‘Tis the digital age, the era of screen time, it is a time when being a You Tuber is an actual career aspiration. Someone said to me at the weekend that I have a lot of energy, maybe I do, I’m not sure, but despite today’s culture of screens and digital interaction, for me there is absolutely nothing quite like being outdoors, moving.
So on a chilly, damp and frankly gloomy January Saturday, we jumped in the car and headed to Conkers to blow away the week and do something for our minds and bodies.
Conkers is an attraction in the heart of the National Forest, just an easy 40 minute drive from where we live in Nottingham. Suitable for all the family, and speaking from our experience, there was certainly plenty for our 3 year old and our 6 year old.
We started in the Discovery Centre and straight away booked tickets for one of the showings of the 4D 15 minute film that was screening at regular intervals. Once we had the tickets in our pockets we headed off outside as we didn’t know what the weather was going to do so we were saving the indoors for when we might need it. At the front desk you also can book and pay separately for the high and low ropes, an attraction outside for those meeting the height requirements. The ropes weren’t open when we went but they do look fantastic and something for us to try another time.
As is often the case with small children, they dictated where we stopped as we took in the outdoor activities. Inevitably the playgrounds were a big draw, and as usual, I also ended up on a wooden adventure climbing frame with bridges, slides and charming carved wizards and birds. We laughed because the kids could have basically spent the entire time there and have been happy, but after about 20 minutes we persuaded them to see what else we could find.
And what would be more enticing than a trip on the Conkerchoo train?! It was a relatively quiet day so there was no queue and we were able to sit right at the front. Obviously this delighted, and if it wasn’t for the sign that said no staying on for round trips (clearly this has been thought through!), again, we could have been on there for hours happily, but another play area was in sight with see-saws, balance beams, tunnel slides and swings. It is in a contained circular area and looking at the range of the ages of children using it I would say there is something for pre-schoolers through to mid-teens.
The 4D cinema was more of a hit for us than the children who were just at the height for the air and water sprays to get them right in the face. Perhaps I should have given them some warning to expect it but I thought it would spoil the surprise. Silly me. Oh well you live and you learn - they will know for next time and maybe there won’t be tears!
We togged up and went back outside. We had the kids in waterproof trousers, wellies etc. And although not quite the same gear, we were dressed for it too. It. Was. Boggy. The kids loved it! Actually everyone we saw seemed to take it well, even those in box-fresh white trainers (and there were a few). We did see a very practical pair of plastic bags covering some particularly nice kicks - smart move, and had a laugh at the expense of a chap who very nearly went all the way over (sorry if you happen to be reading this!).
We were keen to try The Warrens. The Warrens are tunnels set inside a mound of earth some leading to a central point, some leading to little pod like spaces. Oh to be 100cm tall like my daughter who was racing through them having the time of her life. My quads were burning having adopted a crouched run to keep up with her. The Warrens are dark but small dot lights show you the way on the ground, however if you are claustrophobic it might not be the experience for you!
The Fairy Labyrinth was another hit, and the obstacle course. It perhaps sounds patronising but it was really nice seeing teenagers really going for it, completely invested in having a go, even with the mud. Our 6 year old had a great go, and we did some of it too. Certain parts must be either new or very well maintained. There was a great bridge we all crossed together, and more wooden adventure play equipment for climbing and sliding.
By this point our 3 year old was flagging so we headed back to the Discovery Centre to get a birthday present from the gift shop before going home. It feels like we didn’t even scratch the surface as there are indoor play areas, there is a barefoot walk (I might need warmer weather for that one), pottery painting and more. We can investigate those next time we go, along with the high and low ropes. My advice would be to check in advance that particular attractions will be open, and I would say if you plan to spend time outdoors it is definitely worth being dressed for the conditions.
I would love to go next in the summer time to see how the water areas are used. That said, Conkers isn’t solely a day time attraction though judging by some of the marketing collateral I saw for events – everything from comedy nights to music events so a good idea to keep your eyes peeled if there is something that particularly floats your boat.