For me, a walk in the woods on a cold, but sunny day, is the ideal outing with my children. It’s either free, or relatively cheap, and the children tend to not stick too close to me so their screeching doesn’t annoy me so much because they’re far far away.
We’ve sort of exhausted all the long walks close to our house, so last Saturday we spread our wings a bit and went further afield to https://www.forestryengland.uk/alice-holt-forest
It’s a 45 minute drive away from us, and we go right past the entrance of Bird World so there’s always that fear that one of the kids will start moaning that they want to go there instead (normally the kraken) but Alice Holt Forest is well worth the trip.
Now, it’s popular. Which in turn means that at peak times, it’s busy. Busy in a, I’ll just drive around this car park 8 times, kind of way. I can do that quite happily. I know a space will come up eventually. The Mister however, can not. He gets what I lovingly (hatefully) refer to as car park paralysis. He just can’t deal with it. I feel a sinking feeling of dread when we enter a car park and it’s busy. I just know he’s going to lose his shit.
Thankfully, this time we found a space relatively quickly so that was at least one argument avoided. (We’d already had one row about his inability to do exactly what I say, exactly when I say to do it on the way there)
You don’t need cash for the car park, it’s a snazzy, up to date number plate recognition jobby, and you just need to pay at the machines before you leave. If you’re like me and don’t have a clue what your car registration is, take a photo before you leave your car, you’ll need it to pay, and no one wants an unnecessary walk back to the car just to check it.
The forest is geared towards children, with different trails, a Go Ape, huge playground, and an information centre with loads of interesting little bits in it. Having 2 little fans of Julia Donaldson books, we decided on the new Zog Trail. You can just go into the woods and follow the trail for free, or you can go into the information centre and buy a little pack. It’s only £3 per pack and you get an activity sheet, pencil, stickers, a mask, and a little lens so you can see some hidden animals. For me £6 is well worth it to keep them entertained and running off ahead of me to find hidden animals. The more they’ve got to do, the more they leave me alone.
Along the trail there are different dragons to spot and tick off, and information stops that give them a little activity to do. It’s well worth stopping at these and reading them out to smaller ones. For one thing, you’ll look to others like a really involved parent, and for another the small ones will be busy until the next stop, looking for animal habitats, and trying to hear squirrels (do they even make a noise?)
There are also huge carved animals they can climb in, on, and up. A word of warning, the hollow tree has only got one ladder, so up and down on the same one. If you have a child with manners, like the boy, they could spend quite a long time at the bottom waiting for the self entitled people up the top to finish doing what they’re doing and come down. They won’t rush because there’s a little boy waiting at the bottom. No. They won’t come down until they’re good and ready. And then they won’t help their child that is clearly too small to be on a ladder, to come down the ladder, just to speed up the process. No, it’s really important that Little Rufus or whatever, learns how to be independent and come down all by himself. The best advice I can give you, avoid the hollow tree with the woodpecker, it’s a source of rage.
Other than that it was fab. I felt a certain smugness that my children hadn’t bought bikes, when I saw several parents carrying both children and bikes by the end of it. The trail isn’t too long, so even little legs can manage it. I had a lovely bit of dairy free apple cake in the cafe at the end (that’s how I reward myself for exercise. Cake) All the cakes looked pretty good actually with lots of choices for people with allergies or intolerances. If you don’t mind a bit of diabetes, the boy recommends the Black Forrest hot chocolate. It’s pretty sickly, but tasted good.
All in all, a great afternoon out. The car park is a little pricey, but all that money goes back into maintaining the forest. We were there a couple of hours and it was £5. For me though, the best result of a trip out is the kraken sleeping all the way home. 45 whole minutes of peace. You can’t beat that.
The Zog activity trail is also available at other forests. Have a look here https://www.forestryengland.uk/zog to see if there’s one closer to you.