What?: As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve always quite enjoyed the weird ghost-town Grand Theft Auto vibe that emanates from this strange post-industrial corner of London. I bloody love this city, but sometimes I tire of the constant onslaught of humanity, the tatty edges and the sooty air. In the five years since the London 2012 closing ceremony’s final pyrotechnic pop, however, the old Olympic Village has provided a welcome respite with its peaceful avenues, gleaming architecture and pockets of greenery. It feels strange to see it slowly transform into an actual place where actual people go. Every time we visit it feels slightly more buzzing; the streets slightly busier, the trees slightly taller and usually with a new venue, cafe or shop having popped up around the periphery of the park while we were gone.
The park’s two playgrounds, on the other hand, have never not been busy; and fair enough, they’re good. The first, the Pleasure Gardens play area, lies in the shadow of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, Anish Kapoor’s twisted metal viewing platform that can be hurtled down in 30 seconds by way of the world’s longest tunnel slide by (brave) over-eights, and consists of a huge red climbing wall and the Waterworks Fountain, an enormous water-play sculpture made up of 195 individual, computer-controlled water jets, as well as various swings and things.
The second is the Tumbling Bay Playground, which sits at the northern end of the park and has a much more organic feel with its treetop walkways, rock pools and sand pits. Bab the water baby was predictably hypnotised by the trickling, hand-operated water pumps, which have an annoying habit of being commandeered by older, often extremely territorial toddlers and can escalate into a Kevin Costner’s Waterworld situation if you’re unlucky enough to encounter a particularly tap-happy child. This is bad news for those with older babies or younger toddlers who, like me, will probably just have to swallow their nerves and position themselves behind their offspring, arms poised to prevent a hideous accident. Parents of sitters, however, can simply position their little dwarf in one of the tepid puddles surrounding the pumps, where they can merrily splash the day away. Lucky bastards.
Where?: QEOP is located on the former site of the 2012 Olympics, alongside Westfield Stratford City and on the banks of the River Lea. The nearest stations are Stratford (Central, Jubilee, DLR, Ginger, mainline), Hackney Wick (Ginger), Leyton (Central) and Puddling Mill Lane (DLR).
Best Bits: The park itself is lush and there’s more than enough going on to keep you and your toddler occupied, but if you fancy branching out then why not have a wander around the nearby East Village with its tranquil streets, embarrassment of cool eateries and Insta-worthy Olive Loves Alfie East kids’ shop with its hip designer clothing, chic adult edit and informative programme of OLA Mama! workshops? Or why not check out Here East, the former Olympic media centre that’s being remodelled into a one-of-a-kind ‘digital hub’ and is already home a number of trendy, family-friendly cafes and restaurants, as well as hosting regular pop-up markets and kid-compatible events? And if all that fails, Westfield’s brilliant Biodiversity Playground and Roof East‘s urban rooftop park are both nearby, while the very cool Discover Children’s Story Centre is just a short walk through Stratford.
Worst Bits: We spent a large portion of our visit installed in front of one of the water pumps at the mercy of a four year old who alternated between screaming at us to stop pumping because he was “having a bath” and spewing phlegm into the pool of water that was forming at the pump’s base. I find that our visits to play fountains invariably play out like this, which is unfortunate as Bab is completely obsessed with water and once she’s located a source she will stand, transfixed and unwilling to move under any circumstances, toe-dipping, sliding around like an oily seal and swigging huge fistfuls of muddy, chlorinated pond swill until I spring up behind her, dump a hooded towel over her head and drag her away kicking and screaming to the inevitable fate of dry clothes and a warm bottle, like some kind of kindly kidnapper. I was also disappointed to find that the musical instruments garden we’d passed on our last visit – when Bab was too young to appreciate it – had mysteriously disappeared.
Facilities: There are cafes close to both playgrounds; both serving a variety of hot and cold drinks, snacks and light meals. The Timber Lodge Cafe sits alongside the Tumbling Bay Playground while the Podium Bar and Kitchen can be found at the base of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, close to the Pleasure Gardens play area.
Would We Come Back?: We’ve been here a few times now and discover something different every time. Hopefully next time we’ll discover that the musical instrument garden has mysteriously reappeared.
Bab installs herself in front of a water pump at the Tumbling Bay Playground, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford.