This week, the children and I had a brilliant day out in Norwich by train, thanks to Greater Anglia’s #lettheadventurebegin campaign. You may have spotted some of the pictures I posted at the time, over on Twitter.
Finding stuff to keep the kids entertained over the summer can be an tricky. There are only so many times you can trek to the local library, local park and local pool.
Luckily if you want explore further afield, Greater Anglia offer some bargain fares. Currently, adults can book off-peak tickets in advance for example from London for just a tenner to Norwich, £7 to Cambridge or £5 to Southend. Even better, accompanying children travel for just £2 each for off peak return trips. I’ve blogged before about how we snapped up low cost train tickets to visit the Olympic Park in Stratford or to see an exhibition about the Fire of London.
We were keen to visit Norwich, and when we were offered a train trip to try out some family-friendly activities, we jumped at the chance. And by jumped, I mean that quite literally, as our main destination was the Gravity trampoline park.
Norwich is a great place to visit by train, because loads of the main attractions are a short walk from the station, and if you don’t fancy too much walking, there’s even a bus stop outside for the hop-on, hop-off City Sightseeing bus. As well as bouncing and climbing at Gravity, we also crammed in a visit to the Plantation Garden and the museum in Norwich Castle.
Travelling by train
Our day started with the train journey from Manningtree to Norwich, which took less than an hour.
I’m a big fan of trains for lots of reasons. Since our elderly car packed up, my husband zips off to work in the remaining car, so I’m grateful to the trains for getting us around. I’m a nervous driver at the best of times, so the train is actually a great relief as someone else is doing all the driving. In fact it’s relaxing all round with no worries about maps, directions, sat nav oddities, traffic jams or where to park. I don’t have to keep an eye on the road, so can enjoy the beautiful scenery outside. The seats are comfortable and the children don’t have to be strapped in, so there’s less chance of squabbling.
Luckily as we were travelling off peak there was loads of space to spread out, and the children and I could nab a table. We’d packed some of the travel games liberated from charity shops, so got stuck into Connect 4, snakes and ladders and a rather strange version of chess as the train zoomed through the East Anglian countryside. Prefer screens? There were even plugs to charge up my smartphone battery.
Getting started at Gravity
Arriving at Norwich Station, it was only a few minutes walk to the Gravity trampoline park in the Riverside development – head out of the front of the station, look left along the road running beside the river Wensum, and you can see the big “Riverside” signs. Easy peasy. There’s also bowling, a gym, assorted restaurants and an Odeon cinema, if you fancy extending your visit.
We decided to visit Gravity first, so the children could burn off some energy, and boy did that work out.
Open Jump sessions start every half an hour, and we were booked for an hour session from 11am. We showed up 15 minutes or so before our slot, so we had time to check in, get our wristbands and fetching orange socks, put all our bags in the free lockers and watch the safety briefing video. You can also speed up the admin by signing the waiver forms online beforehand – just a matter of clicking through, putting in everyone’s names, gender and date of birth and scrolling through to accept the long terms and conditions.
My children were delighted to have their own lockers and create their own 4 digit codes. Top tip: put a memo on your phone with the locker numbers and codes just in case anyone forgets… Even if they do, the staff can still use a handy unlock code to liberate your belongings.
Think the kids were even more delighted by the refillable drinks though. For £4.95, you can buy a long skinny cup with a lid and straw, and then get unlimited refills of assorted fizzy drinks and several flavours of Star Slush. As I’m usually quite fierce with the children about sticking to water, fruit juice and milk, the prospect of slushies on tap nearly blew their minds.
It was actually really useful though – bouncing for an hour is an exhausting business. I was really glad my hot and sweaty offspring were so keen on drinking a lot, as they needed the extra fluid. We left the drinks on one of the tables by the trampolines, and they could nip back whenever they needed a drink, and get refills just by handing over their cups at the cafe and flashing their wristbands. My only criticism of Gravity would be that it did get pretty darn hot (my five-year-old’s comment: “IT’S GREAT! But sweaty”). Extra air conditioning might have cooled us down a bit!
Jumping up a storm at Gravity
So – the trampolines. After the safety video (a scary prospect listing 101 ways to break your bones if you don’t bounce sensibly) and a quick warm up led by a member of staff, we were unleashed on the trampolines. I should point out that bouncing is not compulsory – most of the other more sensible parents sat on the sidelines, with coffee, books and phones, while their little darlings bounced away.
However I didn’t want to miss out. Years ago, my husband gave me a trampolining course as a Christmas present, and it was huge fun, even if exhausting. If you’ve never been to a trampoline park before, there are loads and loads of trampolines you can bounce between, walls you can bounce off and obstacles you can bounce over.
There are also different areas with different activities. My son particularly likes dodge ball, when two teams bounce opposite each other, chucking a ball back and forth trying to hit the opposition. My daughter loved hurling herself onto the massive air bag. I liked trying to jump along and slam dunk through the basket ball hoops. We all loved the Gladiator-style battle beams, where you balance on a narrow beam, clutching a massive squashy pole and attempt to shove the other person off onto the enormous cushion below. There was also an area for under 5s, effectively shielded off so you couldn’t get older children leaping on top of toddlers.
The 11am start worked pretty well for us – the first half hour was quieter, so we could try out different stuff. Then a new wave of people started at 11.30am, so it got busier with more takers for dodge ball teams.
Climbing walls at Gravity
Afterwards, the children were even more excited when they got the chance to try the new Gravity Rocks climbing walls (I wimped out and watched at this point).
The climbing walls are at one side of the trampolines, past the cafe, with another set of tables for waiting parents. The children were each fitted with a harness, then got clipped onto ropes in front of different parts of the colourful climbing wall. The wall is divided into different sections, each with different things to climb – circular holes, coloured squares, ropes with ledges, traditional climbing grips and so on.
A staff member moved between different children, unclipping them when they’d finished, and reclipping them at the next section they wanted to try.
My daughter was keen to zoom up to the top and hit the big red buttons. My son isn’t so keen on heights, but even he liked climbing as far as he was comfortable, and then being lowered down on his rope. Trying out the climbing walls really was an adventure for my two, and they came away wide-eyed with excitement.
At Gravity, jumping or climbing costs £9.95 per person at peak times, but you can save with a combined ticket for a climb then jump for £15.95 a head. (Climbing first and jumping afterwards is a good plan). The special safety socks for trampolining cost £2.50 a pair. More info and booking here.
Hopping on the City Sightseeing Bus
We ended up spending a couple of hours in Gravity, before nipping back up the road, to the stop for the Norwich City Sightseeing bus which is bang outside the train station.
It provides a hop-on, hop-off tour on an open-topped double-decker bus, so we piled upstairs for the best view. You don’t have to book tickets in advance, but can just buy them from the driver when you first get on. Adult tickets cost £10 and children over 5 cost £5, but a family ticket is £25. Younger children travel for free.
A recorded tour told us about the history of Norwich and the buildings we were passing, including info on Norwich City Football Club, Colman’s Mustard and Julian of Norwich (a woman, as it turns out). I was actually surprised how much the children enjoyed listening to the tour and spotting the buildings mentioned.
The City Sightseeing bus has nine different stops, handy for the assorted shops, museums and cathedrals that Norwich has to offer, plus a pick up at the bus station and a more far flung stop at Mousehold Heath.
Picnic in Plantation Garden
We got off the bus at stop 9, the nearest stop for Plantation Garden, and the driver helpfully pointed out which turning to take. The garden was a few minutes walk away, down a little shopping street and over a bridge, beside the enormous Catholic cathedral.
Plantation Garden is a restored Victorian Garden, with plenty of plants for me, plus space and different walkways for the children to explore. I do love the chance to take photos for my #floweraday posts over on Instagram.
Entrance costs £2 a person, in the honesty box on the way in. There are formal flowerbeds and lawns, surrounded by steeply sloping sides with towering trees, walkways, a rustic bridge and a little summer house. Most of the walls were a strange Gothic collage of lumps of stone, window frame oddments and decorative carvings, all jumbled together.
After the excitement and pumping music at Gravity, Plantation Garden provided a peaceful and secluded spot for our picnic, with the fountain splashing in the background.
Capturing Norwich Castle
The only drawback to the hop-on, hop-off bus is that it runs once an hour, although the route does pass Norwich Castle every half hour. This means that unless you plan your visits carefully, you can end up with a while to wait for the next bus.
In practice, we decided to explore more of Norwich on foot. Nothing in the middle of medieval Norwich is too far away, so we could walk through the little shopping streets and past the market to Norwich Castle. The map on the City Sightseeing bus leaflet came in handy, and once you get closer the castle is pretty easy to find, as it towers above the surrounding area. Luckily there was a lift for the last part!
Norwich Castle is thankfully a very child-friendly museum, although you do have to pay for the privilege. Family tickets cost £23.30 with one adult, or £31.10 with two adults, but you could easily spend several hours exploring the collections and all the activities on offer.
There are loads of different interactive elements, from chariot riding to dressing up clothes to building an arch from big blocks. The museum was also running different activities over the summer, so as well as a trail with questions to answer we could create a decoration for an admiral’s hat, try semaphore flags and make models of sea monsters.
Just note that although the museum itself closes at 5pm, many of the activities wrap up at 3.30pm, so plan to arrive earlier in the day if you want to make the most of them.
The children particularly enjoyed the sections on Boudicca and the Anglo Saxons, and the small collection of Egyptian items. I was rather taken by the teapots, including one large enough for a giant Cheshire cat. One exhibit about the World War I, where you looked through eyeholes at drawings of the trenches, and then pressed a button to see models of the drawing behind, was particularly touching.
We finished up in the castle keep, an awe inspiring interior with rafters arching high overhead, then explored the prison displays underneath. After some restorative cake at the cafe in the Rotunda, and extracting the children from the gift shop, we headed back to the station for a 4.30pm train.
Again, the journey home went very smoothly, and we got another table to sit round. My husband came to collect us at Manningtree station. Almost the best bit of the day was seeing both children leaping up and down, excited to tell him about all their adventures in Norwich. When asked what they’ve done all day, typical responses are “Dunno” and “Can’t remember”, but this time they couldn’t wait to rave about everything they’d done.
Now over to you – do you have any fond memories of family trips by train? Would love to hear about your tips and outings in the comments!
DISCLAIMER: We were given free rail travel and tickets to Gravity Norwich, the City Sightseeing tour, Plantation Garden and Norwich Castle as part of the Greater Anglia #lettheadventurebegin campaign, in exchange for this post. However, all views are my own. We really did have a brilliant time!