe Park, Oxford – there’s mini golf, play areas, an occasional miniature railway, cafe and a splash zone.
Splash park at The Leys, Witney – as well as the splash park, there’s sporting activities, adventure playground, skate park and mini golf there.
Woodstock lido – open air pool with grass surround to enjoy over summer
Chipping Norton Lido – there are 2 outdoor pools, a main 25 metre one and toddler pool.
Wood Green outdoor pool, Banbury – 50 metre pool that’s bliss in the summer, with small splash zone for little ones next to the pool.
Riverside Jubilee splash park, Wallingford – splash zone play area alongside the outdoor pool
Wet n Wild, Queenford Lakes Berinsfield – inflatables assault course, book a 50 minute slot to tackle the course on the lake.
Cotswold Water Park – a huge area of lakes with water sports, but also has an inland beach and smaller paddling area for young children. Also have an inflatables course on one of the lakes
Wycombe Rye Lido, High Wycombe – open all year round, but great in summer with grass area and sunbathing terrace.
Beale Park, Lower Basildon – large paddling pool which is part of the wildlife park.
Cassiobury Park, Watford – recently restored, splashzones and paddling pools
London water play
Ruislip Lido – no longer for swimming, it’s now a splash park, inland beach and area for walks and scooting
Morris Playing Fields, London Colney – large paddling pool by the playground
Kensington Memorial Park – water play facilities in the park alongside all the other recreational and sporting activities on offer.
Wales water play
Victoria Park Splashpad, Cardiff – 33 water features, for toddlers, older kids and families
Splash parks in North England
Newby Hall Gardens, nr Ripon – splash zone and pedalos on the lake
Congleton Paddling Pool, Cheshire – well established, manned paddling pool in a park. Walk from town centre car parks at busy times.
Do your children love splash parks? Do you have any to recommend?
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