The Big Parks Project in Peacehaven had been on our to-visit list for absolutely ages. I first spotted it on Little Lewes and thought it looked amazing and absolutely perfect for Big S. Peacehaven isn’t far from Brighton, around 20 minutes for us in the car, but it’s the hassle of taking the car when we’re used to bussing and walking everywhere. I’m glad we made the effort though, it’s a fabulous park and there’s so much to do that you can spend a good chunk of a day there and not get bored.
We set off straight after the rush hour and arrived at the Big Parks Project around 10am. The park was mostly empty, there were more dog walkers turning up in the car park than families with kids. I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place at first. There is a long drive down towards the cafe, with a large stony area out the front that looks like parking at first glance. The bollards to this area were partly down, but there were no parking signs or information anywhere. Next to this was a small car park, that appeared to belong to the other buildings in the vicinity (a community hub and some sports stuff) but there were no big warning signs about not parking so I left the car there and we walked along towards the cafe and park.
Big S, who had just about been containing his excitement up to this point, saw the view of the park above and broke into a run, huge grin plastered on his face!
The park is split into two main areas; one for younger kids (pre-schoolers perhaps, though there’s plenty to occupy primary aged children as well) and one for older (middle to upper end of primary I’d say, though with mine at 4 and 1 I’m not the best judge of age ranges). That being said, there’s definitely stuff for both in each area. Big S had a good go at climbing in the bigger kids area and loved the slide there. They both loved the willow tunnels in both sections; we spent a large amount of time with Big S and Little D chasing each other (and me!) through the tunnels!
The two areas are separated by fences, with a gate in the middle so you can easily move between the two. In between the gates linking them is a path that runs out into the surrounding fields.
Just off to one side is a small picnic area (3 picnic tables) where we stopped to eat our packed lunch.
Now this park is set within prime dog walking territory and there was a constant stream of dog walkers coming past along the paths around the picnic area. I don’t know if we were just unlucky but a succession of dog owners let their (sometimes quite large) dogs bound up to our picnic table, off their leads and jump up at the food and kids. Big S has never been one to be afraid of dogs and animals, but he was left in tears after one particularly large and toothy dog jumped right up on the bench and got his face right up in Big S’s. I tried to shoo the dog away but he was extremely persistent and the owner was far off and utterly unconcerned. It was only when she finally got in shouting range and I asked her to call the dog away that she finally did, but the damage was done; Big S was hysterical and wanted to leave and every time even a small dog came past after that he was jumping up on my lap and getting scared. We’ve picnicked all over Brighton and Hove and beyond, in parks, on the beach, outside stately homes and in National Trust gardens. I’ve never had so much trouble with dog owners not controlling their dogs as we had at the Big Parks Project. It really tainted the visit to be honest, as it meant any time we were outside of the fenced in play areas I had to be on guard against dogs running up at and jumping up at the kids. Ever since then Big S has been nervous around dogs in a way he never was before, which is a rather sad memento of our day.
Anyway, I’m digressing.
There’s a great range of play equipment at the Big Parks Project; tunnels, slides, balance beams, great big wooden dragons to ride, swings, hidey houses, sand pits and climbing walls, all set within a beautifully landscaped space. There are undulating mounds, hills, steps and slopes all over the park. There’s an accessible path throughout, but you can’t take a buggy or wheelchair right up to each piece of play equipment.
My favourite bit was in the younger kids area, where they had a musical wall. On one side drums to bang, on the other, the nicest sounding outdoor xylophone I’ve ever heard. It was properly musical, not just noisy.
We took a break at the cafe next to the park. The cafe building has won awards for sustainability and design, it is certainly a nice enough contemporary design, with big glazed doors looking out on both sides.
Sadly the cafe itself was something of a let down (and I hate saying that, because I always want to be nice and positive especially about independent businesses). I think we’ve been spoilt by having places like the Hive cafe in Stoneham Park to visit. The food was fairly uninspiring sandwiches, burgers, breakfasts etc. The kids menu was kids staples like sausages or nuggets and chips, all quite junky. The place smelt of greasy deep fat fryers and the coffee was out of a push button machine rather than properly made (the worst sin of all if you ask me!) They had a flapjack that was dairy/egg free that Big S and I could share, which was good. It was quite large, but not terribly nice sadly. The coffee was as bad as I feared when I saw the machine.
It feels like such a wasted opportunity. It’s a beautiful countryside setting, a modern eco-friendly building, by a large kids park. They could offer a range of healthy, locally sourced food and drinks, something a bit more imaginative than the “with chips” stuff that they serve. The interior felt a bit flat too, hard chairs (two small sofas) and lots of empty space, it felt like those cafes you get inside serviced offices at business parks, all rather soulless. I was glad we took our picnic instead of lunching there, which is a shame as we love to eat out and support local independent cafes and restaurants.
After the cafe we made a visit to the toilets for Big S and a nappy change for Little D. There are a couple of toilets located on the outside of the cafe on the car park side. The doors are very heavy (Big S couldn’t manage them on his own) and the toilets are pretty tiny. We just about managed to squeeze our buggy in, Big S had his wee then stood squashed in the corner while I changed his sister’s nappy. The change table was one of those pull-down ones from the wall and it was made of metal! Even in summer it was cold, I can’t imagine how freezing it would be in the depths of winter. It really wasn’t a terribly kid friendly experience. I know I could have pulled Little D and the change bag out of the buggy and left it outside (out of sight, by a car park…) but that’s hardly convenient. Especially so if it’s raining or cold out. For a new build cafe, by a playpark, I expected better to be honest. It’s not like they are short on space. If you had twins / a double buggy you’d be a bit stuck really as you can’t hold the door open (it’s really too heavy) while changing a nappy on the change table and there’s nowhere you can safely put your second child inside other than let them crawl on the toilet floor. The toilet was at least clean.
The kids had fun playing at the park all morning and again for an hour after lunch. With friends to run around with I think they could happily spend the entire day there without getting bored. A school group arrived while we were there, but the kids were well behaved and considerate of the younger kids in the park, which was nice as large groups like that can rather dominate play areas. I can imagine that it gets quite rammed on sunny weekends though.
I can definitely see us going back, it’s a lovely park and the drive to Peacehaven isn’t so bad. Or if we wanted to the 14a goes from Churchill Square so we could quite easily take the bus, which the kids always enjoy. There are shops on the main road through Peacehaven (including sandwich shops, Greggs, small supermarkets etc) where you could pick up snacks or lunch if you don’t fancy anything at the cafe and haven’t brought your own food. We shall have to explore and see if there’s a nice pub or cafe nearby that caters for our allergies so we have a lunch option for when the winter comes and we don’t want to picnic outside anymore.
TLDR: Fabulous natural materials based play area set in a beautiful location, with equipment for all ages. Cafe disappointing and dog walkers potentially an issue when outside of the play area, but don’t let that put you off, it’s a great day out.