We first ventured into the deep dark wood in August to track down the Gruffalo who was rumoured to be residing in Wendover Woods. Tilly was not yet walking but we enjoyed the trail and the reward at the end of it. We thought the Gruffalo had departed at the end of September but it seems he remains in the wood while the Gruffalo’s Child now has a winter-themed trail to explore. Tilly’s interest in the Gruffalo reached new heights over Christmas with the screening of both Gruffalo adaptations on TV, so it was time to put on out wellies and brave the wintry woods.
On more than one occasion have I heard Wendover Woods in winter be compared with the Somme. While such comments are no doubt made in search of humorous melodrama it does do both a disservice. Any all-year-round country walker knows to expect mud in winter but the main trails are well kept for the amount of traffic they see, if you dress appropriately. For the record I didn’t dress appropriately, shunning waterproofs and boots for attire more suited for the high street. You’ll find out how I got on in a moment.
In search of the Gruffalo
Having had a number of days largely indoors I was keen to get Tilly into nature and the idea of tracking down the Gruffalo in the woods was an easy sell. Unlike the original Gruffalo trail in the summer where the start of the trail was marked by a small and easily overlooked signage, signposting of the Gruffalo Child’s trail was much clearer from the cafe area. Even I couldn’t miss it! As expected it followed the same route but had some amended activities for the season and many more Gruffalo characters to spot than I remember seeing last time. The path was in good condition although it was muddy if you strayed off it, which Tilly wanted to do at times to get closer to the character pictures. Happily we avoided any slipping incidents, which is more than can be said for other less careful children we saw on the trail.
Tilly has never been possessive, happily sharing toys with other children; that is at least, until a couple of weeks ago. Now everything is prefixed with ‘my’ or suffixed with cries of ‘mine’. The Gruffalo, alas, was no exception and there was grumpiness that other children should dare also seek out the Gruffalo when it clearly belonged to Tilly. No doubt this is a phase but it required constant appeasement, although my pleas that the Gruffalo was for everyone to share seemed to fall on deaf knees on the whole.
I’m always keen to try to push Tilly’s walking range, as to date it’s been pretty limited – a trip to the corner shop and back is about the best we’ve managed. The wet winter has offered relatively few opportunities for extended walks but on this occasion Tilly excelled, clearly pushed on by the carrot of finding the Gruffalo. She didn’t quite make it to the Gruffalo but she did make it about three-quarters of the way there, which is far beyond her walking tolerance in the past. I then had to pick her up. Others had more wisely brought along a pram. I had to put up with her muddy boots making a mess on my jacket. Poor planning on my part. I tried to carry Tilly in such a way as to limit the spread of mud but I suspect this only succeeded in making me look like someone who doesn’t know how to carry their child, while also having a muddy jacket.
Oh help! Oh no! It’s time for a photo!
Through the trees and mist Tilly finally spotted the Gruffalo and was back on the ground to see him. The area around the Gruffalo has been well paddled by visitors so did require some hand-holding to reach him without slipping. It all seemed to be worth it though. We checked that his eyes were orange, his tongue black and – well you should know the rest.
Cafe and play
No visit to Wendover Woods would be complete without calling in at Cafe in the Woods to warm up and refuel. It’s family friendly with a toy box to keep the little ones busy during the meal. There’s plenty of hot and cold food on offer plus a make-your-own lunchbox for the children. I’m a fan of their hot baps, jacket potatoes and flapjacks, amongst other goodies on the menu.
Once the energy levels have been replenished the nearby adventure playground is just what you need. Despite it being a grey and damp day the playground was dry. We were the first to brave the playground but once we did many others followed within a few minutes. The individual and group swings and slide are popular with Tilly but there’s activities for all ages including dens and wooden musical instruments.
The nut was good
Wendover Woods is a real favourite of mine and I was delighted that on an uninspiring day in the middle of winter, it retained its charm and kept us busy for a good hour and a half. If you’ve been hankering for the great outdoors after a Christmas of being inside but need the logistical support of activities, a cafe and baby change, then you couldn’t do better.