In a nutshell
Join the characters from Julia Donaldson and Alex Schaffer’s popular tale The Highway Rat, as you venture on a trail around the stunning Forest of Dean woodland. Young explorers get the chance to create rubbings, make their very own Stick Man using ‘treasures’ from the woodland floor, and enjoy the great British outdoors, spurred on by their favourite characters.
Gather the troops.
Our eight-strong team of explorers gathered at Beechenhurst Lodge on a dreary Sunday morning, poised for adventure! After picking up our activity pack from the on-site café, costing £3, we made a short trip across the main car park to begin the trail.
The activity pack included a cardboard mask, which was useful for posing as The Highway Rat himself at the end of the trail; a crayon for rubbings we would encounter along the way; a piece of string and instructions on how we could create our own stick man using ‘treasures’ from the forest floor; some stickers and a pencil, used to tick off each of the characters we found on our travels.
Our group was made up of six adults and two children, aged five and two. The activity pack element was hugely appreciated by the elder of our young explorers, but two-year-old Max was more enamoured by the ability to run free amongst the trees and squelchy puddles that we encountered along the route.
As much as the activity pack made a useful addition to the trail, the group concluded that £3 seemed quite steep for the quality of the items that were included – especially if needing to buy for multiple children in a family.
Finding the Highway Rat.
The Highway Rat Trail is along a hard-stone track lined with beautiful, tall trees and woodland to explore. It included two short uphill sections, but nothing noticeably steep. We also discovered some wonderful den structures on our journey, which both the children and adults in our group enjoyed playing in!
After meandering for a few minutes, we came across our first character, the horse. After promptly ticking him from the check sheet, we moved along the trail discovering a range of different activities.
Some were activity boards, suggesting things such as: ‘find five differently shaped leaves’, ‘locate a cobweb’ or ‘leap as high as you can’. Other activities came in the form of rubbings, illustrating the foods that The Highway Rat collects on his journey. Finally, as per the instructions in our activity pack, we found a ‘stick as long as our arm’ and a range of treasures on the forest floor, creating our own stick man to take with us on our travels.
The characters we encountered on the Highway Rat trail came in the form of images of each animal, mounted onto wooden poles. Our group was left slightly disappointed by the lack of actual sculptures of the characters to pose alongside. Perhaps this is because we had all grown up enjoying Beechenhurst’s famous Sculpture Trail and were expecting something of a similar ilk for a modern audience.
However, this didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the trail, but was something we felt could be improved for future incarnations of the activity trail.
After around 40 minutes, we reached the end of the trail, where we were greeted by a ‘Wanted’ poster. Here, explorers could wear the activity pack mask and pretend to be The Highway Rat. This was a nice interactive feature for the end of the trail. It also encouraged visitors to share their pictures online using the hashtag #TheHighwayRat.
Extending the day.
The Highway Rat Trail was a lovely way to spend the morning. Despite being a fairly short trail, all of the climbing, jumping and hiding in dens had worked up quite an appetite amongst our group! We made our way to Beechenhurst’s café and play area for a refreshment stop.
We made full use of the plentiful picnic benches, wooden play area, toddler play area and baby change facilities, before making our way back into the forest to take on part of the Beechenhurst Lodge Sculpture Trail. The full Sculpture Trail takes around three hours but offers two shortcuts for people short on time or energy!
In total, we spent four hours exploring the forest. The combination of the more focused activity trail, along with space for free play and a picnic, meant that our trip to Beechenhurst Lodge provided a wonderful day out. Perfect for visiting with family or a group of friends, and an affordable alternative to a day at a country park.
The grown-ups in our group had time to take photos of the stunning scenery, chat and enjoy some fresh air, whilst the children were entertained looking for puddles to jump in and discovering dens made from fallen trees.
We might have gone home with achy legs, but we also took home a bucket load of memories.
The Highway Rat trail, along with a trip to Beechenhurst Lodge’s fantastically equipped play area and famous sculpture trail, provided us with a whole day of entertainment for the cost of car parking and an activity pack. In total, around £7 to £10 for the whole family.
We brought along a picnic to save on cost, but could have enjoyed a warm meal in the impressive on-site café. In terms of value-for-money, it’s hard to find another activity that provides so much to do for such a small fee. The added bonus is that our trip wore out little legs enough to encourage excellent nap times!
Being familiar with the story of The Highway Rat would probably be an advantage before you make your way around the trail. Despite being firm fans of The Gruffalo, we have not yet added The Highway Rat to our Julia Donaldson collection. Prior knowledge of the storyline wasn’t essential in order to enjoy the trail, but knowing character names and the story background would have only enhanced our visit around the trail.