Conkers Discovery Centre is a place we knew very little about, a mysterious place that was only brought to our attention by those brown signs on the M1. Being one of those places we always said we would go to, just through pure curiosity, we never got around to it, however, a £15 family ticket on Amazon Local was a little too tempting, so we purchased, and handily, the park was right on our route to Cardiff, a nice little stop over to break up the trip.
A look over their website doesn’t make it clear exactly what is available, and that is something which has put us off for so long, but with Trip Advisor reviews suggesting plenty of play areas, we hunted high and low for a park map, but nothing could be found. It tries to pass itself off as a Theme Park on the brown signs, and we could find no evidence of this anywhere.
So, curious and with an open mind, we headed off to Derbyshire and Conkers.
Not too far from the motorway, the journey was quite easy, nothing much to worry about and we were soon pulling up in the car park. With a dry weather forecast, and bank holiday weekend, we expected a busy day, however, the car park was quite empty.
Heading into the entrance hall, we were welcomed by friendly staff who processed our voucher and explained a little about the park and where to find things, providing us with our tickets and a park map – finally, I was clutching a map of the park and I could finally see what was in store.
Heading through the barriers, we were in a huge dark room. To our left, some awkwardly placed panels seemed to try and hide part of an exhibit and straight in front, a projected image of butterflies on the floor where children were chasing them, with the projection reacting to the movement of the tiny footsteps of the overly excited group.
Moving outside, there was a film on the window which made us believe the weather had turned, however, opening the door, we were face with the bright sunshine. Facing us, water play – two words capable of sending a shiver down the backs of many parents as the kids squelch all day in soggy shoes. We needn’t worry; it was broken. I am a firm believer that the first thing you see should work flawlessly, no matter what, if its broken and going to take some time, fence it off. Part of the water play was working, a water shooting sit on chicken, but the large water pump was not working and some of the bricks making up the water course were missing.
Moving on, the maze of paths was a little difficult to follow, while consulting the map, so, in the bag the map went and off we went to see what we stumbled upon.
Walking up a main path, the new High Ropes course was still being put together, due to open in July, but with an additional charge, depending on the charges, it could be a great reason to visit, it has a small foot print, but its high and looks extremely challenging.
From here, we went past the Bushcraft area which was closed off, with a sign saying to check in with a ranger, I presume it was a timed activity as there was nobody around.
Skirting around the edge of the Bushcraft area, we found the Rolls Royce Aeromazing Maze, a short and very toddler friendly maze.
Moving onto the viewing tower, not much to look at, mainly a picnic area, the edge of a lake peering out from the trees.
We exclaimed at this point that we hope Conkers gets better as we were feeling a little underwhelmed by the experience so far.
Just as we were saying this, out of the trees, an assault course, and a sign – teenagers and adults only – of course, do you think this stopped our 6 year old! Admittedly he didn’t get far, but neither did I, the multiple obstacles requiring me to bend into positions I hadn’t tried in 10 years, and it hurt. However, fooling around on the equipment was more than fun, and on a quiet day like this, we could lift our son over some of the smaller bits and pieces, which he enjoyed.
We headed back to the main entrance after this to go and grab our food from the car, there are plenty of places to eat in the park, both purchased food and picnics, but we stayed in the car, before heading back and walking around the entrance area, finding a large indoor play area, which again, I found I was way too unfit to tackle when our son decided he was scared of a dark area and wanted rescuing.
So, anyway, 30 minutes or so later and my son rescued me from the tangle of ropes and small spaces, and my feet were back on the spongy floor, and we were off to the next place, a bare foot walk, and what seems to be the main attraction Conkers push.
I was in two minds about this, should I insult the senses of those around with the stench of my feet, should I plunge my stinky old feet into the muddy cold water, nah, forget that! Our son however was throwing his shoes to one side as I weighed up my options, and I soon found myself rolling up his trouser legs. Off he went, through a number of troughs in which there was water – quite deep at points – mud, pebbles, bark, more water, and cut grass, oh, did I mention water too?
At the end of the course, a final water trough washed off most of the muck and dirt from his feet, but afterwards there was a hose which had water trickling out, nowhere near as fast as it needed to be, before walking through more mud to a small hut in which a foot bath is housed, the bench provided to sit on soaked through as people clambered over each other to fill in any available space.
The area was a little devoid of seating, and no paper towels or wipes, so, with more than a little trouble, we dried off Daniel’s feet, replaced his shoes and headed off for the Conkers miniature railway.
I don’t hide this fact, I have a strange fondness for miniature railways, there is something about little iddy biddy trains chugging around that amuses me. This train ride took us from the main area of the park, a little distance, through an old railway tunnel and to a large play area, and beyond this the Waterside Centre.
This area is much smaller than the main area, however feels quite a bit bigger as you can really get youself lost within the trees, walking through a dense forest. We found a place where loads of branches had been left and we built ourselves a den, walked upon a high walkway through the trees and played in the huge play area which had really good quality play equipment inside.
The only downside of this area was that they were setting up for an event and loud music was blasting around the area with far too much bass, somewhat spoiling the peace.
Quite honestly, I think this area of Conkers was probably our favourite; it was good old fashioned fun.
Although we brought food with us, food within Conkers was very reasonably prices, for example, a baked potato was £4.95, childrens mean was £4.95, a 4 slice Pizza was a fiver, however, some meals came at a price, Spaghetti and Meatballs was a hefty £7.25, however, the food all looked good and well prepared.
All things considered, we quite enjoyed Conkers. I think our entrance fee of £15 was about right, I think I may have felt a little ripped off should I have paid the £28 it would have otherwise cost us for the day, however, I will keep my eye out, as should you, for future offers and may well visit again should a good offer come along.