Follow the brown signs
When I heard from my best friend “Beaks” that the brown signed Bedgebury Pinetum and Forest (near the village of Flimwell just off the A21 in Kent) had been transformed into a stunning festival of light and sound at sundown, I was more than a little bit excited at the prospect of a visit. Not too many brown signed attractions are open in the evening and as the winter draws in nothing beats donning a massive puffa jacket and venturing outside to explore your freezing surroundings by the wonder that is electricity, more often that not this comes in the boring form of late night shopping under glowing fat plastic santas down the local high street, so clearly this option was going to be far more interesting.
The Electric Forest is a combined effort between The Forestry Commission and Culture Creative which aims to wow visitors by spectacularly showing off this gorgeous woodland through the medium of technicolour and noise. An hour long walk winds through the trees and lakes with surprises all along the way. I like collaborations, the result is usually a refreshing new take on something we thought we knew and when they bring out the very best of brown signed attractions I like them even more.
Before I left I tried to get hold of a man in the know at Bedgebury but all attempts failed, so I set off hoping to talk about my brown sign project once I was there, unfortunately this usually results in me spending a long time explaining what I’m doing to confused faces and more often than not blushing furiously but powering through anyway, which was pretty much what happened at Bedgebury, brilliant.
Me: Hi, I’m Amanda Hone, I’m writing a book about attractions in Britain that have brown tourist signs…
Me: Is it possible to speak to Peter? (man in the know)
Receptionist: *scathing look, reaches for walkie talkie*
Me: *looking embarrassed, going red*
Receptionist: Come in Peter? There’s a girl here from… sorry, what paper are you from?
Me: Errr, I’m not from a paper, I am writing a book and blog about…
Receptionist: *cuts me off by speaking into walkie talkie* She’s not from anywhere, can you come here please?
By this time I was feeling like a right tool and causing much commotion behind me with tutting and general annoyance at being held up by a reviewer who wasn’t even from a newspaper. Finally Peter made an entrance and took over from the extremely suspicious reception ladies, phewf.
He told me that the event was running in both Bedgebury Forest and at Thetford Forest in Suffolk, it’s the first of it’s kind and depending on how popular the events are, the model could be used at other Forestry Commission forests across Britain. Encouragingly, despite what I thought was a pretty steep £15.50 entrance fee, the evenings have proved a great success.
Avoiding the suspicious looks we escaped at last to walk the trail around the forest and were happily surprised by what we discovered from the very start and at almost every turn. The thought and planning that had gone into the event was clear and the Creative Director, Phil Supple’s vision of transforming our experience of the natural environment and turning the familiar into something new and magical had been expertly achieved. “The great outdoors” began to take on a whole new meaning, so we stumbled on, excited.
Interactive exhibits are the things I like the very best so when we reached this sign I knew there was fun to be had.
Please excuse the bad shaky photo taking, as if I’d remember to bring something as useful as a tripod to take photographs on a pitch black night in the forest, come on now, don’t be silly.
There were microphones set up which visitors were invited to bellow, sing, shout and generally make whatever noise they liked into, which in turn lit the trees and boomed out into the forest. This is me having a go, obviously the exhibits were designed mainly for children, hence my crouching. Here I am giving the results of my recent singing lessons their first public airing, not very encouraging that the chick next to me thought my efforts were hilarious. Oh well, sorry Florence, I clearly did your songs no justice.
There were lots of imaginative things set up for visitors to do all along the trail, one of my favourites were the tree trunk drums, where each hit with the mallet lit up a different tree, shrub or plant accompanied by all sorts of weird and wonderful noises. I had to be dragged off to let the children have a go. Half way round there was a little oasis of food and drink, with burgers, hot dogs, tea and very appropriately log fires for toasting marshmallows on, and it doesn’t get more festive and cosy that this does it? I loved it.
Another gorgeous place was the lantern lit rhododendron bush, so big you could walk around inside. I felt like I’d been transported straight into a Magic Faraway Tree story and stayed milling around for a long time just enjoying all the ooohs and ahhhs of the children as they stumbled around in the multicoloured den, here it is…
I have to say the experience really was a magical and unique one, a lovely evening spent in a gorgeous natural setting all enhanced by modern technology and creative ideas. Events like these, where visitors can experience attractions interactively and in thought provoking ways, surely can’t fail to spark the imagination and encourage people to return. A big shout out to cool collaborations and finding new and inventive ways to engage visitors at brown signed attractions, hip hip!