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Becky Falls Woodland Park (Dartmoor)

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      07.07.2004 19:27
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      Good, wholesome, outdoor fun.

      Located in the rolling granite uplands of Dartmoor, Becky Falls Woodland Park is in my opinion one of Devon's finest attractions. With its stunning canopy made up of ancient oak trees, massive granite boulders and gushing waterfalls it provides some of the most spectacular walks in the whole of the south-west of England. The park is situated on the outskirts of Dartmoor just four miles west of Bovey Tracey. It is well sign posted on all local roads and can be easily accessed from both the M5 (coming from the north) and the A38 (from the south). It is open every day from March 27th to November 7th as well as the Christmas holidays and the February half-term. Admission to the park is £5.40 for adults and £4.40 for children, which after my visit I would definitely recommend as excellent value.

      Now even before we had reached the car park our adventure had already started as we ascended through the bleak, granite moorland driving on roads that only required a slight deviation from the road surface to plummet hundreds of feet to our death. This of course provided much amusement for the younger ones amongst our party. For me however, it was a nerve jangling drive that required all my concentration to prevent us from meeting our grisly end. Of course I am exaggerating slightly (well a lot really, as all people afraid of such heights would) but it was a great source of entertainment to the youngsters and helped to ward off those "are we nearly there yet" kind of situations. So with my eyes glued to the road and every blood vessel in my head set to burst it was at this point that the most almighty yell sounded from the back of the car "oh my god!". I slammed on the brakes fearing some god awful end for all concerned when it was calmly followed up by "look ponies". When my heart finally stopped trying to burst forth from my chest I forced mys elf to look out of the window and there stood ten to fifteen wild ponies of the ilk that have roamed freely on Dartmoor since the 10th century. This led to suggestions of photographs and everyone but me exited the car much to bemusement of the bewlidered ponies. Several seriously scared ponies and numerous photographs later we finally managed to set off again assuring the kids that there would be plenty of ponies to harass in the park.

      On arrival at the park we were greeted by a friendly car park attendant named Tom who took our money and gave us all luminous green stickers to wear. These were to be worn at all times to prevent people from just wandering into the park without paying. He pointed out the path to the park, which interestingly was built by prisoners from the nearby Dartmoor prison sometime during the last century. As we descended the path which was under the shade of a row of stunning oak trees we could hear the roar of the nearby falls growing louder and louder. The first thing you are greeted with is the licensed Woodland cafeteria, which also doubles as a gift shop. The cafeteria is open throughout the whole of the day and provides both hot and cold meals as well as a selection of locally made snacks such as sausage rolls, pasties and the like. All the food is reasonably priced but as we had brought a picnic I didn't have a chance to sample any of the meals. They also sell locally made ice creams, which I did manage to sample and have to say was one of the best I have ever tasted, deliciously creamy and full flavoured.

      In this area are also housed various birds of prey that had been rescued from the moors including a selection of owls and a rather scruffy looking buzzard. As well as the rescued birds there is also a small selection of domesticated animals including a few lop eared rabbits and a couple of long haired guinea pigs. They are housed in a smal l pen, which the children are allowed to "walk" around, stroking the animals if they can manage to get close enough. During the Easter holidays there are also baby lambs in this area and at various times throughout the day you have the opportunity to bottle feed them, which is obviously great fun for both kids and adults. A bit further along there are some Pygmy goats that you can feed but these blighters are somewhat unpredictable and I wouldn't put my hand anywhere near their mouths. Strangely though these had the kids enchanted and we stood for at least fifteen minutes watching these crazed goats leap around their rocky enclosure.

      While the animals are a welcome attraction, the mainstay of the Becky Falls Woodland Park is its stunning trails. There are three different trails, which differ in the amount of physical exertion required to complete them. The blue trail is by far the easiest of all the trails to navigate. Eighty percent of its duration is pushchair friendly and there is very little in the way of major obstacles that a pushchair could not be lifted over. This trail is perfect for small children and without breaks the map tells you that this trail takes approximately thirty minutes. In my experience if you have young children with you, who like to explore every nook and cranny this trail will take between 45-60 minutes. The trail starts out in common with the others, crossing the river on a wooden bridge where you can look down river and watch the water gush and froth against the giant boulders. At the end of the bridge the blue trail departs from the red and purple trails and takes you around the outskirts of an ancient oak Forest. Needless to say there are plenty of things for children to look at, climb on and generally explore as you walk round and towards the end there is the opportunity to take in a wonderful panoramic view of the surrounding moors. At the e nd of the blue trail there is also a picnic area, which adjoins a small paddock containing some Dartmoor ponies and a few sheep dotted here and there. The ponies are really friendly and love to stand there while you stroke and didn't seem to mind all the attention.

      After a quick break for lunch next to the ponies we decided that we would give the red trail a go. The red trail is a much more demanding walk and unless you are prepared to carry them at some point I wouldn't recommend taking children younger than five on this trail as they really will get tired towards the end. This trail follows the river that flows right through the centre of the park and is the scene of some really spectacular waterfalls. The river is packed to the brim with giant boulders and provides a really great playground for kids and those adults who still wish they were kids (ok, yes that's me). The kids had great fun clambering over the boulders and dropping sticks in the water and trying to race them downstream. This trail is supposed to take about forty-five minutes to complete but in reality with a few stops and plenty of time for exploring it takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. Though there is an option to cut off part of the trail if you get tired and this reduces the time required to about forty-five minutes. The end of the red trail then joins onto the beginning of the purple trail, the hardest and most physically demanding of all the trails. This trail takes you to the very bottom of the falls and then proceeds up a 200ft climb aptly named "Lungburst Rise" to a small pony paddock. The purple trail is not to be underestimated as it is a really difficult trek and I wouldn?t recommend taking children on this trail. It isn't vastly different from the red trail (apart from the length) and takes an additional half an hour on top of the time it takes to walk the red trail.

      To make the trails m ore interesting for children there are a range of activities that can be completed as they walk around the trails including a wildlife hunt using a book packed full of animals and plants to spot. According to the book Becky Falls is home to a vast menagerie of animals including squirrels, badgers, foxes, mink, and otters though we only managed to spot a lone squirrel perched high up in the canopy. It?s hardly a surprise though really with the number of people clambering around the blue and red trails and the park can become quite busy during the school holidays. The purple trail by comparison is practically deserted and it is not uncommon to go fifteen or twenty minutes without seeing or hearing another person. There is also a nature trail with various boxes hidden throughout the blue trail, which contain rubber stamps in the shapes of certain animals, the object of which is to find and stamp all the animals on the creature sheet.

      To sum up, Becky Falls Woodland Park is really great fun for people of all ages. The trails are truly stunning and it is a must for people who love to walk. It is also great for kids too, they love exploring the forests and climbing the huge boulders in the river as well as trying to complete the excellent nature trails. We spent just over five hours in the park and considering the price I would say that it is excellent value for money. Becky Falls is one of those places that very few kids think they are going to enjoy, there aren't any arcade machines, fast rides or exotic animals just back to basics outdoor fun. In my experience once there, kids young in age and at heart have a really fantastic time. I couldn't recommend Becky Falls Woodland Park highly enough.

      For more information visit:

      www.beckyfalls-dartmoor.com

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