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.
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.
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…
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 🙂
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…
Tucked away in a shrubby area is a group of stumps. Just right for creating a den, or having a snack en-route.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The hammocks were a huge attraction. I liked the way they had been attached to the trees without causing damage to the trunks….
Several brash dens were also nearby.
Each was created in a slightly different way which showed visiting children the possibilities when making their own dens.
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.
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.
Lastly, there was another rather interesting community arts sculpture. This metal tree was composed of many leaves, created by children.
You can see the care and detail in each one…
I couldn’t find any details about this project, so will have to keep hunting.
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.