We’re officially on staycation.
The husband has 2 weeks of annual leave, and I have 2 weeks left on maternity leave. So we’ve got 14 days to pack in as many family-friendly things to do as possible before we’re both back at work and reality kicks in.
We had our main summer holiday in June when we went to Center Parcs Whinfell Forest, but this is the first time, post-kids, we’ve ever booked such a long break and not actually gone anywhere. Three days in and the verdict is overwhelmingly positive: I’m already completely sold on this stay-at-home-holiday thing.
Review: Mead Open Farm
After kicking the week off with dinner at Pizza Express on our 2-year-old’s recommendation (he’s a big fan of eating in restaurants), yesterday we spent the day at Mead Open Farm. It’s in Leighton Buzzard, close to Luton, and the drive from Bedford took us about 40 minutes in good traffic.
After a punctured tyre and an ill-timed Click and Collect order, we ended up getting there at 12pm and stayed until 4pm. I was worried about the lack of naps but in hindsight it worked out really well as we ate before we arrived, had enough time to get everything done before the older kids arrived after school, and got home in time for the kids’ tea.
We went to Mead Open Farm off-peak, on a Tuesday during term-time. It cost £9.95 per adult on the door, and would usually cost £8.95 for a child aged 2-16 but we used a free child entry voucher (it’s valid until September 26th – you can get one here). That meant The Boy got in free and The Girl did too, as she’s under 2. Parking is free and there’s plenty of it.
It’s worth noting that, aside from food, everything’s paid for once you’ve covered the entry cost – from the activities to the golf clubs and tractor rides (which sadly weren’t running the day we went). The only thing we shelled out on was a bag of animal feed for 75p, most of which ended up on the floor.
We picked up lunch on the way as we were running late. I’m glad we did – I didn’t fancy anything from the restaurant in the soft play area, so we just bought a few drinks instead (we paid £1.70 for a cup of tea, £1.90 for a bottle of Dr Pepper and 70p for a Twix).
There’s a tea room that looked more inviting but was similarly priced, and there’s also a decent-sized indoor picnic area if you want to bring your own food. That’s a really nice touch considering lots of similar places don’t allow picnics at all, and we’ll definitely do that next time.
Things to do
The first thing The Boy wanted to do when he arrived was play on the huge Topsy Turvy Towers adventure playground. It’s brand new and it’s brilliant. There are loads of slides, climbing ropes and wooden hidey-holes – we spent a good hour here before we went anywhere else. There are some ride-on tractors and a little track, too.
Elsewhere around the farm there are loads more play areas with some brilliant sand pits (buckets and spades included), tractors and diggers. It’s fairly spread out but everything’s linked by pathways and it’s easily walkable for a 2-year-old.
There’s a programme of activities that runs each day. You just turn up, and there was plenty of space for everyone at everything we went to. That included the Lamb National – the farm’s equivalent of the Grand National – where the lambs race with teddies on their backs. The kids all chose a flag according to the sheep they wanted to back, and the winners (The Boy included) walked away with a little medal.
We also went to Bunny Hop, where the rabbits are taken out of their hutches so the kids can pet them, and later had a go at bottle-feeding the lambs. That one was a big highlight, even if I did opt to take on the role of photographer (in my defence, I’ve done enough messy bottles in my time). It was on at 11.30am and 3.30pm on the day we went and I’d definitely recommend it.
We saw sheep, cows, goats, rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs, donkeys, pigs, horses, alpacas and probably loads more animals that I’ve forgotten. A 75p bag of animal feed was plenty for The Boy to hand-feed most of them, and nobody lost any fingers in the process.
It sounds ridiculous, but the farm is surprisingly clean. There are hand-washing stations all over the place to ward off any bugs that might be picked up, and enough of the activities are covered over or indoors that, even on a rainy day, you don’t have to get muddy if you don’t want to.
I’m not a huge fan of soft play centres, but Mead Open Farm’s one is as good as they come. There’s a height chart at the visitor desk that tells you if your child is tall enough for certain things – The Boy just made the 0.9m mark so he could go on the red and blue slides (though I was too much of a wimp to let him go on the vertical drop, AKA the red one).
Inside, there’s everything you’d expect at a soft play centre plus some nice extras – the little area with play houses and ride-on cars was a big hit with both kids, the under-5s-only area was bigger than most, and The Girl loved the mini ball pool (that, fortunately, was too small for any of the big kids to bother with).
Would we go back?
We absolutely loved our afternoon at Mead Open Farm, and it’s The Boy’s new favourite place. The new playground was a big hit, the activities were really well planned (and we appreciated little extras like the free medal at the Lamb National), and there were lots of animals to meet. The entry cost seemed a lot at first, but considering how much time we spent at the farm it was well worth it – especially with the discount voucher.
We had the huge benefit of going during school hours, so the place was really quiet. I can imagine it’d be very different during peak season so it’s definitely worth making the most of if you have pre-school kids, and our almost-3-year-old loved every second of it (take a look at the list of activities on the website if you’re taking older children as there are some extra features like go karts, a climbing wall and a high ropes course).
We were disappointed that the tractor rides weren’t running, especially as the weather was good all day, but at least there’ll be something new to try when we come back again.
You can get a free child’s entry ticket until September 26th to celebrate Mead Open Farm’s 21st birthday – just click here to get a voucher.