TUCKED away along a city centre street there is a walled garden which has been described lovingly as an “urban oasis”, “tranquil” or alternatively as a “handy shelter for al fresco nappy changing”.
It’s not the kind of review you’d find in the National Trust’s guide to Scotland’s top gardens, but it is exactly what you want of a book which aims to be the bible for parents of pre-school kids in Edinburgh.
The 14th edition of Edinburgh For Under Fives is launched this weekend in time for Father’s Day, and in a bid to keep up-to-date with the constant changes in the city’s family friendly offerings, it’s also online for the first time.
Current editor of the guide, which is published every two years and has been since 1987, Cathy Tingle says the move to establish a website was decided on because Edinburgh is becoming increasingly toddler friendly.
“There are new places opening all the time, aimed directly at the market of parents with young children which makes a lot of business sense,” she says. “So we wanted to be able to respond more quickly. It also means that tourists can take advantage of the guide because there’s a 30-day subscription for just £2.95 so they can check before they visit where the best places are to visit with their children.”
She adds: “It doesn’t mean we won’t be producing the book every two years because people like to have a book handy, but it does mean we can be more up to date, more regularly.
“We’ve definitely found since starting the research last year that there are more places combining different businesses together, so parents can spend half a day there if they like, such as the International Climbing Arena at Ratho, which has soft play, a cafe, a ceramics place – that’s a definite trend we’ve found.”
Another is “play cafes”, which are exactly how they sound. “Jenn’s Den for instance in Davidson’s Mains is a new entry and it’s a cafe with rooms where children can play and parents can have a cup of coffee in the knowledge that no-one there is going to worry about prams or kids shouting.
“There are other one-stop-shops such as the Treehouse which offers lovely clothing for children, but also hairdressing. And we’ve found that many places are now asking parents and children what they would like available, such as Tumbles in Portobello or the Barony Walled Garden.”
She adds: “In fact there are so many places now going out of their way to be family friendly that we’ve left out many which were always in before just because they tolerated young children. The standards are being raised.”
Edinburgh for Under Fives was first printed as a pamphlet in 1987 when a group of mothers involved with the National Childbirth Trust in Edinburgh wanted to put together a guide for parents who still wanted to get out and about in the city – and know where it was possible to change a nappy or breastfeed without being harassed.
It was such a success it was reprinted the same year, and since then was expanded and updated every two years.
This year’s guide contains nearly 150 reviews of cafes and restaurants, family day trips from Edinburgh as well as details on toddler groups, playgroups and classes. Compiled by volunteers – around 80 this time – it lets parents know of every place which is positively pleased to see pushchairs arrive, staffed by employees who can ignore a tantrum and bad table manners.
It also strays beyond the city boundaries to the rest of the Lothians, across to Fife and even crossing the border to Berwick Upon Tweed, with suggestions for day trips.
And while there’s a short-term subscription, parents can also buy access to the website for a year. The book will be formally launched this Saturday in Ocean Terminal as the shopping centre hosts the greatest number of family friendly businesses under one roof within the city.
Cathy, who’s mum to Anna, four, and 18-month-old James, adds: “We’ve brought together the best of Edinburgh for families. If you’re looking for a weekly playgroup, a fun day out beyond the city, somewhere to pop for a family friendly meal, or if you’re on a budget, there is something for everyone.”
So where does she choose to take her two when she’s looking to keep them occupied? “We love going to the National Museum of Scotland,” she says. “And Edinburgh Zoo, where we’re members which is great value for money if you’re able to use it frequently and just pop in when you like.
“But Edinburgh is a brilliant city for parents, grandparents and carers living here or just for visitors with children. It’s got so much to offer.”
• Edinburgh For Under Fives, priced £9.95 will be available in Waterstone’s, The Edinburgh Bookshop at Holy Corner, Bliss in Stockbridge, Bohemia in Morningside and other bookshops in the city. It’s also available on www.efuf.co.uk for just £5.95. It is launched on Saturday from 2pm-4pm, opposite Waterstones in Ocean Terminal with lots of free entertainment for babies and toddlers.
FIVE TOP PLACES FOR UNDER FIVES
• Barony Community Garden, Barony Place
According to the book, this oasis in the heart of the city was extensively refurbished in 2009, and the garden and playground has ramped access, “a large and colourful multiplay including slide, climbing wall, trapeze-style monkey bars, wobbly bridge, fireman’s pole and cargo net. At ground level, for smaller children, there is a steering wheel with gears, a ship’s wheel, a mini cooker and a spinning picture-maker. There is also a seesaw, a giant basket swing and a bicycle roundabout. There is ample seating around the play area, lovely drystone-raised flowerbeds and a handy shelter for any emergency al fresco nappy changing.” The only drawback it seems is the lack of swings.
• Joy Tots, 117 Ferry Road
This is a new venue dedicated to babies (0-2 years) and their carers. The baby clothes and accessories sold are handcrafted screen printed and hand-sewn and in baby-kind materials, and customers can even choose their own design to be printed. There is a cafe - complete with Italian soda bar - with a baby play area and it even offers small, taster-style classes for parents including baby first-aid, massage, weaning, photography and crafting. Ample room for pushchairs.
• Jenn’s Den, 31 Corbiehill Road,
This is a brand new entry as it only opened last summer. “It has three separate areas: the first is a cafe with table football, the second is a room for younger babies with soft ride-on toys, books and musical instruments with cushions on the floor, the third is for older kids with a climbing wall, tent, playhouse, drawing and dressing up areas. The rooms have seating so parents can watch their children play.” The food - quality and price - also gets the thumbs up.
• Cramond Walled Garden, Cramond Kirk, Glebe Road
Described by the book’s reviewer as “a lovely park”, it includes a climbing frame designed as a ship with two slides, musical bars and climbing ladders. There is also a large bucket swing, two benches and a picnic table. This area is covered in wood chips and is enclosed by a fence with a gate.
Right next to this park is a large grassy area with climbing frames and a basketball hoop which is suitable for older children.
There are also the remains of a Roman fort within the grounds of the Kirk while a pleasant woodland walk when you turn left on leaving the park takes you to Cramond Esplanade – watch out for nettles.