Oh help! oh no! It’s a Gruffalo!
A mouse took a stroll through the deep, dark wood… and on Saturday 7 June that mouse was definitely not alone. Along with many other families across the country, we went along to our local deep, dark wood to say Happy Birthday to a very special character.
Julia Donaldson’s Gruffalo is 15 years old this year, and to celebrate, the Forestry Commission has set up Gruffalo trails at many of its forest sites. We went along to Hamsterley, ‘the Durham Forest’, to join the party. The day was billed as a Gruffalo birthday party picnic, but the weather had other plans, which saw most visitors taking to the cafe and just a few brave souls picnicking under trees to avoid the rain. However, sticking to the adage that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing, we set out in wellies (Gruffalo themed of course) and waterproofs.
Munching our sandwiches we followed the Riverside Trail along Bedburn Beck, discovering the characters from the book. We found snake and fox easily enough, and the information boards were full of facts about the forest and its inhabitants to keep us entertained.
Hamsterley is one of the 15 forests where, as well as the self-led trail, a life-size wooden carving of the Gruffalo is on display. As we made our way towards the wooden bridge across the beck, we had our first glimpse of purple prickles through the trees. Our very excited three year old shot off along the path, and there, with his back to us, was the Gruffalo himself. The sculpture is impressive and detailed, and seemed to meet the expectations of the small fans who were flocking around it. Ever protective of his little brother, J announced that seeing a real Gruffalo might be a bit of a shock for a baby.
Overall it was a fantastic day, but there were disappointments. The signage wasn’t great, so it wasn’t particularly obvious which way to go to find the Gruffalo trail. We were roughly directed to ‘some activities’ over past the car park, but again this wasn’t clear and we ended up missing this aspect of the event altogether. We couldn’t really hear the ‘fox’ who was reading the story in the cafe, and it might have been an idea to have someone more expressive and/or experienced in the art of storytelling.
However, we couldn’t fault the facilities at Hamsterley Forest and it is a venue that will appeal to families with children of all ages. In the 2000 hectare site there are miles of buggy friendly paths, waymarked walking routes, picnic places, exciting play areas and a forest drive. The forest’s cycle network caters for all abilities, with routes for leisure cycling right up to technically challenging mountain bike trails. The only charge was a reasonable £3 for car parking (increases to £5 on bank holidays). You can also buy a Gruffalo Trail leaflet from the cafe or the information point for £2, although this is optional and you can complete the trail without it.
The birthday party picnic was a one-off event but the self-led trail will be open until 30 September and the Gruffalo sculpture will be in place for a while longer, so there is plenty of time to go on your own stroll through the deep, dark wood. We will be going back again, albeit on a drier day. After all, we still haven’t found that mouse.
All words and pictures (c) Sarah Hudspeth 2014. Please do not use these images for any purpose.