It was a lovely sunny day when we were in Cornwall and we’d arranged to visit the Hidden Valley Discovery Park with The Boy and Me gang – two six/seven year olds and four adults who like solving puzzles and like quirky things. Read on to find out what we thought!
Hidden Valley Discovery Park and I stumbled upon each other via TripAdvisor. I was looking up theme parks in Cornwall to see if there was anything that felt a little bit different – we have Merlin passes so don’t want another Chessington/Legoland-a-like. The reviews were brilliant – and it seemed to tick so many boxes. We HAD to go. The Boy and Me gang were well up for it too!
Hidden Valley Discovery Park was created back in the 1994 by Pete Jones, an engineering graduate who took much inspiration from the famous British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It wasn’t until recently that the park has changed into what it is now – but what we found was an exciting, enchanting, quirky place which kept us occupied for the whole day, with plenty left to do.
Hidden Valley has a main building which houses a small shop with loads of interesting things in, a reasonably priced cafe, and the main entrance. You can get £1 off your entry fee if you have a voucher in some Cornwall discount books, or just install App for Cornwall on your phone. Once you’ve paid your entry fee, you’re handed a map of the park, some questions to solve in the Forbidden Mansion, and a credit card which is loaded up with some time to solve Crystal Maze style puzzles (Moriarty’s Missions) inside the mansion. You can buy additional time if you run out. The main objective is to complete the puzzles in the quickest time possible, to then light up the most lightbulbs in the main building at the end. Each puzzle has a three minute limit.
Step outside of the main building and you’re greeted with a weird and wonderful world. To the left is a new Cottage Garden which we didn’t have the time to explore. To the right is the Forbidden Mansion, the place we were looking forward to the most. Straight on is the station with the Portserswick Junction Light Railway – a mile of track which goes around the grounds.
At this point I’d tell you to look on Google Maps at the area the Hidden Valley Discovery Park exists in – it looks pretty small. You’d be surprised how much gets packed into that space!
We headed straight into the Forbidden Mansion. You enter via the main front doors, into a room and immediately we tried to find the answer to our first clue. Actually, we were probably trying too hard – the questions were all observational ones, things on pictures, things around the place – and there’s plenty of things. The questions are frequently changed too, so if you go back you can almost certainly guarantee it’ll be different. If you’re like us and can’t get it done in one day, then you can purchase a second day pass for £6 – but you need to be on-site to do it, you can’t do it online.
You enter the main part of the mansion via a corridor, and it took me a few hours for the penny to drop – the main rooms aren’t inside the tiny house, they’re in the main building where the shop and cafe are! D’oh! I mean, it’s obvious when you realise. There is only one way around the mansion, and within each room there are doors which may lead to a puzzle, passageways only small children (and hopeful adults) can crawl though, and quirky rooms like the fabulous upside down room. Honestly, each room was a delight – there was something in each one which kept the kids occupied while us adults tried to solve the clues. This isn’t a place just for kids, it’s for everyone. I don’t want to show off too many photos from inside the house, as the surprise element is the best bit.
Which is why it is awesome.
After the mansion we headed to get some food, where there’s a good selection of hot and cold food, and all reasonably priced.
Once we had eaten we headed to the railway and travelled to the other side of the Hidden Valley Discovery Park where a Japanese landscape garden is being built. This is also where the two outdoor trails, the Indiana trail and the Sherlock Holmes one start – as well as there being a maze.
We opted for the maze first – after all, they’re fun, Shaun gets smug when he makes it to the middle first, and I am resigned to getting lost somewhere in it all. As it was, us ladies got to the middle first, Shaun came second, and the kids came third with Mr TBaM bringing up the rear. It’s a fun maze too – you’re mid way and think you’re in the middle, but you need to keep going to get into the hut in the very middle.
Afterwards we did the trails – and went for the harder Sherlock Holmes one. On the map you’re given at the start is a grid, this isn’t geocaching, this is proper old school orienteering. Get the question wrong and you might be sent to a grid reference which has nothing in – so I’m glad there were four of us (plus the two youngsters who loved trying to find the clues – and I loved sending them climbing up hills to find them, saving my legs!). Some questions involved them being solved in a curious fashion…
I don’t know how long we spent there, but it was fun – exhausting fun!
We found all kinds of things on the way. The Hobbit House. A hut which has switches and things which might have been the end of the puzzle, though we’re still querying the answer to the last question.
By the end of the trail we had almost run out of time, the park was set to close. The dads went back into the Forbidden Mansion to finish the last few Moriarty’s Missions and the kids went to have a play on the outdoor play area (because even though they were tired they still had energy for climbing frames) and an ice cream. We didn’t have time for the Indiana trail in the end – and we were at Hidden Valley Discovery Park for over 5 hours! In the end, this was our final score – not too bad I reckon!
The Hidden Valley Discovery Park website is over here. We will definitely be back next year after having had a fabulous day with fabulous company. You should go too!
Hidden Valley Discovery Park isn’t open all year, so please check their website before going. It looks like it’s open for school holidays though!