A family went down to the deep dark wood, the family did a trail and the trail was good. Hm, perhaps we’ll leave the poetry to Julia Donaldson and stick to the day job: telling you what you need to know about the new Gruffalo Spotters Trail at Dalby Forest. As with so many things in 2020, the launch of this new Gruffalo trail was held back due to you-know-what. The good news is that it’s now open for everyone to enjoy, so we piled our Gruffalo-spotters into the car and headed into the woods to try it for ourselves. A good author doesn’t give away the ending, but here’s a spoiler: we loved it, and here’s why.
1. It’s in an area of Dalby Forest that we hadn’t explored before
We’re no strangers to Dalby Forest – in fact, it’s a regular destination for a family day out – but we’re definitely creatures of habit. We always park in the Visitor Centre car park, let the kids play in the (very good) adventure playground and do one of the walking trails from there. No surprise, then, that our kids were horrified at the prospect of driving five miles deep into the forest and exploring a completely different area. The Gruffalo Spotters Trail is at Adderstone, an area that’s popular with cyclists and families (the latter thanks to the large playing field and adventure playground). Seeing children on the cycle tracks and in the playing field, our kids are now keen to go back there and do some more activities, so it looks like we’ve broken the habit of always going back to the same spot, and shown them than change can be a good thing after all.
2. It’s absolutely stunning
It’s amazing how each area of the forest is so different from the next, and the route of the Gruffalo Spotters Trail feels very different from the other trails we’ve done at Dalby. Perhaps it’s because we went on a gloomy day, but there was an atmospheric, other-worldly feel to our adventure, with so much to see and explore along the way. We didn’t veer far from the path, but we all enjoyed dipping in and out of the trees, spotting weird mushrooms, trampolining on the spongy moss and getting our phone torches out under pitch-black canopies of branches. It’s really beautiful – so much so that even our kids were asking if they could take some photos.
3. The Gruffalo trail itself is really fun
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: nothing beats a trail for engaging kids on a walk. And as far as they’re concerned, if it involves technology and one of their favourite characters, so much the better. Before leaving home, we downloaded the free Gruffalo Spotters Trail app (search for the Forestry Commission) to both of our phones and made sure that they were fully charged. We also popped into the Visitor Centre on arrival and bought a couple of activity packs (£3.50 each) before driving up to the start of the trail. The packs aren’t necessary, but they’re a nice added bonus: our girls (6 and 8) enjoyed doing the rubbings along the trail and solving the puzzles in the car on the way home. The app itself is excellent, bringing each of the Gruffalo characters to life as you meet them along the way. We flapped our wings to encourage Owl to flap his wings, jumped around to get Mouse to count his acorns and roared at the Gruffalo to end our journey. The app allows you to take photos and videos of your kids (or yourself – don’t be shy!) doing the challenges, which make a fun, free souvenir too. I’m sure we’ll cherish the selfie that we took with the Gruffalo!
4. It’s an easy route
We were impressed with how well thought-out the Gruffalo Spotters Trail is. Even on a damp day after plenty of rain, the wide, flat path was mud-free and accessible (it would be doable for most rugged buggies). The distance between each of the creatures is long enough as not to make it too easy, but not so short that it feels like a doddle. We spent about an hour doing the trail, with stops to explore the woods, collect pinecones and add to our burgeoning stick collection. Little ones who are too big for a buggy but don’t have the stamina for a longer walk could maybe try taking a scooter in case they get tired (but don’t blame us if you end up carrying it the whole way round – we know the drill).
5. It’s free to do the trail, just pay to park
For just a fiver to park (as it’s low season), we spent over three hours at Dalby, playing in the adventure playground, having a hot drink from the cafe (the Visitor Centre cafe is still open for takeaway) and doing the Gruffalo Spotters Trail. We occasionally hear the odd grumble about having to pay to park, but it felt like an absolute bargain of a day out to us. The amount it must cost to maintain the forest must be staggering, so we never begrudge the parking fee and often buy a coffee to help support them too (at least that’s our excuse). The app is free to download, and there’s no need to buy the activity pack unless you want to (I’m glad that we did, but it wasn’t vital). We all felt so much better after our trip to the forest: all that fresh air and exercise, and having a laugh at trying to wake up the sleeping Owl and stomping at the Gruffalo, did wonders. No prizes for guessing what bedtime book the kids asked for that night…
Good to know….
– There’s no need to pre-book to visit Dalby Forest
– It’s £5 to park during low season, £9 during high season
– The Gruffalo Spotters Trail is at Adderstone
– Download the app at home and make sure your phone is charged