Diggerland is never going to face any grief from the Trade Descriptions Act. The theme park in Strood, Kent (and there are a few others dotted round the country), is a stretch of land with a bunch of diggers on it. What did you expect? As with many kids, my boy loves hulking great machines that smash stuff, so it was inevitable that we’d end up in here sooner or later.
The premise of the park is pretty simple – you pay an entrance fee (£17 for anyone over 80 cm tall, fact fans), then go in and mess around on HGVs all day. They’ve managed to set the place up so that a kid who’s almost four years old (as my boy is) can ride on most of the stuff accompanied - if your kid’s shorter than 90 cm then don’t bother going till they’ve grown – even at a metre tall I had to explain to kiddo that he couldn’t go on the couple of rides that were for children over 1.3 meters - unsurprisingly this was an arduous hassle that involved a number of blatant lies on my part; they’re only for 10 year olds/ they’re broken/ the kids riding them won a prize, etc etc, all of my fibs crumbling under the the steely gaze of a boy who knows a liars twitch when he sees it.
Regardless, the stuff we could go on was pretty good – amongst other attractions, there were little mini JCBs (and by mini I mean they weighed a few tonnes) that could knock down skittles with their grabbing arms. There were knackered dump truck-ish things that you could use to cruise round filthy swamps, there was a tractor with a load of oil-drums-on-wheels attached to the back that the kids could ride round the site on, there were a few seats that were spun round in the air at ultra-speed by a fucking huge digger, and, in what was clearly the best part, there were four absolutely beast sized monster diggers that you could tear up dirty great chunks of a hill with.
Like any decent theme park, the tannoys blasted out wedding disco dance pop from the past 30 years adding to the general air of kid insanity. In keeping with the digger theme, the music had a slightly construction site bent, i.e. they played the Bob the Builder tune a couple of times. Who remembers that that song had a skippy UKG drum pattern running underneath it? Not I! At least not til I found myself queuing for an ice cream and thinking how sweetly it would mix into Buddha Finger.
There was a bit of queuing in general, but we were there on a blazing hot day in the school holidays, so it wasn’t too bad; a 10 minute wait was the worst we had to deal with. For some reason almost all of the rides were being stewarded by 16 year old girls, which gave rise to the comical sight of some of the dads bristling at being instructed on how to operate a digger - a BIG MANLY DIGGER - by a girl. You could see these guys, men with tattoos that meant stuff and buzzcut hair, swelling their chests. DO YOU NOT REALISE THAT I GENETICALLY - yes, GENETICALLY - ALREADY KNOW HOW TO TAME THIS BRUTE, WENCH! before flailing the crane arms like a drunkard spin bowling. Conversely, I’m a fey metropolitan Guardianista, so whilst I know loads about writing think pieces on why Beyonce is Chekov for millennials (still waiting for Salon to get back to me on that), I know an unfortunate zero about mechanically useful diggy things, so was just grateful someone else was turning the ignition key.
As we went wandering round the site, something struck me – while most of the place was full of kids having a wicked time (my boy’s already asked when we can go back) there was also a noticeable minority of a certain kind of adult. A strange adult. An adult there without kids. Yes. I’m talking about digger enthusiasts. Whilst I’m not gonna deny that I had a laugh pouring dirty stacks of slurry from one pointless pile to another, I can’t imagine spending the best part of £20 to enjoy the process unless it was in service of distracting my boy for a few hours of his nursery’s summer holiday. But these dudes – and they were all dudes – were spending a summer's day queuing up behind endless 5 year olds, all so that they could get to operate an HGV for 3 minutes. And this of their own volition. You could see them trying to hold it down in the queue, clenching and unclenching sweaty palms, impatient to get their feverish clutches on some throbbing HGV action. It definitely seemed a bit weird, but who am I too judge? It takes all sorts etc. Still, it got me thinking; if you’re that enthusiastic about diggers, why not just retrain as an HGV operator? Imagine the constant thrill you’d get every time you plunged a thrusting metal claw into Mother Nature’s yielding soil. Perhaps it’s a question of purity; like being paid to create art, being paid to dig would render the experience a sordid, mercantile transaction. I genuinely don’t know. But, anyway, the digger enthusiasts were there when we went, and I reckon they’ll be there when you go. Be kind.
What else do you need to know? The food? Well, as with most theme parks that kids might genuinely enjoy (i.e. full of mad clanking shit rather than earnest edutainment*) the food was a disgraceful overpriced slog of grease nightmares and lukewarmdogs. As a good middle class dad I’d already been to Marks & Spencer beforehand for a couple of lentil salads (I’m not even lying about this) to offset the inevitable ice cream high the boy insisted on mainlining in the first half hour (pro tip – feed them the ice cream at the start. No one wants a sugar rushing three year old screaming ‘Diggerland’ on a packed, miserable commuter train home).
For London people, getting there is pretty easy from Stratford International – it took half an hour of pleasant countryside scenery to get to Strood on the high speed train (DO NOT FUCK UP AND GET THE SLOW TRAIN BACK! This is the voice of experience). From Strood, you can either walk another half an hour to the place, uphill, down dale, and past a few forlorn Vote Leave posters, or throw yourself to the mercy of the Kent bus company’s arcane timetabling, or simply grab a cab from the station for less than a tenner.
Over all, unless your child hates loud noises, mud, pistons and/or the colour yellow, I’d say Diggerland is a winner. If it’s just you and one kid (such is life) I reckon you’d do the lot; trains, food, entrance and everything for 60-70 quid – which, if we put this in context, was an amount you happily used to spunk on something poorly masquerading as gack back in those long empty days before you had children. Yay Diggerland!
* It’s surely a symbol of all that’s bleak in the world that ‘edutainment’ didn’t even trigger off a zigzagging red spell check line. We’ve accepted a monster in our midst.
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