And so on we go with our tour around all 45 play parks in Brighton and Hove this summer! Number 3 is St Ann’s Well Gardens, in central Hove.
St Ann’s Well Gardens is a large park with a lot more to explore than just a play area. I’m guessing it’s one of the largest parks in the city (though we’ll find that out for sure in the coming weeks). When Big S was just a baby my Dad worked close to the park, so I quite often ended up wandering through with Big S asleep in the buggy, as it’s a quiet spot and the paths are accessible for buggies (and wheelchairs alike). In fact, I met a friend at the Garden Cafe in the park the day before I found out I was pregnant with Big S. I was pretty confident I was pregnant but was waiting to do a pregnancy test on the weekend with Rob so we could be together when we found out for sure. It’s a happy memory, the sweet anticipation and excitement and the pleasure of sharing the early news with my friend. So I automatically feel quite happy when I think of St Ann’s Well Gardens and the cafe there.
In the years since, though, we’ve not really visited the park as our park trips have tended to focus on those that are an easy walking distance of our house. We’d never visited the play park and I hadn’t been to the cafe in years. So it was an exciting morning for Big S when I told him where we were going, as a new park to explore is a wonderful thing!
We got the train and walked from Hove Station, it took maybe 10-15 minutes. If that’s too long for you the number 7 bus runs from Hove Station along Davigdor Road and it’s only a couple of minutes walk from there to the park. It’s not far from New Church Road and buses run up around Furze Hill too, so it’s pretty easily accessible by public transport. There is also pay and display parking on various roads around the park, including Nizells Avenue, which is right opposite the play park.
We started at the play park and Big S was blown away when he saw how large it was and how much there was to do. It’s set on a hill, with quite long grass and not much in the way of paths around, so it’s not terribly buggy friendly. Luckily Little D was awake, so I parked the buggy down near the entrance next to the sand pit (as that’s where everyone else seemed to be leaving theirs) and off we went. Big S and Little D are swing obsessed, so we started there. Despite his name, Big S is actually not that big for a 4 year old, however his feet dragged on the floor on all but one of the swings (one had noticeable shorter chains which meant his feet just cleared the ground). Little D was more the right size for them, they’re definitely baby and toddler swings, not pre-schooler or older. There’s a long row of 6 swings and on both occasions when we’ve visited recently they’ve been busy and we’ve had to wait to take a turn (or go off and do something else for a bit, as there is so much else to do).
After the swings it was up the hill to the wavy slide. Now, this looks brilliant, an extra wide slide with shallow steps up to it, set into the hillside. Sadly it was really, really slow. Chatting to other parents there they said that apparently some days it really goes and is brilliant fun and others it’s all sticky and slow. So perhaps to do with how clean it is before/after rain or something like that? Anyway, Big S had a blast playing underneath it instead (have I mentioned that he’s all about dens at the moment).
There’s a wooden fort type building down near the entrance, with a wobbly bridge, ramped climbing pole and ladder, with a high slide down that was probably Big S’s favourite thing in all the park. It’s no good for little ones, but for big toddlers/pre-schoolers and older it’s absolutely brilliant.
Across from that is the sand pit which was so busy every time we visited that I haven’t been able to get a decent photo of it (I try and avoid including people in my shots, especially children). I gather it’s been recently refurbished (it’s certainly in good condition) and it’s a nice, large sandpit. On one side there’s a climbing frame with sand tunnels and scoops, very similar to the one at Hove Park (and many other parks I’m sure) on the other a wooden table filled with sand. The sand pit has raised edges ideal for parents to perch on and was filled with babies mostly on our visits.
Next to the sand pit is a little gully, with a wooden bridge over and rocks dotted alongside. Big S and some park friends he found had a lot of fun playing make believe games here.
On the other side of the sandpit is a wobbly car, which Big S and his friends spent a good long while adventuring in.
Down at the bottom edge of the park, nearest the road, is a rope climbing section for older children. It looks absolutely brilliant, probably for ages 5 and up I’d say, maybe older as you need some height to be able to climb up on it.
Up at the top of the park is a broken zip wire, the stands and wire are there but there’s no rope/seat to ride it, which is a shame as it looks like a good one. Hopefully, it will be fixed soon.
There’s a spinning table/roundabout up near the zip wire that spins beautifully. It’s raised up, rather than an inset one in the floor like other local parks have, so you have to watch your younger ones quite carefully on it. There’s also a basket swing, though unusually there aren’t any swings other than this for older kids. Which seems like a shame as they are always popular in the parks we visit and the baby swings here are set so low that only the youngest children will be able to enjoy them.
There’s a tiny wooden pod halfway up the hill that Big S and Little D both loved to sit in. There are also a couple of totem poles with bugs carved in them down near the entrance. It’s a nice touch, having so many little wooden bits within the park, it fits well with the park having so many lovely mature trees. Unlike some other local parks, there are plenty of nice shaded spots to sit in, within the play park, so it’s a good choice for a sunny day.
There’s just the one picnic bench in the park, but plenty of spots to lay out a picnic blanket. We had our picnic down the bottom near the rope climbing frame, where a large tree trunk on the floor provided a nice seat for Big S. The trees are so thick with leaves here (in July) that when it rained we didn’t even feel it and were able to eat our picnic uninterrupted.
On both visits the park got fairly busy and this is before the schools kick out, so I’d expect it to be pretty rammed on a sunny day in the summer holidays. It’s a good size park, but due to being on a hill it can be quite hard work if you’ve got a younger child to wrangle as well as a more independent older one. It’s encircled with low metal fences, with just the one opening gate (that I spotted, please correct me if i’m wrong folks) which means you can let your kids run around reasonably independently. It can be hard to keep eyes on kids up the top of the hill if you’re down near the bottom at the sand pit or swings, but most of the park is fairly visible from the bottom.
Little D (16m) found the long grass, uneven ground and the hill quite challenging, but she had fun trying to make her way around the park by herself. It’s not the kind of park where you can sit down and let a young toddler wander about by themself, which is probably why the sand pit was so busy with babies/toddlers on both our visits, it’s the easiest spot to pop a younger child while having a sit down and a chat with a friend at the same time.
TLDR: Large, hilly play park with a good range of equipment and nice shady spots for the summer. Near to toilets and a cafe elsewhere in the park.
Coming Soon – our write-up of the rest of our visit to St Ann’s Well Gardens!