Great Notley Country Park, located just outside of Braintree, offers over 100 acres of open play space. As well as being home to the Sky Ropes adventure courses, the park also boasts the longest play trail in Essex – a 1.2km winding path that features a wide range of play equipment to suit all ages.
Set close to the large car parks is a giant see-saw and a water play area with water shoots, pumps, channels and lots of interesting things to explore (only open in the summer season). This section is the main hub for visiting families due to being located right next to the café, toilets and large, flat fields that are perfect for laying out picnic blankets. On warm days it gets very busy and there is hardly anywhere to shelter, so if your planning on staying a while it’s a good idea to bring your own shade!
The Play Trail
The play trail at Great Notley Country Park is a real gem. As you walk along the trail, you discover exciting new play things at every turn. There is so much for kids to do, including lots of climbing structures, tyre and high energy swings, dens, slides, bridges, spinning rides, and a large sand pit with a toddler slide and another big climbing frame at its centre (don’t forget your bucket and spade). We could easily visit this play trail a dozens of times before my kids would start to lose interest.
Despite being busy when we visited, we saw hardly any rubbish left lying around. And although dogs are permitted at the park, we didn’t see any dog poo either. The park rangers are doing a great job keeping the area clean and safe for children.
The downside – on hot days there really is virtually no cover from the sun. This won’t be a concern for everyone, but if it is then you’ll probably enjoy the play trail more on cooler days or at least earlier in the morning before it gets too warm.
We haven’t tried out the Sky Ropes adventure courses. However, I have heard a lot of good things. The main Sky Ropes course is suitable for adults and bigger children. Made up of ropes, bridges, platforms and beams, you don a full-body safety harness and make your way around the equipment. It is set over two levels and you have the option of choosing which route to take and how high you want to go. The course takes just over an hour to complete and cost £10 per person.
For kids over two years and under 4 foot tall, there is a smaller Sky Ropes Junior course. Little ones wear a safety harness and can then either do the course on their own, or you can walk alongside them for reassurance. The course takes about 30 mins to complete and cost £4 per child.
The rest of the park
If you feel like getting ‘back to nature’ and away from the crowds, there are a number of paths and trails to follow around the park. These are most on flat, firm surfaces making them suitable for buggies or wheelchair users. Bikes are also available to hire from the Discovery Centre.
Beyond the activity trail you will find the peaceful lakes and woodland to enjoy. Free fishing is permitted in the lake to the south of the park, but you will need an Environment Agency rod license.
Facilities and food
The Discovery Centre and toilets, including disabled toilets and baby changing facilities, are open every day from 10am until 5pm during summer months and 10am until 3pm during the winter. I feel there really should be more toilets available for such a busy summer venue, but this is a more of an annoyance than a big issue.
The Outdoor Café in the Centre offers both indoor and outdoor seating. The centre is set on a small hillock and the outdoor seating overlooks the car park on one side and the water play area on the other. The café serves the usual fare – sandwiches, salads, drinks, cakes, etc. The prices are as you would expect from a popular tourist attraction; we paid £5.80 for four ice creams. If you want to save a bit of money it takes about five minute to walk to Tesco from there (maybe a bit more if you have toddlers in tow).
During the busy summer period an additional kiosk opens just beside the café, selling drinks and ice creams. There is also a small portable ice cream vendor positioned on the far side of the play trail. This is quite handy as it meant families didn’t have to walk all the way back to the centre.
The car parking system at the park is automated. It reads your licence plate as you arrive, so you just have to enter your plate number into the machines next to the Discovery Centre at the end of your visit. No ticket require, which I prefer. The current parking charges are: £1 for up to 30 minutes, £2
for up to 1 hour, £3 for up to 2 hours, £4 for up to 3 hours, and £5 for over 3 hours.
Top tip: If you just visiting for an hour or less, you can park at Tesco across the road where there is a 90 minute parking allowance.