It’s amazing how you can go to a place hundreds of times and yet still discover new bits of it. We did that twice this weekend – once with the Olympic Park, and once with Victoria Park, which probably deserves its own post. There will be a few posts coming out of this long weekend and I’d invite you to marvel at Eva’s ever-changing wardrobe, from BretonBunnyalike to DerangedSnowWhitePineapple. I’m too good to you.
And in that vein, I’d like to start with a thrilling shot of the ALL-NEW walkway between Hackney Downs and Hackney Central. It may not excite many people but it excites me:
A 4-minute change time between the Chingford branch and the Stratford branch! Platform to platform! And it has a lift, so you can exit Hackney Downs step-free as long as you come in on Platform 1. Honest to goodness, I tried it on Saturday and it works a treat. Not int he opposite direction though, alas.
Anyway, we were in Stratford to meet Mark and Katie, who we hadn’t seen for far too long, and spent some time hanging out in front of M&S, hiding behind a plant pot that Eva called a dalek:
No, M&S isn’t the amazing new bit of Stratford that I want to tell you about. Neither was Starbucks, our next stop, but by goodness I needed that coffee, if only to deal with the preschooler meltdown that was occurring because I was drinking coffee on a comfy green chair instead of perching on a stool. We were soon ready to walk over to the park, and that’s where we took a little bit of a diversion.
I’d bowed to Mark’s superior knowledge. We’ve lived in East London for 18 months now – he’s been there considerably longer. So when he said he knew a short cut, I naturally believed him. We ended up somewhere behind Stratford International station, where Eva and Bunny had had such fun on our last visit. It wasn’t the shortest cut, but we did find some exciting things along the way. Like a giant lounge set you could climb on:
And next to it some huge plant pots:
The kids were having such fun clambering on the giant sofa and hiding in the coffee table that we considered abandoning the actual playground and just hanging out there, next to a road that was probably called Celebration Avenue or something.
But then one of them made a break for it over the hill and we rapidly followed, pausing only to try and work out what this said:
Clearly that’s only part of it, but I think it was “My E20”. Possibly the work of a green-fingered Albert Square resident. I would say Arthur Fowler, but that would only illustrate how woefully outdated my EastEnders knowledge is.
Anyway, we followed them and they were browsing at a local Little Free Library they’d found, and ducking under the bike racks. Then we spotted a mirror maze, just next to a closed branch of Bottle Apostle. This was perfect for Eva, who loves looking at herself in the mirror:
It was cool, and also genuinely disorientating. I walked gingerly through to the middle and then had no idea how to get back out. It’s a very surreal little feature to stumble upon and I’m happy to report that none of the kids walked into any of the pillars. Close call though.
From there, we picked our way along a foresty path between shiny new apartment blocks, with lakes on either side. There was a normal path running alongside it that we could have taken, but this twisty, shady one was far more fun. It brought us out somewhere that I recognised and not a million miles away from where we’d started, but close to the playground.
Now, I’ve covered the sandy bit of the Tumbling Bay playground in quite some detail before – that traumatic day when it opened. And we’ve been there for spontaneous water play before too. This time, I was prepared for water play, with wetsuits and towels stashed in my bag…but there was none to be found. Yes, on a hot day in the summer holidays, the water was switched off. Boo!
Luckily, we had a new bit of the playground to explore. Not actually new, you understand, but we’d never been to that bit before. It’s entirely made of trees and rope, which gives it a lovely natural feel. It was also a bit scary. It’s designed for older kids – I’d guess primary-aged – but my older kid decided he was “terrified of heights” and so refused to climb on any of the narrow bridges. Whereas my 3-year-old showed no fear at all and was whizzing around at the kind of height that gives mothers a cardiac arrest:
I’m not sure this picture expresses how high off the ground she was – but look, there’s an entire child on a swing below her. All credit to Eva, she handled the skinny walkways very well, leaning right into the sides when another child wanted to pass her. Katie, meanwhile, was an Olympic Park pro, shimmying up the tree trunks and sliding down the massive pole with ease.
Despite his fear of heights, Roo found plenty to entertain him. There were the swings under the climbing frame and there was a slide off to the side:
He seemed mostly happy, tussles over the swing-queue excepted, and that meant I could spend most of my time nervously following Eva round and trying to stop her falling into this big gap:
Like I said, it was really designed on the scale of a Roo-sized child rather than an Eva-sized one but she did just fine without my nervy help. Soon though it became evident that Reuben needed fuelling. We had had one rage attack too many and it was definitely time for lunch at the Timber Lodge.
I haven’t eaten there before but it is pretty well set up for kids. There is a small kids menu and a shelf of books for them to read, including Eva’s current fave – Martha and the Bunny Brothers. On the day we went, there was a choice between macaroni cheese and tomato spaghetti which, with a drink, came to £4. Not bad value for somewhere with such a captive market. I could have split one portion between the two of them, as it was pretty big and Eva barely skimmed hers (she’d had a croissant at 11ish, so that was like lunch for her). The adult selection wasn’t amazing – just a couple of baguettes really – but I filled up on Eva’s rejected spaghetti. Mark had the passionfruit cheesecake, which looked awesome but apparently was nothing to blog home about. Shame.
All lunched up, it was back to the playground. I was amused to see a local building site apparently pinning its colours to the Labour leadership race flag:
Me too, builders. And Stella for deputy, obv. Have you voted yet? You should.
Time was getting on and we still had one mission to complete before heading home. Eva’s little canvas shoes had lasted well, considering, but with autumn looming she really needed something more substantial. And Roo was bound to have outgrown his school shoes over the summer. What to do? Well have no fear, Clarks was here to take happily take our money:
I felt mildly embarrassed when Eva took off her shoes and half of the sandpit fell out onto the carpet, but it was Back to School mayhem and I don’t think anyone noticed. Having said “mayhem”, I should probably point out that it was all very organised and we managed to leave with both children fitted and two pairs in the bag. It was definitely ice cream time.
Reuben had a hankering for slush, so we consulted our native guides and Katie suggested a place on the bottom floor. It was a gelato stand called Joe Delucci’s and sure enough, it sold slush. Handily, it was also right next to the play area so we could perch on one of the grassy hills in there and eat our icy treats while the kids did yet more playing. The play area was pretty packed and I failed to get any good photos but here’s something that looks like the inside of a whale:
There was also one of those pinboard things that we used to love as kids in the 90s. You know the ones – you put your hand against the pins and it makes a kind of 3D pring? Well, this was a giant red version and it was two-sided so that Reuben and some other boys could both push against it. In an only slightly aggressive way.
And that’s a good place to leave it. It seems that the Olympic Park is always throwing new things up for me to discover, which I love. We were there for 6 hours and finding unexpected treats all the time. They could have done with the water being on, but I guess that would have only made Eva’s shoes more disgusting when she took them off in Clarks. Small mercies…