The blog of an average man managing the 1,440 minutes he's given each day

Springing Into The Great Outdoors in North London

It might be because I love the countryside, or maybe it’s my Aussie genes, that I drag my family outdoors all year round. And in almost any weather. Sometimes we only have a couple of hours and other times we spend a whole day overdosing on fresh air. The tired tantrums on the way home are almost bearable when we’ve spent the day together getting proper dirty and making memories.

But every year I look forward to the signs of Spring when the days get a little longer, the weather a little warmer and snowdrops start waking from their sleep.

For me, after spending a whole week at a computer, the sights, smells and sounds of the countryside are rejuvenating. It also helps my brain to change gear and really switch off. Something that’s great for mental health.

The best part of the outdoors is that kids can be kids and go a little bit feral. And when they’ve spent all week in structured learning at school or nursery this is important. My boy also loves clearing out deep puddles with an over enthusiastic jump, something that’s not encouraged at school.

So, I thought I’d share some of our favourite places to experience the Great British outdoors, all within easy reach of North London.  I’ve also given them a ranking of how dirty they can get and their relative cost.

Forty Hall Estate

If we just need to blow off some steam and get outside without too much planning we head up to Forty Hall in Enfield. It’s got something for all levels of adventurers. There’s a nice walled garden and lawn area which is perfect for wandering and picnicking in the summer. We’ve also discovered loads of ‘Love on the Rocks[’ rocks here for those who are rock hunters.

For the more adventurous, there’s the woodland playground, medieval fishing pond and a stream that runs along the bottom of the property.

Dirt Factor: ● ● ○
Cost Factor: £  ££  £££

Lee Valley and White Water Centre and Country Park

It’s nice to have a legacy from the 2012 London Olympics on our doorstep with the Lee Valley White Water Centre. When there aren’t competitions on we often stand on the banks and watch people attempt to navigate the rapids. It can be quite entertaining, especially when people fall in. They also have one of the largest sand pits in the area with an outdoor café to keep parents and kids happy.

Outside the Water Centre there are miles and miles of trails alongside canals and through wetlands. This has become a favourite of ours for getting out on our bikes as it’s nice and flat. We can ride for miles and then when we’re done we head back to the White Water Centre and grab something nice from the café.

Dirt Factor: ● ● ○
Cost Factor: £  ££  £££

Aldenham Country Park

Aldenham Country Park in Elstree has 100 acres of countryside with great scenery, a lake and a children’s farm. The play area caters for all different ages and there’s also a purpose built playground for children with special needs.

One of our highlights is the 100 Aker Wood, the home of Pooh Bear and his friends. There’s a bridge to play Pooh Sticks off, you can visit Owl’s House, Pooh corner and even see if there are any trapped heffalumps. Last time we visited we even saw Pooh wandering around the park with treats for the kiddies.

Last year my boy and I had made our first attempt at camping and Aldenham Park is on the list to try this year. They also do glamping for those who prefer a little more comfort.

Dirt Factor: ● ○ ○
Cost Factor: £  ££  £££

Thorndon Country Park – Gruffalo trail

I don’t know many kids who haven’t gone through a Gruffalo phase and Thorndon Park has a great trail that follows the story of the little brown mouse. We first visited when Sebastian was two and he already knew the story so would get excited to see the next character as we followed the guided map. Knowing what was next was a great incentive to keep him entertained around the trail.

Dirt Factor: ● ● ○
Cost Factor: £  ££  £££

National Trust

When we’ve got a full day free, National Trust properties are our default option. For Christmas, after my son was born, my Mum bought us a yearly subscription to the National Trust. She’s now done this every year since, because we love it so much. There are a good range of properties about an hour’s drive away, which makes them a full day out.

We usually get the dirtiest at National Trust properties – running through fields, riding our bikes or building dens. And we’re almost always worn out after a full day in the wild. Each property has different family activities throughout the year that kids love.

The most cost effective way to visit the National Trust regularly is to sign up for the year, as individual visits are quite expensive. Many of them have well priced cafés and in summer we sometimes take a picnic, which helps keep the cost down.

Dirt Factor: ● ● ●
Cost Factor: £  ££  £££ [

Time Tip

Far too often we’ve spent ages deciding on where to go when we want to head out and get some fresh air. So, we’ve made a ‘Trip Jar’. In the jar we’ve written down all the places we like to visit on a piece of paper. And when we think of somewhere that might be fun to visit we stick it in the jar. Because I can never think of anywhere different to go under pressure. Then all we do is pick a piece of paper out of the bowl, pack what we need, and jump in the car. [
Tech Tip

As a Dad who loves photography we decided to buy Sebastian a camera for his birthday a couple of years ago. After a bit of research we ended up with the VTech Kidizoom. It doesn’t take the best quality photos but stands up well to being dropped out of a tree or bouncing down a muddy track. It’s been fascinating to see what he takes photos of.

This article was originally published in the Spring edition of Cherubs Magazine

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