The Amazing Bushy Park, London – an inspiring day out with the kids

When we first moved to southwest London, several people asked us if we had been to “the amazing Bushy Park” yet. We were a little puzzled as though we had been to Bushy Park, we had only been to the playground and seen vast expanses of grass… Admittedly it is really lovely and it’s wonderful to see freely roaming deer here, but it seemed we must still be missing something!

Beautiful pink azaleas at Bushy Park
Beautiful pink azaleas at Bushy Park

Then we discovered the area around the Pheasantry Cafe, with gorgeous azaleas and darling ponds with little bridges over them. This woodland enclave of Bushy Park feels very special indeed, and it’s quite tucked away so you feel far from the hustle bustle of London, yet it’s still very close to London.  Finally I understood about the “amazing Bushy Park”!

Bushy Park

Bushy Park is actually one of London’s Royal Parks.  Others include Richmond Park, Regents Park, and Hyde Park.  Bushy Park is conveniently located right opposite Hampton Court, so you could potentially combine a visit to both in the same day.

Azaleas in Bushy Park

There are always plenty of ducks bathing in the ponds here, enjoying the shade. We spotted a few friendly squirrels, and in the past we’ve seen little bunny rabbits too!  My youngest was intrigued by a very tame squirrel he met.

Bathing ducks in the shade at London's Bushy Park
Bathing ducks in the shade at London’s Bushy Park

Travelling to Bushy Park

Bushy Park is accessible by car (definitely get there early to park, on weekends). There’s a small sign to the Pheasantry cafe, from the main road (Chestnut Avenue) that runs through Bushy Park. Blink and you’ll miss it so keep your eyes peeled! Follow the sign which leads you down a drive towards the car park.

By train you could go to Teddington or Hampton Court or Hampton Wick train stations.  It is a bit of a walk…so depending how you feel you might want to consider getting to the Pheasantry by bicycle, or getting a taxi from the station.

Eating and drinking

As usual we brought a little picnic with us, but my daughter was determined to try out the Pheasantry cafe too.  Of course!  It’s not a proper day out without buying something from the cafe…?!

The Pheasantry cafe itself has indoor and outdoor seating. They serve hot and cold food and drinks, including tuna/crayfish/egg mayonnaise sandwiches, pasta salads, pizza, chips, cakes, jelly and ice creams. The toilets are in the same building as the cafe and there is a baby changing room and disabled facilities.

The staff were very helpful, filling up my son’s water bottle for him which was much appreciated as he likes to drink a LOT of water!

Ball games and dogs aren’t allowed in the Pheasantry enclave but you can enjoy them in the rest of Bushy park.

In the main expanse of the park there’s a huge playground which is great for all ages, with a large sandpit. There’s a separate car park with a cafe stand, closer to this playground. There are decent toilet facilities located next to the playground. To find the car park look for the Diana fountain and you’ll see the car park entrance.

There is probably much more to explore than I’ve managed to cover this time, and I must add as well that there is a good Italian restaurant which backs onto Bushy Park, called Cafe La Fiamma.

You can see a map of Bushy Park and the surrounding area using the link here: 

https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy-park/map-of-bushy-park

If you enjoyed Bushy Park, you might like to visit Richmond Park.  Check out my post on visiting Isabella Plantation, a gorgeous part of Richmond Park you’ll fall in love with.  I’ve also written a post about Hampton Court and the Magic Garden, a great day out with the kids (or without!)  Click on the link below to find out more and plan your visit.

Stunning autumn leaves at Hampton Court Palace and the Magic Garden playground

Exploring Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park

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Exploring Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park

Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park is just breathtaking at the moment.  We’ve been a number of times, but it never ceases to amaze.  If you have never heard of it, it’s just a small part of the expansive Richmond Park, which is one of the eight Royal Parks in London (the others include Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St James’ Park and Bushy Park).  It’s completely free to visit, and easily accessible by bicycle or car.  It is a little trickier by bus or train but not impossible if you are not averse to a bit of a walk!  You can also hire bikes at Richmond train/tube station.

Isabella Plantation in RIchmond Park

Isabella Plantation itself is quite hidden, so it’s definitely worth checking out the map before embarking upon a visit.  Richmond Park has other gems well worth exploring too, such as Pembroke Lodge and Gardens which has a great cafe and amazing views (there is even a straight sightline all the way to St. Paul’s cathedral, which you can view through a telescope that is conveniently provided at King Henry’s mound), the Richmond Park playground, and hundreds of free-roaming red and fallow deer.

Isabella Plantation in RIchmond Park

The colours at this time of year at Isabella Plantation are exquisite.  It is honestly one of the most uplifting places I’ve ever visited, and has the impressive ability to be simultaneously beautifully kept and cultivated, while still looking quite natural and wild.  There is also good signage within the plantation, so if you keep an eye out you shouldn’t get too terribly lost!  There are many benches and logs to sit on, if you or the kids need a little rest.

Isabella Plantation in RIchmond Park

I took my 2 year old there on a whim this week, as we had a morning free.  We parked at the Broomfield car park, from which the entrance to Isabella Plantation is a 5-10 minute walk (I recommend bringing the buggy (or sling) if little one is easily tired!)  There is a refreshments stand in this car park, where I noticed you can buy drinks including coffees, and ice creams.

We wandered aimlessly along a beautiful flower-festooned path and eventually came to the other end of Isabella, where there is a large pond with ducks and geese called Peg’s Pond and another entrance gate.  There is a helpful map (pictured below) and public toilets here.  Just outside the gate there is a disabled persons parking area for those who require it.  We then headed back along a parallel path, which breaks away, opening onto Stills pond which is just absolutely stunning.  There were several people here taking photographs and even painting with watercolours.  But in most of Isabella Plantation on a Tuesday morning we very much felt we had the place to ourselves, taking in the scenery.

Isabella Plantation in RIchmond Park

We then walked along some smaller paths, which took us back to Peg’s pond.  I hadn’t realised we were going in a circle! I am directionally challenged to say the least. I managed to then get my bearings and take us to the fabulous Thomson pond, where our kids have always enjoyed the stepping stones, visiting the ducks, and having a little picnic. There is a big grassy space  here to set up a picnic blanket and have a run around.

Isabella Plantation in RIchmond Park

This time we were lucky enough to see a family of ducklings!  My toddler was absolutely thrilled.

Isabella Plantation in RIchmond Park

Isabella Plantation in RIchmond Park

Isabella Plantation in RIchmond Park

Such a beautiful spot!

If you’re in the area you might like to check out Petersham nurseries which is nearby. Here’s my review of our tasty meal there!

Dining like a flower fairy at Petersham Cafe

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Chessington World of Adventures and the New Gruffalo River Ride – Mummy Review and Tips

We’re lucky enough to have Merlin passes this year, and how better to use them than by checking out the new Gruffalo River Ride at Chessington World of Adventures!

Gruffalo River Ride at Chessington World of Adventures
An Owl Saw the Mouse and the Mouse Looked Good…

 

Over the Easter holidays I braved Chessington World of Adventures on my own with our 3 children, aged 8, 4 and 2 years.  Am I completely bonkers, you may well ask!  Well yes quite possibly.

However, I am pleased to say it was a success!  There were a few tricky moments like trying to take everybody to the toilet at once, and having to tell my 8 year old she couldn’t go on particular rides as the queue would be too long and the little ones might not manage the wait…but on the whole I think we managed to do a lot!

Of course it does help that we have Merlin passes, so there wasn’t pressure to do everything in one day, and I just needed to focus on enjoying (surviving) the day, doing whatever the children fancied.  I’ve also got the benefit of familiarity with the place as we had annual passes (just for Chessington, not the Merlin pass) a couple of years ago and visited many times.

You may have been to Chessington World of Adventures before, so I’ll start off my review by talking about the Gruffalo River Ride and then I’ll talk more broadly about the whole theme park.

 

The Gruffalo River Ride

The Gruffalo River Ride at Chessington World of Adventures
Queuing and boarding the Gruffalo Ride River boats, as you enter the Deep Dark Wood

The first thing to note is that as the ride is new it certainly attracts big queues!  Though the ride is quite fast-loading, meaning that the queue does not stagnate.  I strategically left this ride till the end of the day.  We started queuing at about 4pm and the queue on a Tuesday during Easter holidays was about 20 minutes long, which is lucky because my younger ones were getting rather fatigued with it all!  So I can recommend leaving this ride till the end (or possibly, get there super early and leg it straight over to this ride).

Those of you who have been to Chessington previously may remember the Bubbleworks ride.  Oh, I have been on that ride so many times and I must tell you, I did have a pang of…oh no, they really have replaced it!  It’s GONE FOREVER!  But fortunately I managed to get past my longing for the Bubbleworks and immerse myself in the new Gruffalo River Ride which now physically occupies the same space and as you may expect, structurally resembles the Bubbleworks ride.

Other than sitting in the same circular boats which wind their way around to a grand finale of beautiful fountains in a tunnel formation the ride is completely new and different, and any Julia Donaldson fans will not be disappointed.  The characters from the Gruffalo story feature in larger than life form, and it is really done so beautifully.  It even smells good!  As my 4 year old son said, “I love that ride, it was amazing, I went INSIDE A STORY!”

This brings me to the final point I wanted to make about the Gruffalo River ride.  Perhaps we are a little sensitive to the dark and anything that seems rather thrilling, but I think I would be remiss if I did not mention that I think the Gruffalo ride, perhaps as they are trying to appeal to the whole family and not just very little ones, is a little on the scary side!  So if you have very little ones who may be very imaginative or prone to nightmares, you may wish to test out the ride yourself first.  I actually spent much of the ride cuddling the 4 year old in order to reassure him that all was well as he had been worried while queuing that we would be entering a Very Dark Tunnel – which is the entrance of course, to the Deep Dark Wood), but in doing so found that the 2 year old who is normally quite fine and oblivious to these things was not a happy bunny by the end!  Perhaps it was all the evil-sounding echoes of the snake’s voice!  I don’t really wish to criticise the ride as it is so well done with lots of special effects, but it does seem a little odd that it is so theatrical that it can frighten children in the very age bracket I imagine the Gruffalo story is marketed toward.  I did not find that to be an issue, for example, when we saw the Gruffalo stage show in the West End last year.

Anyway, it’s still a must-do at Chessington World of Adventures so hope you will get to check it out, with tots in tow, or not!

Read my review and top tips for visiting Chessington World of Adventures and the New Gruffalo River Ride
An owl saw the mouse and the mouse looked good…

The other great thing to mention is that the Gruffalo film is now being played, several times a day, at the main stage in Chessington World of Adventures (where the Madagascar show was performed, previously).  As my sons are big fans of the Gruffalo they enjoyed watching this, while my 8 year old went on the Treetop Hoppers ride which is located right next to it (minimum height 0.9m, under 1.1m needs adult to accompany).  There is also a regular meet and greet with the GRUFFALO himself.  So obviously, diehard fans will not want to miss this.

Gruffalo film screening and meet and greet
The Gruffalo Arena, where you can meet and greet the Gruffalo as well as watch the film

Other Favourite Rides and Attractions at Chessington World of Adventures

If you’re not tired of reading yet, here is a list of what else we have been up to at Chessington World of Adventures besides the Gruffalo River Ride (some of these we enjoyed last weekend, when we returned to the park with my husband for another visit! I didn’t do them ALL by myself with 3 children!)

  1. The ZOO – the kids really enjoy this, and at the moment there are lion cubs at Chessington.  The gorillas are another hot favourite, the tigers, and the sea lion show.
  2. The SEA LIFE centre – I find this rather magical still, even though I have been many, many times now!  Sea life is just so colourful, isn’t it?  One thing my daughter always enjoys doing here is allowing the shrimp to “clean” her nails!  Watch out for the gift shop at the end…hard to make a speedy exit but it can be done.
  3. Tiny Truckers – Oh my goodness, this ride is VERY slow-loading.  Bring something to entertain little ones if you plan to queue for this.  But they do love it, pretending to drive little trucks (under 1.1m needs to be accompanied by an adult)
  4. Dragon’s Playhouse – Soft play – You’ll need to bring socks for this one.  Good for the little ones to burn off some energy and it’s all indoors so head here if the weather goes sour (it has a maximum capacity, but they let another group in every 15-20 mins, maximum height 1.40m)
  5. Sea Dragons – this relaxing merry-go-round style ride was just perfect for the 2 and 4 year olds.  It’s located right near the Dragon’s Playhouse.  Adult has to accompany children under 1.1m.
  6. Canopy Capers – fun for the 4 and 8 year old, it’s a play area that’s outdoors and above ground.  Under 0.9m needs to be accompanied but to be honest our 2 year old is above that height and I would want to accompany him as not all of the play area is within view from the ground.
  7. Tuk Tuk Turmoil – this is basically bumper cars – our 8 year old was able to drive her own and my husband accompanied the 4 year old – they all loved it!  By the way just a footnote about the actual tuk tuks they used to have at Chessington which children could climb in and out of – these seem to have gone!  It’s a shame for us, as my 4 year old used to love playing in those.
  8. Flying Jumbos – lovely ride that all 5 of us were able to do together (we sat in 3 separate elephants)
  9. Hocus Pocus Hall – we haven’t done this one since we visited a year ago, but it was great fun then.  It is a little spooky but not as bad as I expected!  Probably again not one for very little ones (though it was actually fine with a baby aged 6 months, as he was quite oblivious!)
  10. The Vampire – I haven’t been on this hanging rollercoaster ride for years!  But I had to mention it as I used to love it so much as a teenager, many many moons ago…
Tiny Truckers Ride at Chessington World of Adventures
Tiny Truckers ride – hot favourite with the little ones but be prepared, queues are slow moving!

There’s much more that I haven’t mentioned, including a penguin talk, a nice new safari-themed carousel (called Adventure Tree), the Zufari ride (which I still haven’t been on!), a petting zoo (called Children’s Zoo), and Amazu which has lots of lovely spider monkeys located in and around one of the play areas.  There’s also a Madagascar meet and greet with characters near the SeaLife centre, and an Animal Antics show which takes place on the lawn outside Hocus Pocus Hall which is a great place to relax with an ice cream.

With all these activities I can safely say you could fill 2 whole days at Chessington World of Adventures.  If you want to stay overnight they now have a glamping area which I haven’t checked out but it looks interesting! There is also the Chessington on-site Hotel.

Queuing

It might be worth mentioning there is a constantly updating electronic board in the Market Square that tells you how long the queues are for most of the popular rides, so that can be helpful for planning where to go next.  You can also download an app which apparently allows you to keep this information at your fingertips.  There are fastrack passes available, for a price, if you do not wish to queue.  You can actually buy a fastrack pass which can be used for all rides, or buy a pass for just one specific ride or group of rides (the pass for one ride has to be bought from a kiosk at the park, on the day, but the pass for a group of rides can be purchased online in advance).  If you don’t plan to get fast passes and you’re visiting at peak times make sure to bring something to entertain little ones in queues, and take lots of breaks to do other activities that don’t involve queuing like attending a show, having a bite to eat or checking out the SeaLife Centre.

Food and Drink

With regard to food, the Fried Chicken company is a place we keep returning to.  It is easy and the kids and I both like it.   We also tried out the hot dog and nachos stand in the Market Square this time, they were quite generous-looking hot dogs!  I’m afraid I can’t really comment on the other food places as we usually try to bring a picnic to keep costs down!  But there are many places to eat at Chessington World of Adventures.  Of course you can feed your family to your hearts’ delight on doughnuts, ice creams, and slushies.  But healthy food I haven’t managed to find yet, though there has to be some somewhere!  You’ll have to let me know in the comments, if you find anywhere you’d like to recommend.

Read more on the Chessington World of Adventures website, link below to the opening times.

www.chessington.com/plan/chessington-opening-times.aspx

Be sure to look out for buy one get one free vouchers to save on ticket costs (often to be found on cereal boxes).

Have fun if you go to Chessington!  We love it.

If you haven’t been to Kidzania London, read my review of our visit and top tips for enjoying this “mini city for kids” here:

Kidzania London review and tips – successful first visit with my 8-year old

 

If you fancy a trip to Legoland you might like to read my blog post below:

Top 16 attractions at Legoland Windsor – Fantastic family day out!

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