REVIEW: Practically perfect day had by three generations at Audley End Miniature Railway
It was the day after one of the hottest days on record, so I was relieved when the sun hid behind a cloud on our approach to Audley End Miniature Railway.
We (me, my mother and two-year-old daughter Clara) had never been before and were lucky enough to get the last spot in the main car park before other visitors were ushered to the nearby overflow car park.
Despite it being the start of the summer holidays during the venue's Summer Festival, surprisingly the place never felt busy.
When we arrived the inflatable play area/wooden boat swings (at an extra charge of £2 for unlimited all-day use) were still in the process of being set up, so we joined the short queue in a wigwam for face painting.
There, my fairy wing-wearing little girl was allowed to choose what make-up colours were used, along with her favourite glitter sparkles.
Then we were off to board our 11am trip on the miniature railway – and what a treat that was.
The 1.5-mile track winds its way through the Audley End Estate woodland, with some added attractions along the route.
I don't want to give away too much, but look closely and you might see the occasional teddy swinging through the trees, a furry snake or even a hidden unicorn in the woods.
As we gently pulled out of the station I was a little concerned my exuberant toddler might want to perform an escape attempt along the route, but she was too fascinated by the train ride for the idea to even cross her mind.
I had mistakenly thought a bit of face painting, a train ride and pleasant wander around the fairy and elf walk were all the delights Audley End Miniature Railway has to offer.
Of course, I was wrong.
Clara thoroughly enjoyed attending a fairy and elf workshop, wielding a bow (I drew the line at her brandishing an arrow, too) and receiving a 'graduation certificate'.
Then there were craft tables where Clara made a colourful mermaid; storytelling, along with a dash of singing from Trolls the Movie and The Greatest Showman; giant noughts and crosses; adventure playground, catapult and bean bag throw.
It was the kind of gentle fare I remember finding highly entertaining at village fetes of my childhood. Itseems my daughter has similar tastes to I, as she was enchanted by every attraction.
On arrival, I had quietly thought to myself 'there's not much here'. Well, nearly six hours later – by which time my face had also been painted under my toddler's direction – and I was still trying to gently persuade Clara it was time to leave.
The next day (yes, I did manage to prise her away from the place in the end), Clara woke and immediately asked if we could 'go back to see fairy and elves walk?'.
Yes, I expect a return visit during the venue's Summer Festival will not be too far off, while I'm also tempted by the prospect of visiting special Hallowe'en and Christmas themed events there later in the year.
For families on a budget, the fact almost everything is included in the entrance price is a bonus. The cost of the bouncy castle and three 'unicorn' ice creams were the only dent in my purse all day.
And despite the previous day's stifling heat, the weather needn't have been a worry. We were blessed with warm temperatures, the occasional spot of rain and intermittent sunshine and cloud. Pretty ideal weather for a practically perfect three-generational day out.
The Summer Festival runs until September 8.
Book tickets at https://www.audley-end-railway.co.uk/