The exceptionally beautiful market town of Stamford in Lincolnshire is continually voted one of the best places to live in the country by The Sunday Times. The most complete stone town in England – many of the streets have lain unchanged for centuries and there are a whopping 600 listed buildings. It also happens to be my old teenage stomping ground. Perhaps not so appreciative of what it had to offer as a teen – I was more interested in getting into a nightclub without I.D (didn’t matter that it was Grade II* listed), or hanging around photogenic street corners with other youths, rather than acknowledge the backdrop for period dramas like Middlemarch and Pride & Prejudice that lay behind us.
So, now, rid of my teenage nonchalence and a mama myself, I have a completely different perspective on the town. I return regularly to visit my parents and it just keeps getting better and better. Where Woolworths and Wilkos once dominated the high street, trendy high end fashion retailers, funky homeware shops and charismatic pubs and restaurants have sprung up in their place. Instead of late night drinking establishments and cheesy chips, I seek out toddler entertainment and caffeine. And there is lots around. If you’re new to the area, or just passing by with little ones in tow here are my recommendations for things to do in the area:
If you’re going to have to do soft play, this is one of the least painful by far. Squeezed into a small industrial estate opposite picturesque olde world buildings, The Yard is an indoor soft play centre and cafe dreamt up by two local mums. A big bright open kitchen area is adorned with scrumptious-looking sweet treats and yummy, healthy lunches are scrawled across the blackboard menu. The food is sourced from local suppliers and more inventive than your average soft play, giving it the feel of a trendy cafe with adult appeal. Children can run themselves ragged in the huge play structure, slides, ball pit and dangling apparatus. There’s also a designated area for under 2s, push cars, guided craft sessions and lots of mama-friendly details like spare nappies, potties, a microwave, refillable squash, neon bins and kid lunches served in little shopping baskets. Brilliant.
If you’re the owner of enthusiastic water babes, Stamford Leisure Pool is great for little fishes of all ages. For teeny tinies and less confident swimmers there’s a gently sloping shallow paddling area with water features which often has a few plastic toys floating around. For older kids, there’s a large yellow water slide, wave machine and 25m swimming pool.
For a lovely view of Stamford’s spire-filled skyline (the town has 11 churches altogether and a healthy amount of pubs too – 30 at the last count!), head to Stamford Meadows in the centre of town. Next to the River Welland, from here you can walk along the river bank and feed the ducks or take a picnic and make daisy chains on the grass. You’re also a stone’s throw from the atmospheric coaching inn, The George Hotel – a must visit for afternoon tea, ice cream or exquisite decorations and roaring logfires at Christmas. Virgin Balloon Flights occasionally launch from here, weather permitting, which are always wonderful to watch.
No first-time visit to Stamford is complete without a visit to the spectacular Burghley House, famous – amongst other things – for hosting the Burghley Horse Trials and for saving Stamford from any significant bombing during WWII since Hermann Goering, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, had put dibs on it should Germany have invaded. Vast grounds surround the house, which are free to enter and walk in, however the magical Sculpture Garden is well worth a gander. Seek out hidden sculptures within the gorgeous gardens and picturesque lake, before ending up in the Garden of Surprises. Be sure to take wellies/crocs and a change of clothes for littles ones as there’s lots of fountain splashing and water play to be done! There’s tons to explore, including a mirror maze, ‘smoking cave’ and interactive obelisks – it’s baby sensory on a grand scale!
For a good dollop of Elizabethan history, be sure to take a look inside the beautiful stately home. Imagine yourself as part of the nobility, take in the fine collection of art or time your visit to coincide with a costumed ‘Beastly Boring Tour’ (aimed at 6-11 year olds) and learn about out the grizzly history associated with Burghley and the people who have lived there. Family events run in the grounds throughout the year, with the outdoor Film Festival being one of the highlights.
Hop on a heritage steam or diesel train as it choo choos alongside the beautiful River Nene, through the Ferry Meadows Country Park to Peterborough. The steam train Santa Specials are especially magical at Christmastime – choose from standard carriage seats or go all out and book your own vintage compartment which includes a breakfast spread and a festive port. and alongside the River Nene from Peterborough (Nene Valley station), through Wansford to Yarwell. At other times of year there’s a Wizard’s Express for Harry Potter fans, Paddington drop-ins, pizza nights and lots more an it’s also home to Thomas the Tank Engine!
Have this lovely farm up your sleeve for a rainy day…or a hot, sunny one – it’s great come rain or shine. Outdoors you’ll find an animal village (where you can stroke bunnies and guinea pigs), animal paddocks with goats, donkeys, alpacas, chickens and other farm animals as well as a mini maze, old farming equipment, kids play area and a blacksmith (lessons are available for the latter!). Stop for a picnic by the 18th century working watermill – the bridge over the stream here is what ‘Poohsticks’ dreams are made of – or just pick up some lunch in the onsite cafe. There are also tractor rides and an indoor soft play to well and truly wear little ones out! Or make a weekend of it and camp in the grounds which overlook beautiful Cambridgeshire countryside (entrance to the farm is included if camping).
Laden yourselves with buggies, scooters, roller blades, buggies and bikes and head to Ferry Meadows in the heart of Nene Park for some wheel-friendly fun. There are lots of different routes to choose from, with children’s play areas to dip in and out of as you stroll round, plus lots of activities on water as well as land. There’s a seasonal miniature train, beautiful lakes to sail on, watersports, fishing and it’s pooch-friendly if you have a four-legged friend in tow. Onsite parking is available if you’re going by car, or combine with a Nene Valley Railway adventure – get off at Overton Station for Ferry Meadows. Pack a picnic or refuel in the one of the cafes.
Rutland’s claim to fame is that it is the smallest county in the UK – only 18 miles long from north to south. It’s also one of the prettiest. At its heart is a vast drinking water reservoir, Rutland water, a gorgeous spot for cycling, walking, boating, wildlife spotting and messing about on the water with the relatively new inflatable aqua park (for over 8s). For those with oodles of stamina and a baby seat or two, you can cycle around the entire reservoir (23 miles with the peninsula or 17 without) – don’t worry if you don’t have your own bikes, you can hire wheels for all the family at Normanton or Whitwell. Don’t miss the ‘Atlantis-esque’ sunken church on your journey round, it’s quite a sight. If you’d rather take it easy, take a leisurely wander, hit the man-made beach or look out for family drop in days with crafts, pond-dipping and minibeast hunting.
Older kids and adrenalin junkies should head to Tallington for all kinds of monkeying around. While most activities are a bit beyond the average toddler (water skiing, zorbing, stand up paddle boarding, raft building, skiing, snowboarding, windsurfing…the list goes on!), they do offer year-round tobogganing, as well as the festive ‘tea and tobogganing with Santa’ on the dry ski slope, a children’s playground, climbing centre and a swimming pool. Mobile homes are available for hire around the lakeside, or just spend the day.
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