The New Highway Rat Trail & Gruffalo Spotting at Kielder Forest in Northumberland

The new Highway Rat Trail opened at Kielder last December. We love a good trail and also love Kielder so decided to spend the afternoon there on the last day of half term. The trail is FREE to take part but you can buy a Highway Rat Trail Activity Bag from Kielder Cafe or the Bike Centre near the car park for £3. We decided to go for this option. Parking at Kielder is £5 for the full day and your car parking pass is valid across all Kielder Car Parks should you wish to explore the wider area (which I'd advise you do). 

The New Highway Rat Trail & Gruffalo Spotting at Kielder Forest in Northumberland

The optional Highway Rat Trail Activity Bags were a hit with Heidi and Jack - mostly for the Highway Rat mask which really added to the sense of occasion. The bag contains:
  • A Highway Rat mask
  • Activity leaflet
  • Activity sheet
  • Stickers
  • String
  • Pencil
  • Crayon
Personally, I think the activity bags are definitely worth the £3 and they added extra elements to our adventure. Harry (age 11) wasn't bothered about his so I think perhaps they're perhaps more suited to children aged 4-9

The Highway Rat Trail is a free self-led trail that begins at Kielder Castle/Visitor Centre. The main castle car park is close to the start and there are free toilets next to the car park or in the visitor centre. Use postcode NE48 1ER or follow the Kielder Visitor Centre signs to find your way.

There's a small playground at the beginning of the trail and a couple of picnic tables too. It's not huge but I imagine it will entertain little ones in the warmer months and could be a nice place to stop once you've completed the trail for a fuel stop.

If you've previously completed the Gruffalo, Superworm or Stickman trails, you'll be familiar with the route and will spot characters from the various Julia Donaldson books en-route. My three are well past the age of reading these stories but remember them well from their early years and were still excited to spot the wooden carvings.

The route is well signposted and you'll find 9 or 10 boards along the trail with various prompts encouraging you to complete various activities or sharing facts. These were fun for the whole family and involved everything from playing a blindfolded game of 'moths and bats' to challenging other members of our family to jump like a rabbit and collecting pine cones in the forest.

The activity trail leaflet includes extra boards to spot and tick off and there are other activities to complete as well (perfect if you're visiting the cafe later). There are brass rubbings along the trail and there is a space on the trail leaflet to use your crayon and complete these too - basically, there's lots to keep you busy!

Steve and Harry enjoyed reading the regular information signs en-route too and shared their knowledge about the history of Kielder as we walked.

We visited on a grey day in February. It wasn't raining but the trail was fairly muddy in parts. In winter (and even Spring) I'd definitely recommend wearing wellies or walking boots.

The first part of the trail up towards where you'll find the Gruffalo is pushchair/wheelchair friendly. Most of the paths look like the picture below with the odd patch of mud. They're also uphill. Personally, I wouldn't have considered taking my pushchair up here unless it was an all-terrain buggy. I can't comment on whether wheelchairs would manage it as I have no experience - there are no stairs to navigate during the first half of the trail but it's definitely hilly and muddy. You can read about Sprog on the Tyne's experience of completing the same route with a pushchair last year here. 

After completing the first few boards and activities, look who we found it the woods! It's the Gruffalo! There's also a fab bird hide nearby if you fancy a bit of nature spotting.

The trail continues amongst beautiful woodland and at board 5 we were asked to collect sticks to create our own spider - I think this was Jack's favourite part.

We stumbled upon the Gruffalo's Child having a little nap too - I wish I could have joined her!

After this point I noticed a sign saying the rest of the trail is not suitable for wheelchair users or pushchairs. I think with little ones, completing the trail up to this point will still be fun and a good experience - especially as they can see the Gruffalo.

We soldiered on through the woods. It was a quiet day and we seemed to be the only ones there - we didn't pass anyone else the whole time we were in the forest.

At one point there is a short steep incline, Jack moaned a little but we all managed it and were rewarded with the most spectacular forest views.

Heidi and Steve are playing the Moth and Bat game described on one of the activity boards below.....

The trail really kept it's momentum throughout and the kids were running ahead the whole time, eager to find the next board or animal. It definitely kept their interest and stopped any of the normal moaning and whinging I associate with family walks.

A bit of a spoiler alert but I was SO excited when we spotted Stickman towards the end of the trail. He's my fave!

The trail ends right at the beginning next to the Kielder visitor centre. Steve tracked the walk on his app and we walked for just over 2 miles and it took us 1 hour and 10 minutes including stopping at every board and completing the activities. I would say with toddlers or little legs, you can expect the trail to take around 1 hour 30 minutes. Steve burned almost 500 calories during the walk too - not bad.

There's a cute little cafe at the visitor centre serving homemade soups, cakes and meals. We had already booked lunch elsewhere but popped in to buy the kids a couple of snacks as they were starving! Kielder Village is just a couple of minutes walk from the castle and visitor centre and kids can enjoy a trip to the Salmon Centre which is small but free to visit or try finding their way in the Minotaur Maze (also free). The Anglers Arms pub is also a 30 second walk from the car park if you're looking for a drink or pub meal. You can read more about what there is to do in the immediate vicinity of Kielder Village here. 

Kielder or Hamsterley? 

Kielder Forest in Northumberland and Hamsterley Forest in Durham are both pretty the same distance for us to travel and they both offer the new Highway Rat Trail. We've visited both sites now and think both have positives and negatives. 

Personally, I think Kielder is better suited to families with older children. The play areas aren't anywhere near as big as the ones in Hamsterley and the trail is a little more challenging due to the hills (Hamsterley is pretty much flat). The whole trail at Kielder is not pushchair friendly where as it is at Hamsterley. There is a lot to do in Kielder for older children from bike trails to water sports, archery and clay pigeon shooting and I think this trail is perfectly suited for families with children aged 5-11 years. Parking at Kielder is only £5 and is transferable to other car parks where as car parking is priced at £6 - £10 at Hamsterley. Younger children will still really enjoy the Kielder trail and I'd still encourage you to visit, but if you're torn between the two options with under 5's, I think Hamsterley is better-suited. My top tip would be to pack a snack or take a picnic and make a day of it. As a grown-up, I really enjoyed the walk and I'd even do it without the kids as it was really pretty and nice and peaceful with some gorgeous scenery. Harry (11), Heidi (8) and Jack (7) all really enjoyed themselves too and it was one of the few family walks we've enjoyed recently with very minimal moaning. 

If you'd like to make a weekend of it, check out these places to stay nearby:
You can read more about Hamsterley Forest here - this post features The Stick Man Trail which has now changed to The Highway Rat, they are very similar though. 

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1 comment

  1. Wow, just wow. That is without a doubt the best review i’ve come across. Thank you so much for the time and effort you and your family put into this review. At present we are about 15 mile away from kielder forest (staying overnight near by) and plan on going on the gruffalo / highway rat trail. Lots of information and looks like you had a great time judging by the pics. Thanks again. ��


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