WHEN I heard that Kettering could become the surprise staycation hit of 2024, thanks to the popularity of the hit movie Saltburn, my mind immediately went to all the memorable moments I’ve spent there over 40 years.
While it may not be top of the tourist trails or even by the seaside, it boasts one of the oldest theme parks in the UK, which is still going strong more than 100 years on.
If you grew up in the Midlands, you will probably have visited Wicksteed Park many times for a summer day out, but for the rest of the country, it’s not even on the rollercoaster radar.
Maybe that’s all about to change after new figures show that searches for Northamptonshire as a holiday destination have jumped by 11,000 per cent in the wake of the controversial hit film Saltburn, which was filmed at some of the stately homes in the county.
Nowadays Wicksteed boasts camping and luxury lodges on site for those who just can’t fit all the fun into one day.
What’s particularly pleasing about this popular pleasure ground is that it’s stayed true to its roots and remains free for all to access.
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If you want to take a turn on the rides, you can pay for tickets or wristbands, but the park and the playground are open to all, just as its founder intended.
This makes it perfect for a multi-generational day trip as anyone who isn’t riding the rollercoasters doesn’t need to pay for the privilege of watching.
There are precious few funfairs and attractions where you don’t pay for entry nowadays.
My earliest memories of visiting Wicksteed were coach trips as part of a summer play scheme.
With no parents in tow, we kids had a blast on all the rides, blowing our pocket money on toys or sweets at the souvenir shop and tucking into our packed lunch in the park. It was a staple of my childhood summers.
As an adult, Wicksteed is often the perfect place to meet up with friends and family who live far away, as it’s just off the A14 in the middle of the country, which makes it easy to get to for lots of people.
I’ve loved reliving my youthful thrills and spills through my boys, with lots of the attractions still going strong.
The country’s oldest water chute is still in operation and the little train that winds its way around the boating lake and round the parkland hasn’t changed much over the years.
Having said that, there are also lots of new elements that have been installed over the years as Wicksteed diversifies to keep drawing the crowds.
We’ve enjoyed science days as part of its education programme, scaled the indoor climbing walls (sadly no longer on site) and splashed around the water and sand play area on baking summer days.
There’s crazy golf, a little theatre for shows featuring park mascot Wicky Bear and a soft play for children aged eight and under.
This makes it perfect for a multi-generational day trip
In the past decade, a lot of work has gone into restoring the heritage buildings on site and recreating some of the vintage playground equipment that was pioneered here.
It’s a celebration of the story of Charles Wicksteed, his family and his vision in setting up a parkland open to all and designing the staples like slides and swings that we all know and love in playgrounds around the world.
His legacy has helped shape a century of childhood play in Britain and beyond.
Last year marked 110 years since the land for Wicksteed Park was purchased, with the ideals of fresh air, fun for all and free access at its heart.
While Wicksteed is open all year round, the rides aren’t always running in off-peak times.
You can often get the best bargains in the October and February half-term holidays, with ride wristbands costing just £6 per person this month, but there will only be a limited selection of rides and attractions open.
In my experience, you need to wrap up warm if you’re visiting outside the summer as there’s little shelter from the wind that whistles over the parkland and green spaces.
If you want to try out a day out with a difference, you can’t go far wrong with taking a wander around the wonder that is Wicksteed.
New rides at other UK theme parks
Plenty of theme parks across the UK are stepping up their offering in 2024.
The biggest and fastest rollercoaster in the UK is due to launch at Thorpe Park.
Hyperia is expected to be ready sometime at the beginning of the year, although an exact date is yet to be been confirmed.
Elsewhere, thrill-seeker favourite, Nemesis, is set to reopen as Nemesis Reborn at Alton Towers.
Meanwhile, a brand-new water ride will open at Paultons Park this summer.
The ride, which is called Splash Lagoon, is a Jurassic-themed flume ride.
Set to open in May, the flume ride promises to introduce kids to different species of dinosaurs, while also taking them through twisting rapids and down a final drop.