Claudia DowellSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Claudia Dowell
MENTION MILTON KEYNES to most people and the first things that spring to mind are concrete cows and the shopping centre, and – if they’ve visited the place – more roundabouts than you’ll find anywhere else. What is less well known is that it’s a great place to take a youngster for a long weekend break. Brenda and I were trying out a five-berth Bailey Olympus 525 and decided to take our 10-year-old grandson, Elliot, along. We were hoping the caravan bug, which has failed to infect our daughter and son, would jump a generation and that in 15 to 20 years’ time young Elliot will have his own caravan.
We chose the Camping and Caravanning Club’s site at Gulliver’s Land as our base. It is situated in Milton Keyne’s Eco Park between the main Gulliver Park and its Dinosaur and Farm Park. It’s about two miles from junction 14 on the M1, but isn’t well signposted. I entered the site’s postcode into my sat nav, not realising it is also the postcode for Gulliver’s. As a result we ended up at the Gulliver entrance only to be told that we needed to turn around and follow the signs for the Eco Park. Why the local council cannot have signage specific to the site is a mystery to me!
The site is ideal for families wanting to visit the Gulliver’s Land theme park: the main theme park is only a few hundred yards from the site’s front gate along a path through the Eco Park, while the Dinosaur and Farm Park actually adjoins the site.
Our first full day was spent at Gulliver’s main park. Once you have paid the entrance fee, the rides are free. The attractions are divided into a number of areas catering for children from around two years old to about 13. Elliot insisted on taking me on both roller coasters – the Python and the Runaway train – plus the Buccaneer Pirate ship and the Log Flume where the water in the splash zone basically missed him and soaked me – much to his and his granny’s delight! He and I also enjoyed a number of other rides including the Drop Tower and Giant Teacup rides.
There are plenty of eating places in the park, but a word of warning: many of them are cash only. The food hall is large with individual eateries offering a range of foods – fish and chips, pizzas, jacket potatoes, hamburgers and sandwiches at prices, which weren’t as high as I had expected.
The following day we drove a couple of miles to Xcape where I had booked Elliot a 45-minute session in the Sno!Zone. Xcape is billed as the ‘ultimate entertainment destination’ and it was certainly far bigger than we had expected. In addition to the Sno!Zone there are two 13m-high rock climbs, ten-pin bowling, indoor skydiving, a state of the art gym and a cinema, plus several restaurants and fast food outlets.
Brenda made sure Elliot was properly kitted out for the Sno!Zone but you can hire clothing when you arrive, leaving your own clothing in one of the lockers. I wasn’t best pleased to note that instead of hiring the locker, the £1 deposit had recently changed to a £1 charge, the money being retained by the Sno!Zone. Brenda didn’t go into the slope but remained snug in the viewing lounge watching Elliot and me enjoying the snow! At the end of the session we joined Brenda and restored our body temperatures with two large hot chocolates.
When we got back to the site we decided to visit Gulliver’s Dinosaur Park. Two of the main attractions are the tree-tops walk and the Lost World river boat tour, both of which take you past full-size replicas of dinosaurs. Kids can have a go at digging for dinosaur bones, panning for minerals, or even designing their own dinosaur.
On the other side of Milton Keynes is the World War II code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park. We joined one of the guided tours and then had lunch in the café before visiting a number of the exhibitions. There are many hands-on exhibits, which Elliot thoroughly enjoyed, especially a couple of aeroplane simulators, although he did manage to crash twice! It was the National Museum of Computing, which houses Bletchley Park’s computer Colossus, that fascinated me the most. I also found an example of my first computer, a Commodore PET, which had a massive 8KB memory!
The display Brenda and I both enjoyed was one detailing the taking of Pegasus Bridge early on the morning of D Day. We ran a caravan rally in Normandy at the beginning of June 1994 to tie in with the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of D Day and were lucky enough to see Major Howard who lead the attack that captured Pegasus Bridge and liberated Café Gondree, the first house in France to be liberated.
On our return from Bletchley Park, Elliot grabbed his swimming costume and made for Gulliver’s Splash Zone on the edge of the site. Everything here is inside so it’s an ideal venue for rainy or cold days. Unlike Gulliver’s Land it is open all year round. Among the various attractions is an extremely large water butt in the roof, which fills every few minutes before dumping the lot on the people below. Those who don’t fancy getting soaked can sit outside the zone or in the adjoining café area.
Although we spent three full days at Milton Keynes we certainly didn’t see everything at Gulliver’s, Xcape or Bletchley Park. I’m sure that Elliot would like to have visited the Farm Park and, had time allowed, taken a pedalo out on the lake outside the Splash Zone. I also suspect he’d have liked to try the rock climb at Xcape. Brenda and I may well visit Bletchley Park again since our tickets are valid for as many visits as we like during the next 12 months.