To coincide with the release of Pete’s Dragon at the cinema, Hardwick Park are hosting a special Dragon Quest until Tuesday 30th August. The Quest sheets are only 50p and hunting round the grounds in search of the next clue is great fun. Be warned though, some of the questions are quite hard (luckily there’s good phone reception for having a crafty look online!).
Having never been to Hardwick Park before I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I didn’t know how big the place was, whether the kids would get bored etc. The parking was only £3 for the whole day and the park itself is free so even if it was just an hour or two in the fresh air I figured it would be worth it.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried about the kids getting bored, or getting my money’s worth out of the parking. The place is immense. We followed the route on the map for the Dragon Quest but there were so many places we could have turned off and gone exploring elsewhere. You could probably go back tens of times and discover something new each time.
The whole park is stunning and as you walk around the view is constantly changing, so there are new things for the kids to look at and explore as you make your way round. One minute you are faced with a gothic tower on a hill …
… then you are walking along a river bank feeding the ducks.
After that the park opens up and you can see across a huge lake to a temple on a hill.
Bono Retiro ruins, halfway round the lake.
The Temple of Minerva
This is the view from the temple side of the lake, looking back towards Hardwick Hall, now a beautiful hotel. This is a great spot for a picnic and there was one family with a couple of older boys flying kites, they had M and L mesmerised.
The kids loved seeing the swan with her signets in tow.
But they got a little close for comfort in the end and we decided to move on.
All the way around the Park there are benches to stop and have a rest and each one bears a dedication, showing how many people love this place enough to want a permanent memorial here.
The route we took was a circular one, bringing us around the other side of the lake and then back into some woods where they also have a Gruffalo Trail. We did walk this trail but we hadn’t bought the booklet that goes with it and as we went around we noticed there were places to do rubbings so we will definitely be going back to do it properly.
The kids had a great time on this bridge. M was poking his head through the holes shouting ‘hello’ to L, but she didn’t quite get it and just thought it was fun to shout ‘hello’ through to the river and ducks and anyone within hearing distance. They were both in fits of giggles by the end.
We find this swan sheltering from the heat along the Gruffalo Trail.
We completed the Quest and answered all the questions but we still hadn’t found the Dragon. We had to ask them at the visitor centre. Turns out it is hidden in the trees behind the Gothic Tower we had walked past at the start!
It was lovely and shaded in the trees and the Tower looked even more beautiful from the other side.
Right by the visitor centre there are a few hills that are just begging to be rolled down. I was tempted to have a go myself!
After all that walking and running around you would think the kids would be worn out, but there is also a park on the other side of the visitor centre with sings and slides and obstacle courses, and no kid is ever too tired to go to the park! It was actually a really lovely way to round off the day.
My advice for anyone planning a visit would be:
- Pack a picnic. There is a cafe on site which we thought would be fairly quite when we arrived at 11:30am but was actually heaving and took forever for our food to arrive (although it was delicious), and the kids really just wanted to get going.
- Buy two bags of bird food from the visitor centre (they don’t like you to feed the ducks bread). We didn’t realise how big the place was or how many ducks, geese and swans there would be and had used up most of our before we got halfway.
- Save the play park and the rolling down the hill till the end, it’s a good motivator to keep little legs moving when they start to tire.
- Plan to spend a good chunk of the day there. I think we were there about 5 hours and we didn’t even explore everything!
All in all we had a really great day out and will definitely be going back. I think this may be my new favourite place for a cheap day out with the kids (along with Hamsterley Forest – read about that here).
Have you discovered anywhere new this summer?