There’s always a sense of excitement and anticipation as the seasons turn and we enter the darker months, and often a little hint of magic too. It’s a great time to get outdoors and experience the changes up close, from the turning of the leaves to the nip in the air, and we’ve got just the place for you.
Northwood Trail is York’s newest family attraction, nestled in 100 acres of stunning woodland just outside Stamford Bridge. Run by the family behind the successful Jollydays Glamping and North Star Club, this is something a little different: a fairy trail and museum. Before our visit to Northwood, our fairy-based encounters had been limited to semi-regular transactions with the Tooth Fairy (one gold coin in exchange for one averagely-brushed tooth), but we had never had sight of her or dwellings. We didn’t know what to expect from a fairy sanctuary, then, but we were very excited to find out.
After a far longer journey than necessary (an old-school paper map is advisable unless you have a more reliable SatNav than ours), we found the track that leads into the woods and to the small car park (wellies are a good idea on wet days, or just enjoy the puddle jumping like we did). We were greeted by a sign that read ‘Welcome. You won’t find wifi in the woods – but we promise you’ll find a better connection’ and the effect was almost immediate: we relaxed, we breathed, we didn’t check our phones. It’s important to know that slots on the trail need to be pre-booked. Although this requires a little planning and forethought, it’s worth it for the fact that the car park will never be packed and the paths won’t become overcrowded and spoil the peace.
We checked in at Northwood’s base, Northwood Kitchen, where we picked up a trail map and set off on our way, safe in the knowledge that there would be good coffee and great cakes available on our return.
The trail itself is a not-too-long, not-too-short walk through the woods and the history of Northwood and its fairies, brought to life through assorted fairy doors, gigantic mushroom rings and even fairy villages up in the trees, complete with walkways and bridges. It’s witty, charming and utterly enchanting. This is no Disney-approved vision of how fairies might live – all twinkly Tinkerbells – but a back-to-nature representation that lets children’s imaginations run wild. Speaking of running wild, we ran wild in the willow walled maze. Buoyed by our success in conquering York Maze in record time this year, we thought we’d be in and out of this one in a flash. It was not to be: after a lot of dead ends and about-turns (and maybe, ahem, a little help from some other visitors coming in the opposite direction), we finally made it out. It was a proper challenge, and all the more fun for it. Although this part isn’t buggy or wheelchair-friendly, the rest of the trail has been designed to be as accessible as possible.
While our eldest’s highlight was the maze, our younger girls loved all the fairy details. As we reached the water, our normally cynical four-year-old insisted that we all be quiet so that she could listen. She had heard a mermaid singing in the distance and she wanted us all to hear it too. I’d have struggled to believe that just half an hour in the woodland would have had such an effect on her and her power to believe in magic, but clearly it had. It was great, too, that she had walked the whole way on her own without having to be carried or encouraged with the promise of snacks. The trail is long enough to feel as though you’ve immersed yourselves in nature but short enough to be do-able for little legs. At the end of the trail is a little area for children to play, with logs to balance on and jump off. It’s another simple pleasure which is what Northwood adventures are made of. Tempting as it was to head straight for the coffee and cake, we couldn’t miss a trip to the little fairy museum first. Our youngest was wide-eyed at the collection of fairy costumes, complete with leaves, wings, feathers and other natural accessories, while the two older ones were delighted to find out what was behind the wardrobe door…
The Northwood Kitchen
We ended our trip at the Northwood Kitchen, where the food and drink tasted as good as it looked: proper coffee served in beautiful earthenware mugs; slabs of millionaire’s shortbread that had the children licking the plates (sorry about that). If you’ve ever visited Jollydays or Northwood Club, you’ll recognize the trade mark dark, sultry and sophisticated interiors (how we wish they’d do a sideline in interior design services). And just like those two businesses, Northwood has the same commitment to surprising and delighting its guests. Magic.