Tuesday, 7 March 2017

If You Go Down To The Woods Today...Gruffalo Spotting With the New App

Have you heard what's happening at forests up and down the land?  For several years now, the Forestry Commission have been in partnership with the well-loved Julia Donaldson tale The Gruffalo and Magic Light Production (makers of the animated film).  They have Gruffalo sculptures hidden in the woods to discover and trails to follow, but now, for the first time they have embraced state-of-the-art technology and bring us a new augmented reality app to bring the Gruffalo and his forest friends to life.

Admittedly, this new app is aimed at younger audiences (pre-schoolers and early-years) and at nearly nine I wondered what Ruby would think of it.  But it's such a dearly loved story, ingrained on this generation's psyche and the added benefit of using an app really appealed!  We are an outdoorsy family, so I had some qualms about bringing technology out on our walk, but actually, it worked really well and enhanced the experience rather than being a distraction.

We tried out the trail at nearby Wendover Woods (you can check your nearest forest and launch dates here). You can purchase a pack to accompany the trail from the cafe or the Go Ape Centre for £3 and although it's not vital for following the trail, it will give you items to help you on your quest, as well as extra materials to extend the fun such as animal activity sheets and fact cards.

We visited on a Saturday morning and it was reasonably busy, but with everyone going at their own pace there was plenty of space and we weren't rushed.  If you're going with pre-schoolers I'd recommend trying to go in off-peak times such as during a school day.

First stop was the cafe for vital re-fuelling - hats of the Cafe in the Woods for excellent gluten-free carrot cake!  You can purchase your pack here.

Cafe in the Woods make a mean hot chocolate.

A short stroll over to the play area, and you soon spot signs for the start of the trail.  This first section was very very muddy and we did see a few parents with buggies struggling - I'd recommend an all-terrain pushchair.  But after the initial mud-fest the rest of the trail was on well-maintained pathways and easy to negotiate.  A word of warning - this first short section is shared use with mountain-bikers and they can come tearing round so keep little ones and dogs on a short leash!

Clear, easy to spot signposting along the way

As you reach fork in the path, the mountain bikers go off on their own way, and you have the path to yourself.  The trail has lots of signs and clues to find along the way, indicating which of the characters you'll find next - will it be mouse, or owl or snake?  It was nice that you didn't need your phone until a little way along the trail when you come to the first augmented reality sign. It gave us chance to settle into the forest, enjoy the colours and smells and relax.

The bold, colourful signage is easy to spot, making the way and giving clues

While some children were racing on from one sign to the next, others were ambling, stopping for a splash in a muddy puddle or to pick up a pretty leaf. You really can go at your own pace.

The trail took us through parts of the forest we'd not explored before, past beautiful vistas and mossy glades and we all really enjoyed just being outdoors in nature on what was the first real spring-like day of the year.  We heard a woodpecker's hammering echoing around the forest and found huge piles of autumn leaves to kick through.

The whole trail at Wendover was about 2km but it didn't feel like it to us - I guess littler legs might feel it though?

Once we reached our first Gruffalo Spotter sign and were able to turn on the app, we were all captivated by the magical animation.  It was fabulous to be able to take shots via the app of Ruby with the characters, and of course, you are then able to share them on social media.

The animation is magical

The app is fairly straightforward to operate, instructions and guiders on the screen show you where to point it (tip - you have to be fairly close).

How the screen looks in app, with guiders showing where to point

Each time you find a character and bring it to life, you are rewarded with a fact card on the app - rather like a Top Trump card, giving details of the creature's attributes.  There are suggestions of activities to do aswell - can you stomp like a Gruffalo?  And at the end you earn a 'certificate'.

It looks as though each creature can only be animated once, with only one child that wasn't a problem for us, but I guess if you have siblings you may want to download it to more than one phone if you can.  I think if we want to do the trail again, we'll have to delete the app and reinstall it for another time.

We saw lots of children and parents enjoying the app, it takes a bit of practice to position yourself in the best place for a photo with the creature, but it was great fun.  Some younger children may struggle with the concept - they are standing in front of a sign and not seeing what the phone operator sees, so it's worth switching between adult and child having a go.

Enter Gruffalo stage right!
Be warned - he's HUGE. You can't even see Ruby hiding behind him!
We thought this new technology was a great addition to a forest day out and I'm sure some less outdoorsy people could be tempted into the woods with it. The app is free to download (just search Gruffalo Spotter), you don't need any data or connection to use it once you're in the forest, but because signal isn't always great in the woods, remember to download it before your visit.


Find out more on the Forestry Commission website.

Disclosure: We were sent an activity pack for the trail.

Country Kids


  1. That looks so fun to use! I think my trio would love that even though our little lady is 9 too #countrykidsfun

  2. That does look fun, I'm such a huge Gruffalo Fan (And Julie Donaldson) but my kids are getting older. I'm sure they'd love an ap like this though. It's a good way of getting reluctant kids off on the walk.

  3. This does look a lot of fun - the animation looks really good.

  4. This looks like so much fun, I think my older two would love this as much as my tiniest one! I am going to pop over and see where the closest one is to us (and have my fingers crossed they have a cafe with a hot chocolate like that!!) :D

  5. The Gruffalo Spotters trail does look fun, our local trail opened this week so we'll have to head there soon to give it a try!

  6. I think Wendover Woods is always busy on a sunny weekend. Just look at Ruby there in short sleeves! You've certainly been enjoying some better weather than us recently. I do love the way this new app works, it will give such fun memories for kids to look back on their woodland adventures. I like your tip of swapping the camera with younger children so they can see the effect of the app as well as being in the picture. I will have go and give it a try, I may look a little odd without kids though, though I may bribe a teen with tea and cake!

    Thank you for sharing with me on #CountryKids

  7. We did this last weekend. Love that it is a bit different, and you get some great pictures with the characters

  8. I cannot wait to go and try this out at Moors Valley

  9. The new Gruffalo Spotters App is brilliant. We have tried it out and loved it. Great idea to delete and download the app again before we do the trail a second time as I hadn't thought about whether the app would work again.

  10. Oh I love it! We used to go to the Gruffalo Trail in Brentwood - amazing sculptures there too.

  11. Ooooh! Just realised there's one near us in Cornwall!! Thanks Liz - will go to that one soon :D

  12. I'm very glad there are such forest adventures with interesting characters. A great idea for a fun weekend!

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