Things to do, as a family, in the Stockport area

babysplash

Since Tiny Daughter was about 6 months old I have been bringing her to Baby Splash at Grand Central Swimming Baths in Stockport. If, like me, you remember Grand Central for teenaged evenings lurking outside the Cinema chucking popcorn at whatever lad you fancied that week then it’s quite a shock to be coming here as a responsible parent. The tacky nightclub (sleep deprivation has chased the name from my memory) is no more, neither is the Quazar, but the cinema is still just about hanging on and the rest of the area has begun a slow rise into redevelopment. 

For obvious reasons there are no photos of my own with this post, so thanks to LifeLeisure, the company which manages the Leisure Centre for these. LifeLeisure have done an admirable job in shoring up the Centre, it is well-resourced, friendly and most importantly for me, clean. The huge pool (the only 50m swimming pool in Stockport) is home to Stockport Metros and the slides and children’s pools are as popular as ever with the younger ones.

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Baby Splash is on daily, even in the summer holidays which is a blessing when most things seem to stop for the 6 weeks you need them most. We start in the very warm, very shallow Oasis Pool. Tiny Daughter loves the array of floating balls, the jets which squirt at random and the toddler-sized slide. She does not love having her swim nappy put on, but we all have our troubles.

After a time spent orientating ourselves and splashing merrily it is time to go through to the splash-pool of the water slide. Here we find floating noodles and enough rubber-ducks to keep even my duck-obsessed toddler happy. We practise floating the babies on their fronts and backs and mine is very keen to sit on the edge of the water slide and leap in.

The last part of the session is spent sharing wriggly cuddles in the Jacuzzi trying to eat the bubbles and chatting with the other parents.

We’ve found that the early Sunday session isn’t too busy and it’s nice for us to be able to go as a family. The weekday sessions are popular but it’s never over-crowded. The children’s pools are lovely and warm which makes the notoriously chilly adult pool seem even worse if you want to dash off for an adult swim by yourself.

Baby Splash takes place at all the Leisure Centres around Stockport although they do, in my experience vary in quality and warmth. Grand Central is by far our favourite due to its layout and the super instructor but we also like Cheadle. You can find the Baby Splash timetable for your nearest pool here. It’s worth checking as timetables do change to make way for holiday activities during the school holidays, which we are in the throws of right now

Baby Change – There are family changing rooms right beside the children’s pool with changing tables and big lockers.

Café – There isn’t a café but there are vending machines or McDonalds to ward off those post-swimming hungerpangs, or you can pop into Stockport, the café at Staircase House is nearby and will feature in a future post.

Parking – there is parking right next door and it is only £1 for 3 hours. Be careful though, after 3 hours it goes up to £10.

Cost – Babysplash is £4.45 for parent and child, £6.25 for 2 parents with child.

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Pets at Home

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It’s a mizzling kind of day at which Stockport excels and the kids are whinging and you just need to get them out of the house. You’re skint, can’t face soft play again and your mental list of things to do has become woefully depleted. As the Shawshank Redemption teaches us, salvation lies within, in this case within a large grey hanger just off Junction 1 of the M60.

It’s like a low-budget aquarium-cum-petting-zoo that has decided it need to rake in a few quid by selling hen-party cat toys on the side. We had all the fun of gazing at the brightly coloured fish with none of the hassle of battling your way through over-sugared school trips. Plus this place has the advantage that the fish are at the perfect height for a just-learning to walk 1 year old.

The delights aren’t just limited to fish, we also enjoy licking the Perspex of the rabbit display and trying to work out if the Russian image (2)Hamster is dead or asleep.   Tiny Daughter is a particular fan of the Guinea Pigs who provide excellent entertainment value with their charming squeaks and amusing scurries. The older children in our party enjoyed the dog-grooming salon and the room full of giddy kittens intend on setting the land speed record for fastest puss.

The staff are friendly and as we tend to go during the day when it’s quiet, we always end up chatting to someone who is willing, if they have time, to show us a rabbit or guinea-pig close up.  We are also fans of shouting the word ‘Dog!’ at any passing dog, but not touching, she’s not keen on that yet.image (1)

Babychange – No toilets so no baby change, possibly the only flaw in my ‘shop as aquarium’ comparison

Café – No Café but if refreshment is needed the lovely Ash Tea Rooms are just around the corner.

Buggy or sling – Either is fine – you’re not walking far so a carry on the hip is fine if your Little isn’t walking yet

Parking – Plenty.  Why not combine with a trip to Staples for a real family day out?

Cost – Free, unless you buy a rabbit then a lifetime of hay and nuggets should be factored in.

A good park and a decent café are all we need at the moment for a very happy day and Cale Green is blessed with fine examples of both.  Tiny Daughter and I met some toddler friends for a sunny afternoon in Hallam Park then decamped to Funky Monkey for refreshment.  The park is bright and friendly and was clean and well kept.  The play area kept our gang of littles amused whilst being sufficiently interesting for the bigger kids who surged in when they were released from the neighbouring primary school.

Play area at Hallam Park

Friends of Cale Green Park (another place for us to visit in the future) seem to be doing a great job of keeping an eye on this lovely little park and everyone we met there appreciated having such a great space on their doorstep.

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Funky Monkey is the sort of coffee shop that makes you want to move to an area.  A real community hub, welcoming families in the daytime, offering free WiFi to home-workers, hosting local support groups and holding open mike nights in the evening.  I love a good noticeboard and Funky Monkey’s board was a treasure trove of rich pickings for esoteric trades and services.

Find your next tradesperson here

As soon as we walked in we felt welcome.  The first thing I saw was a table set up with pots of crayons and jugs of tap water with plastic beakers which were a lovely touch; the basket of baby toys beneath kept tiny daughter happily occupied whilst I checked out the menu.  It was a hot day so I resisted the coffee, which smelt amazing, and went for a mango and passionfruit smoothie which was ice-cold, tooth-achingly sweet and delicious, perfect for summer.

Entrance to Funky Monkey

Tiny Daughter chomped on a toasted teacake and happily dropped the crumbs into the plastic toy she had nabbed.  Prices were reasonable (I was too busy browsing the books on their shelves to take a note) and the staff were friendly above and beyond the requirements of good customer service, not batting an eyelid when one of the small fry in our party upturned their drink and bursting into sobs.  They wiped, replaced and consoled without breaking a sweat, and all this whilst coping admirably with the post-school rush.

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The café makes the best of an uncompromising layout.  The counter is up a couple of little steps which could cause a problem for someone with mobility issues however the staff were so accommodating I’m sure that they would just come down to meet you.  The décor is comfy, with some quirky touches and the baby-change was clean, and unusually large.

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I’m pretty jealous of Cale Green right now.  It’s always sunny and there are some real gems here.  We’ll be back to see if the coffee tastes as great as it smells, and to try the Millionaire’s Shortbread.

Funky Monkey Coffee Company  175 Bramhall Lane, SK2 6JA

Hallam Coronation Gardens.

parkrun

I’m not so much of a runner as a purveyor of the patented ‘Trudge and Bounce’.  However post-baby I was in need of some exercise, and jogging (I really am too slow to call it running) fits more easily with family life than going to the gym or joining a class.  The Bearded Half has been running for a while so encouraged me to start off with the NHS Couch to 5K podcasts 

If you are new to running these are an awesome way to get started.  I think I might be a tiny bit in-love with the cosily encouraging Laura, and I wiled away the miles imagining the planning meetings where the bods from the NHS said ‘We need 7 songs at between 160 and 180bpm;  one that sounds a bit urban, one that sounds a bit disco and one that sounds like that northern band from the 90s – what, The Verve?’

So after a few weeks of sweatily panting my way around the seedier end of Heald Green it was time to make my public debut.  Parkrun is a national, volunteer-led scheme which offers free, weekly 5km timed runs, around the country. They are open to everyone and are safe and easy to take part in. The runs aren’t competitive and provide you with a great way of being sociable and making new friends in your area.

Photo used under Creative Commons from jamheadjames500

Photo used under Creative Commons from jamheadjames500

 

We are lucky in Stockport to have a some fabulous parkruns to choose from.  I tried Bramhall which was hillier than I’m used to but incredibly friendly and it was lovely to run on the paths and trails of the park.  I was terrified that I would be last but Bearded Half promised that I wouldn’t, reminding me that I’d already beaten everyone who was still in bed that morning.  The route loops in and around the park’s wide tarmac pathways, along the lake and past a churlish gaggle of Canada geese before spurring off into the trees and coming back on itself to repeat.  I thought I would find it depressing to see the more elite runners on their second circuit before I was even half way around my first but the friendly smiles and encouraging nods from runners and marshals kept me going.

Parkrun is great for all the family.  Some of the flatter runs include runners pushing their children in buggies (something I wasn’t brave enough to try with Tiny Daughter) and I’ve seen 8 year olds holding their own with the adult runners.   If you think your Little Ones’ legs aren’t yet up to the full 5k, there is a 2k Junior parkrun events for 4-14 year olds held on Sundays in Marple.

 

parkrun bramhall beanie boy images flickr

Photo used under Creative Commons from BeanieBoy Images

 

Parkruns in Stockport are Woodbank SK1 4JR,

Marple Brabyns Park SK6 5DT,

Bramhall Park SK7 3NX,

Grove Park Sport Club Cheadle Hulme SK8 7NB

and Lyme Park SK12 2NR

There’s a reason that this is the first place I’m including on my ‘Big List of Nice Things To Do in Stockport With My Family’ (I really need a snappier title than that) and that’s because without this place, half our days out would been a lot clumsier and more cumbersome.

The best thing I did when pregnant was to come here and learn how to tie a sling.  Feelings of competence are rare as a parent so it’s a treasured memory of our first night home from hospital when, unsure of what to do with this tiny squalling creature they had inadvisably allowed me to take home, I popped her into the sling, bounced on the pregnancy ball and by some miracle she stopped crying.  I was hooked.

One woman helps another with her wrap

Photo credit Clare Riley

We have continued to visit the Sling Meet as I’ve found parents here who share my interests and playing with the different carriers has become rather addictive.  Tiny Daughter and I enjoy trying out the new slings and, as she has grown and our carrying needs have changed, we’ve been able to borrow slings and avoid expensive mistakes as we work out which one is right for us at that time.

People sometimes think that slinging is just for the hippies, but a look around the room at Sling Meet proves otherwise.  There’s bottle and breastfeeders, cloth bums and sposies, WOHMs, SAHMs, SAHDs and every permutation in between.  Some in the group had their first baby at 16, others at 42 but the common aim of sharing the slingy love is evident. You’ll overhear chat not just about babywearing but about the myriad topics you’ll touch on when you get any group of caffeine-fueled parents together.

The Sling Library has a range of buckled, Asian-Style, Ring Slings, Stretchy and Woven Wraps which you can borrow for 2, or 4 weeks.  There is peer to peer support as well as qualified Baby Wearing consultants to help you choose.

Stockport Sling Library and Sling Meet is on the first Monday of the month at St Matthew’s Church in Edgeley.  You can find more information about them on their website http://stockportslinglibrary.wordpress.com/

People chatting at sling meet

Photo credit Clare Riley

Babychange – yes

Café – No, but there are brews for parents

Buggy or Sling – If you are new to babywearing then by all means bring your buggy.  There is space to park it in the church.

Parking – Plenty

Cost – £2 per family to come to the meet.  Hire Fees are additional and you will need to leave a deposit for each sling you hire.