Our office is now closed for Easter, reopening on Tuesday 2nd April. Our website is if course still able to accept orders over the Easter weekend and these will be despatched on Tuesday 2nd April.
We wish all our customers a restful weekend.
As reported in the press, a recent Mumsnet survey has emphasized the belief amongst parents that children are growing up faster – or getting older younger as it’s sometimes described – something the toy industry has recognised for years. It seems this latest survey suggests that the majority of parents believe childhood is over by the age of 12.
That’s a sad state of affairs in anyone’s book but, given that at the same time we’re all expected to live longer, it means that childhood must be becoming an even smaller proportion of life. When we started Mulberry Bush 17 years ago one of our guiding principles was that we should offer the toys and games that parents, and indeed grandparents, would remember with fondness from their own childhood. We still do that. If childhood is so fleeting isn’t that all the more reason to ensure that, whilst they are young, children have the wherewithal for fun, imaginative and constructive play, through toys that have been proven down the years?
Father Christmas has now authorised us to announce the top stocking fillers he’s ordered from us for this Christmas – and all under £7. He’s ordered 100s of each of these from us so we are pleased to recommend them to you. Fortunately, despite his orders, we have stock left, but we don’t know when he’s going to want more so get your order in soon !
Here’s his Top Ten so far.
All great fun to wake up to on Christmas morning
Keep an eye on your letterbox for our new, bigger than ever, Autumn catalogue. If you’re on our mailing list you should receive one automatically, and it should be with you around September 12th. If you haven’t had one before and would like us to send you one simply enter your details here.
Keep an eye on the website over the coming days too as more and more new, fun products are added.
Firstly we have to say it is fantastic value. Sold under the name of Lillabo, Ikea offer a basic 20 piece set for £7.99 and a pack of 10 track pieces for just £4.99. The track pieces seem to be made of beech, which isn’t cheap. As the old phrase goes “You couldn’t buy the wood for that”. If you think your child will be happy with a basic layout and will not want to extend it as they get older with crossings, engine sheds, T-junctions and other fun items that include elements of track – extras that Ikea don’t currently have in their range – then this is a good way of doing so. In any event it’s a good introduction to wooden trains. The problem is that the Ikea track that we bought just doesn’t fit easily with the numerous other makes of track we have, despite their own claims.
You can see that unlike most brands the Ikea track uses a plastic insert to form the male joint. For whatever reason the people at Ikea made it shorter than the Brio or Bigjigs joint so with the samples we had it just doesn’t fit – see image below. OK, maybe the odd piece will just about squeeze in, but we haven’t been able to make it do that, and we think it could be immensely frustrating for a young child. Conversely of course the male end of other brands, being that bit longer, fits loosely into the female end of Ikea track, making a wobbly and unsatisfactory connection.
What we also find surprising is that Ikea explicitly promote their set on their website saying it “Combines with most other railway systems on the market” when in our testing it quite clearly didn’t. But don’t just take our word for it. Others in the toy industry have talked to us about this and there are plenty of discussions on the subject online amongst perplexed parents, notably a couple on Mumsnet – see discussion 1 and discussion 2
The other thing to note is that in this world you do get what you pay for. Take a look at our picture below of Thomas the Tank Engine, from the Thomas and Friends range, on the same track (Ikea track actually) and attached to the engine that comes from Ikea. The black Ikea engine has no detail and is really quite small. Admittedly the Thomas Engine costs £2.00 more than the whole Ikea set, but doesn’t it just look a lot more fun for a child?
Our overall conclusion? Ikea wooden trains are a great buy to see if your child will enjoy a wooden train set, or if you’re happy for your child to be restricted in the layouts they can make in the future. But – if you want your child to be able to put together their own more complex layouts without help, want long-lasting play value and the certainty that accessories will fit, then you’re better off paying a bit more and buying almost any other brand as a starter that offers scope for extension, such as our own Mulberry Bush Wooden Train range
Some of my best memories of childhood are of the adventurous things I did, many of them as a Boy Scout. Some of them were daft, and some of them were definitely dangerous. Climbing the chalk scarp slope at Boxhill in plimsolls and no rope. Fighting a major fire on Headley Heath armed only with tree branches, until the fire brigade arrived. And cycling 50 miles to Brighton (and back again) on a whim, without a map, just half a crown in my pocket and not having told my parents I was going – at the age of 12. That one was both daft and dangerous, but 50 years later I’m still here to tell the tale.
Those outdoor activities and the risks we took were what made life fun – and kept us fit at the same time – and it’s my perception that children aren’t as active anymore. Consequently I was really pleased to read the National Trust’s list of 50 things a child should do before they’re 11 ¾ and not just to see the list but also the research and report they commissioned that sparked this off. There’s a danger that the reasons behind this list of exciting activities will be lost in the snappy headlines and précised short attention journalism that is so prevalent these days so I urge any parent or grandparent to read the full report on the National Trust website. It makes fascinating and rather frightening reading and it’s not surprising that they of all people should publish a report of this type. If today’s children don’t get outside more now, they certainly won’t when they’re adults, and where will the National Trust then find its members?
I like to think that here at Mulberry Bush over the years we’ve done our bit in encouraging children out into the fresh air having fun – some of our most popular items such as rope ladders, seascopes and pocket kites are fun outdoor toys. We’re putting up a few more suggestions on our Pinterest pages too. We’ll certainly be bearing the National Trust’s report in mind as we select for our next catalogue, and as parents and grandparents doing our bit to get the children in our families away from the TVs and computers and out in the open.
As we know, Bigjigs Rail and Brio wooden railway track and trains are compatible. (For full details see our article about these two brands). What about extra track from the John Crane Branching Out (now Tidlo) range? Will this fit with either or both? Mulberry Bush have a large selection of track pieces of various lengths and shapes from various brands. The photo below shows pieces of John Crane track connected to a section of Bigjigs Rail track connected in turn to a Brio buffer piece, with Thomas the Tank Engine – from the Thomas and Friends wooden range – happily running on the combined track.
As can be seen the connectors from the three brands are identical and the track is the same width and depth. As the picture makes clear the track pieces all fit together easily, showing that John Crane track is fully compatible with these two major brands, and most others.
The John Crane track is made of beech and is beautifully finished – very smooth to the touch. Our picture shows one of the two curved switch tracks that come in a set and a couple of mini-straights which are very useful for joining track in large or complicated layouts. See the full selection of our extra track sections.
In this short article we demonstrate that Bigjigs Railwaytrack and accessories are fully compatible with Brio. Brio, from Sweden, is generally used as the yardstick for compatibility as the company was the first manufacturer of wooden railway in Europe, introducing their first sets in 1957. The name Brio has come to be synonymous with wooden railways, but now of course there are numerous manufacturers.
Bigjigs Rail and Brio track pieces fit perfectly, and one brand is virtually indistinguishable from the other. Curves from both have track grooves on both sides so that the pieces can be reversed and curve left or right, whilst straights have grooves on one side only. However the latest Brio track has the name “Brio” indented on the top – not always easy to see, but a touch of branding.
To the left you can see both Bigjigs Rail and Brio trains on Bigjigs Rail and Brio track. The 2 left pieces are Bigjjigs rubber wood track and the 2 on the right are Brio. The rolling stock connects perfectly.
We’ve checked both makes of track for smooth feel – i.e. how well it is sanded and finished – and in our opinion there’s nothing to choose between them. This inevitably also depends on the grain of the piece of wood used, but neither Bigjigs nor Brio feel rough to the touch. However Brio tend to use the more traditional beech wood for their track whilst Bigjigs Rail use rubber wood. The thinking behind Bigjigs choice is, they say, that rubber wood is less prone to cracking.
Above left you can just see the Brio logo on this piece of beech wood track. The connector and connecting method is standard across nearly all brands, as shown by the two pieces of Bigjigs track in the picture above right
In both cases track pieces are 41 mm wide by 12 mm thick. The rail grooves are 5 mm wide, 3 mm deep with 25 mm centres, or 20 mm between them.
Below: Brio track on left from end with identical profile track piece from BigJigs on the right. The difference between beech wood (Brio) and rubberwood (Bigjigs) can be clearly seen
Whilst the track is fully compatible one principal difference between the two ranges is in the engines and rolling stock. Most Bigjigs Rail items are made with a very high proportion of wood. Generally only the wheels are plastic, and detail is added through painting and printing. The Bigjigs Rail range goes as far as to include models of real old steam engines in their Heritage Collection, such as Mallard and Bluebell and other engines seen at railway museums or working on preserved lines in the UK. These make great souvenirs for children – and adults – when visiting these heritage attractions.
Brio engines and wagons by contrast nowadays tend to have a greater proportion of plastic, used to give detail. This makes them consistent and means that the level of detail can be high, but they may not have as much appeal to those keen on real wooden toys. Moreover the tradition of Brio is no guarantee of European manufacture as the company moved much of its manufacturing to China about 5 years ago.
Apart from these differences, the engines, carriages and wagons from each range join together through a seemingly identical, safe magnet system, so with Brio and Bigjigs Rail track also matching, Mulberry Bush can confirm, through our own testing, that these two systems are fully compatible.
Mulberry Bush sell loads of Bigjigs Rail wooden trains, train sets and accessories – and other brands too – but one question we are often asked is “Is it compatible with Brio?”. The simple answer is yes, and indeed so much has Bigjigs rail grown over the last few years – to the extent that they may well now be the market leader – that the question now ought to be “Is it compatible with Bigjigs Rail?”
Another conversation we regularly have is “I bought a starter train set from Ikea. Will extra track and accessories, from other manufacturers, fit?”
The quick answer to that one is “Not very well” – and more to come on that in this series – but this got us thinking that there isn’t a definitive guide to the world of wooden railways and whether they work with each other. Over the coming weeks we will be posting a series of articles that we hope will go some way to filling that gap, and we’ll produce a table to show the various brands we’ve tested for an at-a-glance reference.
Keep an eye on this Blog or follow us on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter.
If you’re on our mailing list, keep an eye on your postbox over the next few days as the Mulberry Bush Spring / Summer catalogue will be on its way very soon – hot off the press. There’s a great selection of outdoor toys, just right for the warmer weather we’re all hoping for, gift ideas for Easter (they’ll last longer than a chocolate egg!) and of course lots of popular favourites.
If you think you might not be on our list simply complete the catalogue request form and we’ll pop one in the post to you just as soon as they arrive from the printers