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There aren’t many places where you can both walk the dog and ride a rollercoaster. Wicksteed park in Kettering, Northamptonshire is one such place. A dog friendly family day out that’s a cross between an amusement park and a country park. Rides vary from teacups for little tots, to a fast zip wire and bag jump for thrill seekers. There’s far too much to do in just one day, but luckily Wicksteed Park have their own on-site campsite.
Visiting Wicksteed Park
Wicksteed park is free to visit. Set in nearly 150 acres of countryside, it boasts a lake, numerous free playgrounds, public toilets, food outlets, picnic benches and accessible paths. Within the park are several areas of attractions, mainly aimed at children up to the age of 14 years old. To use these, you need to purchase either a wristband, or the required number of tickets for a particular ride.
Additionally, there are attractions that are not included within the price of the wristbands. These include the zip wire, bag jump, archery, clip ‘n’ climb indoor climbing zone and soft play. The English Heritage listed park and garden is owned by Wicksteed Charitable Trust. Many of the attractions are heritage rides maintained by the trust. They also ensure that the local community has access to this large open space, giving them somewhere to visit, explore and play.
We sat down to watch the girls in the park while we were at Wicksteed and an elderly couple started chatting to us. They were there with their grandchildren, but they both remembered going to Wicksteed park to play as children themselves. The park opened in 1921 and has been providing enjoyment to families ever since.
Children at Wicksteed Park
If you’re going to Wicksteed Park expecting somewhere similar to Alton Towers, you’ve got the wrong idea. It’s not a theme park and there are no huge, fast roller coasters. Instead, there are smaller rides, ideal for young children. In fact, my two were in their element.
If you enjoy traditional fun, there’s no better place than the heritage zone. A vintage carousel and Sway Rider swing ride sit alongside a lovely big playground. There’s also a narrow gauge railway that runs around the park. This is a great way to see what’s there, so worth doing early in the day. My girls tried out all the heritage fun and the Sway Rider was a particular favourite.
We didn’t try out the Adrenaline zone because the girls were a bit too small for most of it. However, if you’re visiting with older children or adults, it’s well worth a look. Fly down from the top of the activity tower on a zip wire, leap off onto an inflatable bag or try your hand at stand up paddle boarding or archery. We’ve promised Libby we’ll go back when she’s eight years old so she can have a go at the zip wire.
The Thrill Zone is like a cross between a small theme park and a really good fairground. There are height limits on some of the rides, but there was only one that my two couldn’t go on. Little roller coasters, spinning honey pots, a small log flume and Wicksteed Racers go karts were all great fun. I’ve noticed that there are dogems but we didn’t see those. There’s also a fun looking Paratrooper ride that goes round up in the air. Sadly we ran out of time for that one.
All things water are over in the Splash Zone. From the oldest Water Chute in the world to a boating lake and water play. Get an oversight of the Splash Zone from high up in the air on the monorail. This was an area of the park that we completely missed, despite having a day and a half at Wicksteed Park. It’s a good example of what an incredible place it is that we could probably spend another full day there doing the things we missed.
Like the Thrill Zone, the Adventure Zone is lovely for young children. A treetop walk is a real confidence boost as you climb and walk around a course high above the ground. Take a break from all the adrenaline to crawl into a tunnel and pop out in a bubble to see the meerkats. Visit beautiful birds in the aviary and enjoy slides, rides and Lazer Extreme and crazy golf. My girls loved the teacup ride and the little roller coaster in this area, particularly as they were allowed to ride on them without an adult.
Clip ‘n’ Climb and Play Factory
Clip ‘n’ Climb and the Play Factory incur an additional cost, you can’t use a wrist band to enter. Play Factory is a large soft play area with a café for adults to relax in while the little ones whizz down slides, climb on the play frame and enjoy giant ball pits.
Clip ‘n’ Climb is booked in advance and you arrive at your allocated time for a briefing. Once we had been fitted up for harnesses and told how everything worked, it was time to go into the Clip ‘n’ Climb zone. This is suitable for anybody over the age of 4, including adults so I intended to have a go as well. Unfortunately, Lia was incredibly nervous so I ended up staying with her instead of climbing. The staff were great with Lia, encouraging her to have a go even though she was frightened.
Libby on the other hand, zoomed up to the top of virtually every wall she had a go at. The different levels of challenge were great for her. From racing against the clock on standard rock climbing walls to trying out some really quite tricky ones. She is a natural climber and has no fear. I was particularly impressed with how easily she abseiled back down, or just jumped off the top of one particularly unusual obstacle. The session was an hour long, not including the briefing time. Staff were really flexible with the end time, letting Libby queue up to have a go on one last thing right at the end of our time on the walls. It was definitely worth paying extra for and I don’t think we’d get away with going to Wicksteed Park again without Libby having another go.
Dog friendly Wicksteed Park
Being dog friendly is a huge draw to Wicksteed Park for us. The girls love active days out, and it’s rare to find something like this where the dog can come along as well. Dogs do need to be kept on a lead and of course you need to clean up after them. There is a field above the campsite where they can go off the lead. They’re not allowed in children’s play areas, but it’s fine to take them with you to the areas where the rides are. We took Bubbles in the queue for rides we all wanted to go on. Then we’d go on two at a time and swap over who was holding the dog. The campsite is also dog friendly, making it an ideal place to spend a couple of days as a dog loving family.
Food and drink
Numerous cafés are dotted around Wicksteed Park. From the Smokehouse serving fast food off the grill, to the Oaktree fish and chip shop and several cafés. Food outlets close at the same time as the park, but we were able to grab a takeaway salad and pasta from the Ideas Café to eat in the evening when we were camping. The Street Food Parade and Ideas Café both had vegan options, and the Smokehouse did a veggie burger as well. There was a huge queue for the ice cream parlour, but the girls assure me that the ice creams were well worth the wait.
Camping at Wicksteed Park
We live about two hours drive from Wicksteed Park, so we decided to make the most of their campsite rather than try to cram our visit into a day. It was particularly useful that the park is dog friendly, so we didn’t have to find someone to look after Bubbles overnight. I’d highly recommend staying over if you enjoy camping. It made the whole experience a lot more relaxing. We didn’t feel like we were rushing from one attraction to the next, trying to fit everything in. Instead, we took our time over two days and still completely failed to do it all. Which gives us a good excuse to go back.
The campsite is fairly basic, with no electric hook-ups. However, there is a clean, warm toilet and shower block and it is in a lovely location next to the lake. When we went, there was plenty of space. The children were able to play and run around next to our van without disturbing anyone. In the evening, we headed back over into Wicksteed Park to use the free play area. We all had a brilliant time at both Wicksteed Park and the campsite and will definitely go back when the girls are a little older to try out some of the adrenaline activities.
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