“Where is Winterville?” asked my daughter anxiously, as we walked towards the 220-acre Clapham Common, in south-west London. But then we saw it: a large white ferris wheel, standing like a beacon against the bubblegum ice-cream blue of the sky. Winterville London was encircled by a wooden fence that blended into the greens and browns of the leafy Common. And, as we drew closer, the enticing aroma of chocolatey waffles and warm, spiced wine drifted over the Green towards us.
Winterville London gave us press passes for the fairground rides, ice rink and roller disco. All views are my own.
This year, London’s Winterville festival is open until 23 December 2018. We’d been invited to visit since as long ago as 2014. Back then, Winterville was in Hackney’s Victoria Park. I’m glad that we were able to fit this year’s Clapham Common Winterville into our schedule, as it was a nice way to kick off the countdown to our London Christmas. There was bags to do there, and I’m keen to make a family tradition of it. We’d definitely go back next year.
It was Winterville London’s ice rink that caused the highest excitement levels. Both children had been skating before, and for them, a trip to a London ice rink means that Christmas is really on its way. Winterville’s 600m sq rink was relatively uncrowded compared to some. Set against the background of the twinkly fairground lights, it felt festive. At six and nine years old, the children were too tall for the £5 penguin skate aids on offer to smaller kids. They did really well, though, slipping and slithering around, and gaining more confidence under the watchful eyes of the rink attendants.
Bus King Theatre
The Bus King Theatre puppet show was the surprise hit of our visit to Winterville. We hadn’t planned on going along to their Who is That in my Hat family show, as we already have a full schedule of theatre trips for the festive season. But when we saw the jolly red Routemaster bus waiting to welcome people inside, we couldn’t resist.
Who is That in my Hat, written and performed by a British-Italian team, was a charming and quirky Christmas puppet show based around someone thinking they could do Santa’s job better than him. In the end, after several funny mishaps, they find out it is best left to the professionals.
After the half-hour show, aimed at children aged three and over, there was a puppet-making session, which our daughter loved.
The finale, a mini-Lapland grotto, gave the chance for some dressing up and a nice family Christmas snap, taken by the performers.
In the evening, the performers host a risqué, adults-only puppet show, billed as “Knickers In A Twist, a burlesque tale of glamour, golden girls and naughty rabbit tales.”
Twisted Wheels Roller disco
As a child of the 1980s, I was surprised that my children didn’t know what a roller disco was before we tried it at Winterville. But Twisted Wheels was another big hit for our family. As my son pointed out, there was very little in the way of dancing. Do people ever actually dance at a roller disco? But there was plenty of whizzing round, to retro tunes from the likes of the Spice Girls, and current kid-pleasers like Camila Cabello’s Havana.
In the evening, Twisted Wheels becomes more adult-themed, with club tracks to accompany the disco lights.
The Winterville cinema this year is a dual-screen affair, run by Backyard Cinema. We loved our immersive Backyard Cinema winter night garden experience a couple of years ago. Winterville’s sounds no less opulent, with a magical maze, enchanted forest and family classics like Elf, the Greatest Showman and Home Alone. Mary Poppins was showing when we visited, but tickets were sold out before we had a chance to buy any. Instead, though, my Mum took shelter from the cold in the Backyard Cinema bar, in amongst the plush velvet drapes and plump overstuffed sofas.
Of all the London fairgrounds we’ve been to, this one was the tops. It had plenty for lovers of the old school. I enjoyed introducing my son to the waltzers (which he claimed were ‘very slow.’ They weren’t.) The dodgems knocked us around a bit before we headed over to the large kids’ area, with a tame rollercoaster, fun house and bungee trampolines.
If you have young children with you, do have a proper look at the rides before you go on them. Some of them are deceptively ferocious. Like the Dubai Bounce, which my son and I loved. But my daughter found it utterly terrifying, despite the fact that we’d seen very young children laughing as they exited the ride before we decided to go on.
Plonk Golf London
After the Dubai Bounce had thrown us around, my son challenged me to a game of crazy golf inside the Plonk UV-lit arena. Perhaps something about the neon lights along the edge of the hills and tunnels of the 12-hole course sharpened our focus, because we managed to complete it without losing any balls, or needing ten attempts before we hit the ball into the holes. It was a lot of fun.
We didn’t have time to check out any of the performances inside the Spiegeltent, but they ran all day, with a full programme. Family-friendly events included a Big Fish Little Fish family rave, and Okido science workshops.
Food and drink at Winterville London
Street Feast, Winterville’s co-founders, ran an enormous tent selling fish and chips, halloumi fries, Asian cuisine, mojitoes, craft beer…..
By the time we left, at about 6pm, there was a real buzz inside the street feast tent, with people ranged along long wooden benches, chatting and eating the yummy-looking food while kids played in the aisles.
The Street Feast tent wasn’t the only place to get food and drink. Stalls selling doughnuts and other warming goods were dotted around the festival site. And I fought very hard to give into the temptation to sample a hot chocolate laced with Talisker whisky.
How to get to Winterville London
Winterville is on Clapham Common in South London at Windmill Dr, London SW4 9DE. Nearby parking is limited, so it’s perhaps easier to travel there via public transport. Two Northern Line tube stations border Clapham Common, and there’s also a London Overground station on Clapham High Street. The area is served by plenty of buses. For more information, see the Transport for London website.
Admission charges vary for Winterville London, depending on when you visit. Under-16s can enter for free at any time, and there is a £2 or £5 charge at weekends, depending on the time of day. Admission in Tuesdays and Wednesdays is free. There is a charge for a lot of the attractions inside, including the ones I’ve written about here. Find out more on the Winterville website.
For more on what to do over the festive season, see our post on free things to do in London.