Linda Harrison enjoys a weekend at Stracey Cottage East Yorkshire and a visit to William’s Den…
Most parents of young children will be familiar with soft play.
A sterile, plastic-filled room with ball pits, slides, climbing equipment and artificial light – usually to a background of banging Disney tunes.
To me, it’s the stuff of nightmares. I’d sworn off such organised play venues in favour of a trip to the park with my son long ago.
Then I was invited to William’s Den.
Christian and Tor Carver, who set up William’s Den in a corner of their farm in East Yorkshire last year, describe it as “Enid Blyton meets Bear Grylls”.
They aimed to recreate the freedom and adventure of their own childhoods, growing up on farms nearby.
After five years of research, they set about creating a massive adventure playground built out of natural materials that aimed to bring the outside in.
Named after their son, William, it has a giant tree house inside plus acres of outside space to run wild in. I knew our four year old, Harry, would love it.
So with a very excited little boy, we packed the car and set off for a weekend adventure. For not only can you spend a whole day at William’s Den but Christian and Tor have three, award-winning luxury cottages – Estate Escapes – situated just five minutes’ drive away in the beautiful Yorkshire Wolds.
So you can make a little holiday of it.
We spent our weekend at Stracey Cottage East Yorkshire, a pretty Five Star Gold Georgian cottage at the entrance to the grand country estate of Hotham.
It’s a great location; rural but with loads to do nearby. Not only is the gorgeous parkland of the estate right outside your front door, perfect for walks, runs or cycling, you’re also a short drive from York and Hull. Meanwhile, you’ve got David Hockney country on your doorstep while Scarborough or the North York Moors are a day trip.
Starting our stay at Stracey Cottage East Yorkshire on the Friday evening, and kicking off our shoes after a hectic week at work, felt wonderful. The cottage, set off the road with private parking, is an oasis of calm.
We collapsed onto the two sofas in the cosy living room and checked out the kitchen, complete with window seat. There’s also a handy utility room with washing machine and downstairs loo, and the cottage is well equipped for kids, with a highchair, stairgate and child-friendly crockery.
Outside is a patio area and garden with a woodshed piled with logs.
Upstairs, there’s a generous double bedroom and twin bedroom plus bathroom with roll top bath and separate shower. The whole cottage feels really warm and welcoming.
Once Harry was tucked up in bed, we lit the woodburner and settled down for the evening with the bottle of prosecco we’d found chilling for us in the fridge.
We were awake early after a great night’s sleep and sat in bed marveling at the quiet. If you spend time at Stracey Cottage East Yorkshire you’ll be situated in such a tranquil spot; you’ve only got the birdsong as background noise. After breakfast – mainly spent watching the sheep in the field opposite – we headed off for the day’s adventure.
Driving up to William’s Den is very impressive; the building is new, immaculate and contemporary.
Inside, the natural light is wonderful, with floor to ceiling windows letting in the sweeping country views.
We were greeted at reception and advised about William’s Den’s play policy; youngsters must be supervised by an adult at all times, shoes are kept on (it’s real wood), and kids need to wear a William’s Den wristband – parents write on their mobile number for peace of mind.
We headed off to explore ‘The Den’, a huge airy play area made with natural materials like wood and rope – the centrepiece is the hollow oak tree with different levels and climbing apparatus. It’s magical, very ‘Faraway Tree’.
We followed Harry into the sandpit and running water areas. Parents are encouraged to play with their kids, not just sit and watch – although you can do that if you prefer, and with a decent coffee. The idea is for kids to be challenged but in a safe environment. They can go paddling in the water (bring a towel and change of clothes) and jump on (and off) anything they like. You just need to supervise.
Harry loved climbing on the rope-ball swing and playing hide and seek inside the tree before racing over the bridges and through the suspended rope tunnels to explore the upper levels.
Most kids were well behaved compared to other play centres – maybe a combination of their parents joining in the fun and the background sounds of running water and chilled music (no Disney here).
William’s Den is big on its green credentials. Most of its electricity comes from solar panels on the roof, there’s a biomass boiler fuelled by wood pellets and the walls are partly made from hemp blocks grown locally. Even the loos (open plan and unisex) are powered by a system to re-use rainwater.
Lunch was also a complete contrast to any organised play attraction I’d visited before. The Kitchen Table restaurant in the restored stone and brick barn has a wood fired oven serving really excellent pizzas, plus they make their own burgers from locally sourced meat and ‘proper’ fish fingers.
The award winning ice cream is freshly made in their parlour with ingredients from a local creamery – we went back for seconds of the chocolate. You can also get light snacks and food-to-go, or they’re happy for you to bring a picnic.
Full of pizza and ice cream, we headed outside. The outdoor play area has something for all ages with zipwires, tyre swings and a sandpit. Harry headed straight to the wooden frames in the den making area to join a group of excited kids.
Various wigwam-type dens were built from sticks, knocked down, and rebuilt during a few riotous hours in the fresh air.
There are a couple of foodie options nearby – gastropub The Star Inn at Sancton came highly recommended: but we were looking forward to another night in front of the woodburner.
After a soak in the rolltop bath, we sank into bed for an early night.
William’s Den is a fab place, as enjoyable for parents as it is fun for kids.
Combined with a couple of nights in one of Tor and Christian’s cottages, it’s the perfect balance of play and relaxation – what more could you ask for from a family weekend break?
A weekend at Stracey Cottage East Yorkshire without flying:
The nearest train station is Brough – about seven miles from the village of Hotham. Trains take about two and a half hours from King’s Cross. Hull Trains run a direct service, or you can change at Doncaster.
You’ll find Stracey Cottage off the M62, 16 miles west of Hull and 21 miles south east of York.
To book your stay at Stracey Cottage visit: www.estateescapes.co.uk
For more information on William’s Den visit: www.williamsden.co.uk
Words: Linda Harrison for Feet on the Ground
Pictures: Linda Harrison/Estate Escapes
Feet on the Ground: travel without flying, UK holidays without flying, luxury travel without flying, travel without flying for families, no-fly travel ideas, Stracey Cottage East Yorkshire.