We are spoilt for choice for family attractions in the Forest of Dean! We visit the area regularly as we find it is the perfect place to entertain our two energetic boys. We have spent many memorable hours paddling in streams at various picnic spots in the forest, exploring the caves at Clearwell and admiring the views at Symmonds Yat.
Last weekend we were kindly invited by the Forest of Dean tourism association to visit Puzzlewood, Perrygrove Railway, Dean Heritage Centre and the Forest of Dean Sculpture Park with Creative Detectives. It was an action packed weekend which involved treasure hunts, creating forest arts and crafts, tree top adventures and walking ferrets! (Yes you read that correctly. I did a double take when I first read our itinerary too!)
For different reasons we loved all four attractions. Charlie and Harry thoroughly checked out all the facilities and explored every nook and cranny. (They took on their roles as investigators VERY seriously indeed!) Below you will find our reviews of all four attractions and our top tips for visiting with kids.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable few hours exploring the magical forest, Puzzlewood. It was a rather surreal experience as the forest is untamed and quite eerie. My husband and I walked around pointing out all the strange tree and rock formations whilst our boys got very excited discovering stepping stones shaped like dinosaur feet, a hidden wooden bench, dead ends, balancing beams and what they thought were spooky looking trees!
I have certainly never been anywhere like it before. Now that I have experienced it for myself I am not surprised that it has been used as a film set for many popular movies inc. The Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who and Merlin.
When we arrived on Saturday morning at Puzzlewood it was actually our third time at the attraction, although our first time making it through the attraction doors! The first time we attempted to visit last summer we didn’t know that push chairs were not allowed. I’ll admit, at the time I thought it was a rather ridiculous rule. Now that I have been and explored the forest I can fully appreciate see why push chairs are not permitted. The ground is uneven with big tree roots and there are lots of narrow bridges, stepping stones, deep ravines and tangled vines. A great place to explore with kids but impossible with a push chair in tow!
The second time we visited we had not checked the website prior to setting off and the attraction was closed. (This was after stopping en route to clear up Charlie’s vomit from the back seat. We can laugh about this now but it was NOT a good day!) This leads into my top tips for visiting Puzzlewood…
Tips for visiting Puzzlewood
* If visiting with a baby you will need a sling or back pack carrier. Pushchairs are not allowed.
* Check out the website in advance. The attraction closes for filming and bad weather.
* Wear sensible footwear. Sandals are no good for exploring the 14 acre forest with 200 + steps!
* There is an indoor & outdoor picnic area although for convenience there is a cafe too.
* In case of rain there are a few rainy day activities including 3D colouring & ride on toys for tots.
* Download the free app Puzzlewood in advance. We struggled to get wifi in the forest. The treasure hunt is via the app. Kids have to find the 10 Roman coins hidden around the forest and then scan them with a smart phone! (I’m not sure who enjoyed this game most, my husband or our boys but we can thoroughly recommend!)
* It is a winding drive to the Forest of Dean. Be prepared for car sickness!
Website – http://www.puzzlewood.net/
Admission – Adult £6.50. Children 3-16 – £5.50, 2 and under – free. Family ticket (2 Adults + 2 Children) – £23.00
On Saturday afternoon we visited Perrygrove. After picking up our clipboards with treasure hunt clues we boarded a steam train for the short 3/4 mile journey passing by farmland and woods. As with every other child on the train, Charlie and Harry absolutely loved the 20 minute journey. They both waved at every person we saw and took great delight in answering all of the questions on the treasure hunt.
We found the play area at Foxy Hollow more suited to Charlie (age 5) and older kids and kept Harry in his push chair. The indoor village back at Perrygrove station though was great fun for both of them and they had a great time exploring and playing hide and seek in the five houses connected by secret passages. The highlight for Charlie was opening up his treasure hunt box to find his hidden treasure. Harry, along with several other toddlers, played with the miniature train set in the cafe for over an hour. There were a few tears when it was time to leave!
Unfortunately it was raining during our visit and so we only briefly stopped by the outdoor tree top houses. The adventure play ground looked great fun though with slide, swing bridge, ladders and miniature houses.
Tips for visiting Perrygrove
* Tickets lasts all day & you can ride the train as many times as you like for no extra charge.
* There are outdoor tables to enjoy a picnic and a cafe serving food at the station.
* Treasure hunts cost an extra £1.90 and are great fun for little ones. You will need to leave a £5 deposit for the locker key too.
* If you wish to experience more than one attraction in one day, Puzzlewood and Clearwell Caves are both within a couple of minutes drive.
Website – http://perrygrove.co.uk/
Admission – Adult £7.00. Children 3-16 – £5.65, 2 and under – free. Family ticket (2 Adults + 2 Children) – £24.50
Sculpture Trail with Creative Detectives
Our first stop on Sunday morning was to meet with a lovely lady called Rachel from Creative Detectives. She quickly put us to work on our first task – hunting for different coloured leaves and natural objects to create a stained glass effect craft. Of course both boys loved this challenge and happily filled their paper bags with sticks, leaves and other forest floor goodies before getting stuck in crafting.
We then continued on the sculpture trail this time collecting items with different textures. Rachel showed us how to press the items down into clay in a small pot which we topped with plaster cast to create a sculpture we could take home.
Our final task was to create a piece of art to leave on the forest floor for other people to enjoy. Charlie got stuck in immediately and had great fun making a Fern Monster!
I would thoroughly recommend Rachel’s Creative Detective sessions. Richard and I enjoyed the experience as we learnt about the Forest of Dean and also picked up some great tips on how to entertain our boys for future forest walks! (The plaster cast art was really easy and we will definitely be trying it again!) I would say that Harry at two years old was a little young to fully get involved with the art projects however, Charlie at 5 years old loved it and has pestered me since to return!
Tips for visiting the Forest of Dean Sculpture Park
* If you have not visited the sculpture park before you really must! It is free to enter and if you park at the Forestry Commission Speech House car parking is free too (although there is no toilet or cafe at this site).
* To park near facilities including a cafe, toilet and fab children’s wooden playground head to Beechenhurst. Daily car parking is £3/£3.50 and tickets can be used at any other Forestry Commission pay and display site. Trail maps are also available from Beechenhurst for just £1.
Websites – Forest of Dean Sculpture Park and Creative Detectives
Cost – Creative Detective session costs £12 based on a family of 4, (extra participants £2). An exclusive private session, like we experienced cost £80, with a further charge of £2 per participant to cover materials.
Dean Heritage Centre
After a creative morning in the forest we spent Sunday afternoon at the Dean Heritage Centre walking ferrets. As you can imagine my boys thought this was THE BEST THING EVER! The great news is they have stopped pestering me to buy a dog… the not so great news is that they now want a ferret instead!
We spent over an hour playing and walking with the ferrets along the trail. Both boys took an interest in the welfare of the creatures and chatted happily with Martin the ferret keeper. I was amazed to find out that ferrets can capture, kill and carry a rabbit in their mouths!
After saying goodbye to our new furry friends, (who managed to escape off their leads on several occasions, much to the delight of my boys!), we took a stroll through the deep dark woods and came face to face with the Gruffalo.
The attraction has just brought back the Gruffalo trail after receiving high demand from customers. The Gruffalo trail was the first book trail the attraction introduced and since then they have hosted the Room on the Broom, Gruffalo’s Child and the Hungry Caterpillar. I’m not sure why but I found it highly amusing that they had to re carve most of the Gruffalo statues again, as they had auctioned off the old ones. Just thinking about Gruffalo’s living in gardens all over the UK brings a smile to my face!
The attraction has loads on offer for kids of all ages. In addition to the ferrets and Gruffalo trail there are 20,000 historical artefacts to explore in five different themed galleries, a lovely wooden playground, a working water wheel, chain saw carving artists to watch, ducks to feed and even pigs to visit!
Tips for visiting Dean Heritage Centre
* We spent four hours at the attraction and didn’t cover half of the facilities on offer. I would recommend a full day visit to fully appreciate this attraction.
* Don’t miss out on the ferret walking, its included in the cost of admission and it is a unique experience!
* There is a onsite cafe and also plenty of outdoor picnic tables including some near the car park. These are quite handy for avoiding taking heavy picnic bags into the attraction!
* There are lots of things to do with kids indoors and so worth keeping in mind for a rainy day. (Although the walking trail and playground are obviously outside).
Website – http://www.deanheritagecentre.com/
Admission with gift aid – Adult £8.00. Children 3 – 16 £6.00, under 3 free. Family ticket (2 adults 2 children) £25.00 or with 3 children £30.00
For more ideas of family attractions in the Forest of Dean, including Go Ape and Clearwell Caves, check out the tourist association website. If you are looking for accommodation in the area we can thoroughly recommend a family friendly cottage which can accommodate up to six people and a baby! Click here to read our review of Parish Mill Holidays.
If you have any questions about family attractions in the Forest of Dean, please feel free to ask in the comment section below. I am happy to help!
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Disclosure – We were provided with admission for the four attractions above and a complimentary stay in a local cottage in return for this honest review.