Country Child’s Miranda spends a family day out with the Gruffalo’s Child at Moors Valley Country Park and Forest. Fun even in the wet, get down there today!
Well, there’s certainly no escaping the fact that autumn has arrived with a vengeance! The sandpit has been packed away, my son’s school shorts have been replaced with trousers and nightly fire lighting has recommenced. Whilst the arrival of winter may conjure up images of bonfires, hot chocolates and snowball fights, the reality, when it comes to entertaining our children, is somewhat different.
Sadly, many outdoor attractions close their doors for the winter months, which means half terms and holidays can often become a blur of soft play, television and games on the iPad. Whilst indoor entertainment certainly has its place in all of our children’s lives, getting youngsters off the sofa and out of the house is vital for their health and wellbeing. And, with current statistics showing that one in four of today’s children is overweight, the need is greater than ever. The autumn and winter months can offer so much to a budding young naturalist; it’s just a question of discovering what’s out there.
Last weekend, I (along with my husband and two boys) visited Moors Valley Country Park and Forest near Ringwood. Situated on the Dorset/Hampshire border, the park’s 1000 acres give families the opportunity to explore and get back to nature in beautiful surroundings. Cycle tracks, wooden play structures, 10 miles of way-marked paths and a Tree Top Trail means there’s active outdoor fun to suit to all ages.
But, we were there for something rather more specific….
This autumn and winter, Moors Valley is inviting families into the deep, dark wood to find the Gruffalo’s Child, who has followed The Gruffalo out of his cave, for a trail adventure. Armed with an activity pack full of lots of enticing goodies and interesting facts, we set off on our hunt. The heavens opened, the children embarked on puddle jumping and I quietly berated myself for not packing an extra jumper!
The self-led Gruffalo’s Child activity trail is the brainchild of the Forestry Commission England and the individuals who have brought it to fruition have clearly thought of everything to get children immersed in the great outdoors. Activity boards dotted along the 1.3-mile route encourage families to work together and take part in mini challenges, based on the book’s characters. At one point we were using sticks to draw a Gruffalo footprint in the soil, the next we were hunting for things that a Gruffalo may find enticing to eat! Imaginations ran wild as the children were encouraged to listen to the sounds of the woods and identify to whom they belonged, whilst all the while keeping their eyes peeled for signs of any mini beasts lurking in the foliage. It was incredible how quickly time passed, despite the monsoon-like rains, and how the children walked the whole trail without so much as a whimper; the staggered activity boards certainly did a great job at keeping them entertained!
In addition to the Gruffalo’s Child trail, the rangers at Moors Valley are now using social media to help families get the most out of the great outdoors at weekends. By following Moors Valley on Twitter (@moorsvalley) and Facebook, families will be able to access a Family Fun Friday activity sheet each week with a mix of simple games, activities and crafts to do outside at weekends. The activities can be enjoyed in almost any outdoor space, from back gardens and local parks to fields and woodland.
Katie Davies, Countryside Information Ranger at Moors Valley told me, “Families don’t get out and about nearly as much as they used to. Family Fun Fridays are our way of helping them to have fun and improve their wellbeing at the same time. For the next 12 months we will be posting a new activity sheet each week building to 52 great ways to have fun outdoors whatever the weather.”
If you’re looking for ideas of what to do and where to go over the coming months, Moors Valley should certainly be on the agenda. It’s a safe haven for both children and wildlife alike and allows families to let off steam and learn about the natural world in a fun and light-hearted way. We’ll definitely be going back…once we’ve dried off!