Ever since we saw the video showcasing the Gruffalo Spotter app available at forests up and down the country we've been looking forward to trying it out. Using your smartphone or tablet you can see the characters from the Gruffalo come to life in the forest. We visited Kielder Water and Forest Park last year, when they had the Stickman trail on and we'd really enjoyed it, but as our kids were too young for the crafts and games which had come in the activity pack it had been more the getting dirty and running around that they had liked. This year the Forestry Commission has gone all out though and the Gruffalo augmented reality should entertain everyone from toddlers to mams and dads.
FIELDER water and forest park
Gruffalo spotters is available at Kielder Water and Forest Park and Hamsterley Forests. We live in Gateshead and are pretty much slap bang in the middle of both, but decided to go to Kielder this time. The drive was about 1 hour 10 minutes for us. When you get to Kielder you'll pass quite a few signs for different visitors centre etc, but you need to carry on until you see the sign for 'Kielder Village Visitors Centre' it's just passed the sign for the observatory. This part of the drive is beautiful, and we saw 3 deer running across the road. There are loads of parking spaces when you get there, but don't forget to take change. You have to pay for parking, and it's either £1.50 an hour, or £4.50 for the full day. Apart from the Gruffalo spotters trail there is also a cafe and maze to try out, so we paid for the whole day.
the GRUFFalo spotters trail
The Gruffalo spotters trail starts from the the visitors centre. You can buy an activity pack from the cafe in the visitors centre for £3, it has fact sheets, Gruffalo stickers, and a magnifying glass. Sounds like a bargain, but we didn't bother getting one as we knew from last time that these seemed to be aimed at kids 4/5+, and that our kids were all a bit too young for them. At the start of the Gruffalo spotters trail you go past the large park. It's go swings, slides, obstacle course type things, and a brilliant giant xylophone made from wood. Once on the trail there are various clue stations which give hints as to which character will be coming up next.
gruffalo spotters app
You need to download the free Gruffalo Spotters app before you go. Once on your phone or tablet it can be used without wifi or mobile internet. You hold your screen towards the augmented reality markers and watch as it comes to life. To take photographs you can either take a screenshot on your device, or wait for the animation to finish and then press a button which pops up within the app. It's all dead simple to use, and it worked perfectly for us. There is a badly lit video at the end of this post where you can see how it works.
Most of the trail is accessible for wheelchairs or pushchairs. There are a few hills but manageable with a buggy. Where the trail loops back around to the car park, there is still about a 1/4 of it to go, but unfortunately the remainder of it isn't suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs. Last year we had scoffed at the sign which had informed us that we shouldn't go further with a buggy, and went on, expecting that our 3 wheeler mountain buggy could get over whatever terrain was ahead. But we were wrong. We had to pick it up quite a bit, and having 'upgraded' to a double buggy since then we decided we wouldn't be as foolish this year and just listen to the sign so we didn't take the buggy further than this point. You could pop back to the car at this bit and swap a buggy for a sling, and we did consider doing this, but the big toddler had just fallen in a puddle about the same depth as him, and he hadn't taken it well. So we called it a day instead. But if you are going then do take a sling for the last bit or be prepared to miss out on seeing the snake and Gruffalo spots.
As you can see the little toddler LOVED the whole experience!!
There are two wooden sculptures along the way, the Gruffalo and the Gruffalo's child. It had been almost a year since our last visit here, and it was lovely to recreate some of our photos from last year, seeing how much the toddlers had grown since then.
There are 5 augmented reality stops along the trail, one for each of the main characters in the Gruffalo. Three are on the accessible walk, the last one in this part of the walk is the Owl. A couple of us walked up (sans buggy) to the snake spot, but we didn't go further than this, so didn't get to see the Gruffalo. Next time we'll make sure to swap the buggies for slings, and make sure that none of the kids almost drown in a puddle and we'll make it as far as the Gruffalo I'm sure.
After finishing the walk before the official end, we headed to the cafe which serves sandwiches, toasties, jacket potato, as well as some home made items like sausage rolls and quiches, and cakes. The kids meals were about £4. We didn't make it to the minotaur maze as we were a bit cold and wet by that point, but it looked good. Like the kind of scary maze where the walls were well over head height and you can imagine actually getting lost in there. The Gruffalo Spotters trail is meant to only be about 1.5 miles, but it must have taken us between 1.5-2 hours getting around, moving at toddler speed and dawdling at the park, each of the augmented reality spots and the Gruffalo sculptures.
It's a great walk. Its got everything a good walk needs, a park, puddles, loads of room to run around safely (excluding the pool sized ponds and the river of course) but the animated spots and sculptures make it all that much more exciting, especially when the toddlers began to tire, and we were able to jolly them along with promises of which character might be at the next spot.
Hats off to the Forestry Commission for thinking of ways to get parents outdoors, and visiting our beautiful forests. It is a long car journey to get there,but definitely worth it, and whilst you do have to pay for the fuel to get there and parking, if you take a picnic then it could be a bargain family day out. The fact that you can delight the kids with the photos of them with their favourite characters is an extra bonus.
Details of the walk are available here: Forestry Commission
Parking - £1.50 per hour or £4.50 all day.
Activity Pack £3