So, BeWILDerwood. Where shall we start? How about 7-odd years ago when we were first taken round this unique attraction as it was under construction. Or the ‘Press Day’, when we were among the incredibly lucky few to behold it’s wonders first?
In a review we wrote back in 2007, I said:
“For me, one of the nicest aspects of BeWILDerwood was that throughout you could hear children’s laughter and playful screams of delight. Parents, children and friends were having fun together – testing their might on the zip wires and slides, and relaxing back with picnics and books. The whole attraction is like a giant, semi-wild park with a large and really excellent play area. It is a fantastic, and very healthy, way to spend a summer’s day out in the open air.”
Now, the better part of a decade on, I still wholeheartedly agree with the above. And various visits with various aged children hasn’t dampened my belief that BeWILDerwood is one of the most imaginative and fun family days out you can have. We are very lucky to have it, basically, on our doorstep (more on that later). And it has been a privilege to witness it’s gentle evolution.
Set in 50-odd acres and less than 10 miles out of Norwich between Wroxham and Hoveton, BeWiLDerwood is an ambitious and wonderful project that offers a magical antidote to everything that is wrong with childhood in the 21st Century.
For one, it is basically all outdoors (hence it only being open from February to October). Set among large, leafy tress in the wonderful fresh air that we all need to get more of.
Secondly, it is a fantastic example of ‘slow’ play. There is nothing digital here. No interactive elements with buttons and flashing lights. However, you can be spun really fast on a tyre bolted to a twisty thing, whizz down zip-wires, watch a puppet show, clamber, climb, scale, slide, swing and seek. All in traffic-free, dog-free tranquility.
Finally (although probably not – there’s loads more positives), if you like traditional adventure books, or fairy stories (and Einstein says that if you want intelligent kids, you should read them fairy tales), BeWILdwerwood is like an Enid Blyton Magic-Faraway-Tree played out in real life. From the magical ride into the ‘park’ on a BeWILDerboat to the darling Twiggle houses, BeWILDerwood is a feast for anyone with an imagination and must be utterly awe-inspiring if you’re less than 10.
So, there you are, basically, BeWILDerwood is like the outdoor-adventure-play version of Santa. Mythical, magical, surreal… and it really delivers the goods.
If you live in Norfolk, one of our top tips is to visit outside school holidays if you can (weekends if you have school-age kids or in the week with pre-schoolers). That way, you minimise the potential for queues (being so fantastic, BeWILDerwood does have a tendency to get busy during peak times, which can leave you waiting for some time for a boat, for example). I took our 2 1/2 year old on a sunny Thursday morning recently and it was fabulous – no queuing for anything (even the free face stenciling), and basically a park full of lots of toddlers with their grown-ups – it was lovely! The ‘Toddlewood’ areas are ideal for little ones, but I found that Littlest Man could use/climb/go on most things, with support and close supervision, except perhaps the bigger slides and zip wires.
Another tip, again relevant if you live close by, is to get an annual pass. They may seem pricey on the surface, but that will allow you to visit any and all the time, especially if, as mentioned above, you have pre-schoolers. It means you can take the short drive up from Norwich (30 mins, tops) and simply spend the morning enjoying the woods and play equipment on multiple days without feeling obliged to stay until close.
Of course, if you don’t live in Norfolk, you must still visit BeWILDerwood. Your children will love you for it. Arrive early, pack lots of food and drink (though it is available there) and make a real day of it. Come away with the accompanying BeWILDerwood book – ‘A Boggle at BeWILDerwood’ (for bedtime stories until you come and visit again) and watch the exhausted-but-happy-little faces in the back of the car as you drive home. Priceless.
New for 2014 is the exciting Sky Maze, set high in the treetop canopy.
Thursday 23rd October – Sunday 2nd November (October Half Term) is the The Glorious Glowing Lantern Parade, a puppet parade of the BeWILDerwood characters through the wood every day at dusk. Marvellous.
BeWILDerwood is open from February half term through to the end of October half term. From 10am to 5:30pm. (Last admission 4pm).
Ticket prices are based on height and range between £9 and £14.50. Those under 92cm are FREE.
BeWILDerwood Annual Passes starts at £30.