If we’re going to splash out, I prefer experiences we’ll all remember, rather than things. I’d rather we created Christmas memories than cluttered our lives with yet more stuff.
So I was delighted when Greater Anglia offered us a family train trip to Cambridge, so we could try skating at The North Pole, cunningly located in the middle of Parkers Piece.
The North Pole isn’t just an ice rink, there’s also a fun fair and stalls selling food and drink, and it’s open every day until January 6. Our children have never been ice skating before, so they were particularly excited. Here’s my review, including top tips and money saving advice.
Taking the train
Travelling by train is such a relief.
I don’t like driving, so the burden always falls on my husband. But if we go by train, we can all sit back and relax, without worrying about delays for traffic jams, accidents or loo breaks. The tables on trains make it easier for the kids to draw or play games. Plus, if they start squabbling, it’s much easier to switch seats.
Luckily, there’s a direct train from Ipswich to Cambridge which takes an hour and 20 minutes, and leaves once an hour on Saturdays. (Full timetable on the Greater Anglia website)
For our family of two adults and two children, tickets would normally cost £54.40 for an off peak day return. However, with a Family & Friends railcard*, which costs £30 for the entire year, the price comes down to £30.90. That £23.50 saving virtually covers the cost of the railcard in a single trip.
Station parking at Ipswich only costs £3 for the entire day on Saturdays and Sundays, way cheaper than if we drove all the way to Cambridge and used a multi storey car park.
So on Saturday we got up bright and early to make a full day of it, and headed off to catch the 9.20am train. I had the best intentions about writing Christmas cards, but ended up reading a free copy of Metro picked up at the station. I took along our travel versions of Connect 4 and snakes and ladders, nabbed from charity shops, in case anyone got bored. Luckily the kids were happy to read their books and look out of the window, as we zipped through the East Anglian countryside, spotting places we’d visited like Needham Market, Stowmarket and Bury St Edmunds. I also doled out a train picnic, with multipack crisps, drinks and fruit, as we weren’t expecting to have lunch until quite late.
The train arrived promptly, and after pausing for photos by the Christmas tree outside the station, we headed off to The North Pole. The route is super easy – straight down the road outside the station, right at the T junction, then down to the cross roads by the big Our Lady & the English Martyrs Church, where you can see Parkers Piece off to the right, along Gonville Place. It took us 17 minutes from walking away from the station to walking into The North Pole.
Fun Fair at The North Pole
First – brace yourself for a full on festive soundtrack, with Mariah Carey and Slade on repeat.
The fun fair was a good size, not too big to be overwhelming for the kids (or adults concerned about losing them). We arrived just after 11am, so it wasn’t at all crowded, and most of the other people were families too. I can imagine it gets busier later on!
There was a good selection of rides, with options for small children including mini hovercraft, a little aeroplane roundabout and a caterpillar rollercoaster, right through to the full on waltzers and ‘shake your brains out while spinning you up in the air’ rides (technical term).
The ride prices seemed pretty standard. It’s easy to spend a ton of money at fun fairs, so we negotiated with the kids beforehand about choosing three rides each. To give you an idea of costs, they went for the bungree tramplines at £4 each, waltzer at £3 each and dodgems at £4 a car.
We passed on the hook a duck – ‘guaranteed a prize every time’ ie please pay £4.50 for a squishy – and I rejected the rifle range as it used corks instead of air gun pellets. Corks are no good for sharp shooting, I tell you.
Food and drink at The North Pole
As a nod to winter wonderland, the standard burgers, pizza and coffee are served from wooden alpine huts. There’s even a German sausage hut (not even joking) and Alpine bar advertising mulled wine.
We decided to sit down and defrost, so we parked up on one of the wooden picnic tables. We didn’t fork out for fairground food, but did treat the kids to extra fancy hot chocolate complete with marshmallows, squirty cream and Cadbury’s flake at £3.50 a pop. The kids were also particularly taken by the colourful candy stall with multiple flavours of fudge.
Skating at The North Pole
The ice rink at The North Pole looks fab. It’s got a clear roof, so you can skate whatever the weather, but the sides are open above the barriers so non-skaters can watch or supervise their offspring. Skating sessions run on the hour, every hour, starting at 12 noon during the week and 11am at weekends and running through to the last session from 8pm.
Tickets for 45 minutes on the ice, including skate hire, cost £12.50 for an adult, £10.50 for children from 3 to 12, and £11 for pretty much everyone else (oldies, students, job seekers, kids aged 13, 14 and 15). You can save slightly with a family ticket at £41 for 2 adults and 2 children or £39 for 1 adult and 3 children. If you’re likely to go often, The North Pole also offers season tickets.
Our family ticket was booked online in advance, but we met up with friends who bought tickets at the booth just beforehand, with no problems about availability.
You need to get there about 15 minutes beforehand to swap your shoes for skates, dump bags and so on. There are small lockers for a non refundable £2, but the staff were also happy to bung bags on top of the skate shelves for free.
The ice skates provided were robust and looked pretty new. I found it reasonably easy staggering around on dry land – but boy was it different on the ice!
Top tip for kids who haven’t skated before: it is so worthwhile shelling out a fiver each for the plastic penguins coyly referred to as ‘skate aids’ on The North Pole website. You can’t book them in advance, but there were plenty to go round. The penguins meant by 9 year old and nearly 11 year old could happily sail round the rink, even though they’d never tried skating before. After a few minutes finding their feet, my husband and our friends also glided out onto the ice. I’m hopeless at skating, so I stayed within grabbing distance of the barriers throughout, but even I got (slightly) more confident as the session continued.
We went to the 1pm session, when the other skaters were mainly families with kids and younger teens. It was a relief that the rink wasn’t too crowded, and there weren’t any speed demons pushing past unsteady skaters.
We all fell over at some stage, but the kids slipped several times, and ended up with wet clothes as there was water on the ice rink. If we went again, I’d take spare trousers. As it was, we were glad to be going back for a late lunch with our friends, as it meant the kids could borrow clothes while their own went through the tumble drier (many thanks Victoria!).
After the rides and skating session at The North Pole, we headed back to our friends’ house for pizza and pasta bake. En route, we admired the Christmas lights and decorations, pottered through a couple of parks and spotted swans on the Cam.
We spent a sociable afternoon, but I’m also going to plug Cambridge as a great place to visit in winter. I’ve blogged before about our trip to the Botanic Garden and a punt tour in summer, but Cambridge has loads of stuff suitable for winter weather too, from the Fitzwilliam and other assorted museums to all the opportunities for Christmas shopping. You can check out other Christmas events for families on the Visit Cambridge website.
Previous post: Fun family trip to Cambridge by train
At the end of the afternoon, we made it to the station for the 5.47pm train. After the walking, skating and fresh air, it was a relief to collapse, and let Greater Anglia whisk us home!
Turns out slipping and sliding round an ice rink is surprisingly tiring, but we had a brilliant time. It was a really fun going somewhere different, doing something really different, and catching up with friends.
Now – over to you. Any Christmas outings planned? Do share in the comments, I’d love to hear!
DISCLAIMER: We were given free rail travel, station parking and tickets to ice skating at The North Pole as part of the Greater Anglia #daysoutbytrain campaign, in exchange for this post. However, all views are my own.
*indicates an affiliate link, so anything you buy through it will help support the blog, as I will get a small commission at no cost to you. Many thanks!