Barleylands Farm and Craft Village (off the A127 between Billericay and Basildon) is an old Donn favourite – we have been coming here since Sofie could walk, all of about 4 years ago now. In that time a lot has evolved, but it is still fundamentally a small farm-based park for children, with the addition of a craft village next door.
The Farm Park still has animals, which for me and my husband is vaguely thrilling, as these days reality seems somewhat lacking from some of the play options we have for our two, Sofie who is almost 5 and Milo who is almost 2. In the last year or so it has also developed little-used barns into soft-play areas, and I understand it also retains strong educational links with local schools, through its school visits and its farming museum.
All good so far. My two certainly adore seeing the animals, although it may be my imagination that there seem to be fewer at the park recently – of course this could be due to the weather and the animals being more sensible than us – we did visit on a bright but chilly January morning, about 8 degrees in the sunshine, and the breeze was stiff to say the least!
One thing we did find disappointing is that unlike in previous years, this past year Barleylands has increased the fencing barriers between animals and visitors so you can no longer feed or pet the animals at your leisure. I asked about this, and was informed it was a result of guidance issued after various health and safety alerts a few years back at other farms (NOT Barleylands to my knowledge). For me (5ft tall) and my two small people it makes the animals rather remote, and I am saddened by this. However apparently the farm now has more structured keeper-led activities on the timetable (you get a copy when you enter) so if you’d still like to feed the animals you can do so at those times. We were only there for the morning so we didn’t get to, unfortunately, so I can’t comment on those, except to say they’ve got to be worth a go to give children some animal contact!
Barleylands also has birds of prey resident, and the shows are usually fab and full of the oohs and ahhs small children elicit when faced with an eagle with massive wingspan!
Given that it was a freezing January day (okay, whose idea was this again?) we decided not to play in the outdoor playground, and the giant bouncy pillow wasn’t inflated. Instead we headed into the main soft-play barn. Being this time of year it was lovely and quiet, and both our two could play in the under-5s area (a small area with a slide and usually some play balls, though they weren’t there this time) or, in Sofie’s case, the massive slides (see the pictures) and other apparatus. My two always enjoy playing with other children as much as anything, though I’m proud to announce my own highlight was Milo sliding unaided for the very first time!
Our experience has been that in high season the soft play can become quite overcrowded, however in our opinion it’s a welcome all-weather addition which Barleylands was lacking before. You can also buy snacks and drinks from the counter in the soft play – but only at certain times of the year is it fully staffed. Our one big gripe with the Soft Play area is that it has no adjoining toilet facilities. The toilet and changing facilities at Barleylands are generally very good, but having to grab your bursting child and run 200m to the toilets in a wee-emergency is just inconvenient, quite frankly, and makes it impossible to be completely stress-free when on your own with your kids, your buggy and your bags in my experience.
After the soft play we headed out to the climbing area and my two climbed ropes and picked bark out of tyre swings (guess which did which?) to their hearts content. We then headed off to the tea rooms for lunch. We always go there – it’s warm, the food is good and in good quantities, and there are loos – but it’s not cheap so be warned. Lunch for three can easily set you back £20. There are picnic facilities and benches all over Barleylands, but if it’s somewhere inside you want, it’s worth knowing.
Today was just a short stop, plus it was a Monday, and on Mondays the craft village is closed, so we went home. On other days we’ve detoured after lunch to the shops including the fellow sponsors of my competition, Pitter Patter Products and One Stop Pamper Shop! Sofie particularly enjoys visiting Hazle’s Pottery Barn which is a fabulous place for children to go and paint something themselves to be fired later. We also go on the little train (additional small fee) when the weather is good. However you can find out more about those items on the Barleylands website – we didn’t experience those on this visit so I won’t comment further in this post.
In my opinion, Barleylands caters well for young children, particularly pre-schoolers and reception-age children. Everywhere is buggy-friendly, there are loos within easy reach (unless your child is at the top of the death slide in the soft play area when she announces she’s desperate). There are refreshments, parking is plentiful and free, and walking round the craft village costs nothing unless you buy anything (in which case you can’t blame me!). Sofie said the best part of the day was the soft play (Milo didn’t say anything because he can’t yet). I said the best bit was playing with my two in soft play today as well. My husband said the best part was the hot cup of tea.
Overall, it was a lovely morning with our two, and while you might not think of visiting Barleylands in chilly January I’d say it’s worth thinking about, particularly as they currently have a reduced admission offer (£5 per person over the age of 2) until the end of January. Events and latest prices can also be seen on their Facebook site.
From Barleylands you can head into Basildon or Billericay easily, and visit wildlife trust areas such as Hanningfield Reservoir and local woods for some more fresh air and general loveliness, or even a portrait or two…
Look out for this regular series over the course of the year. Perhaps you’d like me to accompany your family to a favourite venue, and receive some images of your family from your visit in return? Contact me today if you’d like to take part as a reviewer family in 2012, spaces are limited! Perhaps there’s even a venue reading this who’d like to invite me along? If so, you are welcome to contact me too! I look forward to hearing from you all!
Please note that this review was not sponsored by Barleylands in any way, and the opinions within are my own. I may even have to wear a false moustache next time I go… You are advised to check both opening times and admission prices before setting out on a trip of your own.
Review by Marie Donn of Marie Donn photography. Check out her website for more information about who she is and what she does, and a glimpse of her beautiful photographs.