Ever since I noticed that there were going to be Gruffalo trails in forests around the UK, I knew we’d have to go on one. We missed the Stick Man trails, and N does love Julia Donaldson books, and The Gruffalo film so we were going to have to get to one of them. I had made the mistake of telling N about the trails some time before they opened as well, so he kept telling me we were going to find The Gruffalo, but how he was still sleeping so he wasn’t going to be at the woods at an earlier date.
But the trails opened this weekend, so we had it in the diary. I think maybe we built it up a bit too much, as I think we were hoping for an awful lot when we got there.
I had been planning on going to Wendover, but after realising I had only a 3 hour window to get to the farm shop in time, we decided that Salcey Forest might be a bit closer and get us back with some time to spare.
I’d checked out the website in advance, and decided to pick up a map of the forest there as my printer is defunct, and made sure I had car park change. It turned out to be a beautiful day and we went early enough to miss most of the crowds until our final walk back to the car park.
We spotted the start of the trail near the playground, but always one to want to check on things, I asked in the café for a map. All I can say is that the staff might need to take up some customer service training. There were no maps, you can pay £3 or take a photo of the large faded one on the side of the toilet block. The girl also didn’t tell me anything about the trail when I asked, just that there was an activity booklet for £2 (I took one of those because even though it looked a little old for N, I thought we might be able to use it when we’re reading the book and he’s a bit older) and it starts ‘over there’.
The trail itself was a lovely walk. It was easy to follow and just the right length for N who wasn’t really that fussed about going off path into the woods, and just wanted to walk holding my hand most of the time.
Every so often the trail notices would give suggestions for activities – matching animals in the book to their homes which N loved doing.
Using forest materials to make pictures and letters of your name (wasn’t so keen on that, although after I’ve suggested these things and he says no, he then walks off again telling me how he would like to make the picture of an xyz…bit late for that child!)
We did have a good go at balancing and climbing on logs
Listened to the birdsong, and looked at the blossom on the trees. We also saw a huge tree that had been uprooted, and I explained to N about how trees got their food from the soil through the roots.
There were lots of areas with rivulets and streams alongside the walk, so we had a look several times if we could see frogspawn or any water creatures, but the murky waters seemed a bit lacking. Maybe the next job is to try some pond dipping somewhere suitable.
I did have a panic halfway round when N decided he wanted to wee. Thankfully we determined it was that and not the other, but he obviously didn’t want to do it in his pull up. So off behind some bushes as I tried to teach him how to pee both standing up and how to avoid getting his trousers wet. I think really that’s something his dad should be teaching him, but needs must. I think there was more effort involved than the actual output, but I’m hoping it’s progress on the vague toilet training attempts.
We searched in the wood by a den for the Gruffalo but to no avail, and then found ourselves at the end of the trail, telling us ‘You did it’. Hmm, where’s the Gruffalo? I had been expecting at least a statue or model or anything signifying we’d found it, but nothing. On speaking to others who’d been on the trail at other forests, it seems that I should have read the website better as the Gruffalo isn’t actually turning up until June. I’d read it and thought that would be someone standing there, and there’d be a cut out or something until then. Otherwise, they may as well not bother starting the trail until it’s there.
N got over his disappointment (explained away by saying the Gruffalo was obviously still asleep in his cave), by having a good climb up a massive tree
I’d promised cake in the café before we went home so had some delicious slices sitting outside in the sunshine. N was intrigued by the arrival of the Bedford road cycling club who turned up for their break at the café too. I’m not sure whether it was the tight outfits or the funny cycling shoes he was wondering about, but thankfully, none of them seemed to notice him gawping at them.
As we headed off to the car, N remembered the playground, so we had to pay that a visit too. It’s definitely for older children, predominantly rope style bridges, and rope based climbing frame. There was one section I could let him do (once I’d lifted him up to it) standing behind in case he let go, some logs/planks in a tower he could climb and a ‘bowl’, but the rest wasn’t small enough for him. I think he’s going to be up for Go Ape when he’s older as he wanted to wander into the course as we were walking round the trail, so could be some fun places to take him when he’s older.
Overall, we had a lovely walk, and it was great to see N exploring things that would usually be outside his comfort zone, but the trail was a bit of a damp squib. I also think they could have made some money and cashed in a bit on the link up with the Gruffalo. Yes the trail is free, but I was expecting to pay a small amount and get something at the end to say we’d done it. I was surprised there wasn’t a gift shop – they could have cashed in on the link up and sold the books, soft toys and other licenced products. Better for parents not having that kind of commerciality, but it doesn’t really make it that special without.
So my take outs are:
- Don’t bother until the Gruffalo’s there in June
- Don’t build it up beforehand with your preschooler
- Enjoy the walk
- Eat cake
Have you don’t one of these trails before? What advice would you give?