The Highway Rat has fast become one of Luke’s favourite books and I’m sure some of that is thanks to the BBC’s animated film production they aired over Christmas. He has had the book since he was little and, as with all Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler children’s books, it has been a massive hit and one of his most read bedtime stories. In fact, just before half term, Luke’s school held a day where children could dress up as their favourite villain from a book, and sure enough, my boy raced into school dressed as the naughty highway beast himself.
We decided on a very muddy Saturday that we should test out Luke’s new Spider-man wellies with a walk along the Alice Holt Habitat Trail. Alice Holt is a local area and is managed by the Forestry Commission, so there are always loads of interactive trails and sculptures along the way to keep children entertained. Luke and I have certainly visited the forest before, and both Mikey and myself have memories of walking the trial when we were younger.
The Highway Rat At Alice Holt, Farnham
We should have checked online first, as it was only once we had arrived and started our walk, that we noticed a certain rat thief watching us. Had I had a quick peek on the website, I’d have known that, along with hunting for The Highway Rat and his friends through the forest, there was also an activity pack available to purchase for £3.
The Habitat Trail is an amazingly fun 0.6 mile play trail, that’s perfect for young children parents with pushchairs. It may not seem like a long walk, but along the way, there are some impressive wooden play sculptures that capture the imagination and keep the children occupied. To our delight, The Highway Rat was also there, with plenty educational information boards dotted around the walk. These told us about the fellow woodland creatures that feature in the children’s book and what sort of food they eat, as well as how they live in the wild. There were also character sign posts to spot as we made our way along the trail.
Alice Holt’s wooden play sculptures encourage children to get active and exercise those gross motor skills. This type of play is perfect for Luke as he struggles with his physical confidence. As the woods are so big and there are so many different trails, the sculptures are never packed or over crowded and when you do bump into another family, I’ve noticed that Luke suddenly gains confidence from somewhere and once he has seen another child complete the obstacle in front of him, he usually gives it a go himself.
Wooden Play Sculptures
First we came to a giant wooden owl. We went on a rainy day, so the sculptures were quite slippery, but Luke managed to climb up the owl’s tail and look down on me through the owl’s beady eye. From up there, you can either slide down the fireman’s pole, or climb back down the tail.
Next we came to The Woodpecker Tree. This one was a bit tricky for Luke as it takes the form of a huge hollow tree with a series of ladders and platforms that lead to the top. Steps? No problem! Ladders…well we haven’t quite mastered them yet. But, in a gushy mummy moment, I have to admit that I was rather proud of him for climbing inside and giving it a good go! The trunk is definitely children sized, so I couldn’t really go in and help him up. If your child does manage to make it to the top, you can see through the pine forest and even see a life-sized wooden woodpecker. If you don’t manage to spot it, you can definitely hear the wild woodpeckers as you make your way through the forest.
In the deep, dark woods, you also come across a bat and a moth sculpture. This play sculpture has two climbing walls either side. We skipped this one as Luke had already seen another sign post featuring a Highway Rat character and had run ahead to see who was pictured.
Finally, we came to a giant network of wooden tunnels. These were SO much fun and we probably spent the most amount of time on our walk playing around this area. Once again, this set up proved to be challenging for Luke. There was a small amount of water inside the tunnels and the wood was quite slippery. The tunnels are all at different angles, so you’re required to climb up and bum shuffle down in order to work your way through them. With a few words of encouragement, Luke soon found his confidence and ended up zooming through the tunnels and playing with a few other children.
The fun doesn’t end there though. We carried on with our woodland stroll, running off to find The Highway Rat himself, jump in muddy puddles and even walk through some seriously squelchy mud (the kind that sucks your wellies under!).
The Play Wood
After some more puddle jumping, because you, of course, have to clean all that mud off your wellies again, we headed to the massive wooden playground, called ‘The Play Wood’. Luke and Mikey spent ages playing together here – mastering the giant pirate ship, driving the wooden train, spinning around and around on the spinning wheel and climbing into little wooden huts. The playground wheel spin and nest swing are fairly new additions to the Play Wood and aim to make the playground more accessible to children with disabilities.
Accessibility At Alice Holt, Farnham
The Play Wood also happens to be next door to the cafe and the immaculately clean toilet facilities. If accessibility is something you need to focus on when planning a day out, you’ll be happy to hear that Alice Holt has a fully equipped changing room that features a height adjustable changing table, a hoist and a vanity unit. To gain access, you just need to grab the key from a member of staff. The toilets are right next to the visitor centre. There is also an Easy Access Trail that is pushchair and wheelchair friendly, so no one has to miss out on the fun of exploring nature. Along this trail, you’ll also spot wooden sculptures of the Gruffalo and his woodland friends, including that plucky little mouse!
In total, we were probably at Alice Holt for around 2 – 2.5 hours. Although the trail itself is short, Luke got lots of exercise and burned off a substantial amount of energy on the play sculptures. We also spent about 45 minutes in Play Wood after our walk and about 15 minutes in there before we even headed into the woods. The walk we chose was perfect for Luke and I’d recommend it for children of all ages. Alice Holt is a huge area of woodland and is a beautiful place to visit, no matter the time of year. The entire place is bursting with educational nuggets and the facilities and trails are all in pristine condition. We love visiting the forest and we will be heading back very soon!
After More Family Days Out and Adventures?
If you are looking for more family days out and places to explore in the Surrey and Hampshire area, I have a huge guide of attractions that are perfect for all the family to enjoy! Head to my post: 95 Things To Do With Kids In Surrey and Hampshire.