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William's Den - Exploratory Play at its Best

William’s Den is set in the beautiful countryside of the Yorkshire Wolds, just outside North Cave. We happen to know William’s parents, and we knew that they have extremely good taste, and so our expectations on arrival at William’s Den were high. We were not disappointed. Everything from the staff’s grey-blue t-shirts, the wig-wam logo, the choice of soft drinks, the finish of the play areas and restaurant, and the choice of toys in the gift shop shows top quality and great style. So what is William’s Den? Williams’ Den is a space where children can be children! They can explore, slide, crawl, build, get muddy, wet and sandy. They can learn to balance and climb and explore the nature around them. From the moment you drive into William’s Den you feel a long way from reality, surrounded by with only open fields and hills. There was clear expanse of sky above us – which is maybe a strange comment, but it is really notable because you really are in the middle of nowhere! William’s Den is the perfect place to let children, be children. There are several parts to William’s Den. There is a very large indoor Den which for us was the highlight of the visit. There is a very huge outdoor field stacked full of things for children to do and explore, including an area full of ‘Teletubby’ hills to climb, crawl through and balance between. There is a restaurant with an enclosed outdoor toddler play area called the ‘Foldyard’ which has seats around it. There is beautiful giftshop, a wigwam for picnics, a wigwam for craft and other activities, and a large toilet area. The electric double doors, take you into a foyer where the staff were very efficient at doing admissions. It is strongly advised to book online because William’s Den does reach capacity on busy days. We went on a Bank Holiday Monday, so we booked in advance. We usually get a Carers rate because of the children’s disabilities, but despite searching the website, there was no option to do this online, so we paid full rate. Apparently there is a Carers rate when you arrive. We started in the main indoor den area which is best described as a giant treehouse inside a large barn. There is wood everywhere! You start to marvel at how trees were sourced with a perfect ‘V’ shape to create structures; or to wonder how the treehouse itself was built! There are two main wooden staircases leading up to the upper levels of the treehouse. There are other access points too via ladders and nets, but both children headed upwards and were barely seen for a long period of time as they walked along beams and clambered along nets, exploring every nook and cranny. This was the perfect opportunity to Shhhh! to sneak in a quick bacon sandwich on fluffy white bread! Scrummy! We recommend that you dress your children in something very bright. Thankfully Toby was in a yellow top, and Rosie was in a red one. However, it was still difficult to spot them at times. You are also advised to bring spare clothes for the children, and we definitely recommend doing so. Rosie kept getting wet but was happy simply to dry off, but Toby got absolutely drenched several times over, and needed changing. We forgot a towel though! The inside play area really is special. On the ground there is a large sandpit with bucket pulley system to raise the sand up. There is also a water system where water can be pumped down stream. There are secret water systems which get activated every hour. Rosie and Toby’s favourite was the rain system which begins every hour. Just look at the joy on both children’s faces in the photos below. They LOVED this. There were stepping stones for the children to walk across, and a log to cross the stream with. We spent a long time exploring indoors before heading out into the sunshine. Thankfully it was a lovely day, because the children were pretty damp with wet hair (even in dry clothes), and despite the sunshine on what was a relatively still, warm summers day, there is quite a fierce wind that was blowing across the Wolds. The field is very exposed, and we would recommend that whatever the weather, that you take some warm fleeces or coats with you in the car (it is easy to pop back out and get them). Outdoors is a large field full of creative ideas and play equipment. There are swings, a zip wire, a couple of mud kitchens, things to climb and dens to construct. Whilst the dens are a great idea, and obviously integral to the name, we didn’t really see any children building. What we did see were children running around with 6ft long branches chasing other children up and down the hills, which we weren’t keen on!! Rosie loved the zip wire, swings and climbing the rocks.Toby loved the tunnels and balancing logs. But sand is always Toby’s favourite! The sandpit is very large and has wooden structures to explore and play with. There is also a water system which relies on cooperation between children to pump and collect water and transport it. I loved that the children have access to water. It was lovely to find toys and equipment for the children to play with. However, we felt that really there should have been a huge big box somewhere, stacked to the brim with equipment that the children could raid, because at times we were hunting for things for the children to use to dig, fill and play with. It would have made a big difference to the play value. It really was a stunning day. Thankfully there were lots of benches and seats. Parents were laid relaxing on the grassy banks whilst watching their children. It was really was a peaceful place to be, and if you have children who understand about safety and can engage in activities like swings and climbing themselves, you are probably guaranteed several hours of peace and quiet because you won’t see them for dust. However…..for us…the outdoor space in particular was a bit of a nightmare. There are no lower boundaries to the field – just a rope fencing it off. The farmers field below was therefore accessible to the children. There was no way to enclose Toby even a small amount, e.g. in the sandpit area because every side was open. Toby doesn’t understand that he can be hurt by a swing, and his visual impairment means he can’t see a dip or a drop. So whilst Rosie (aged was free to run, roam and climb, we had to be very close by to Toby and anticipate when he was about to run off. It was absolutely exhausting and even though we had only been there an hour and a half, it was a relief to find that it was lunchtime. There is a snackbox for take away drinks, sandwiches and icecream outside, and you are welcome to take picnics to eat in the large teepee or on one of the many picnic benches; however, we were ready for a sit down where Toby couldn’t run off! So went inside to the restaurant. Even though Williams’ Den was not at full capacity, the restaurant was bursting! We struggled to get a table, and when we did, there were so many chairs, that we couldn’t easily get the pushchair nearby (with the medical stuff on board). I absolutely appreciated the table service after a tiring morning. The food was absolutely delicious, however the salad didn’t include all the listed ingredients and was missing a salad dressing. Rosie had a delicious gluten free pizza from their wood fired pizza oven. Toby’s child’s burger whilst scrummy, was toddler sized. So be aware that this portion is probably too small if your child is over the age of 6. The home made chips were delicious, and my burger was fantastic. Whilst the staff were lovely, they really needed to pay a little more care and attention. Cutlery was literally thrown onto the table without looking. They had no idea what the various ice cream sundaes were (and the menu didn’t detail them either!) – they told me that the mud pie sundae had fudge cake in (which was the name of a different sundae), nor did they have a list of ice cream flavours to hand. At the end of the meal you have to pay at the main till, yet there was a queue a mile long of people who wanted take away drinks or icecream at the same till. Some handheld payment points would have been handy. Thankfully we were rescued from the queue and paid. We repeated the morning’s activities in the afternoon. We spent a lot of time inside exploring the water courses and rainfall. Rosie had fun swinging across the monkey ‘bar’ loops and tree climbing. The photo above looks like there is no one there, but believe me there were children everywhere running around. At the top at the back is a room with cushions etc. for children to hide and sit in. Williams Den is all about the children. It is an amazing space for kids to be kids, and to run free, and to explore. Whilst there isn’t much for adults to do really except pull up a log stool, and try to keep tabs on your children – and that isn’t easy at times. But it is all about revelling in the joy, wonderment and excitement on the faces of your child(ren). William’s Den is truly child paradise. As a child, I would have absolutely loved the experiences that were on offer. It is clear that Rosie and Toby had an amazing time. Whilst there was space to run and jump, there was also space to simply explore and relax. If your child loves sand, water and swings, then William’s Den is heaven. Toby would be very happy living there! The toilets are worthy of note because a large number of cubicles have two toilets in, for you and your child, which I think is brilliant. There was room for a pushchair in too. There are several large baby changing rooms. However, William’s Den is being promoted as welcoming people with disabilities, but the disabled changing room wasn’t fitted with a Radar key, and you had to join the queue at the admissions desk to obtain the key that fitted the lock (a real pain when you have a dripping wet child who has additional needs, plus their pushchair / wheelchair). The lock was too high for anyone in a wheelchair to access even when they had the key. The upper levels of the indoor play area are inaccessible if your child can’t climb stairs, and even the waterways in the lower areas are too high for children to see from a wheelchair, and they also block access to the far side, so that you have to walk around. I have to admit I was expecting a ramp somewhere for disabled youngsters to use to access the upper levels. Your child needs to be able to climb around 12 steps up. My other big issue is that there are too many escape routes out for my liking. The main entrance has double electric doors. These opened automatically on the way in, but there is an electric push button to exit, which is situated at child height which allows a child back out into the car park! Whilst I appreciate that placing these buttons higher up would go against disabled access for adults, I feel that any disabled adult would totally understand about the security of children coming first, and would probably appreciate knowing their child couldn’t escape too. The toilets are right next to the exit doors, so be cautious of this if you have a child who you usually let go to the toilet on their own. There are 3 exits from the playbarn, all which were all open and had access with electric buttons to open all at child height to the outside space. Again, these switches could do with being at least above the reach level of a 7 year old. We struggled because there is no pathway down the centre or right of the grassy hill outside for a pushchair or wheelchair (there is over to the left). It was difficult to get Toby down the hill and then back up again. I had wanted to recommend this to our local Down’s Syndrome Support Group as a good outing venue, but I think many of the children would struggle with accessibility, even though they would love the facilities. We absolutely appreciate that William’s Den has only been open to the public a few weeks, and there will be teething issues. However, some small details like the changing room access, and the lack of care and attention in the restaurant, did spoil what was otherwise a really great day. I will say that without question, the children had a fantastic time. William’s Den did what it says it will do and gives “kids the freedom to play and experience the best day ever” whatever their age from toddler to teenager. We went having read early reviews, and understanding that it would be hard work for the adults. I purposely took someone with me to assist too, and I was glad of the help because both children wanted different things, and the extra pair of hands to dry the children was useful. We will return, both because the children had an amazing time, but William’s Den is so accessible, just minutes off the M62, and on our main route to the East Yorkshire coast to visit family. It is the perfect stop off for a couple of hours play. Whilst the outdoor play area is amazing, I would keep Toby inside next time. There’s more than enough to do inside the main barn, and I know I would enjoy it far more simply policing the doorways, rather than running around crazily trying to keep Toby safe outside. I know this review is biased because we have a child with additional needs, but I think the same would apply to anyone with an under 5 year old. I suspect for this reason William’s Den will be just as packed on a cold wet winter’s day, as it will on a hot sunny one. Go prepared with spare clothes, coats etc. and you will have one of the best days out ever with your children! We would absolutely recommend a visit. Williams Den is one of the best outings we have EVER done!

First posted 17.9.2017

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