Do you ever stumble across interesting play spaces? I was visiting Dounans Scottish Outdoor Education Centre recently and went for a walk into the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park nearby Aberfoyle. The Forestry Commission has been very busy creating an accessible walk that is just right for a young family to complete in an afternoon. There’s lots of interesting things to see.

Tree trunk

Not far from the visitor’s centre, the fun begins when you see this area looming. Brashing and posts have  been used to create an informal labyrinth around a horizontal tree climbing structure. For those of you who are interested in playground design, these features bear the hallmark of Playlink consultants Judi Legg and Sue Gutteridge.

Tree trunk close up

It was extremely popular with many adults being up for walking along the logs and challenging themselves in the process as well as their children. Nearby were a couple of child-friendly nests…

Brash nests

A little further along the track, this pair of deer could be found. I’m not sure who the sculptor is. It is the sort of artwork which as a child I would have thought was just wonderful. In fact I probably would have opted for a glittery blue version 🙂

Deer statues

At several points along the path, there were invitations to explore off the beaten track. A good example is shown below. You have a choice of logs to cross…

Log bridge

Tucked away in a shrubby area is a group of stumps. Just right for creating a den, or having a snack en-route.

Hidden stumps

Further along, you come across one of the most beautiful fantasy play features I’ve seen in ages. The attention to detail was great, from the careful planting of holly on top of the “hobbit houses” to all sorts of other quirks.

Hobbit homes

Here’s the view from inside one hobbit house. You can lock yourself inside if you want to! From this house you get a view through the bore pipe. So not only are you looking through the circle, but also beyond.

Hobbit house

There were giant steps one side of the hobbit house. However if you look carefully, you can see a tiny door carved into the foot of the left hand stump, below the platform. There is a second storey door on the platform too. On the right hand stump there is a miniature pulley system. So bring some string should you ever visit so you can try it out.

Pulley system

The mossy tree nearby was also a house for some woodland characters. These doors reminded me of The Tiny Door Project. On this website you can send in your own examples of fairy doors and windows.

Fairy Doors

 Near to the path, good use had been made of a nearby stream. A shallow water channel system has been created complete with wooden gates to control the flow. This is more complex than it sounds. The gates require the addition of mud and other materials to make them water tight.

Watergate

In particular, lots of toddlers really liked this spot. There was something very paddle-friendly about it all and being able to follow and walk around the channels was appealing for a number of children.

Watergate closeup

The hammocks were a huge attraction. I liked the way they had been attached to the trees without causing damage to the trunks….

Wood Hammock

Several brash dens were also nearby.

Brashing Den 2

Each was created in a slightly different way which showed visiting children the possibilities when making their own dens.

Brash den

Across the other side of a river was a path leading up to a magnificent wild life viewing area. This had been recently refurbished. The numbers of birds and squirrels that could be seen was great, thanks to a lot of feeding tables and stations of different sorts to meet different birds’ needs.

Bird Hide

Back on the accessible walk, one came across a set of six body silhouettes silent and still in the woods. These make up an artwork called Vestige and are the creation of Rob Mulholland who has done a lot of environmental mirror sculptures.

Silhouettes

Lastly, there was another rather interesting community arts sculpture. This metal tree was composed of many leaves, created by children.

Metal tree

You can see the care and detail in each one…

Metal leaves 2

I couldn’t find any details about this project, so will have to keep hunting.

Metal Leaves 1

All-in-all, for the cost of a parking ticket, this was an afternoon of self-generated entertainment, fresh air and physical activity for local and visiting families and school groups. The combination of public art, free play and in a natural setting remains quite unusual. Well-worth a visit.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Nyree October 20, 2013 at 08:22

I visited while most of it was still under construction, good to see how it looks now. My dad works for the forestry commission and helped deliver the pipes for the hobbit houses.
Initially there was a lot of resistance and objections to the traditional play area being removed and money being spent creating this. The old play area was popular as the adults could sit in the cafe while the kids played on the equipment nearby. Many never ventured any further into the forest.

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Juliet Robertson October 20, 2013 at 14:50

Thanks Nyree for your prompt response. The bore pipes in the hobbit house are great! I can understand people’s original concerns about the differences between the past play area and the new layout and radically different approach that has replaced this.

I think what it does serve to demonstrate is that the Forestry Commission for Scotland has done its research well in terms of how children play, especially in natural settings, what adds a unique child-friendly “interpretive” trail and aesthetically what will suit the forest landscape.

I have a lot of respect for both Judi Legg and Sue Gutteridge and their work which spans many years and I’m pleased that the Forestry Commission has allowed both a creative dimension and also subtle approaches to risk and challenge.

For example the planting of holly on top of the hobbit houses – after all that’s how children learn about prickly plants is by playing around or near prickles. Likewise some of the brashing used in one den was from sitka spruce which has sharp needles.

The other aspect of the designs I enjoyed was the option for children to make the play features their own. For example brashing can be added or removed, stuff can be added to the dens and nests. The water channels can be blocked, if you are really determined to do this.

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Kierna October 20, 2013 at 10:48

What an amazing space, lovely to see so many different play areas, all so different and so carefully blended into the forest. Thanks for sharing.

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Juliet Robertson October 20, 2013 at 14:51

Agreed! I’m pleased you like the place too Kierna. You will have to add this to your “must visit when next in Scotland” list.

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Coombe Mill - Fiona October 20, 2013 at 15:37

What a fantastic adventure trail – fun and challenges for all the family. There is plenty to see and do for a full day of outdoor fun, let’s hope it inspires families to get out into the forest and explore. Thanks for linking up your fab photos and sharing with Country Kids.

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Juliet Robertson October 20, 2013 at 16:21

Thanks Fiona – I thought the theme might suit the family nature of your weekend link up 🙂

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Robbie Warren October 23, 2013 at 22:50

What a wonderful space to explore & enjoy. Many adventures could be had there – thanks for sharing.

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Sam Goddard February 18, 2014 at 20:46

Fantastic use of public woodland. If there were more outdoor spaces like this for children and families to access for free, imagine the benefits for the children, their parents and the environment. Fantastic

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Juliet Robertson February 18, 2014 at 21:44

It is – the Forestry Commission Scotland manages this particular site.

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