The sun looked like the Earth’s prized Christmas tree bauble taking pride of place in its solitary but very pronounced position hanging half way up in the early morning sky; a sun that colour (burnished copper gold) and that bright just had to mean it was going to be a sunny day. That meant a day out rather than sitting in watching Tracey Beaker or any of those other trashy teenage angst filled shows that fill rainy holiday days.
We had a bit of a tussle with the bikes, perhaps they knew something I didn’t and the front wheels resolutely refused to come off enabling us to easily fit three sizeable modes of transport into the back of the car.
In the end, unable to disengage the front wheels, we squeezed in my sons’ complete bikes into the boot but not mine, I would have to trot along behind (as any mother will tell you – nothing new there then!)
Haldon Forest is a Forestry Commission park so other than plotting the main route on the map, I figured there was bound to be one of those brown local place of interest sign posts directing me for the last few miles of the journey.
Seems not for the first time I was wrong and we ended up going miles out of our way in the wrong direction (adding 25 minutes to the journey & increasing sons’ holiday agony of being in the car for more than 5 minutes! “are we there yet” & “how much longer”)
But I felt vindicated when we eventually turned around and on the return carriageway sure enough was that welcome brown sign directing us to Haldon Wood Park. (NB to those in charge of road signage, it needs to be on both sides of the carriage way for those people not coming from Torquay).
There is a car park charge of £2 for up to 2 hours and £4 for anything more than that but that didn’t seem unreasonable.
Bikes off-loaded and like a horse under starter’s orders, my eldest son hurtled around the car park with frequent skids & side slides and his familiar ‘look at me being so cool’ face on.
Now it’s not rocket science to follow the trails, they are all pretty well signed, but you do need to pay attention and decide early on which level you want to enjoy:
- Green = Easy
- Blue = Moderate
- Red = Difficult
- Black = Severe
Now when dealing with children who think they are impervious to injury or worse, it’s always better to start with insisting they go on the ‘easy’ trail, that way when they eventually win the argument to go on the more difficult route, you at least know the Black Run won’t figure in their calculation of how daring they can be because it was never mentioned. (Parental tactics never go amiss).
So older bolder son heads off with gritted determination and carefree ‘this is going to be a synch’ attitude on the Red Trail.
The path design makes the routes obvious and there are posts with colour coded arrows pointing you in the right direction. En route they have erected information boards that have interesting details about the area and the family that used to own it.
Luckily for me there were not many cyclists haring down our trail so it was quite straight forward to walk along the cycle trail without ending up with someone embedding their handle bars in my bottom and it did allow me to notice far more than had been on a bike. Granted there are very few native trees there; it is fairly typical of a ‘forest farm’ with hundreds of tall characterless pine trees, but there are still plenty of interesting features to enjoy including brooks, the remains of a quarry and vast swathes of the richest emerald green moss that blanket large areas.
The biggest problem I had whilst walking on the cycle route was the uneven ground, now before you shout me down, of course I know it’s a forest and no one in their right mind would expect a bowling green surface to walk along, but there are a lot of bumps, lumps, roots, dips & ridges that are great fun to ride over but not so much fun for a walker (though by this time I had broken into a gentle trot).
Unfortunately for us, just about half way round the course it started to spit with rain and it wasn’t long before the spitting turned into a downpour accompanied by a thick mist that suddenly appeared from nowhere.
By that time, my younger son had had enough and the grizzling began. But there isn’t a great deal you can do when you are in the middle of a forest, you just have to keep going with reassuring comments including:
“look we’re here and the finish is there” (points at soggy dog eared map)
“it’s not much further, we’re at number 10 marker and there are only a few after that”
Anyway, suffice to say we made it in the end, albeit ending up rather soggy & cold, and our reward was a rather late lunch in The Ridge Café. I did think it was a little pricey: £14 for two sandwiches & two bowls of chips, but they were generous servings.
Interestingly enough they also offered gluten free food options which I thought was another good idea.
So in my opinion the Haldon Forest Park is well worth the trip but on a sunny day; take a picnic in a backpack and unless you want to cycle at break neck speed, make it a leisurely cycle ride with plenty of stops along the way.
And in my opinion, don’t attempt to walk the trails; put more effort into removing the front wheel of your bikes so they all fit into the car!
Haldon Forest Park (grid ref SX884849)
Forestry Commission Office
Devon EX6 7XR
Tel 01392 834251
Car Park charge applies
Bike Hire available from £8
Other activities: walking, Go Ape, orienteering & Segway.