“Ooh, it’s a mess alright, yes it’s Mile End”. Typically for me, I couldn’t stop myself singing this as we wandered around Mile End today. And Jarvis, you were right. Mile End Park is a mess alright. Nathan described it as a park that someone had shattered with a hammer. On the map, it looks like a long, thin streak of green but it’s really not one park – it’s lots of bits of park, divided by busy roads, a railway and the occasional canal. Apparently it’s been created bit by bit, from land that used to be housing or factories. You can tell. Very confusing for us, and equally confusing for Roo, who kept demanding to go to “the park” and complaining when we kept having to leave the park to get to other bits of the park.
That’s not to say we didn’t have an enjoyable day out or that it wasn’t a nice park. It was just bizarre. I’ll start – to quote Fraulein Maria yet again – at the very beginning. Well, not the very beginning but the bit at which we left the predictable confines of the Northern Line for the excitement of the wizard train. The wizard train wasn’t strictly necessary, as we could have got the Central Line to Mile End but who refuses a chance to take the wizard train?!
So, we DLR’ed from Bank to Limehouse and Roo was suitably impressed by the rollercoaster-like feel as you come out into the open. Then we walked from Limehouse to the bottom end of Mile End Park, which Roo wasn’t quite so impressed with. He was imprisoned in buggy, on the charge of “being a bit mad on the platform”, and it was quite a trek. To explain, we were in Mile End to celebrate a friend’s birthday with a BBQ in the far North of the park. The newly renovated children’s playground was in the far South tip. And it is a very long park – as you can guess from our DLR trip, the bottom starts in Docklands and the top almost hits Victoria Park. So, it’s long. But I was reluctant to visit that part of the world without checking ou the play area, so we left the house two hours earlier than needed and started at the bottom, then covered the entire park. You too can do this with an 11-week-old and a 3-year-old. If you’re mad. But really, it wasn’t that bad.
We started in the playground, then. And it was worth the complex planning and the walking around random bits of East London. There was a huge, bumpy slide that I made the mistake of going down with both children in my arms. With our combined weight, it was hella fast. Roo and I whizzed off the end, but I managed to hold onto Eva so she at least had a soft landing. There was a wooden climbing frame (see above), flanked by some totem poles and a spiders-web climbing frame with a trampoline in the middle (luckily I have A&E on speed-dial). There was a small play area for small children, which was a bit tame for Roo’s taste. There was a cafe and picnic tables. There were swings and -according to the signs – some kind of water play on hot days. Though that it obviously restricted by the “drought” we’ve been in. Arf Arf. Anyway, the point is, there was a LOT to do. We could have spent a lot more time there.
The sandpit was pretty spectacular as well. It had the prettiest rainbow coloured bridge, and canoes stuck into the sand. Various sand toys scattered around, which was handy as we’d neglected to bring any for Roo and he was stomping around, declaring “I. Want. A. PADE” for a while. And talking of rainbow coloured things, check out these outdoor instruments:
Aww, pretty! So, the playground was a hit. It had the feel of somewhere new and well-designed. But we couldn’t stay there forever. No no. For we had a Moment to capture. The Olympic torch was passing through Mile End the exact same time we had planned to be there (this was co-incidental), so we set off to find it. Along the way, we encountered some friendly Christians who gave us free coffee and biscuits (hooray!) and then we climbed onto the Green Bridge to try and get a good vantage point.
The Green Bridge – for those of you unfamiliar with East London landmarks – is a bridge over the A11, which is entirely grassy. It’s bizarre – you would barely know you were crossing an A-Road. It’s also accessible by buggy via a set of broad steps on the south side and a slope on the north side. I didn’t fancy standing on the A11 itself, trying to hold Roo back, so we picked a spot just over the bridge where we could still see the relay.
And there it goes! Turns out that at that distance we had a good view but couldn’t see much in detail. And the torch is quite small, as is the person holding it. So it was a bit like watching a traffic jam (buses with adverts on, moving slowly), followed by some men running. A bit underwhelming, and Roo had no clue what was going on. But at least we could say we were there.
So onto the main event (don’t worry, I won’t talk too much about it) – a BBQ on the lawn in front of the Palm Tree pub. It also seemed to be the venue for a floating market – canal boats moored up against the side of the Regents’ Canal and were selling everything from antique books to Slovakian food. It was all very quirky and East London, but also very charming. In a way, I wished I had more cash on me to buy ice-creams and sweeties. In another way, I’m very glad I didn’t . Atop one boat, there was a mini-gig going on, under a parachute (see above) and -more excitingly – there was a curly-haired and friendly dog tied up opposite. Roo found the boats fascinating, and wandered along the canal with his Daddy, looking at everything. According to Nathan, they spotted some big fish. According to Reuben, they also spotted some eels, sea turtles, anglerfish and sharks. I blame Octonauts.
The market, sadly, is not a permanent fixture and will disappear with the Olympics. The canal boats and fish, I suspect, will still be there. So plenty more opportunities for small boys to waste the last of the grapes by feeding imaginary anglerfish. We also found a little slide in an overgrown bit just next to the pub car park.
VERDICT: Mile End Park is quirky, unpredictable, scary in parts but kinda fun to be around. Just like the rest of East London.