Since 2014, the Forestry Commission has been celebrating the much-loved books of children’s author Julia Donaldson with special trails up and down the country. Of course, there are now several of them from The Highway Rat to The Stick Man, but the first one we ever went to was The Gruffalo Trail at Alice Holt Forest in Surrey, when Monkey was very young.
With one thing or another, it did take us a long while to get our act together to take Monkey – he, like millions of other kids around the world, absolutely adore the book and the cartoon films that accompany it. In fact, even before the trails had been specifically designed with differing wooden sculptures of the big beast to be discovered at the end – with purple prickles on his back and terrible tusks and terrible paws – we used to go for walks in our locals woods and pretend to search for him and the ‘big bad mouse’.
Alice Holt Forest
This was our first visit to Alice Holt Forest, situated near Farnham in Surrey, and we were delighted to discover it is a wonderful natural resource, practically on our doorstep. It is a wildlife haven with cycling and walking trails and a kids playground, a huge wooden playhouse and a new play area with a network of tunnels in which kids can burrow like rabbits! Plus for the more adventurous souls, there is also a Go Ape assault course.
There is also a busy cafe serving hot and cold foods and plenty of picnic tables for families to enjoy their grub. We actually had a bite to eat first before heading off into the ‘deep, dark, woods’ and while we happily munched on a panini, Monkey delighted in riding a wooden crocodile. But this was just the appetizer so to speak.
The Gruffalo Trail
As you can see from the photo above, Monkey was super keen to get started on the trail. And we were, too. It was actually quite exciting stepping into unknown and not knowing what to expect along the way…
The trail was well signposted and, every so often, there were educational plaques that would encourage you to take in the surroundings. They were an excellent way for Monkey to interact with the forest and the Gruffalo story.
But what really got Monkey excited was coming across the fox. He then made it pretty clear it was imperative to find the snake, owl and big bad mouse. He seemed to have forgotten about the Gruffalo himself! It was such a peaceful walk. The sun would peek through the canopy of trees every so often, and even though we had a little rain shower, it didn’t dampen our spirits. We were the only people on the trail at the time – and it really felt like this was our own special, secret adventure.
We also came across several dens along the trail. Monkey was delighted to find them and instantly ran into one and pretending it was his house. He kindly made me a cup of tea…
But, of course, the bestest, most exciting part of our wonderful stroll was the end! Because once we diligently followed all the signs, we eventually came through a set of trees to discover… ‘The Gruffalo!’ as Monkey screamed at the top of his voice!
All in all, it was a great way to spend the afternoon. And the best part… you can’t beat a few hours of fun, enjoying the fresh air and the outdoors all for the price of a £3 car park ticket, where all proceeds go back into Alice Holt and its conservation schemes.