Perfect Guests: Donna Collins-O'Brien's Preston Park, Brighton

Buried by deadlines a couple of months ago, I did a shout out for guest posts. I’ve had a couple of responses and am hoping more of these great posts will appear on Little Lewes as I continue to epically fail to keep it updated myself.

One of those kindly souls was Donna Collins-O’Brien, who is also a friend of mine. She has lived in Lewes all her life and is a great source of knowledge on the places surrounding it.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been to Preston Park. But after this perfect guest’s perfect post on it, I’ll be looking to rectify that. Thank you, Donna!

girl-in-rock-garden

DONNA COLLINS-O’BRIEN’S PERFECT DAY AT PRESTON PARK, BRIGHTON 

Preston Park is a firm favourite of my family’s for many reasons. I love that it’s nearby, it’s huge and it has something for all ages. It’s also free, both of charge and of stress (that one gets me every time!). Boxes ticked. Perfect.

The day this post’s pictures were taken, my toddler was at nursery. It was half term and I took the chance to have a girls day with my six-year-old daughter and her friend. We drove to Preston Park and, unencumbered for a day by a buggy and nap routines, went fully with the flow while embracing a rare dry day in February.

children-on-a-muddy-path

Getting there

It took us 15 minutes by car. We parked easily on the side road parallel to the park. Charges are reasonable (found on the website) – £2 for four hours.

You can also get the train to nearby Preston Park Station, changing at Brighton. The station is approximately 10 minutes’ flat walk from the park.

Websites

Preston Park: brighton-hove.gov.uk/content/leisure-and-libraries/parks-and-green-spaces/preston-park

Preston Manor: brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk/Museums/prestonmanor/Pages/home.aspx

St Peter’s Church: stpetersprestonpark.co.uk

Friends of Preston Park (for a little history): friendsofprestonpark.org/?page_id=103

Why we love Preston Park

map-preston-rock-garden

The Rock Garden

The kids headed straight to Preston Rock Garden, across the busy main road running along one side of the park. I too went to the Rock Garden as a child, and have fond memories of the steppingstones across the pond. There’s not a place like it.

child-stepping-stones

The girls were similarly enchanted, hopping nimbly over the stones and up on the bridge as they enacted ‘The Billy Goats Gruff.’

They enjoyed spotting the first signs of spring: daffodils and crocuses beginning to carpet the grass around the lake. Park staff were busy planting, pruning and spreading fertiliser all over the park (for this reason the Rose Garden in the main park was “a bit stinky”. Why are kids so fascinated with poo?!).

preston-rock-garden

The Rock Garden is, in summer, a vibrant mix of beautiful colours. This day it was a little damp, but no less magical for the girls, who found rabbit holes as they explored.

rock-garden

A word of warning: the Rock Garden is not buggy-friendly, nor would I recommend it for those who are unsteady on their feet. The steps are uneven and, made of natural stone, were very slippery in places the day we went. It’s not a place I would have attempted with my 19-month-old.

But the older girls loved it, and despite it being half term, we had the whole place to ourselves!

The Park

child-in-park

Back in the main park, the kids raced around reading remembrance signs on benches, and stamping in the mud. This is definitely a great place for mud-squelching, puddle-jumping and stick-hunting. And because of that I’d recommend bringing wellies and a spare change of clothes.

muddy-puddles

The park itself is toddler-, buggy-, and dog-friendly (although dogs are not allowed in the Rock Garden or kids playground). It hosts various things throughout the year: sports, Pride, and family events. And it’s easy to see why.

children-scooting

There’s so much space for kids to roam, and as it’s so flat it’s perfect for scooters, bikes and rollerblades. Its easy going, friendly vibe makes it feel, well…nice.

children-map-reading

This day the park offered us the first use of a recent birthday gift: a nature explorer’s guide. The girls ran off looking for trees, plants, animals and bugs to tick off their list, and were delighted to find a grey squirrel (which isn’t on the list!).

natural-bbq

While exploring we found tree stumps that have been cleverly converted into safe BBQ areas. It was agreed that these were “awesome” and that we’ll come back in the summer day for a sausage sizzle.

The Playground

preston-park-playground

We hit the playground next. We love and have spent hours here on sunnier days. Again it has it all: traditional play equipment with the more robust/unusual stuff (you know, the climbing frames that can accommodate parents needing to clamber after their more adventurous kids!).

It has separate areas for toddlers and the whole space is covered with sand. Bringing a bucket and spade in summer is a good idea.

I lost the girls to a contraption that moves sand from one place to another while they pretended to make pies and cakes for the King and Queen of some imagined land.

sand-play-preston-park

That’s why I love it. It’s so simple it allows kids to be kids and lose themselves in pretend play and magical thinking. They happily pottered for over an hour while I sat at one of the picnic tables and drafted this post. In the summer any lawn space is taken with picnic blankets so you can easily spend an entire day here.

The Cafés

rotunda-cafe-preston-park

We headed to one of the two cafés and the toilets – The Rotunda. The kids felt the need to check out the café because apparently “it’s never too cold for ice cream.”

I’ve eaten here before. The food is hearty, the café spacious in a no frills way, and the staff are friendly. Sandwiches are around £4 and jacket spuds around £5. They also have a two-meals-for-£10 deal when you buy off the specials board.

The Rose Garden

gold-statue

The Rotunda sits on the edge of the Rose Garden, home to two life-size statues rendered in gold. The kids loved them as they provided an opportunity for shelter during a game of hide and seek. The Rose Garden is also great scooter territory – we started there before heading off around the perimeter of the park.

There’s a small pond that has steps within it to bridge the gap between the Rotunda and the Rose Garden. The kids were thrilled to find frogs and newts (on the list!), which are so rarely seen this close up.

When asked what the highlight of the day was for them, this was it. That and the steppingstones in the Rock Garden.

All in all

child-in-park

We spent three solid hours at Preston Park, and could easily have stayed longer. Preston Manor and St Peter’s Church sit next to the main park. We’ve picnicked in the grounds before when my daughter was small. It offers a more enclosed and peaceful experience, and youngsters are contained.

But today saw me leave with two very happy, very tired little girls. Boxes ticked.

preston-park-brighton

Disclosure: Neither Donna nor I received any compensation – financial or otherwise – for this post on Preston Park. She is one of several kind people who have offered to share their favourite place or activity near Lewes with the blog’s readers. Thank you again Donna.

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I’m Kate, a copywriter, brand consultant and editor who creates messages that are clear and clean. I create these for brands and agencies both big and boutique, in areas including design, homes and interiors, travel, fashion, lifestyle, beauty, food, and kids and families. I believe clear, clean messages bolster brands and businesses. They evoke emotion and ignite inspiration, and when written well, they’re easier to absorb – and respond to. I live in Copenhagen and am half-English, half-Danish. I write as comfortably in American English as in British, and behind the scenes I'm also studying Danish. Need help getting your message out? Contact me.

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