Conkers, in the heart of the National Forest in Derbyshire is a most amazing indoor and outdoor play space. It’s like a theme park, but for nature, and by nature. Conkers is really quite a unique concept, certainly at the scale it’s at.
At over 120 acres in size, Conkers was a full day out for us, and we didn’t get through it all.
Starting indoors at the entrance, there’s the indoor part of Conkers. The amazing interactive ‘Forest Floor’ is what I can only describe as a touch screen that you can walk, run and jump on. Autumn leaves cover the floor and scatter as children run and jump and play. It’s brilliant. I want one for my kitchen floor!
Along the walls of the indoor area a projected seasonal scene continuously changes, making a beautiful backdrop to start your day’s adventures. Indoors there are forest-themed exhibits – like a science centre, really, but for forestry. Interesting, interactive, hands-on, and with enough information to have value to every age group.
Indoors you’ll also find a play area called the Enchanted Forest, a simulated tree top walk, a ‘mine shaft’ (which is pitch black dark – take care with small children, because the end also comes out no where NEAR where you left them as my tearful 3 year old found out!)
This indoor area is a cacophony of noise – too much in some cases, with some exhibits having insanely loud sirens that are actually quite irritating. I have no idea why they need to be as loud as they were the day we were there!
Children learning about energy, electricity, wildlife, woodlands and forestry in general will come away with a new understanding of their topics after a morning spent here.
It’s once you head outdoors, however, that Conkers comes into it’s own. Honestly, I’ve never been anywhere like it.
Conkers is divided into two sections of park, connected by a train that runs every 15 minutes or so. The first section of the park, where we started, has activities spread around a large lake. There’s a story teller’s hut, a high tower, a maze, a labyrinth where you can seek out fairy singposts, and a number of resting places. They are currently busy building a high-rope course in this area (opens July 2015) and there’s an obstacle course for older children (13 and over). Towards the end of this side of the site there’s a sensory walk – walk along the path and stick your hands in boxes, guessing what you can feel: a broom head, a pipe, sponge and more.
Take one of the many walks around Conkers, through the marshes to look at the water birds, or into the forests. Have a play in the water play zone, or meander over to the other side of the lake to the Barefoot Walk.
Catch the train to the other side of the park, where the station pulls up next to a huge play park with high towers, an explorer dome, and the most unusual snake-swing I’ve ever seen! It was fantastic.
Head down the hill to the centre for a spot of complimentary crafts – they were making paper owls when we stopped in briefly – and order your lunch to enjoy by the waterside. Catch a show in the amphitheatre (there was a magician on when we peaked our heads around the corner, before heading back to the play area to await the train.
There is so incredibly much to do at Conkers – we didn’t even participate in the outdoor pursuit days where you can book on:
- Laser clay pigeon shooting
- Mountain biking
- Pedal go karting
- Bell bottom boats
- Assault course
- Bush craft survival skills or
- Orienteering in the forest
Nor did we do the hi or low ropes (as they weren’t open yet) so I can quite easily see how this is another of those places we will happily revisit when my children are a little bit older.
Our absolutely, hands down winner for the day was the Barefoot Walk. Despite being quite a cold day, we stripped off our boots and went for a barefoot walk across a number of different ‘terrains’. Through pools of water, over logs, stones, sand, and my favourite, the clay, through grass and pebbles and stone slabs – it was a most enjoyable, if strange experience. It was our absolute favourite thing of the day.
What are the facilities like at Conkers?
Conkers has ample toilets, with disabled and baby changing options available. There’s plenty of free parking, places to eat dotted around the site, and limited to no phone or internet signal around (except for corporate visitors). The main restaurants at Conkers are happy to warm baby food. Make sure to print your vouchers or tickets, as despite being a forestry ‘business’, Conkers do not (did not for us) accept electronic copies of bookings.
For more things to do in the same area, click here.