I went along with my daughter and her friend plus their 6 children ranging in ages from 2 to 10. We took a picnic and arrived at the park at about 11 am. The journey from Harlow was really straightforward and only took 30 minutes. We took the slip road off the A120 two miles before the Freeport roundabout.
Although the discovery park is Free you do have to pay £3 for parking but I can assure you that it is well worth it as there is plenty to see and do. In fact, it is a place you will want to go back to again and again.
The Country Park is set in the beautiful surroundings of a 100-acre country park and is reportedly the largest adventure playground in Europe with the biggest playing frame in the UK. I read somewhere that the park opened to the public in 2001 and in April 2008 £750,000 was spent on improving it, including bolstering the catering facilities, improving the car parking facilities, enhancing the Visitor Centre and creating a Play Trail using £300,000 worth of Timberplay Equipment.
The park boasts an extensive 1-mile play trail circular walk which has continuous interactive play equipment and sensory stimulation along the way. These include water play, sand play, high energy swings, see-saw platforms, challenging rope walks and highly inclusive sensory items. The play trail is suitable for younger and older children. All abilities are catered too with challenging physical equipment through to pieces that provide sensory stimulation. As we wandered from one piece of play equipment to another it really was exciting wondering what we were going to discover next.
As we walked along the trail towards the swings in the distance it looked as if the children were being launched into the sky, but when we got closer we could see that the equipment was positioned on top of landscaped mounds to give the children the feeling of being in the clouds with fantastic views of the park around them.
We found the park very clean, no litter, (no bins are provided and you are asked to take your litter home with you. Dogs are allowed but we found no dog poo (a small number of bins are provided). There is lots of space to sit and picnic, and to watch the children play on the equipment, with balls, Frisbees, kites etc.
As we discovered a new piece of play equipment or area we put our blanket down and just sat watching the kids enjoying themselves.
I think a couple of the highlights for our kids were the see-saw platform and the water play.
You can enjoy walking, cycling, jogging and horse riding in the park and beyond with its links to the Flinch Way in the north and the bridleway in the south. If you are unable to take your own bikes you can hire them from the Discovery Centre (including tandems).
There are a variety of activities and events going on throughout the year, it would be worth phoning the centre or picking up a leaflet while you are there. There is also an excellent visitor centre housed in the Discovery Centre.
After the activity trail, you come to peaceful lakes, meadows and woodland to walk around. Along the way you still find natural wood play equipment dotted around to keep the children’s interest.
There is a cafe where you can buy lunches, drinks, ice creams etc and around the popular play areas, we noticed ice cream vans.
One thing we did find a small problem though (for the adults more than the kids) was that the only toilets were in the Discovery Centre, so if you were over by the lakes it’s a bit of a walk back to the centre. Not such a problem with the kids as there were plenty of trees and bushes around.
The Flitch Way passes through 15 miles of countryside along the former Bishop’s Stortford to Braintree railway and passes through historical towns and villages. It would take a full day to walk the length of the Flitch Way from end to end. Much of the route has a flat multi-user surface which makes it suitable to use throughout the year whether walking, cycling or using a buggy or wheelchair.
Great Notley Discovery Centre & Country Park
Braintree Essex CM77 7FS Tel: 01376 347134
Discovery Centre Open 10 am to 4 pm Tuesday – Friday and Sundays.
Great Notley Country Park opens from 7.30 am – 10 pm or dusk whichever comes sooner.
(We parked in the overspill car park which closed at 6.30pm).
Car park £3 (season tickets are available)
Please check with the discovery centre before setting out to avoid disappointment 01376 347134
Great Notley Discovery Centre & Country Park
Tel: 01376 347134