We’ve all been to theme parks based on movies. We’ve all been to theme parks inspired by toys. There are some built around both. Others are taken from the pages of books. There are rides that have spawned all of the above, but Bewilderwood, near Norwich in the UK is an entirely different beast.
Back in 2007, Tom Blofeld, with the help of his sculptor friend Simon Egan and design agency Purple Circle, turned an area of woodland near Blofeld’s family home in Hoveton into the Bewilderwood and wrote (and self-published) a series of books based around it. The books themselves are mostly harmless tales of Swampy, a young ‘Marsh Boggle,‘ his friends Moss and Leaflette and their adventures in the Bewilderwood. What makes them special is the synergy they have with the real life Bewilderwood – an adventure playground with enormous treehouses, wooden walkways, suspended bridges, zip lines and climbing frames that the Ewoks of Endor would be proud of.
When you first enter the Bewilderwood you have the choice of following the ‘Treacherous Trail‘ through the swampy marshland or taking the water route along the ‘Dismal Dyke.‘ We chose the later even though there was a bit of a queue and it was well worth it. The electric boats made almost no sound as we gently cruised up to the ‘Scary Lake,‘ where we were introduced to Mildred The Crocklebog – a kind of spiny crocodile, with minimal animatronics – who greeted us with a blast of water. We knew it was coming but it still made us jump.
Bypassing the ‘Snack Shack‘ refreshment stand – all stocked with locally sourced produce, no brands being a key part of the Bewilderwood experience – we headed up to the ‘Broken Bridge.’ Here, we were treated to some of the most exciting treehouse structures I’ve seen, certainly more impressive than the one I built in our garden. The little one was away and we had trouble keeping up with her as she clambered up the ropes, crossed the huge gaps between the trees and zipped down the ‘Wobbly Wires.’ The play area for toddlers is based on the village where all the Boggles live. Thornyclod (a spider like creature obsessed with shoes) looks after a nice maze made from tree trunks. The ‘Slippery Slopes‘ from the story are realized as a couple of big slides, one descending an angle steep enough to scare off some of the younger kids, but not my fearless little lady. Every couple of hours, the children are encouraged to join in acting out the stories with help of the staff and some hand puppets.
The whole park is designed to get the parents involved in the fun too, as opposed to just sitting down and watching the kids play. Nowhere was this more evident than in the ‘Den Building’ area, a section of the woodland where all the the branches and twigs from the rest of the park are placed and everyone just grabs them and builds their own den by leaning as many branches as they can find against the trees. We spent well over an hour here building our den and finding leaves and feathers to decorate it. Even the wife seemed to be enjoying it as much as everyone else. Perhaps not as much as the two ‘competitive dads’ trying to out-do each other in the size and height of their dens though. Every now and then you hear a cry of ‘Den going free’ break the woodland silence, swiftly followed by an exodus of kids to the area, hellbent on reclaiming more branches for their own constructions.
Bewilderwood is very proud of its eco-credentials too. Fences around the park are made from wood harvested in the woodland, where possible all the food sold on the site is locally sourced – and their sausage-in-a-bun was delicious too, as were the Norfolk-made ice-creams. The boats used on the Dismal Dyke are salvaged lifeboats converted to run on electricity, and they have planted over 14,000 trees to help reduce the carbon footprint even more. They recycle over 70% or their waste and are proud that visitors respect the woodland area and leave almost no litter.
Exiting through the giftshop, we picked up a copy of the first book, which served as the bedtime story for the rest of our holiday, and all agreed we’d had a fab day out, even my 63-year -old Dad. If you’re in the area and have kids under 10, I’d definitely recommend a visit.