Growing up in Blackpool with parents who love the outdoors and especially walking, meant I spent a lot of time in the Lake District. Barry also spent a large portion of his childhood in the Lakes, and we even got married there. One of the reasons we moved back to the north west from Scotland was so we could be nearer to our happy place.
Having said that we haven’t managed to many trips to the Lakes since we moved but now the boys are a bit bigger we plan on changing that. And we started on Easter Monday with a trip to Grizedale Forest to do a little Gruffalo spotting! Grizedale is one of 26 Forestry Commission woods and forests where you can follow the Gruffalo Spotters trail. There is even an app to help you in your hunt, but more of that in a minute.
It took us about an hour and a half to get to Grizedale – there were huge queues of traffic heading out of the Lakes with all the Easter holidaymakers heading home but it was an easy enough drive in. When we arrived the car park was pretty full but there is plenty of overflow parking on the adjacent field and we found a space easily enough.
We headed up to the visitor centre and cafe where we had arranged to meet my parents and get some lunch before we set off on our hunt. The cafe has been extended since we were last at Grizedale when Toby was about 10 months old. Even though the car park had been so busy there was plenty of space in the cafe and we found a table easily. The food was quite reasonably priced too which was refreshing. There are plenty of picnic tables outside too if you wanted to bring your own food.
As well as miles of walking and cycling trails, Grizedale is also home to a Go Ape course and mountain bikes are available to hire. This forest is famous for its outdoor sculptures and there are over 40 sited along the trails.
We didn’t see a huge amount of the forest though as we were only really there to follow the short Gruffalo Spotters trail. We bought an activity pack from the visitor centre for £3 before we set off. Although this isn’t necessary to follow the trail I think it did add to the experience. We had to write down the clues we found and Toby got a sticker when he found each of the characters from the Gruffalo story. It also includes 5 fact and activity cards (which I confess we haven’t actually got round to looking at yet).
Being as it was a bank holiday the Gruffulo trail was quite busy as you would expect. There are three clues before you get to each character along the trail. I’m not going to say these are tricky to solve but Toby enjoyed looking at them and figuring them out. Once you’ve solved the three clues and found the board with the character on it’s time for the app to come into play.
First up, make sure you download the Gruffalo Spotters app before you leave home as there might not be enough signal to do it when you get there. For each character there is a circular board with footprints on. Point your phone at the board and an animation starts in which the character you’ve just found appears. Stand next to the board and you can have your picture taken with the mouse, fox, snake, owl and of course the Gruffalo himself.
The idea of the app is fab, and Toby loved watching the characters appear in the animations and then having his picture taken with them. There are a couple of problems though. Each animation is quite long – probably only a minute or two but when there is a queue of people waiting for their turn to get a picture it can feel like ages.
The other issue is that if the phone loses sight of the footprint board then the animation has to start again from the beginning. You can’t take a picture until the animation has finished and there’s no way to skip it. And when you’ve got a three year old who can’t stand still and keeps moving in front of the board it can happen quite frequently! Neither of these things would be too much of a problem if you go to the trail on a quiet day but when it’s busy it can end up all getting a bit stressful.
Gabe spent most of the walk on my back and he had a good view of the boards and pictures too. I think to really make the most of the Gruffalo Spotters trail you need to be familiar with the story so it’s probably suited to children more Toby’s age than Gabe’s.
On the whole Toby absolutely loved the Gruffalo trail and has been asking to go back ever since.
At Grizedale there are also some other permanent sculptures along the trail and Toby loved turning the musical keys on some of the trees, and climbing on the wooden sheep.
If you have a Gruffulo trail anywhere near you then I would thoroughly recommend it.
Have you already been to one of the 26 Gruffalo Spotter trails? I’d love to hear about your experience and if you think the app is a good idea or just a bit of a gimmick?