This is a guest post by Lorenza Bacino, Anglo-Italian journalist and travel writer, after a family trip to the London Wetland Centre in Barnes during the summer holidays.
‘I’ve adopted a new philosophy for the summer holidays. It’s called ‘Slow Parenting’ and it means just that. I’m taking a back seat, and I’m not driving around like a headless chicken, ferrying the kids from one place to another, making sure they are entertained every minute of every day. No, I am being ‘slow’ and chilled and relaxed. So when I was invited to spend the day at the London Wetland Centre (WWT), I was delighted as I thought it would be perfect in terms of a ‘slow’ day out.
I took my nine-year-old daughter, Bella, and her friend, with a picnic and change of clothes as I’d been informed there were ‘water features’ in the play area!
From the moment we stepped out of the bus at the entrance to the WWT, I felt at peace with the world. It was simply beautiful on this sunny London morning. A statue of Sir Peter Scott, the founder, stands just outside, and we observed two fluffy grey cygnets confusingly alongside a grey statue of a swan. We took time to take in our surroundings, the reeds, the wetland areas, the birds, the wooden bridge and entrance to the Centre – and the silence. Yes, the silence and peace in the middle of this urban setting were wonderful. And I knew the day would be good.
First port of call is the information desk to pick up a map of the Centre and find out what’s going on that day.
Some of the regular morning activities on through the summer include –
- Pond dipping (10.30-11.00)
- Otter talk (11.00)
- Nature crafts (11.30-12.30)
- Guided tours (11.30)
And in the afternoons –
- Wetland encounter (13.30-14.30)
- Otter talk (14.00)
- Guided tour (14.30)
- Bird feed (15.00)
- Pond dipping (15.00- 16.00)
The girls were keen to attend the 11 am ‘otter talk’, so in the meantime I let them lead the way to explore and get our bearings before making our way there.
It’s pretty easy to navigate actually, as the paths and trails are well marked and signposted and easily accessible for the most part to buggies and wheelchairs.
We explored The Lodge, a wooden hut reminiscent of ‘Little House on the Prairie’, replete with a bed, a wood fire stove, a table with a plate of food covered in flies (much to the delighted disgust of the girls), and other odds and ends for fishing and general survival in a wooden lodge.
The surroundings are idyllic and the girls took their time to enjoy watching the birds on the water around the hut, and take in the peaceful surroundings.
This is a big draw, with many parents and toddlers keen to come and listen and watch these playful creatures. There are only two otters, a male and a female, and they are not named, as my daughter was informed, because they are not considered pets. The frisky otters are delightful, squeaking, and chasing each other round. The talk is informative and explains their characteristics, their diet, about their fur and how these otters (‘eurasian’) compare to other types of otters, and how they do not know how to swim when they are born, but have to be taught by their parents which is a bit surprising!
After the talk, I let the girls lead the way, following the West Route around the reserve, stopping off at one of the many picnic areas for a snack and enjoying their ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of delight at the many small fluffy chicks of various colours and sizes bobbing about in the water or pecking around. Summer is a lovely time to visit, as the sound of birdsong fills the air, and the many fledglings born in the spring are out and about.
The Kakadu Enclosure
This area is a replica of Kakadu national park in Australia’s top-end. The strong scent of eucalyptus assails the nostrils as you enter, and there are even rocks with copies of aboriginal art engraved into them. A large model croc lazes on the banks of the lake here, and the birds are less familiar than other varieties onsite.
The quiet area is just that. It’s gorgeous, sweet smelling and meadow-like. We wandered alone through these trails which are only open in the summer months and met no one. Oh, except when we had a ‘swan episode’. We came across a couple of swans blocking the pathway, and we were all reluctant to walk too close as they were protecting their cygnet and we thought they would be a bit ‘hissy’. Fortunately, after we’d been stuck on the path a little while, with no one in sight, a kind man with a huge camera offered to stand in front of the swan to let us pass. It did hiss and we were very grateful for his assistance in this matter!
The Summer Route leads you to the Wildside Hide. This is a serious observation spot, super peaceful, high up with great views across the Reservoir Lagoon and the grazing marsh – it’s a quiet invitation to contemplation.
Other hides have charts illustrating the birdlife you’re likely to see, there are chalk boards and sketching paper, comfy sofas and some interactive guides too.
All the Hides dotted about the reserve are well-equipped with binoculars and telescopes so you can sit, enjoy and watch the birdlife.
After the Wildside Hide you take the return route back to the entrance and you can access the South route and the Explore Adventure area, the Sustainable gardens and the Pond Zone.
Digital Pond Hut
We nearly didn’t go in here but I’m so glad we did. It was a really fun hut, representing a digital pond. Instructions to some informative and entertaining pond games are projected onto the floor, and the kids just have to jump on things, or drag a virtual magnifying glass to be able to see pond creatures and what they eat.
Explore Adventure Area
This caters to ages 3-11 and is colourful and well-equipped with a zip wire, a climbing wall and some water features (a fun duck race and some water-spurting clouds, so yes, a change of clothes was useful!). The girls had fun here, using up their final vestiges of energy, swinging and duck racing and climbing. There are shady areas with big tables perfect for picnics and for hanging out while the kids run around in safety.
They were happy to walk around the Sheltered Lagoon afterwards, which is teaming with bird and other wildlife and peak into the rather strange-looking bat house on the shores of the lagoon.
The Wetland Centre in Barnes is a great day out for all the family. Young and old, bird enthusiasts, budding naturalists and pond dippers will enjoy the peaceful environment, observing, watching and discovering the varied wildlife in this amazing urban nature reserve. Serious ornithologists with enormous sophisticated cameras come here to take photos and spend time in the many ‘hides’ along the routes and trails. Parents bring children of all ages to try a spot of pond dipping or just enjoy the birds and insect life which abounds here.
A great ‘Slow’ day out for those in favour of some ‘slow parenting’!
Family travel lowdown
It’s very easy to get to the London Wetland Centre – get off at Hammersmith tube and the take the 283 bus from Stand K. It takes 10 minutes to walk to the centre from there across Hammersmith Bridge.
Tickets for the WWT London Wetland Centre cost from £10.43 for adults and £5.72 for children if booked in advance online. Children who are under four years old can enter for free.’
Disclosure: Lorenza and the children were provided with free entry to the WWT London Wetland Centre for the purposes of this review.
For more ideas of things to do in the capital with kids go to my monthly London round-ups via the London page of the Destination menu above.
Jake Johnson says
Wow, sounds like a great place to go to with the family. Reading your post makes me want to go there as soon as possible.
Love this piece and it makes me want to go to The Wetlands myself. Love the idea of slow, laid back parenting. So much time is wasted ferrying tired children around to noisy activities. It’s good for them to “go slow” too.
Gretta Schifano says
I agree, it’s important to slow down when you have the chance.
Cathy (MummyTravels) says
I do love it here – we’ve been four times over the past 18 months as there’s so much to discover and it feels like a new adventure each time my daughter is a bit older. The otters are especially wonderful too.
I love this place, but I haven’t been for years – since well before children. Sounds as though you had a wonderful time there. You did well to take care around the swan. You wouldn’t want anyone to go home with a broken arm!
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Gretta Schifano says
You’re right, it’s always best to be careful around swans – Lorenza was very wise.