The last time I wrote about Pensthorpe Wildlife & Gardens, I started with this introduction:
“If you’re looking for an inspiring day out that doesn’t involve trudging round shopping malls or holding down your lunch on a roller-coaster, look no further than Pensthorpe near Fakenham in Norfolk. A multi-award winning attraction, this vast haven of scenic lakes, trails, wildlife and gardens has something to offer visitors of all ages, whilst its natural state ensures a year-round experience that changes with the seasons”.
All still true, Pensthorpe is like a vast ‘garden’, so beautiful it could be from the pages of a storybook. Life is everywhere, and at the moment, with flowers in bloom throughout, it is just stunning. However, this year (2013), this Norfolk visitor attraction upped their natural ante by introducing a children’s adventure play area of tremendous proportions. Let me take you back to your roots… WildRootz to be exact.
Inspired by recent reports that show a large percentage of children never actually play outside anymore, as well as a desire to encourage youngsters to become interested in wildlife and conservation (essential for the future), WildRootz is a canny addition that elevates Pensthorpe as a visitor attraction providing a full, family day out. Pairing holistic, child-friendly thrills in the wide open with red squirrel feeding, scenic wildlife walks and interactive elements throughout should prove to be a force (of nature) to be reckoned with.
The 7,000 square-meter outdoor activity area appears in all its awesome glory as you enter from the car park, the giant 11m high slide tower (‘The Worm’) and the immense wooden ‘Rookery Giant Nest Maze’ guaranteeing gasps of excitement from younger members of the group.
All shiny and spanking new, WildRootz comprises over 30 individual items of play equipment, including slides, tunnels, zip wires and burrows. There is a stream running throughout, with stepping stones at various points, trees to climb and a sandpit area. The sign on entry suggests that equipment at WildRootz is limited by ability not age. In other words, if your children can climb onto it, then they can use it. A nice variation from the ‘health and safety gone mad’ culture that has so obviously impacted on childhood these past years. Equally (and sensibly) though, the same signs make it quite clear that adult supervision is a must. There are plenty of helpful staff on hand to assist as well.
Our boys (1.5 and 5 years) love playing outdoors, and the wilder the better (or so it seems!), so they had a wonderful time exploring WildRootz. Both ended up soaked from the stream and had fantastic fun challenging themselves on all sorts of climbing/swinging/sliding/twisting paraphernalia. It’s not often that kids these days can do such things in an outdoor yet contained and semi-regulated environment that still offers enough freedom for it to feel ‘wild’.
As well as heights and dark twisty tunnels for the brave, there are some nice, lower-key activities as well. A selection of natural percussion instruments, for example. I could tilt all day on the wooden floor pipe-things. In the autumn, WildRootz will feature an ‘Arty Party Barn’ for indoor parties.
After spending an exhilerating morning in WildRootz, we refueled with lunch in the Courtyard Cafe before venturing out to do the ‘regenerated’ stamper trail. Armed with a WildRootz ‘Passport to the Natural World’ booklet (another innovation designed to help connect children with the outdoors), the rest of Pensthorpe is full of things to spot, check off and investigate. The Stamper Trail itself leads you right round the gardens, woodland and park, so you’re guaranteed a brush with the natives – waterfowl (a-plenty), butterflies and bugs and whatever else you might spot along the way…
Leaving late in the afternoon, with one child asleep and the other looking thoroughly spent, there was little need to ask if they’d had a great day. We’ll be discovering our ‘Rootz’ again very soon I predict…
Pensthorpe Wildlife & Gardens.
Pensthorpe Road, Fakenham, Norfolk, NR21 0LN.
T: 01328 851465.
Pensthorpe is open daily:
Reserve: 10am-5pm Courtyard Café: 9am-5pm Gift Shop: 10am-5pm
WildRootz open 10am-4.30pm, depending on weather.