Family walkabout: Trail blazers

See what you and the kids can find this summer in the Forest of Dean as you follow the Gruffalo Trail into the deep, dark wood…

By Maria Pieri
Published 13 Aug 2017, 16:00 BST, Updated 12 Jul 2021, 10:26 BST
Trail blazers.
Trail blazers.

A child took a stroll through the deep, dark wood. The child saw the mouse and the mouse looked good. OK, so it was a cardboard cutout, but the child was still transfixed, ready to scan the paw print in anticipation of the animated augmented reality reward. The 1.3-mile Gruffalo Trail opened earlier this year at Beechenhurst Lodge in the Forest of Dean, with a number of similar trails found nationwide as part of a Forestry Commission initiative. It had proven, as family walks go, to be a hit. Technically geared up to small children, it has an all-ages appeal. Us adults trail behind, breathing in the pine green freshness of the forest. There are two short uphill sections, nothing too taxing, as the route dips in and out of a nearby artists' Sculpture Trail. And, as we reach each marker, there are half-built wooden shelters and dens created by previous visitors. The playground, with a zip wire and climbing frame, plus a coffee at the cafe, caps off a perfect day. The trail and app are free.

Top 5 forest tips: Things we've learned

A little tech helps
Try the free Forest Xplorer App. It enables you to explore nearby forests, identify trees, find trail maps and places of interest such as riding trails or picnic areas.

Take snacks & drinks
Fruit, nuts and, if you have to, hardboiled sweets to keep them going. A little bribery doesn't go amiss — a reward at the end always works for us.

Themes & distraction
Encourage them to count, collect and find. See who can spot a bee or try geocaching, a worldwide treasure hunt. We looked for bluebells in London's Trent Park Walk.

Be prepared
Raincoats are a must, but wellies aren't great for walking. Go for comfy footwear, sun cream, a big rucksack, map, wipes and or sanitising hand gel, and a rubbish bag.

Short walks & the weather
Train them to walk by introducing short nearby walks first and then build up to the longer ones. And check the weather before you go.

Walking successes

Camel Trail, Cornwall
Popular with hikers and cyclists. Following a disused railway line, we did four miles with a six and eight-year-old and their friend.

Mount Vesuvius, Italy
Climbing up a volcano? What's not to like? A smoking crater makes a photo when you reach the summit, and the kids were drawing pictures for months after.

Walking failures

Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Fine on the way up, not so fine on the way down. It had rained and my daughter refused to ride a donkey, so it was a muddy walk all the way down.

Volcanic walk, Tenerife
Great location, wrong temperature for it. Sorry kids, you wilted. We did have fun, but even ice cream didn't work on this occasion.

Published in the September 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)


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