I enjoyed lockdown - yes, you read it correctly and I‘ll say it again, lockdown has been good for us! as a family, we’ve been able to pause and spend more time together and enjoy the quiet. No rushing to and from clubs and enrichment activities such as swimming lessons, football club and piano. These activities were replaced by time consuming board games, puzzles and cards; the epic Ludo/Ludi showdown of June 2020 will go down in our family history. We’ve been learning, cycling and cooking together - and it’s been great.
For my own selfish reasons, I am sad to see lockdown easing, already some of the noisiness, busyness and hustle and bustle is creeping back and this will only increase as a new school term starts. I’m not looking forward to going back to the school run. I haven’t missed repeating what feels like 20 times every morning ‘where are your shoes? Put your shoes on! Hurry up! we are going to be late!’
The other upside of lockdown was new discoveries. I’ve lived in Sutton nearly 30 years and I have come to realise that I’ve never really explored the borough, not properly. It’s only because of lockdown and looking for places that are not busy with people that I have discovered a few hidden gems and oases of calm right on our doorstep with others not far away.
We are a family of 4: Mum and Dad, a boy aged 9 and a girl aged 6. We recommend the following parks, walks and play areas with their open space and endless possibilities for energetic and lively kids…
Carshalton Park on Ruskin Road, Sutton. We met up with two other families for a picnic. One of the Mum’s brought a large piece of cardboard from one of their multiple lockdown deliveries and we were all perplexed. I have to say that mum is a genius...because we ended up hill diving down the big Dips of Doom in the park on the pieces of cardboard! The kids ages 5, 7, 8, 9 and 14yrs were shouting and squealing with delight. It was the best day.
Check out Morden Recreation ground, Merton. It’s tucked away so you could easily miss it. The kids play area has a pirate and shipwrecked theme and 2 football pitches, 2 tennis area and large trees that are lush and scenic and provided shade on very hot days. It was just what the doctor ordered. If you go, see if you can discover the secret hideout in the park near the Farm road entrance.
Visit Cheam Park which leads to Nonsuch Park in Sutton - The kids play area in Cheam Park is a cut above the rest in the borough. It’s just the right size and has a range of outdoor kids’ activities including a sandpit, trampoline, café, tennis courts and wide-open spaces. We walked from Cheam Park to Nonsuch Park; this was a very long walk, but in our group, we talked, laughed, enjoyed nature, ate ice cream and appreciated how blessed we are. An afternoon nap was needed by all!
The May Gardens Project is on the border of Sutton and Merton and is just 15 minutes from where we live, although it took a pandemic for us to discover the energetic, passionate and generous black gardener Ian Solomon-Kawall, who opens this secret garden (dedicated to his mum) to the community every Sunday. Fruits, frogs and lovely flora can all be found in this garden. Our group of 4 children and 3 adults ages 5, 6 and 9 years learnt about growing fruit and vegetables, germination, and the benefits of recycling, reusing and repurposing.
We planted sunflower seeds and beans at the site to take home and it been interesting for the kids to watch them grow. If you do one thing on this list, this should be it – it is one for all age groups. Ian’s garden is completely self-funded, so donations are encouraged.
Poplar Park in Morden has a child friendly scooter area, complete with scooter roads, traffic lights, roundabouts and pretend shops – a perfect afternoon for the kids to use their imaginations and go wild. There’s no café in the park, but the park is just a short walk to Morden town’s local amenities. Be sure to visit outside of school hours, because during term time it’s part of the school playground – fantastic for them!
Devonshire Nature Reserve in Sutton was small enough for us to feel safe letting the kids explore, yet still big enough for them to be excited and curious. The same was true of Queen Mary’s Woodlands walk, in Carshalton at the old site of Queen Mary’s Hospital. We were hoping to see deer, but none materialised. I am told that if you got early you may see one or two.
We discovered Wilderness Island in Hackbridge, near Strawberry Lane, completely by accident. We’ve been back twice now; it’s quiet and shaded and scenic. We all thoroughly enjoyed the short walk and overgrown “forests” that captured the kids’ imaginations with talk of woodland beasts and undiscovered creatures.
Morden Park- Not Morden Hall park which has the new wetlands area which is worth a visit too, as you can walk from Morden Hall to Dean City Farm, and onto Merton Abbey Mills. I am talking about Morden Park near Merton College and the new Morden leisure centre; a vast area of green space, beautiful woods and parkland. You can walk around it in about 2 hours. It’s less well known and not as congested as Morden Hall Park. There is an outdoor community swimming pool right next to the children’s play area. It’s such a shame (understandably) that they weren’t able to open the outdoor community swimming pool this year. We’ll be going back there next summer to have a splash.
Some of our other discoveries further afield were Garson Farm fruit picking in Esher, where we picked strawberries under the beating hot sun and rowed on the lake at South Water Country Park. In Dorking there is a fantastic Dinosaur Island children’s play area. Meadow Bank family park with a Café, Skate Park, lake and soft play area also gets an honourable mention as places to check out with your family for a fun day out.
You can easily spend a fun-filled socially distanced day out at any of these venues, whilst keeping the costs low. Happy exploring!