The toddler's Guide is written by Solnushka's eighteen-month-old daughter, who is generally accompanied on her travels by her Mama and her Big Brother, who is four and a half. She wishes everyone to know that the spelling is Mama's.
Richmond Park, London
Richmond Park is a large expanse of land on the outskirts of London whose main purpose is to shelter large numbers of deer, and after he had spent an afternoon wading through the resulting deer spores and also quite a large number of rabbit droppings, Papa named the place the Poo Park. This label has stuck in our family, probably because later visits have just served to confirm the widespread and plentiful nature of, well, nature's bounty. Mama now only remembers it isn't actually called that when other people look at us strangely when my Fantastic Big Brother starts talking about it at the top of his voice.
Unfortunately for Mama, there's quite a lot to talk about because it's huge. Mama parks in a different (FREE! Mama would like me to say that again because having a free car park at an attraction in London is almost unheard of. Having a car park is too really, but anyway, FREE!) car park each time and we strike out across unkempt grass, through spinneys and up and down hills, skirting the bracken, playing hide and seek in the rhododendrons and always avoiding the huge lake in the middle. My Fantastic Big Brother would want to chase the ducks and I would try to fling myself into the very accessible water, and Mama cannot be doing with either of these things. And so apart from one unfortunate day when we came across it accidentally, Mama has sucessfully managed to convince my Fantastic Big Brother that the lake was a figment of his imagination. I know differently, of course, but I cannot talk that well yet, so she gets away with it.
Basically, we go there because, apart from the FREE car parks,1 Mama likes walking in the countryside and in Ricmond Park, Mama gets to almost pretend she is, if the country side was full of people, edged by a constant stream of cars and had low flying planes screaming overhead on their way towards Heathrow every two minutes.
I, however, am a city child of pavements and shorn grass and find the ground here a bit heavy going, so my favourite bit is the Isabella Plantation, which is an enclosed, managed woodland area somewhere in the middle of the park. It's not so much that the paths are any smoother as that Mama is forced to go very slowly because, oh wonder of marvels, there are streams, and so much of my Fantastic Big Brother and my attention is given over to attempting to dip various body parts in the water. This doesn't make for a very restful visit for Mama, which is a shame, she thinks, as the wood itself is very pretty, with great splashes of colour in spring from flowering bushes in particular.
My Fantastic Big Brother, on the other hand, really likes the deer and so it is lucky that so far we have never had a visit which didn't include tripping across a herd of them. They are remarkably tame and therefore surrounded at all times by people with serious looking cameras or, in the case of my Fantastic Big Brother, a large stick he is holding to his forehead in an attempt to simulate antlers. The exception to this is the autumn when the park rings to the loud grunting roars of the rutting bucks, and everybody stays the heck away from all of them.
Mama, what does 'rutting' mean?
There are refreshments to be had, the odd café or hot drinks caravan, but this is picnic central really. We even came here for my first birthday and brought many rugs, home made quiche, buckets of salads and Pimms. The Pimms looked nice. It had lots of fruit in it. But Mama said I was too young. Too young? I was one that day I tell you. Anyway, Mama has been known to drag us out here purely for the pleasure of eating in the open air, but I don't mind. If she and Papa are sitting down, I am not having to hike and also they always take care to park themselves next to some tree trunks to climb on or near one of the multitude of wigwam-like dens that have been built repeatedly throughout the park. Mama is a little puzzled by these dens. She wonders if they are for the deer or for the humans, but either way is grateful for the distraction.
Another toddler-friendly area is the playground, but Mama has stumbled across this once and only by accident, so I am not sure if we will be revisiting it. This is a shame as it has the sort of slide that Mama thinks has been condemned elsewhere for being too high and too fast, and also something called a roundabout, which Mama says is now largely extinct because they are quite easy to fall off of, especially when you are playing the leap on and off them at speed game, or get your limbs trapped underneath when you are lying on your tummy playing touch the fast moving ground game, neither of which activities Mama knows anything about at all. On the other hand, Mama was a bit dismayed to find that the large sandpit also has a water feature. She managed to keep me out of it because I am extremely distrustful of sand, nasty gritty shifty stuff, but was forced to concede that there was no way that My Fantastic Big Brother was going to get out dry, and so it proved. The Poo Park was treated to the sight of my Fantastic Big Brother in his pants for the rest of the afternoon.
I don't know why Mama didn't just remove his trousers when he first headed towards the wet stuff. Neither does she I expect.
Anyway, Richmond Park comes highly recommended as a outside spot to take the whole family, even if Mama does live in fear of becoming an Internet star in the same vein as the now famous owner of Fenton the dog.