Things To Do In Norfolk: BeWILDerwood.

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When BeWILDerwood first opened, 10 years ago this month, I remember saying, in quite a grumpy voice: “Why didn’t they have this when I was growing up? I want to go!”.

As it turns out, adults are encouraged to play alongside their children so, since having Freya, I’ve been able to climb, zip, crawl, slide and whoop to my heart’s content  –  although possibly with less speed and creakier joints than before.

What is it?

The award-winning “wild and imaginative adventure park” was created by Tom Blofeld in the Norfolk Broads, near Wroxham. He had the idea to build a healthy and active family experience – and it certainly is that.

It begins with a magical boat ride along the Dismal Dyke and into the Scaaaary Lake.

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Along the way we learn about the enchanting inhabitants of the wood, who also feature in Tom’s delightful books for children. There are Boggles and Twiggles, Mildred the vegetarian Crocklebog, Hazel the Wood Witch and a Thornyclod spider, who loves boots and shoes.

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Mildred.
Back on land there are aerial and ground level woodland walks linking a series of tree houses, play structures, picnic and story-telling areas.

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A tiny Freya showing us how it’s done.
Main attractions include Wobbly Wires, The Sky Maze, Slippery Slopes, The Broken Bridge and a Muddle Maze but there are also lots of things to play on or around under the woodland canopy, which is especially nice on very hot days.

It’s all very hands-on and, as well as den building, there are crafts to make and, at certain times, lovely stories to listen to (and be part of).

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Here’s my little Boggle.
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What I really like are the special areas for under fives (Toddlewood) – including little zip wires, which are Freya’s favourite thing. Although, even the first time we went more than a year ago, there were not that many things that she couldn’t do with a little help.

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Can you spot Freya? Don’t worry, my running buddy is with her.
Dotted about you can find little Boggle homes on the ground and you might spot a Twiggle house high in the trees. There are also signs to read and learn from. It’s all really well done.

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A lot of thought has obviously gone into every area of the attraction – including the food (nearly all of which comes from “carefully chosen and certified local farmers, veggie growers and even odd little suppliers exclusive only to us”). You are also welcome to bring your own picnic.

What do we think overall?

BeWILDerwood is a unique, fun-filled day out for all the family. I have no doubt it will be a trip we make for many more years to come.

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How much does it cost?

On the day (or over the phone).

Under 92cms – free.

92 – 105cms – £14.50.

Over 105cms – £16.50.

65+ – £9.50.

You can save money by booking online in advance. Full details (including opening hours) here.

And now…

As a special treat, here’s a little clip of Tom Blofeld reading a poem he wrote to celebrate the 10th anniversary of BeWILDerwood.

 

Easy Crafts With Children – Salt Dough Butterflies.

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When a couple of spots appeared on Freya’s legs we thought we knew what was coming – the dreaded chicken pox*.

Mark was promptly dispatched to stock up on calamine lotion and oats while I reached for the iPad to start frantically scanning Pinterest for things to do indoors with a child who, if anything, had more energy than usual.

On the Monday Freya was very upset at not being able to go to nursery (real tears) so we made a batch of salt dough (with added glitter to cheer her up) and thought we’d cut out some shapes to decorate.

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To make the salt dough.

Just in case you want to try it and need a recipe, we use a cup of salt, a cup of plain flour and half a cup of warm water (mix the water in gradually to make the dough). Glitter is optional.

Thanks to our biscuit making activities, Freya’s pretty good at making and shaping dough (she loves getting her hands messy). I gave her several shapes to try but she liked the butterfly one best (she also made a snake) and that’s when I had the idea of decorating our balcony with them. It took about an hour from start to finish (not including my clean up time which took days thanks to finding glitter in every single room).

We remembered, just in time, to put holes in them (using the end of the paint brush) and to prick them with a fork so they didn’t crack up when they dried, which has happened before.

Last time we air-dried the dough and it took FOREVER (three weeks or more) but it was winter so I thought, as it had been quite warm recently, I’d stick them on the balcony (and actually most of them were ready in about four days). I put them on greaseproof paper (because it seemed like the thing to do) on baking trays to keep them flat.

Time to decorate.

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While I hoped we could put a base colour on and then, when they were dry, add some extra decoration, Freya often likes to mix all the colours together and paint at will. I wasn’t that bothered, as it’s for her entertainment, after all, but this time she surprised me by following my suggestion.

We decided to make two different sorts of butterflies; one lot was based on actual butterflies, which we looked up (and learned about symmetry) and the other were what Freya described as “fairy butterflies”.

I didn’t really want her covered in permanent marker so I outlined the real ones while she was asleep and then the next day she helped dab on the spots (making sure both sides were equal) with a cotton bud. Once again I was surprised by how much care she took (my baby is growing up). While I finished those, she decorated the other ones with glitter glue (they sparkle beautifully in the sunshine).

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After they were dry I then threaded the wool and popped them on the balcony. I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the way they turned out. They were not only easy and fun to make (plus a good learning experience) but they add some lovely colour to our little outside space.

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We actually made about 23 butterflies but I accidentally broke a couple when I lifted them before they were ready.

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* When only six spots appeared and she was still full of life, I took Freya to the doctor who said she couldn’t be sure what it was. She was 50/50 between the pox and a different viral rash. I guess we will never know.

Things To Do In Norfolk: Banham Zoo.

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Victoria crowned pigeon.

There are so many things I like about Banham Zoo – and that’s before you even get to the animals.

We’ve been visiting once or twice a year since Freya was a baby – more for Mark’s benefit at that time – and she really loves it now, especially because there are two cheetahs among more than 2,000 animals – and Fuli, from The Lion Guard, is her absolute favourite.

Set in 50 acres, it opened in 1968 with a collection of parrots and pheasants before acquiring a colony of monkeys in 1971. Since then it has gone from strength to strength – often crowned Norfolk’s Top Attraction by various organisations – and in 2013 it became part of the Zoological Society of East Anglia, a charity which also owns Africa Alive in Suffolk.

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Sri Lankan Leopards having a play.

The staff, who all seem to do lots of different jobs (when we visited in winter the same lady who painted Freya’s face also drove the train and fed the cheetahs), are always so friendly and happy to answer questions. What’s more they really seem to love all creatures great and small – and are especially invested in the ones they care for. That comes across so well in the way they talk about them with such pride and passion.

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Blue and yellow macaw.

I also want to mention the food, which is simple but oh-so-delicious. I had to compliment the lady who served us on one visit because, even though I only had a jacket potato with cheese and beans with a lovely fresh salad, it was perfection. For some reason I never expected that at a zoo, maybe I should?

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Red panda (cuuuuttttee).

Ok, but what can you see?

Of course, what you really go to the zoo for is the animals. On our most recent visit, it was all about the birds for me so I thought I’d share a few photos here.

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Sam the bald eagle.
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Great grey owl.
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Hooded vulture.
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African Harrier Hawk.
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And again.
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Ruppell’s griffin vulture having a snack.

There are also reptiles, fish, amphibians and invertebrates, such as the red-legged millipede I got to hold on one visit, mammals, like Freya’s favourite below and a Siberian tiger which took me by surprise on a previous trip, and also domestic livestock. You can find a list here.

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If you want a break from walking, there is a fantastic indoor Amazing Animals display, which has been really entertaining every time we’ve been, a birds of prey demonstration, which was very special for our family recently, and various animal feedings to watch.

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Red ruffed lemur.

Two of my favourite things are the lemur encounter, where you can walk through their enclosure and get very close, and also Eureka! Anamazing Oasis. The latter is always so warm that my camera steams up but on our most recent trip it was a bit cooler in the afternoon and I managed to get some photos, including of the Victorian Crowned Pigeon at the very top and this Postman butterfly.

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The eagle-eyed might also spot a sloth among the exotic trees and plants. You can find out more about the animals in this area here.

Freya, who has endless energy, also loves the outdoor children’s play area and the small indoor softplay area, where she also gets her face painted.

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If your legs get tired from all the walking/playing you can also take a ride on the safari road train (although it’s worth doing this anyway for the accompanying talk).

All in all, it’s a great day out for all ages.

What does it cost?

Discounted tickets can be booked online before you go, all the details are here.

In May 2017 online prices were – adults, £18.15, children (three – 15), £12.95 and there are various concessions. Season tickets are also available.

The zoo runs both on-the-day and pre-bookable animal experiences, which look a lot of fun. As do the birthday parties (am I too old?).

For details of how to get there and everything else, please click here.

Hopefully I have all the names of the animals correct but I’m no expert so if you spot one you think is wrong, please let me know.