Next stop on our tour of the country's top family theme parks is Wicksteed Park.
A couple of things make Wicksteed Park a little special. Firstly, Wicksteed Park is one of the only 'free entry' parks in the UK. Yep - it's free! Entry is free and the park's attractions and rides require tickets or wristbands. This approach makes Wicksteed a great option for families with 'spectators', or with very small children. It also allows local guests to enjoy the beautiful grounds for a picnic and a stroll. Secondly, Wicksteed Park has its own campsite, making it an affordable alternative to theme park resorts with hotels or glamping facilities.
Wicksteed Park is located in Kettering, a market town in Northamptonshire - about an hour's drive from London or Birmingham.
We were invited to try out Wicksteed Park's attractions, food outlets and campsite last weekend. Here's how we got on!
Wicksteed Park opened in 1921, making it the oldest theme park in the UK. On arrival, guests are welcomed by an enormous (free of charge) adventure play area - easily worth a visit on its own. Around the main play area there are a handful of rides and attractions including a 'chair swinger' ride and animal exhibits. There's also an impressive indoor 'Clip 'n' Climb' park and an 'adrenaline tower' (pictured in the background behind Lyall below) - the starting point for a huge 30mph zip-wire ride, 'Rush' - more about that later.
Just past the play area is Wicksteed Park's 'main street'. Its original function rooms and entrance building have been beautifully renovated and reopened for 2019 with plenty of original features and charm. There are cafes, a gift shop and modern conference/meeting facilities. It really is quite a lovely first impression; it's like a brand new Victorian park.
Past the Main Street, there are formal gardens, a replica victorian train station and then sprawling lawns, dotted with playgrounds and picnic areas. The setting is beautiful.
Further still, there are vast boating lakes, circled by a 90 year-old narrow-gauge railway. There's a water-side activity park with kids' rides, a historic water-chute boat ride and canoeing. A little further along there's a self-contained theme park with slightly more adventurous rides for braver kids (like Lyall and Rich).
We're saying 'attractions' rather than rides because Wicksteed has a mixture of rides and activities. Our first adventure of the day was...
Rush is one of the UK's fastest and longest zip-wire experiences. Starting on a platform at the top of a five-story wooden structure, we were clipped into harnesses and then onto one of three neighbouring zip-wires.
Tom and Richard went first and then Lyall and I once they'd reached the end. The actual 'zipping' bit of the experience took around 30 seconds to travel 310m - boy is it fast! I'm at the top-end of the weight limit for Rush and as a result I sped along the zipline at top speed - waving frantically back at Lyall who was zipping along behind. A real once-in-a-lifetime experience (and probably not one you'd want to do twice in the same day, unless you're a thrill-seeking nine or ten year old, apparently).
Clip 'n' Climb
Clip 'n' Climb is a brand new, state-of-the-art indoor climbing wall centre. After the thrill of Rush, Tom and I decided to watch and take photographs while Lyall and Rich enjoyed an hour in Clip 'n' Climb. There are 28 different climbing challenges reaching right into the roof beams of the building, around 30 ft up.
Once briefed and buckled into safety harnesses, the kids are pretty-much left to their own devices and race to reach the top of each challenge. Favourites included the 'ice wall', in which Richard used ice picks to reach the top and 'leap of faith' which is like a kids' bungee jump (there's no way you'd get me up there!).
The slides and treetop adventure
Our favourite attraction at Wicksteed is the Slides and Treetop Adventure. Housed inside an enormous wooden shed is an excellent 'bumpy slide', a big vertical drop slide and the entrance to a great woodland treetop walk.
The treetop walk involves a series of ladders, walkways and tunnels up in the trees - great fun.
The bumpy slide is the largest of its kind we've ever seen - it's speedy!
The drop slide is admirably tall and there's a viewing platform at the end so guests can watch the brave sliders drop into view. Here's Lyall and Dad racing down the drop slide 👇
The rollercoaster and log flume
I mentioned earlier there's also a self-contained theme park at Wicksteed Park, next to the lake. There's a good selection of rides for the kids including dodgems, an umbrella flat ride and a go karts.
There's also a rollercoaster - similar to the creepy crawly one at Oakwood with some big dips and corners. The boys LOVE it - in fact, it was the first rollercoaster they ever went on back when they were just five or six. The queue lines at Wicksteed Park are very small, even on busy sunny days so Lyall and Richard went round and round on the rollercoaster several times. Meanwhile, Tom and I sat back and watched, enjoying an hour's peace and quiet to ourselves. In the video clip below, look closely and you might be able to catch a glimpse of Lyall and Rich in the third row!
There's also a log flume - admittedly not the tallest we've seen but nicely themed and very splashy, just the same! Short queues again make it a fun way to cool off on a warm afternoon.
Also worth a mention are the boat rides - there's a ferry ride, rowing boats, peddloes and children's canoes. There's also several other smaller children's rides and a wonderful narrow-gauge railway that takes guests on a long 15 minute trip around the perimeter of the lake.
There are several food outlets at Wicksteed Park - a cafe in the entrance to the Clip 'n' Climb centre selling fresh pizzas, sandwiches and cakes, an ice-cream parlour, a fish and chips outlet and a café with a terrace. There will be three or four new outlets (they were just being completed when we visited last weekend).
Fish and chips
The fish and chip shop is surprisingly good value for money and very popular - a large fish and chips with mushy peas and a drink costing less than £10. There was quite a big queue at peak times so we decided to eat a little later (around 2pm), avoiding the crowd. It's an authentic chippy so nice big portions and very filling.
Freshly cooked pizzas are available from the cafe in the entrance to Clip 'n' Climb. Good value for money again at just less than £10 each - we shared two pizzas between the four of us (just right) and sat in the sunshine at a picnic table. Lovely.
Ice cream parlour
Wicksteed Park's ice cream is, in a word, delicious. Based on an original, exclusive recipe, it's wonderful. We each went for something completely different to cover all bases - sorbet for me (in a half-hearted nod to Slimming World), a bright blue bubblegum flavour for Rich, toffee for Lyall and mint-choc-chip for Dad. The ice creams were probably the highlight of the whole weekend... Unmissable!
Breakfast at the Café
In the morning, after a chilly night's camping (more about that in a moment), the warm sun was shining so we had breakfast at the Wicksteed Park Café on the terrace. There's fresh coffee, hot chocolates, sandwiches and pastries.
Last, but not least, we stayed over at Wicksteed Park in their campsite. It's a large and well-established campsite with exclusive bathroom facilities (just for campsite guests). The facilities are basic but clean, tidy and heated. The whole site is beautifully landscaped and overlooks the boating lake with windmills in the distance.
We're seasoned campers so we arrived prepared with Grandpa Mark's big inflatable tent and a car-full of duvets and cushions, snacks, drinks and extra layers in case it was cold overnight. The campsite is about a mile (maybe a little less) from the main entrance and only a few minutes from the park's activities and rides.
Even though it's close to the main theme park, be prepared for an authentic camping experience as Wicksteed Park's attractions and food outlets shut completely around 5:30pm. There is a well-stocked Co-op around a ten minute walk from Wicksteed for emergency supplies (Daddy forgot the beer!) but remember to take a torch with you - the site itself is unlit (as you'd expect).
A tent or motorhome pitch starts at around £25 per family (please check the Wicksteed Park website for accurate pricing).
Wicksteed Park is an activity-packed family attraction; in our opinion the best 'free entry' park we've ever been to. The best thing about its pay as you go approach is you can spend as little or as much as you like. If you wanted a stroll in the park, a play in the adventure playground and a picnic, it's completely free. Even if you wanted to treat the kids to everything, unlimited ride wristbands are around £16 for kids and include all the main rides and slides.
Thinking about pricing, The Clip 'n' Climb costs £12 for a session and well worth a day out in its own right. The Rush zip-wire experience costs £9. Please do pop over to the Wicksteed Park website for up-to-date pricing.
Disclaimer time! Here at Daddy & Dad we work with family-friendly brands and businesses to supplement our core content. Our ride wristbands, meal vouchers and camping pitch were #gifted in return for our impartial review. As always, all the opinions expressed in our reviews belong solely to us.
If you'd like to visit Wicksteed Park, you'll find their website over at www.wicksteedpark.org