For most families, those two weekend days are so precious. One normally consisting of doing the weekly food shop, finding soggy school letters at the bottom of the bag, and desperately trying to get through the washing before the PE kit day comes around again. (We’ve all been there!) And sometimes, we simply don’t have the time to plan for that ‘other’ day – where should we go? Will it matter if it rains? What will the kids eat? Can we take the kids there without getting weird looks? 

If you are looking for the ‘complete package’ in a wonderful family day out in Edinburgh, look no further!

We were lucky enough to be invited to Dalkeith Country Park, to review their brand new play area, the Mini Maze, and the newly re-opened restaurant, The Kitchen.

As children ourselves, we have so many fond memories of visiting Dalkeith Country Park, and it was brilliant back then. It has since been given a new lease of life and reopened in 2016 after substantial investment. As well as beautiful country walks, the park is also home to The Restoration Yard which, with its cafe, restaurant, shop and Wellness Lab, is very much the town centre. It really is a beautiful courtyard and instantly instils calmness within its visitors.

The Kitchen

After a browse and a purchase at the shop (couldn’t help myself!), we arrived at the main sit down restaurant at The Restoration Yard. The Kitchen, is open for breakfast and also has a lunch menu starting at 11am. 

To summarise my initial reaction, I turned to my husband and declared, “this is exactly the vibe I want in our house!” The atmosphere and decor is just fantastic – a wonderful mix of original features, modern touches, and a sprinkle of quirkiness. The tables displayed old kitchen equipment and the birdcage lampshades were a big hit with our own little Wren bird!

What quickly became apparent to us was how integral the staff were in creating the relaxing and warm atmosphere. Being greeted with smiles by all, everyone was more than happy to help us in any way, but also gave us space to enjoy our time there, which I personally really value when being in a restaurant. We were also really impressed by how accommodating they were for young children. The high chair provided was absolutely spotless, the kids menu had plenty of nutritious choice, and they even supplied her with her own cup and cutlery!

We chose to eat the RY beef burger with cheese, and the vegan lentil and aubergine lasagne, accompanied by a couple of welcomed coffees. The Kitchen for sure delivers on great tasting, wholesome food, and there really is something for every member of the family on their seasonal menu. The portion sizes were extremely generous for lunch, which can only be a great thing!

The Mini Maze at Fort Douglas

From the moment you spot Fort Douglas high above the river, all of those childhood fairytales come flooding back. The turreted treehouses among the autumnal surroundings truly make it such a magical place. It is made up of two main areas: the Sky Maze which is aimed at children ages five and up, and the brand new Mini Maze which is specifically designed for toddlers, ages two to four years.

The experience begins the moment you walk past the Fort Douglas sign, crossing the bridge over the water and are met by a wonderful woodland cabin. What we really appreciated is that everything you would need during your visit to the play area was available – a food and drinks cabin for a little treat, and family toilets. They’ve thought of everything! As you wander (or in Wren’s case, run!) up the hill, the true magic of Fort Douglas starts to appear through the trees.

It has be one of the most unique play areas we’ve ever visited. The Mini Maze itself is such a cleverly designed feature, with twists and turns and hidden spots, yet parents can easily run around with their little one too. That’s always a sign of a great play park – seeing BOTH parents wanting a turn of ‘helping’ their kids! Numerous slides, ladders, little staircases and fun bridges, it kept Wren entertained for over an hour!! She even set up a little make believe coffee shop through one of the Fort’s windows!

In addition to the main Maze itself, there is also a variety of different play equipment to suit many interests and varying stages of development. A more traditional low-key climbing frame, swings, and an obstacle course sit in front of the Mini Maze, alongside picnic benches for the adults to claim as their ‘base camp.’ Wren absolutely adored the wooden transport structures in this area too, which did a great job at sparking her imagination. At one point, we realised all three of us were sitting on the train on an imaginary ride to the seaside!

Playing Together

That is one of Fort Douglas’s greatest achievements – it is a play experience for all of the family to be involved in and it does it so seamlessly. Our favourite feature of the toddler area was the double swing, which essentially is an ‘adult’ and a ‘toddler’ swing attached. It allows you (or an older sibling) to participate in the fun, and watch those lovely smiles as you face one another. Wren also really enjoyed the toddler zip lines which really aren’t as scary as they may sound! Super safe, and perfectly designed to excite and thrill the smaller members of the family. We couldn’t stop laughing!

What ever the weather!

A fully outdoor play area may fill some parents with that dreaded weather thought, however it rained pretty much the entire time we were there and it really didn’t affect our experience. Yes, you do have to wrap up warm and don those waterproofs, but it’s pretty well sheltered from the wind so we very quickly forgot it was so wet! The only note I would make is that some areas were rather muddy which made it trickier for the little ones to get around. However, the staff at Fort Douglas did mention that they were closing for a few days to make those areas more winter weatherproof by improving drainage!

At Fort Douglas, paid entry (check out the website for details of costs for on/off peak times) is required for both children and adults. However, don’t let this put you off. In our opinion, it really does beat any soft play type alternative, and if you make use of the full time slot, it is certainly worth every penny.

Dalkeith Country Park really does offer every ingredient to the perfect family day out. Delicious food in a beautiful setting, a shop full of luxurious treats, and the most incredible play environment. Fort Douglas’s Mini Maze is such a welcome delight for all young families, especially in a year in which entertaining a toddler outdoors has been such a lifeline.

Fort Douglas is re-opening Tuesday (17th November 2020) for more pre-school adventures. The Mini Maze opened just as lockdown began, however now is the IDEAL time to visit with your littles ones. It is such a fantastic accomplishment that really deserves all the best credit!

We were invited to Dalkeith Country Park for the purposes of this review – but all thoughts, words and images are our own! A huge thank you to Dalkeith Country Park for having us, treating us to lunch and entry to Fort Douglas. Thanks to you too for supporting the brands that help keep Edinburgh with Kids going!

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