This weekend we went Gruffalo hunting at Westonbirt Arboretum with my sister-in-law, Sarah and her toddler, Aaron. Aaron is Gruffalo mad and loves being outside so it seemed like the perfect way to spend a very cold but sunny Saturday. It was £7 for an adult ticket into Westonbirt and children under five are free. Children over five were charged £2. It does look like these prices might be due to change according to Google, who suggest it will be £8 per adult from Spring 2018.
I’ll start by saying that the information provided about the trail is a bit confusing for parents. There are very few signposts to help you find the sculptures. I can only remember one signpost for Gruffalo Wood near to the main entrance. After that you were on your own. If you didn’t pick up the right map at the entrance, you were also pretty screwed. There are no mentions whatsoever of the elusive Gruffalo on the main map of the Arboretum. So unless you specifically ask staff for The Gruffalo map, you are completely in the dark, apart from that one measley signpost.
Armed with the correct map, off we trotted to the Old Arboretum. The old arboretum was very quiet, probably as dogs are not allowed in this bit of the park (Rigoletto was not happy about being left at home.). The paths are wide, very well kept and we’re very stroller friendly. Ivor was happily looking at the tree tops for the majority of our walk around. Aaron was out of his buggy the second we found The Gruffalo. He went running up to him and gave him a huge hug and babbled to him in his delightful toddler speak.
The sculpture itself is gorgeous. I didn’t know much about the sculptures before we went, and was expecting a shiny, scuffed, cheap plastic model. In fact it was a huge wooden carving, which even made all of the adults smile. They were created by artist David Lucas, and they are stunning. The sculpture has obviously been well looked after by Westonbirt and it was in immaculate condition. We stopped and had lots of family photos before we moved on to try and find the rest of the Gruffalo characters.
This is where the day went a little bit sour. I’ve now found out that the rest of the Gruffalo sculptures are down a little path that runs directly behind the Gruffalo. As you can see from the picture above there is no obvious sign of them, and NO SIGNPOSTING WHATSOEVER. It also wasn’t clear on the map that they were there either. Only the two gruffalos were marked. I get the feeling the map we were handed is an old one from before they had these characters and Westonbirt was just using them up. Staff at the entrance gate also didn’t offer any guidance on where they were and just handed us the map. We can’t be the first ones to not find the other characters…and we have three university diplomas between the three of us 🙈🙈🙈…so it’s a shame there wasn’t more explanation given by staff. I’ve also done a bit of digging on ye olde TripAdvisor, and there are a number of one to two star reviews from irritated families looking for Gruffalos…Basically, there should have been a bloody sign. One sodding signpost Westonbirt, just left of the Gruffalo, with an arrow saying “other characters this way!” It would cost you about ten bloody quid. After walking round the Old Arboretum for ages, we gave up, convinced we’d read the website wrong and that the characters weren’t at Westonbirt yet. It was time for a coffee.
It does state on one page that I’ve found on the Forestry Commissions website, that the characters are on a path behind the Gruffalo. However, I hadn’t come across this page before we went, and neither had Sarah…and to be honest I didn’t think it would be necessary to do extensive research on a toddler’s walking trail before setting off. And alas, none of us had reception whilst we were there to check the website.
The gift shops and restaurants are on the edge of the old arboretum, and on the way to see The Gruffalos Child sculpture. The kids seemed fine but the adults were starting to freeze to death, so we stopped for quick cappuccino and victoria sponge. The coffee and cake were both perfectly pleasant, but nothing out of the ordinary. There were a few scoffs of “how much?” From my husband when he was asked for just over £9 for two coffees and a piece of cake. He’s tight at the best of times so I tend not to pay much attention when he does this, but he may have had a point… Yes, it’s about what you’d pay in Costa, so not that extortionate, but the coffees weren’t as big as what you get in your average coffee chain either. If you want to have a day out on a budget take a flask and a picnic, as you would probably spend a tiny fortune if you bought a full lunch for a family of four. We sat outside despite the cold as it was easier having two strollers with us. It had been kept very tidy and clean and was a nice place to stop for a rest. Whilst Alex and Sarah got the drinks, I asked a member of staff if they knew where the Gruffalo statues were. Not a clue 🙄🙄🙄. I’m not sure they even knew what a Gruffalo was.
The Gruffalos child is situated in Silk Wood, a fifteen to twenty minute walk away (at toddler pace) from the Gruffalo. I’m not sure why they’ve chosen to put this statue separate from the others… Maybe it’s so families that have brought thier dog can still see something? The walk was quite easy and this sculpture at least, was easy to find, and on the map. The only thing is…that extra twenty minute walk with an under-two was enough for Aaron to become tired and ratty and he had a few mini tantrums along the way.
I’m not going in my buggy,
I’m not tired,
I’m not wearing socks,
I want to help those teenagers saw some wood.
After a few pictures with the sculpture we set off back to the car park. It’s another good fifteen minute walk back, including a walk across the Tree Top Bridge. The Tree Top Bridge is lovely, with great views across the Arboretum and I definitely recommend it. Unfortunately we had two tiny terrors who were screaming their heads off in a double-mega-meltdown, because they’d both had enough. It’s a nice idea that The Gruffalo Child sculpture can be seen by everyone, including dog walkers, but it’s just too far away from the other sculptures when you have a young toddler. It makes the day that thirty minutes longer than they can cope with. As the audience for The Gruffalo is very young children, I do feel like Westonbirt have misjudged this decision and they should just put it with the others in the Old Arboretum.
We used the baby changing facilities at the main entrance before leaving. They were spacious and clean and a joy to use. The baby changing unit was in excellent condition and the nappy bin had been recently emptied. There was also a self service machine selling wipes, nappy sacks and sudocrem if you found yourself caught short on supplies. The hand dryers (which Ivor is petrified of) were even located at the other end of the bathroom too! Hurrah! I have no complaints about these facilities at all. They made changing a big smelly poo quite easy!
All in all, Westonbirt is a lovely day out, and based on the two Gruffalo sculptures we saw, I imagine the rest of them were probably wonderful. The arboretum itself is immaculately kept and there are plenty of family friendly facilities dotted around to make your day comfortable.
Just update your Gruffalo map and put up some friggin’ signs Westonbirt!
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