It's the first day of a long six weeks school holidays, and with it comes the annual dilemma of how to keep them entertained. It can become a very expensive time as theme parks, holiday resorts and other activities cash in on parents desperate to stop the 'I'm soooooooooo bored' wails which start a couple of days into the holidays, once the novelty wears off. However if your ever in the Carlisle area, I can recommend a visit to Bitts park, which can cost as little as the price of an ice cream for a good few hours of fun.
Situated in the Centre of Carlisle at the huge Hardwick Circus roundabout and nestled between the scenic river Eden and Carlisle castle, it is the best public park I have visited. And not just for children, as Bitts park has something to offer most visitors or residents of the city.
Our favourite area is the children's play area. This is really the largest and most well equipped free play area I have yet to come across. The play area is enclosed by fencing with gates at each end making it quite secure. As well as playground favourites such as swings, slides and climbing frames there are interesting and modern play equipment too, like a huge seesaw which seats up to 8 children, individual spinning equipment, a huge UFO shaped net swing where a couple of children at a time can squeeze on, and an interactive pirate ship. The equipment is designed to be suitable for children of all ages, from babies to teenagers.
My children's favourite attractions at the Bitts park play area though are the parks 2 new features. An interactive water feature opened in 2004. This rubber grounded area has different water fountains which splash randomly. The kids absolutly love this and spend hours chasing the water. A swimming costume and dry clothes are a must when visiting the park in summer as no child can resist this water fun. While the park is open right through the year, the water feature is only turned on from May until October. The second new feature is a large sand pit area, with water outlets and a large wooden castle with pullies and buckets to transport the sand. The park is kept immaculatly clean and dogs are forbidden in this area, so I never worry about my children coming in contact with something nasty.
There's enough to keep the children entertained for hours, leaving you free to read a book or just enjoy some peace. The downside however to this park is that it does get quite busy in the summer, and while there are a few picnic benches and seats dotted around there aren't many and I usually find myself sitting on the grass, so a towel to sit on is a good idea too. There are toilets just outside the play area, but I have to warn, they are grotty and there is never any toilet roll!
Next to the play area is a kiosk selling ice-creams, sweets and cold drinks. They don't sell food though, so I always take a picnic, or buy sandwiches from one of the local bakeries in the town centre, just 5 minutes walk away. There are more picnic tables around the kiosk and a small ride on car area, for children up to 10 years old. These are battery opperated and a token can be bought from the kiosk for 70p.
The kiosk also is the place to go to pay for and hire equipment for the mini golf area and the tennis courts. The mini golf area has recently been updated , as has a lot of the park due to major flooding in 2004. We like to have a go at the mini golf and at just £1, plus a refundable £2 deposits for clubs and balls, it's a fun activity which will last upto an hour (depending on your golfing skills!) There are also quite a few tennis courts at Bitts park, where you can either hire equipment or bring your own. Last year an all weather dome was introduced for indoor tennis during the winter months. I have never personally used the courts but remember noticing prices were very reasonable.
Bitts park also has some beautiful gardens to stroll through. I particularly like this area in spring where the banks of the ornamental gardens are carpeted in Crocus' and Daffodils. At the rear of the park there are Japanese gardens and a maze, which isn't large but quite fun. At the back of the park there are large recreation fields with regular 5-a-side football matches being played.
The riverside is very pretty, some braver souls go paddling in it and theres often people fishing (a license is required and restrictions apply). There is a very pleasant riverside walk, and The Hadrians Wall trail also runs through Bitts park. This is an 84 mile riverside route from Tyneside to the Solway Estuary.
As well as being a fantastic public park, Bitts park is also host to a number of events each year. The Carlisle and Borders spring show runs every May Day weekend and is a large fair of local crafts, delicasies, gardening equipment and plants, musicians and childrens entertainment. If the weather is good it's worth a visit. A small charge for entry is applied.
Carlisle Live, 'Pop to the Park' concert usually takes place in August, unfortunately due to the credit crunch it has been cancelled this year. Past performers include Boyzone and Macfly and Carlisle own Andrew Johnston (Britains got talent finalist 2008). It's held on the recreation field with the 900 year old Castle in the background and I'm really sad it won't be taking place this year, as it's a great atmosphere.
Bitts park is also home to a spectacular bonfire and Firework display in November, in fact it is ranked in the top 10 displays in the country and attracts 40, 000 visitors from around the world. I have never missed one of these free displays, it's an annual event we all love in our family. Each year theres a 'theme' and in the past the bonfire has been built as a haunted house, an aircraft, a 150's motor garage and a massive Juke box. The display begins with dancers and a show in the bonfire with music carrying on the theme, and then slowly the bonfire goes up and it is followed by a massive fireworks display. The fireworks are very very loud, so think carefully about taking very young children as I had to fight my way out with a screaming 3 year old one year. It really is spectacular and is completely free, although volunteers are everywhere collecting for the Rotary Club. A fun fair is also in place for the event, but as it is so busy we never bother.
We absolutly love visiting Bitts park and with the kids can make a whole day of it in nice weather at almost no cost. It's incredibly well maintained and clean with gorgeous lawns and flower area's and the scenic river walk as well as the brilliant children's play area.
The park is open daily from 8.30pm until dusk. It is well gaurded with park security very visible and I have always felt safe, even later at night walking through. The park does attract groups of teenagers occassionally, but I have found these usually to be just regular kids rather than thugs, and the park keepers keep everything in control on the rare occassion they have become a nuisance.
I would highly recommend a visit to anyone in the Area.
For horticulturists, this park is a dream. The beautiful flower beds are vibrant with colour and life!