I’m always amazed to find lovely new places right on my doorstep. How I’ve never heard of Emberton Country Park – despite living down the road from it for 30-odd years – I’ve no idea. But this weekend we paid a visit for a family picnic, and it was definitely a case of better late than never.
The park is just outside the village of Emberton, close to Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire. It’s also just next to Olney, a pretty little market town dotted with independent shops and tea rooms made for lazy Saturday afternoons. We drove through it to get to the park, but you can also arrive via Junction 14 of the M1.
Entrance to the park itself is free if you’re on foot or bike, or £4 per vehicle (you can also buy an annual car pass if you’re likely to be a regular). Inside, it’s hard to believe this place was once a gravel works. The tree-studded greenery stretches over 200 acres, with 5 lakes and – most importantly – 3 playgrounds. The first, which you drive past on your way in, has a great sand and gravel pit that’s perfect for young children, with all sorts of bits and pieces designed to move the rubble around. There’s a cafe here, too, although it’s currently closed until further notice.
Drive further into the park and you come past signs for some of the camping and caravanning areas to the second playground, where we spent most of our time. There are a handful of chutes and slides hidden away in the trees, a ground-level trampoline, a pirate ship, plus essentials like swings and a roundabout. The Boy was in heaven, especially with his older cousins as playmates. Just bear in mind there’s a crafty ice-cream van right next to the park, so prepare to be pestered.
We pitched up a little further into the park, overlooking one of the lakes – there’s plenty of open space here, so you can find a spot of your own and the kids are free to run around within clear sight. There were toilets close by, next to the third playpark (which looked a bit rubbish, so we stuck with the second).
There were a few other groups of people with picnics or barbecues, the odd jogger doing circles of the lake, and a smattering of friendly ducks at the water’s edge. On the whole, though, it felt like we had the place pretty much to ourselves, possibly because the weather had been so bad on the way out to Emberton that most people would have given up and turned around.
Alas, my in-laws are made of sturdier stuff. And as a self-confessed good-weather girl I’m glad we stuck around, because the clouds soon gave way to glorious sunshine for the afternoon. Sometimes it pays to have an all-weather attitude.