Clara Lara is simple, old-fashioned fun – no wonder it works
Are We There Yet? In this unusually warm summer, the Co Wicklow funpark is paradise
The perfect way for children to log on in Clara Lara Funpark, Co Wicklow
I had heard of Clara Lara as a kid. There were rumours that one day there’d be a school tour to this epic adventure funpark in Co Wicklow. But they were nothing more than rumours and my class never made it there. So arriving at the park for a big day out this summer with friends and our children felt long overdue. This was it. Clara Lara. At last.
I don’t know what Clara Lara was like in my 1970s primary-school days. I imagine it might be different on grey drizzly mornings with damp seeping into the bones – but at the height of this unusual summer, it’s a kind of paradise.
And it seems many other people know this. The cars are already queueing up outside to get in when we arrive half an hour before it opens at 10am. We discover that early arrival is a top tip, a cunning ploy to nab the best first-come-first-served barbeque pits dotted around the place. The air is soon filled with the smell and sizzle of sausages.
We find a base for our picnic and set off to explore. It’s genius really, the set-up here. Just trees and grass and ponds. Scary-looking water slides, zip wires and tarzan swings. Watery expanses no more than three feet deep where you can doggy paddle or row boats or take out small starter kayaks called amphicats.
Our small crew end up spending most of the day traversing a log, the perfect balance beam, resting on two banks of the pond. Hours pass just balancing and falling in and trying again and being knocked off by the after-shocks of hilarious falls into the water by red-faced adults. (Bring wetsuits and changes of clothes and togs.)
You pay €12 in and a tenner for all-inclusive “gold bracelets” – a wristband which allows unlimited use of the go-karts, slides and some other activities.
But you don’t need a wristband to balance on and fall off a log all day. Clara Lara is simple and old-fashioned and that’s why it works. No big mystery here. Just a place where children can run and climb and get wet and chill out on a wooden pontoon in the middle of a man-made lake.
There is no branding, no plastic, no screens – ok, some adults were checking their phones occasionally, but I saw no kid on any kind of screen. It’s just messing about in rowing boats, eating sandwiches on blankets and running, paddling and roaming free.
I waited decades to experience the natural highs of Clara Lara. We won’t leave it so long the next time.
Here are some other things to do with children this weekend:
Hotter than July festival
This festival is a free family day of world music and dancing which is all about celebrating the culture and diversity of Dublin 7.
It kicks off with a big bang with Morro 16, a vibrant samba ensemble (“bloco”) based in Dublin, celebrating their 10th birthday this summer, and bringing the energy, rhythm and vibe of Rio carnival to the streets of Smithfield.
Hotter than July festival, Sunday July 29th, Smithfield Square, Dublin 7, 3-8pm
School for Dinosaurs
I’ve heard great reports about this show and these are the last days to catch it. And dinosaurs always go down well. The story is that Chloe and her parents start the “School For Dinosaurs”, a lively lizard alternative approach to scary school subjects. But the clock is ticking down to exam time – will Chloe make the grade in time?
School for Dinosaurs, Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin 8, Friday July 27th and Saturday July 28th, 6pm. Tickets: €8 and €10. 01-6770014
The Jungle Book Outdoors
A film that all ages can enjoy, this classic Saturday matinee is being shown outdoors. There will be burgers, popcorn, candyfloss and other treats too.
Jungle Book, Seamus Ennis Arts Centre, The Naul, Co Dublin, Saturday July 28th, 1.30pm. firstname.lastname@example.org
Durrow Scarecrow Festival
This festival really is outstanding in its field with more than 300 scarecrows to see around the village, with all sorts of designs and themes. There’s plenty more on offer too including live music, craft workshops, country market, adult, teen and children’s entertainment, and a scarecrow treasure hunt.
The Durrow Scarecrow Festival. Durrow, Co Laois. Sunday July 29th to Monday August 6th. durrowscarecrowfestival.com
Find the Gruffalo
Colin Glen Forest Park at the foot of the Belfast hills is home to Northern Ireland’s only official Gruffalo Trail. Each character has been magically recreated by sculptor Andrew McIntyre and set against the backdrop of stunning forestry. Enter through the Gruffalo Archway and walk through the leafy park to a beautiful Gruffalo-themed seating area next to the cascading Colin river. Great way to meet all those beloved Gruffalo characters while getting out in the fresh air.
Find the Gruffalo, Colin Glen Forest Park, Stewartstown Rd, Belfast, throughout the summer. Entry to the park and the Gruffalo Trail is free colinglen.org