Family Days Out in Norfolk - My Review of Bewilderwood
If you're looking for somewhere in North Norfolk to take the family, then Bewilderwood near Wroxham, around 20 minutes by car from the city of Norwich, is a fantastic choice. Set in a 50 acre woodland estate, Bewilderwood is the creation of author Tom Blofeld, who has childhood memories of old-fashioned, wild play whilst roaming freely in the very same family grounds. Today, the park is all about carefree and imaginative adventures in treetops, tranquil boat rides and fast fun on zipwires and slides. Oh, and the subtle theme of Boggles and Twiggles, of course.... It's a far cry from the modern entertainment that today's children have grown so used to, and that's a good thing.
Since the opening of Bewilderwood a few years back, we have visited each summer holiday. We only live in Norwich, so it's a convenient and quick trip. Bewilderwood has expanded since its early days - there was always a lot to do for the over 5's, but now there is more to do for the under 5's as well. Children of all ages will have a great day out, and return home happily tired and grubby from the woodland dirt. It's not a particularly cheap day out - I paid £46 for myself and three children in 2010 (from memory I think we all paid the same, and my toddler who was also with us didn't have to pay as he was under 92 cm at the time).
Boggles and Twiggles and Getting Inside....
Even before you enter the park, there is a little treehouse which attracts the children as they inevitably get fed up queueing on busy days. Once inside, there is a quaint walk to the main area - search the greenery and you can view the tiny houses of the Boggles and Twiggles. The subtle Boggle and Twiggle theme is a nice touch to the park - it is something to spark the wonder and imagination of the little ones, although older children might not take much notice. If you don't fancy walking you can take a boat down the tranquil lake - but watch out for the crocodile at the other end (most children love it, but my two year old was petrified! We usually reserve the boat trip for the journey back, as there is always a queue earlier on and the kids are always excited to get going.
Once you enter the heart of Bewilderwood, the air is shady and cool. It's the perfect sanctuary for those hot summer days when you all need a little protection and respite from the burning glare. That's not to say you can't visit at any other time - Bewilderwood is open almost every day of the year, and season passes are available for those who live within easy reach.
At Bewilderwood, you really can walk through the treetops. After climbing up the many rustic wooden steps, high bridges will take you way above the heads of all the little folk on the ground. There are different levels, and you can slide back down to earth again. My little one loved the treetop walks, even though he was really small on our last visit. He's always been a climber, and game for a challenge. My eldest enjoys Bewilderwood most when he has friends closer to his own age to play with, as they like to incorporate games like 'it' into the fun. After all, chasing each other across bridges, nets and tree trunks adds a whole new element to a traditional game - and don't worry, it's pretty secure so no one ends up falling off!
The pictures to the right offer a view taken across the park of the treetop walks - the photos were taken late on in the day when it was a lot quieter. The bottom picture also shows a climbing net connecting two areas, although I believe this can be avoided if necessary.
There are quite a few slides at Bewilderwood, because once you ascend into the treetops, you eventually have to come down again. Sliding is the easiest and most fun option - trying to push against the tide of people coming up as you attempt to clamber back down the steps you just came up is the difficult choice. I have taken a picture of the two best slides at the park, according to my oldest son (10 years old on our last visit). To be honest, the picture doesn't really do the slides justice - you certainly don't get an inkling of the speed involved. The slide on the left is brilliant fun for sliding with friends or family - you can all ride together and see who touches the finish first. The slide on the right is steeper and requires a bit more courage. It was a while before my oldest would venture onto this slide - and I must admit that I haven't tried it at all (but then, I'm not as adventurous as I once was).
There are other slides throughout the park, although at under 92 cm, my two year old wasn't tall enough to ride on them. 92 cm is the minimum height limit for most things, but there is a separate area for the smallest ones to play safely.
Bewilderwood has four great zipwires (two pairs). One pair is a bit longer than the other. The zipwires are extremely popular, especially with the older ones and even the grown ups. On a busy day there are certain to be queues, but the queues do go down quite quickly, so there is not too much waiting about. My older son and his friends always enjoy the zipwires - I wanted to add a photo for the sake of this article but was disappointed to realise that I didn't actually have any. Still, rest assured that older children - perhaps from around age 6 upwards, depending upon the individual child - will probably love them. We have a zipwire in our local park, but the ones at Bewilderwood are far bigger and better and quite simply more exciting, without being overly intimidating. Staff supervise the zipwires at all times, and are always willing to help.
For the very young, there is a mini 'zipwire', which is more of a chair attached to a wire, which can then be pulled along with your little one safely inside. Lots of small children seemed to enjoy this - however, my own toddler was totally against the idea of being put in the seat. Of course, that doesn't mean to say the mini zipwire is anything but fun - preschool children can be rather unpredictable to say the least.
The den building area is simple, yet very popular, especially with the older kids. This is a clearing full of branches of all sizes, which can be used to make makeshift shacks. Building a really successful den is a fairly difficult and arduous task (a lot of Dads are keen to give it a go) - it doesn't matter, however, as all the enjoyment is in the building itself. This is real old-fashioned fun harking back to bygone days - typical modern children are largely deprived of this sort of activity today. It's the very opposite of commercialised entertainment - and really, as a parent I have to admit there is little better than seeing my children high on the natural wonders of childhood, with tangled hair and fresh air brushing their faces.
When Bewilderwood first opened, some parents thought that there wasn't enough to do for younger siblings. I agree, although I can vouch that the issue has been acknowledged and now there is a lot more to entertain preschoolers. There are separate play areas for the smallest children, with their own slides, sandpits and low-rise constructions. Young children who are above 92 cm can enjoy some of the main slides (an average sized child of around two will be somewhere around this height). There is also regular entertainment in the form of shows on the grassy lawn and other additional activities often on offer (when we last visited my little one painted and added sparkles to a cardboard boot, which hung magically by string from the trees, along with all the other efforts, until it was time to go home). Younger children can also venture onto the treetop walks (with help of course).
Other Swings and Things
In-between all the major attractions, there are lots of other things dotted about, such as huge swings that can seat up to three, nets to clamber up and a maze which children really love - believe me, it is not easy. Every time, I end up retracing the same steps, wondering if I will ever find the centre. Bewilderwood is actually a fairly compact park - although it covers 50 acres, there is always something to do within a small radius. I find this an advantage, as it means the kids can be off doing something nearby whilst you relax with a coffee and the last of the picnic. Children don't stand still at Bewilderwood - it's a place for using up all that excess energy in a fun, non-commercial setting.
Food, the Shop and the Books
I don't usually resort to writing about catering outlets and gift shops, but just thought it was worth pointing out that Bewilderwood seems to offer food of a much better quality than many other attractions (at least, at my last observation). Food tends to be locally sourced where possible and there are three separate eating areas to choose from. We usually take a picnic, however, and just purchase extras such as ice cream for treats. Somehow, the kids never eat that much - excitement and other things get in the way.
The shop also has some great gifts and souvenirs. Bewilderwood does not much like cheap, rubbish tat and so products on offer are actually worth buying. Perhaps the best souvenirs worth buying for a child are the books themselves - A Boggle at Bewilderwood, The Bewilderbats, A Bewildermuddle and the Ballad of Bewilderwood - all written by Tom Blofeld. Surely there is nothing better to end a great day than to delve into the wonders of Bewilderwood once again, with an imaginative bedtime story.
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