Since last October I’ve been working with the Forestry Commission. H and I have a Discovery Pass so that we can visit our local site: Wyre Forest. Visiting woods was an important part of my childhood and I’m keen for H to have the same opportunity. So when we were invited to a day at Hicks Lodge, The National Forest Cycle Centre, I jumped at the chance. Fellow bloggers were invited too including MummyPinkWellies, Oliver’s Madhouse and Mummy Beadzoid. Together we had a nice mix of age groups from 2 to 6 years of age. Hicks Lodge is very accessible from Birmingham, where we live, and it takes about 45 minutes (outside of rush hour) to get there.
We have family in the area, so we already knew a lot about The National Forest. Hicks Lodge is typical of National Forest sites in that it’s the site of a former open cast coal mine. It’s very difficult to imagine that it was ever a place where noisy, industrial machines extracted coal when you are actually at Hicks Lodge. It’s a real haven for wildlife and a haven for us humans too giving loads of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.
Barely were we out of the car and H was in the playground. It’s been designed to suit a range of age groups with the tunnels and slide being suitable from quite a young age to a more complex, challenging climbing frame to take in the tweens.
As part of the day we were kitted out with the equipment we needed to be able to spot and study wildlife. A magnifying glass, tweezers, binoculars and a minibeast viewing container – we were all set. I know H would have loved one of these Geosafari Jr Kidnoculars as it would have made the day even more interesting.
Our first activity was a quiz trail where you had to follow the clues to collect letters, these letters needed to be rearranged into the name of a bird. This sort of activity is very much H’s thing and within a few minutes he’d found the clues and solved the puzzle.
Next up was a walk around the 2km Hicks Lodge Trail. This is a mixed use trail for walkers, bikes and horseriders, which seems popular amongst dog walkers. We had the benefit of having a ranger led walk around the lovely lake and I think we all learnt loads about the wildlife on site. I was amazed at the variety of plants and animals Hicks Lodge supports. H really liked the fact that he had a ranger to talk as we walked around available to answer all his questions: he’s very curious about the natural world and is ever eager to add to his factual knowledge. Like a nature detective he was looking for signs of the animals that live there and wanted to identify everything he saw: the birds on the lake (swans, moorhens and ducks), the saplings (quite a range, we saw oak, birch, beech amongst others) that had been planted and the wild flowers on the ground. H and the other children were encouraged to look for natural items from a list, like something they found beautiful (a flower) or something that showed birds lived at Hicks Lodge (a feather).
Part way round the walk, we stopped to do some bug hunting. We found quite a few things including spiders, shield beetles and Cinnabar Moth caterpillars. Badger poo was discovered too which clearly revealed how much they like eating berries.
Our nature explorers, even the youngest, managed the 2 km walk very well, in part I think because they were so interested in the world around them and the rangers really helped us see and understand the plants and animals that were there.
Back to the cafe, with its handy free wi-fi and nice range of snacks and drinks, for our lunch. After a tasty lunch and a rather nice slice of cake, we were ready for another adventure. This time we were exploring the other half of the site by bike.
First we were kitted out with helmets and bikes. Hicks Lodge had a good selection available and were able to accommodate our differing needs. H can’t ride independently yet, so we opted for a tag along bike attached to the adult bike that I was riding. H has used these before when we’ve hired bikes and thoroughly enjoys it. He provides some of the leg power too as the tag along has its own pedals. As a parent you have to watch out for sneaky breaks from the child behind when pedalling when going up hills. The bikes were adjusted to the right size as us and a quick guide to gears, etc. provided if required.
We explored the Family Forest Trail and the Wood Farm Trail both of which are easy to use. There are no steep hills, but there are some long, gentle inclines which can sap energy from legs not used to cycling regularly. There’s also the Shell Brook Trail which is a bit more advanced and for mountain bikes only. You do need to cross a road to get to these trails, but the crossing point has good sight lines and is clearly marked. It’s virtually impossible to get lost too as there are timber posts markers dotted around the trails, which relate clearly to marked points on the map. Signposting is good and details of the trail conditions are given at the start of each just in case you don’t have a map. Having a picnic along the way is easy because there are plenty of picnic tables.
We had a wonderful time at Hicks Lodge and we will definitely be back soon.