“ Address: Nine Mile Ride, Finchampstead, Berkshire, RG40 4HT / Telephone: 0118 934 2016. „
California Country park, far from being situated on the west coast of America is a park and lake which is situated in Finchampstead, near to Wokingham in Berkshire and is run and owned by the Borough council.
Back in the 1930's and 1940's, many a day tripper on a "mystery tour" found themselves in Californa Country Park, the entrepreneur who owned it at the time having taken the name from the nearby collection of shops and post office. It must have been quite exotic in its heyday, as one could swim, see racing on the speedway, go boating, visit a small zoo and miniature railway and even dance on a glass dance floor which allegedly contained parts of the Crystal palace.
Nowadays California Country Park's glorious history is a long distant memory, long gone along with that dance floor; what remains is a lake, cafe, and play area with a large paddling pool that still delights the locals who visit the 100 acres of park. The boating, train and swimming possibilites may be no more, but there is still plenty for visitors to enjoy.
The country park is free for all, though there is a £1 charge for parking and if you visit you should be sure to stop at the machine at the entrance as it is the only one on the whole site. There is also a campsite within the park, a nod to the park's previous day tripper haven incarnation - at one point there was a holiday camp here, but now there is just a collection of mobile homes and some camping pitches.
If you visit you can find out all about the park's glory days by visiting the cafe, which is open every day from 10am and is extremely good value, and rather exotically named "California Dreaming". I have eaten many a yummy square of millionaire's shortbread there whilst my children play in the inside play area - there are a couple of rides and a little tikes kitchen that keep them occupied for a little while whilst I relax with a coffee generally.
The play area outside has baby swings, a slide and for older children there is a zip wire and various things to climb on. Recently Wokingham borough council planned to improve this area and applied for various grants - as far as I know they were not successful, and the future development of the park is uncertain. In the meantime the play area is good enough fun for children, there is a good area for older children with balancing beams and chains to walk across, and for younger ones a little slide and swings suffice. On sunny days you can also pay £1.10 per child (fee payable at the aforementioned parking machine) for them to use the rather splendid paddling pool that is featured in the picture. This is fully manned and has clean, filtered water and there are tight controls over the number of accompanied children allowed into this area. It can get very busy on hot days and the romantic side of me likes to imagine that the atmosphere is like that back in the 1930's heyday - the park becomes a little corner of holiday in the woods.
Walk around the lake - at 0.9 miles just the right length for little legs if you have the children with you, and you will see many different species of wildlife. The poor ducks must get fed up of the sight of bread proffered by well-meaning toddlers - bags of stale bread can be purchased from the cafe for 20p if you forget your own. There is also a 2.2 mile woodland walk for the energetic, whilst the more laid back no doubt enjoy the fishing - permits also available from, guess where, the car park machine. The paths are pretty well maintained and a favourite for dog walkers and children on scooters and the like - it really is a lovely place for a walk.
We often go to a park for an hour and end up staying much longer, it is the kind of place that you can go to and not watch the time and where there are special events from time to time - the local NCT organise scavenger hunts, and recently there were bikes back from the speedway days on show too. The cafe used to have a little make your own pottery area, but this is no more and I think also awaits development. In the meantime after a short walk the cafe is a great place for a piece of toast or a more copious snack, and is also where the toilets are situated. The building being a little old the toilets are quite basic and a little dingy, but they are always clean and there is a small baby changing area and disabled toilet - disabled parking is also available just outside the cafe.
California Country Park is a great place to visit if you are in the area, I think these days you would be pretty disappointed if it were your mystery tour destination, but it is still a place that I love to visit in every season, rain or shine. Sometimes, just sometimes when the sun is shining, with icecream in hand and the sound of my children happily splashing in the paddling pool I almost could imagine myself in the real California, and for a hard-pushed to spend a fiver visit, that's not bad!
Nine Mile Ride
RG40 4HT 0118 934 2016
It is a little known fact, unless of course you live in the area that there is a small part of California hidden in Berkshire. I am talking about California Country Park which is a lovely large country park that is great for a day out with children. It is run by Wokingham District Council and has about 100 acres of woodland, lakes, play areas and cafeteria. It is very easy to spend a good few hours here without ever hearing your children tell you that they are bored!
California Country Park is located in Finchampstead which is just outside Wokingham and about ten miles from Reading. It is well sign posted in Finchampstead and when you get there there are plenty of parking spaces. You do have to pay a £1 to park between 10 am and 4 pm but there are signs up saying that all of this money goes towards the upkeep of the park which is good to know.
There are plenty of woodland walks. The most popular walk is a circular one which takes you all around the large lake which is at the centre of the park. This walk takes about half an hour but I'm not quite sure of the distance - probably about a mile. The good thing about this walk is that there is actually a tarmacked path all the way round so it is entirely suitable for wheelchair users, prams and pushchairs, as well as for children riding their bikes. The path is also quite wide so you can walk together as a family rather than playing follow the leader! There is a longer more wooded and rugged walk which takes you further out into the woods and that is just over for two miles. This one I would say is more just for walkers.
The lakeland walk is lovely if you are interested in the birds that live on the lake. There is not a huge range but on most days you are likely to see mallards, coots, moorhens, gulls, greylag and canada geese. I have even seen an egyptian goose on occasions and sometimes see woodpeckers pecking up in the trees. There is also one goose which we seem to have got to know quite well - a very noticeable one footed greylag who can often be seen hopping about! Lots of people do bring bread to feed the birds and there are also a number of benches around the lake if you want to stop for a rest!
When I go here with my daughters we tend to do the walk around the lake first and then end up at the playgrounds. There is a small area for very young children but this only consists of a couple of baby swings anda double slide. This does not nearly seem enough considering the number of very young children who go to the park. When my daughters were younger we seemed to wait ages waiting for the swings to become available and you were quite reliant on other parents not allowing their children to hog them! Having said this though, when the children are a little bit older the park really does cater for them well as there is a fantastic adventure playground. This is pretty much all built out of logs and rope with climbing nets, balancing poles and planks and things to swing across using their arms. The main attraction though is what I would describe as a long metal rope which has a sort of seat which the children cling onto and zoom from one end to the other. This is enormous fun and both my girls love it so much. It also encourages them to take turns as there is always a queue and they have to be patient while other children go before them!
In summer there is also a large paddling pool. This is fully manned by a lifeguard eben though it isn't very deep. There is a small charge for the children to use this but it's only about 50p which is really not very much considering the amount of enjoyment they get. It's amazing just how busy this place gets in the summer, and on really hot afternoons it is absolutely teeming with families.
We always like to have a meal or a snack in the cafeteria which is called 'California Dreamin' Everything seems really reasonably priced to me. You can have a coffee for £1.20 and children's cartons of fruit juice are just 60p. They have a wide range of very tempting snacks - unfortunately for my waistline I have just discovered their very delicious carrot cake which is only £1.20 a slice! If you want to have lunch they have a small menu. A lot of the meals are with chips but they do some healthier paninis and sandwiches with a vast range of fillings for only £3.25. The children's menu is very reasonably priced too at just £2.20 for main meals- again these are mostly with chips, but as we're having a treat out I don't mind too much!
There is also a small play area in the cafe with quite a few largish toys for the children to play on. This is great as you don't need to worry about entertaining them while they're waiting for food, but at the same time they are very visible to you! This also provides the opportunity for mums and dads to have a read of the free newspapers which are provided!
Also, nestled in a small area of the cafe is 'Clay mates'. Here children can either make their own pottery or they can choose plates, coasters, etc to paint. My daughters really enjoy this activity and they are guided by a very nice lady. The activity costs £3 and then on top of that you pay for the object they have painted. As the objects have to be fired though, you can't ake them away there and then which is a consideration if you have travelled a distance, and also might be quite disappointing for some children.
So overall I would really recommend California Country Park as a great day out for the family and it really does not cost you very much at all! I also like it because pretty much every thing there is to do is what I would call 'old fashioned fun. Whenever we go there my daughters always come back tired and happy and full of everything they have been doing!
California Country Park is set within 100 acres of rare ancient bogland and lowland heath. It offers a wealth of walking and wildlife watching opportunities for visitors.