Anything rural that’s easily reached by public transport from Manchester gets our vote. The Spellbound Forest was just that (and a lot more besides.)
Although it’s obvious that a train starts in one place and ends up in another, there’s still something magical about squeezing on to a packed carriage at Salford Crescent and disembarking in the middle of a forest. (Heck – I’ve used up my “magical” and we’re only on the journey…)
The Spellbound Forest at Delamere was a joint effort between the Forestry Commission and Wild Rumpus, the people behind Just So Festival. Most of the fairy tales in our collective consciousness come from Europe; The Spellbound Forest aimed to awaken four English tales through visual arts, performance and all-round magic.
The enchantment began when we got off the train and saw an ornate poster inviting us to the King’s Grand Ball. This and other signs along the way certainly helped the build-up in atmosphere (as well as helpfully leading us to the entrance.) After a hot dog break, we began the trail through the trees. First stop was Earl Mar’s Daughter, themed around the lady herself and her bird by day / bloke by night lover. Tom is at the age where he wants to read everything, so he enjoyed stopping at every sign and Reading. It. Out. Loud. Beyond the signs, amongst bird cages and origami birds hanging from trees, was a very comfortable four-poster bed. I resisted the urge to climb in and have a sleep (we were up early for a Sunday) and we moved on to the Magpie’s Nest. There, a giant nest had been carefully woven out of willow and children were making star-shaped wands.
There was a queue for the Three Heads in the Well, so we moved on to Tattercoats, a bittersweet tale of a lord who cries a stream and a girl who can only wear rags. The props in the forest really were spellbinding: think banqueting tables with goblets and pine cones, Singer sewing machines and dresses hanging from branches. Equally good were the actors, who engaged the children and made them laugh. Tom loved the creative writing workshop, where children were invited to invent a fairytale character that may end up in the Spellbound Forest book (I doubt his fly-scoffing, winged banana from the sewers will make the final edit.) We came out at The Grand Ball, an outdoor stage edged by dressing up boxes overflowing with chiffon and sequins. Tom skipped the glad rags, jumped on stage and busted a few moves amongst the princesses (any excuse.)
Finally, we whizzed through the Three Heads in the Well. This tale ended with an eerie performance where the masked heads emerged from the well and talked, much to the petrifiction of some of the pushchair-based members of the audience. There was also a simple, three-word creative writing workshop on fairy tale setting.
Protests when you announce it’s home time are the ultimate seal of approval when it comes to children’s days out – and that’s what I got. Keeping with the three word theme, I curbed a full-on whinge by asking Tom to describe the Spellbound Forest in three words:
“Magical. Stunning. Amazing,” he said, before flopping face down across three train seats and falling asleep.
My verdict? Wild Rumpus created something very special indeed. I’d say their recommended age of over 3 was about right – and children of reading and writing age would benefit most. I felt like I’d spent the afternoon in a Florence and the Machine video (in the best possible way.)
If I had to make suggestions, I’d say it would have been lovely to have a bit of music near the entrance to add to the atmosphere, some guidance about what was happening at the start and a little more seating near the food vendors. But really, they’re only tiny improvements – from the spotless loos to the brilliant acting, Wild Rumpus got it right.
The Spellbound Forest was a great way to escape the city and made an average ramble in the countryside look like a walk to the corner shop. In fact, I’d love to see Wild Rumpus cast their spell in schools and parks of more urban necks of the wood. What they do is unique: creating beautiful, memorable family events in the glorious great outdoors.
The best testament to that was Tom, who came into my bedroom this morning, stretched, yawned and said “Oh-wurr! I wish we were still in that Spellbound Forest.”
Find out more about the events of Wild Rumpus here.
This is a review post. Wild Rumpus very kindly sent us our tickets to the event.