I thought I knew everything there was to know about Brent Cross. It was the first place I went without a grown-up; for years it was the place for our tweenage meet-ups (Claire's Accessories, then McFlurries), and for the past decade it's been the place I 'pop' to of a Saturday or after work to 'grab a few bits' (returning several hours later, loaded with bags of stuff which I generally return the following week).
I've always parked in the same place (Fenwicks/Ted Baker entrance: get outta my way), and sped-walked the same shop-route. So obviously it was the first place I took tiny man shopping (with my mum, casually hoping to bump into people to Show Him Off)..
And then I realised there was a whole side of Brent Cross that I hadn't known about... the best loos to visit with a buggy, the speediest lifts, best feeding rooms, and changing places.. Here's the inside track, with more excellent shared wisdom from Facebook mamas.
Don't make the easily-made mistake of heading to the main Brent Cross loos: in the ones near M&S you'll queue for ages for the single cubicle, and the whole place always seems to stink.
The centre ones near the food hall are better - but the best option of all is to head to a shop. Mothercare, John Lewis and Fenwicks all have changing/feeding areas. Mothercare's is in the back, right corner as you enter. There are three changing stations, a sink, water machine, and three rocking chairs for feeding.
The pros? "Mothercare is best if your baby has older sibling as they have a couple of toys to play with," says a parent of many. But another warns: "Don't go to mothercare for changing later on in the day. I have been there and the bins have not been emptied.. The smell was something else!"
Or try John Lewis - its facilities are on the top floor near A Place to Eat. "I always find John Lewis the best place to feed, change, eat, drink coffee and pee (for me) all together with my kids," says one mum. "It has paper mats to lay on the changing table to put even more of a barrier between your baby and icky surface," adds another: "That's very important as I saw an evil woman changing her son's chicken pox dressings on a changing table in Watford Harlequin. You can't be too careful!"
Another adds: "John Lewis parent & child toilet is great, especially when potty training as its mini proper toilet made especially for them makes them feel very grown up. And John Lewis has proper bottle warmers in its restaurant so you are able to warm the babies' food when you're weaning or wanting to give a warm bottle -you just have to ask."Another adds: "John Lewis is a good all rounder for eating, changing etc. But it can get busy." There's also a curtained-off bit for breastfeeding mums who want more privacy.
Or try Fenwicks - whose facilities are on the third floor, next to the ladies' loos. "The changing room is nice and clean," says one parent. "They don't always stock up on paper towels etc and it can get noisy from the hand dryers in the ladies. But I find it's usually empty." Another says: "There are nice bright colours in the changing area so it's more interesting for babies than John Lewis'."
Leon is top-rated by mums: "they do the most baby-friendly food (low salt and sugar even baby friendly ketchup) and have a play-corner in the restaurant." "Pizza Express also does good kids' meals - and don't forget Carluccios in Fenwicks. All do activity packs too."
"Best parking for parents with babies (if not raining) is the one by John Lewis Baby department entrance. Plenty of space and not so busy," says one mum.
You can get your buggy cleaned at American Carwash in Brent Cross. Says one mum: "they did an amazing job, they also clean car seats for under £10 - really worth it!"
"I'm always aware that kids utilise all senses lots at different classes but not so much smell," adds another, "so I go to John Lewis or the White Company and we do some candle/infusers smelling. Baby looks confused but toddler loves it."