Days out: It really was the pits

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The Independent Online
A disused coal-mine in Leicestershire has been transformed into a science park to entertain the whole family. Louise Duffield made an extended pit stop.

When you struggle for almost an hour to prise your children away from the exhibits and into the car for the home journey, you know the attraction has hit the target. But when it takes almost as long to round up the adults, then it's scored a bull's-eye. That's what happened to us at Snibston Discovery Park in Coalville, Leicestershire, which is built on the site of the former Snibston Colliery.

The hands-on Science Alive! gallery has experiments based on the weather, parts of the body, and energy. Where else could you get the chance to walk through a tornado, or watch how the joints of your legs move when you ride a bike? Then there's the engineering gallery, the transport gallery, the extractive industries gallery, the textiles and fashion gallery...

Until 6 November, the discovery park is hosting an exhibition celebrating 75 years of the BBC and 30 years of BBC local radio - giving visitors the chance to read the TV news and become a radio presenter.

Once outside the enormous exhibitions hall, the learning through play theme is extended into the science play area. This is an educational play area at its best.

Add to this the wheelwright's workshop, the nature trail and the Century Theatre, and you have a recipe for sheer fun. Not to be missed is the tour of the colliery buildings, given by an ex-miner.

When George Stephenson, of railway fame, sunk his first mine-shaft at Snibston in 1832, he could have had little idea that mining would continue until 1986, when the site was imaginatively turned into Leicestershire's premier tourist attraction.

The visitors

Dianne Williams, a student teacher from Derby, went to Snibston Discovery Park with her sons, David, 11, and Robert, eight.

Dianne: I thought it was lovely because it was spacious and open-plan, and there was plenty of room to move around the exhibits.

In many ways it was better than the Science Museum in London, because it was not so busy, and it was small enough to do it all in one day. But there is plenty there for a full day out, and it seems excellent value. It also appeals to families. Small children can watch what's going on; older children will be inquisitive - why this, why that? - and secondary school children will understand. There are one or two areas specifically for the under-fives, too, which is good.

I was impressed that not only did the instructions on the exhibits tell you what to do, but there were also signs that explained what was going on. And there were signs in braille.

To have ex-miners giving the colliery tour is a good idea. Anyone could have taken a party of people round and explained what was what, but he really brought it to life with his experiences.

David: I enjoyed the interactive science bits. I liked the solar-powered boats - you can control the dimness of the light, and that controls the speed of the boat. All the stuff there was puzzling.

I quite liked the bit where you can talk on the radio and go on the television. I was very interested in the colliery tour. The dynamite bit was good.

The shop had a good range of stuff. There were some interesting books there. I bought a 3-D model of the Periodic Table.

Robert: I have been before - about two years ago, with the school - so I knew it would be good. I liked the pretend radio with lots of buttons. There was also a lock thing, which I was experimenting with making three sets of water rise and fall. There was a hollow football with a ball in the middle with electrical lights coming off. If you put your hands on it one of the beams comes to your hand.

I thought it was funny when the miner locked us in the elevator - it looked as if he was going to send us down, and I was kind of nervous in a way.

The deal

Snibston Discovery Park is in Ashby Road, Coalville, Leicestershire (01530 510851). Open every day except 25 and 26 December. November to March 10am to 5pm, April to October 10am to 6pm.

Admission: pounds 4 adults, pounds 2.75 children five to 15, under-fives free, pounds 2.95 concessions, pounds 10 family ticket (two adults and three children). Colliery tour: adults pounds 1, children 50p. Education and group rates on request.

Access: disabled access throughout the exhibition hall and to most of the colliery tour. A variety of special needs is catered for.

Toilets and baby-change facilities: plenty of clean toilets. Baby-change facilities and toilets for the disabled.

Catering: a cafe/coffee shop, with a range of basic snacks, cakes, drinks etc. Indoor picnic area.

Shop: spacious and well-stocked, incorporating a bookshop. There is also a tourist information point.

Education: the park is tailor-made for school visits, of which Snibston has many, at all levels. It also hosts a variety of temporary exhibitions and events.