On Thursday we had a very special invitation, we had a magical afternoon and memories were made that will hopefully stay with Monkey for a lifetime. The Gruffalo (a big favourite here) is celebrating his 15th Birthday this year. To celebrate the occasion, the Forestry Commission have organised a number of self-led Gruffalo Trails across 28 of their sites. We were invited to try out The Gruffalo Trail and take part in some filming by the BBC Countryfile team at Wendover Woods.
You may remember that Monkey and I visited Wendover Woods last year to complete The Stickman Trail. We still have the Stickman Monkey made that day, in his bedroom, it has pride of place on his windowsill! Monkey was very excited about this new adventure. I was looking forward to getting a sneak preview of one of the 15 life-size wooden Gruffalo sculptures which will be official unveiled across some of the sites on 7th June (the Gruffalo’s birthday!).
We parked up (the parking is pay and display unless you have a Forestry Commission Discovery Pass). Monkey could see the Gruffalo Trail signs and was raring to go!
We met up with a few other families, the Forestry Commission team and the Countryfile film crew. I hadn’t expected to see any of the presenters, but when John Craven pulled up next to me in the car park it was a lovely surprise. We’re big Countryfile fans here anyway, but being of a certain age, I grew up watching him on Newsround and Swap Shop. Then one of the Forestry Commission team told us that Ellie Harrison had been filming the arrival of the Gruffalo statue on site. Exciting!
The children were very lucky to be given soft toy characters from The Gruffalo, which I believe are available in the Cafe in the Woods for The Gruffalo Trail visitors to purchase. Not surprisingly Monkey picked the main character and quickly made friends. Julia Donaldson is one of our favourite authors, and Axel Scheffler’s illustrations have been brought to life brilliantly.
Once the crew had explained what would be happening for the afternoon, we were off, we were off on The Gruffalo Trail.
The Trail has actually been running since last month and runs along the same lines as last year’s Stickman Trail. There are themed activities and suggestions of things to do and make along the way. Can you find the characters from the book? Where can they be hiding in the Deep Dark Wood? You can join the fun on The Gruffalo Trail until the end of September.
But the fun doesn’t end then! In October, The Gruffalo’s Child Activity Trails will start and will run until February 2015. I am already envisaging trudging through the snow now!
We were asked to go bug hunting (oh yes!) and to have fun in the woods while Ellie was being filmed, she would then join us to see what we were all doing. Well, that was Monkey and I sorted. He started by building a Log Pile House, we had a bug pot and some identification sheets. What could we find? We did quite well really; a massive slug, a few snails, some spiders, a worm. Guru Gramps would have been impressed with our efforts. Monkey was just in his element. He was having so much fun. He was a bit dubious of the camera equipment and when Ellie came over to help him build his log pile house, he wasn’t too sure he actually wanted her help. She had a chat with him, and he was very quiet, I think he was pretending to be the Mouse! But she was lovely, and he carried on having lots of fun.
We were busy having fun in the deep, dark woods when we heard a bit of a commotion! What’s that? Who can you see? We were all in for a bit a surprise! Oh no! It’s the Gruffalo!
What a magical moment, Monkey was in awe. Look, Mummy, it’s the Gruffalo! He’s got a poisonous wart on the end of his nose! I don’t think I will ever forget that moment, it was unexpected, it was brilliant. Monkey believed in The Gruffalo and now he KNOWS he is real, he’s actually met him.
When we told the Gruffalo that we were all rather hungry and fancied a bit of Gruffalo Crumble – he was off! Look, Mummy! Monkey is fascinated by the Gruffalo’s purple prickles 🙂
It was time to explore The Gruffalo Trail some more. Time for Monkey to jump and fall in a rather muddy puddle. It was one of those ‘splat’ moments. Luckily he was in his full waterproof gear, so once we’d wiped his hands a bit, he was off for some more adventures. Mummy, we met the Gruffalo; one little boy beaming from ear to ear.
Wendover Woods has a great den building area that we discovered last year. Monkey was off again, collecting stick, building a log pile house.
We then had fun with Saskia from the Forestry Commission, making Bug Hotels (we were in heaven) and Pine Cone Gruffalo’s. Ellie came and made one too.
Monkey was having the most wonderful time, he was out in the fresh air, in the sunshine, having fun.
We’d had such a busy afternoon, that’s we’d missed seeing the wooden Gruffalo statue. He’s gone back into hiding until 7th June. But that didn’t matter one little bit. We’d had a wonderful time and we will get to see him next month anyway. We’ll be back.
Once the filming was all finished, Monkey was desperate to go to the playground. Really? This is the same Monkey who only goes on the swings. Yes, Mummy, I want to go to the playground. Ok, we’ll walk around the end of the trail and you can have a quick play in the park before we head into Aylesbury for some dinner.
We walked along with another family. I’m terrible with names, we’d met a lovely family, the Dad worked for the Forestry Commission and they’d been great with Monkey all afternoon. He told us about the number of trees that had been blown down during the winter gales. The evidence of the destruction was all around us. He also showed us where we will see the Gruffalo Statue when we visit again and introduced us to another expected delight. Another wooden carving.
We made it to the end of the trail, a quick pit stop in the toilet and then some play time. My Monkey was rather brave. No swings for this Gruffalo hunter! Oh no! Slides, rope bridges, stepping-stones and tyres!
We’d had a brilliant afternoon, we’d made memories, we hunted a Gruffalo, ran through the bluebells, dug up bugs and collected sticks. We had an afternoon that sums up childhood to me, what it’s all about. Monkey learnt lots of things, including patience! When we got back to the car he turned to me and said Mummy that was the best day ever! I couldn’t agree with him more.
Monkey was given some lovely Gruffalo goodies and we can’t wait to come back in a few weeks time to do some more hunting. If you live anywhere near to one of the following locations, I would certainly recommend a few hours out in the deep dark woods, getting mucky, having fun:
- Alice Holt Forest, Surrey
- Bolderwood, New Forest
- Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest, Kent
- High Lodge, Thetford Forest, Suffolk
- Wendover Woods, Buckinghamshire
- Jeskyns, Gravesend, Kent
- Birches Valley Forest, Cannock Chase
- Delamere Forest, Cheshire
- Hicks Lodge, Derbyshire
- Sherwood Pines, Nottinghamshire
- Salcey Forest, Northamptonshire
- Top Lodge, Fineshade
- Beechenhurst, Forest of Dean
- Haldon Forest Park, Exeter, Devon
- Cardinham Woods, Bodmin, Cornwall
- Wyre Forest, Worcestershire
- Westonbirt, the National Arboretum, Gloucestershire
- Dalby Forest, Yorkshire
- Guisborough Forest, North Yorkshire
- Whinlatter Forest, Nr Keswick, Cumbria
- Hamsterley Forest, Country Durham
- Kielder Water and Forest Park, Northumberland
- Grizedale Forest, Nr Hawkshead, Cumbria
- Camping in the Forest site: Ashurst
- Camping in the Forest site: Ocknell & Longbeech
- Camping in the Forest site: Holmsley
- Camping in the Forest site: Roundhill
- Camping in the Forest site: Hollands Wood
Needless to say, Monkey took his Gruffalo book into Nursery School on Friday morning so he could share his experiences with his friends. If you tune into BBC Countryfile on BBC1 Sunday 1st June 7-8pm you might just catch a glimpse of Monkey on The Gruffalo Trail. He might end up on the editing room floor, it really doesn’t matter to us, we just had a wonderful time.