For reasons too complicated to explain here, we needed a jaunt out of London today. So we drove from Nearly-Essex, where we live, to Proper Essex where everyone wears fur gilets and designer boots for a walk in the woods. I thought Eva was overdressed, in a floor-length Anna dress, but no she was probably best suited out of all of us.
Our destination was Thornden Country Park, home of the Gruffalo Trail. I’d read online that it was a good day out, tainted only by the expensive and cranky parking machines. Well. on this second point they were not wrong. Parking was £4 for 3 hours, which doesn’t sound hideous to my London brain but is quite steep if you’re used to country parks having parking for free. There was no entrance fee to the actual park though, so just see it as a donation to the general upkeep. The pay and display machines were a bit eccentric though. The first one didn’t recognise my card or accept coins and the second one took an awfully long time to even consider my request for a parking ticket as something it might be able to produce, while a queue built behind me. You also needed to know your registration number, which I didn’t.
But it’s OK. Google had prepared me for parking stresses and once that was done, the rest of the day was pretty straightforward. We bought a trail map for 50p in the shop (the only other compulsory outlay really) and set off for a stroll in the deep, dark wood.
Eva was navigating, although she and Roo would fight over the map for at least the first half hour, after which they’d lose the map entirely. In so many ways, I should have bought two. But no fear, as we found the first model with ease. Or rather do fear, because oh help, oh no, it’s a…..
Reuben had spotted what he called a “logpile house” (which I think most would call a “stick den”?) and wanted to make his own, so started dragging around massive sticks and propping them against a tree. He got bored after about three of them and luckily before blinding his sister with the twiggy end. No wonder she skipped off without him to find mark no 2, the Gruffalo’s Child:
This one Eva kept kissing, because “he’s so cute”. Hardly could bring myself to tell her that the Gruffalo’s Child is a girl. They also did one of the suggested activities on the trail map – putting beech shells on their fingers to make Gruffalo claws:
Mark #3 was the actual logpile house, which was taped off – I assume to stop children climbing all over it:
Next up was the owl, which was appropriately high up in a tree. “But how will we get all the way up there?” squeaked Eva. Short answer is, she didn’t.
We were skipping through the markers pretty quickly, so I decided to stop for a while and just let them round around. Eva found another stick den to set up home in, Reuben made another attempt at building his own. And then they both walked along this felled tree:
They were playing for ages while we were sitting on a bench but I was starting to crave a coffee, so I started hurrying them along. Especially when Eva declared that the fox wanted her to “stay up her for much longer. Maybe two hours”
Eva found a tree to sit in as well, where she could balance without even sitting on anything, which she thought was pretty amazing. She was less impressed a few minutes later when I tried to get her down and got her head stuck between the two branches. Let’s focus on the moments before that happened:
I really needed coffee but these children needed to play. All three of them:
Luckily, we were nearing the end. Just a mouse to find!
So yes, it was coffee time. The trail had taken us about an hour but the kids could have spent longer, climbing trees and playing on the wooden beams near the mouse. Which makes it pretty good value considering we only paid for parking.
The cafe was nice and spacious – there was a bit of a queue and apparently it had been busy all day (it was about 4pm). It wasn’t quite what I’d fantasised about in the woods – cupcakes and soya lattes – but there were biscuits and machine coffee and kids lunchbox pic ‘n’ mix. I had a full-cow latte and this cheeky bottle of pop:
We all had snacks then all went back for seconds. We were clearly hungry after all that fresh air. My kids also proved that you’re never too millenial to get excited about a piece of curved plastic in swirly colours:
There was a little more time left to run on our parking ticket, so we went to the sandpit in the picnic area for one more little play before we went home. Nathan and the kids also spotted a secret squirrel up a tree but I didn’t get a photo because, well…it’s a secret, right?
It was a beautiful day to be in the woods and a pretty good day out for minimal amounts of money. Yes, it requires going outside the M25 but I reckon it’s worth it once in a while. Just dress for the occasion.