Inspired by Lisa’s recent trip to find a Gruffalo with her kids we thought we’d take a wee look at some of the stunning gardens around us that are perfect for letting your little ones run wild and explore nature in this summer. Gardens can be a fantastic, low-cost excursion suitable for all the family, why not take some inspiration from our recent picnics blog and make a day of it?
Situated just outside Cairndow, on the shores of Loch Fyne, Ardkinglas Estate covers over 4500 hectares. The Woodland Garden is open dawn to dusk, all year round; and is host to an outstanding collection of plants and trees, including the "Mightiest Conifer in Europe".
The lower Ardkinglas Woodland Garden was started around 1875 by the Callander family and now is home to a number of Champion Trees, the tallest or broadest of their species in Britain.
A wide variety of wildlife can be seen across the estate, from red squirrels to red and roe deer, pine marten and the elusive otter. A walk along the shore may give you a glimpse of seals and basking sharks in summer and numerous sea birds. The bird-life in the garden is as equally exciting with buzzards and sparrowhawks hunting overhead and woodpeckers and wagtails to be spotted, so remember to keep a lookout!
The most exciting bit of wildlife to be found in this mysterious Gruffalo hidden amongst the woodland. The Gruffalo trail at Ardkinglas offers a very exciting experience for kids as they follow boards showing extracts from the Scots version of the famous book. Galvanized steel figures of the mouse and Gruffalo have been hidden in the woodland garden, deliberately designed with a lattice structure so they link in with the intertwining branches of the surrounding trees to capture the book’s characters while allowing children’s imaginations to run wild and bring the characters to life.
They’ve also incorporated a fairy trail into the gardens – where wee ones can look for tiny homes and doors along the woodland floor – a magical experience for curious little minds.
If you would like to find out more about the estate before your trip, then check out Ardkinglas: The Biography of a Highland Estate by Christina Noble, the great-granddaughter of Sir Andrew Noble, who first bought Ardkinglas in 1905.
On the A816 about 20 miles North of us here in Lochgilphead you will find the colourful and fragrant Arduaine Garden. This National Trust garden was begun in 1898 when curiosity about foreign travel and an appetite for the exotic were all the range.
Arduaine lies at the head of the Sound of Jura and enjoys the warming benefits of the North Atlantic Drift, allowing for a wider range of plants than is usual in this part of the world.
The Gardens are family-friendly, with the lower area of the garden offering walks for families with prams/pushchairs and even baby changing facilities on site. They also supply a children’s guide – which can provide some added interest as you wander.
The garden is not just a haven for exotic plants but for some local wildlife too, so keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels, kestrels and badgers. If you choose the coastal path you may also spot seals and porpoises as you look out to Jura.
There are plenty of different paths you can take around the gardens, around the lower level, through the woodland or along to the coastal viewpoint. The walks range in length between 15 minutes to around 1 hour, so there’s routes suitable for all abilities. And if you don’t fancy packing a picnic this time, then the Loch Melfort Hotel Bistro is located just at the entrance, perfect!
Following recent restoration, the Blarbuie woodland was opened in 2007 as a public park and forms part of the sanctuary of Lochgilphead's hospital grounds. The wood was planted in the Victorian era and is made up of a mixture of native and exotic trees and now features art installations and sculptures, some of which are seasonal and some permanent. Blarbuie was awarded the accolade of 'Scotland's Finest Wood' in the Community Woodlands category in 2009.
With it’s frequent events and guided walks held throughout the year, Blarbuie is an excellent local resource which provides a place to relax, regenerate, learn and improve fitness – you will even some outdoor exercise equipment dotted about!
An all-ability path leads through the Lower Wood and continues through the field to the Pond. The Low Wood contains sculptures, benches and a boardwalk viewing platform. Visitors young and old can enjoy the trails and seeking out the newest artworks, a map of which can be seen here
The High Wood has a series of steeper trails. It is a haven for wildlife with the main attraction being a red squirrel family that have set up home in the trees. Young enthusiasts may also enjoy looking along the forest floor for insects and examining them with a bug box.
Any one of these wonderful gardens are perfect for exploring the great outdoors, creating adventures and fuelling imaginations, and can be great fun for tourists and locals alike. The one thing that we can’t guarantee though is the weather… so in our experience, it is always best to pack your waterproofs!