Hidden Valley Discovery Park – A Wonderful Day Out!

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!

Welcome to Hidden Valley Discovery Park

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.

Hidden Valley Discovery Park quiz and trail and badges

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.

Hidden Valley Discovery Park outside

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.

Hidden Valley Discovery Park Forbidden Mansion

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.

Hidden Valley Discovery Park mazeWe 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…

Hidden Valley Discovery Park Sherlock Trail

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.

Hidden Valley Discovery Park hobbit house

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!

Hidden Valley Discovery Park lightbulbs

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!

Cornwall on a Budget

So we had a week in Cornwall last week, and had to watch our money – and typically a few things happened which meant we had to be even stricter with our pennies – Shaun broke a tooth (which will cost over £500 to fix). Car insurance was due, and our National Trust membership. Luckily we’d booked our holiday back in February or March and paid in full at the time!

The good thing about Cornwall is how much you can do being a member of an organisation, so you really only end up buying food and mementoes.

On our journey down we stopped at Moto Service Stations – with a Merlin Pass you get a discount at some stores – it all helps!

Kynance Cove National Trust

The National Trust own several beaches and properties – and you can save a lot of money on car parking this way. The two beaches we visited were Kynance Cove and Gunwalloe Church Cove and both were wonderful. Kynance Cove has a busy cafe, and plenty of areas for kids to explore, plus great tides for bodyboarding. Gunwalloe is an open beach, perfect for flying a kite and again great for bodyboarding. There’s a cash-only cafe there.

Cash – now there’s something. I’m used to paying by card and carrying minimal cash with me, but found in Cornwall you need to carry some cash with you, as you will get caught out. Our nearest cashpoint was often in Helston (a good 10 miles away) so I made sure to have some handy, mainly to pay for car parking – as don’t expect an app to work on your phone to pay it, there’s no phone signal around a lot of the beaches!

Pendennis Castle English Heritage

We also have English Heritage membership via Shaun’s CSSC card, and found we also got a discount in their stores – a good excuse to buy a bit more! This covered Pendennis Castle near Falmouth, which was a good morning out – try to get there for midday as they fire a gun out towards the sea, which H enjoyed. We didn’t make it to Tintagel Castle which I want to visit, so that’ll be one for next time.

The night before we were due to check in to our caravan, we decided to stay in a wooden wigwam near Chepstow – it was well placed for the M5 and an early start. We beat the bad traffic, but be aware there are long-term roadworks near Bodmin, which delayed things by 40 minutes. I got a Wowcher deal, and it was warm, comfortable and quiet – bedding was included too. There was a good cafe there too, very child-friendly. We paid £50.

As well as the beaches, the National Trust have several properties around the area we stayed – we visited Trellisick Garden as we had arrived in Cornwall four hours before our check-in time. It was good to stretch our legs and discover a new area – plus the weather was gloriously sunny! We also visited Glendurgan (which had a fabulous maze and beach you could skim pebbles on), and of course St Michael’s Mount.

St Michael’s Mount is National Trust owned, but your parking costs extra. It’s an easy walk over (as long as the tide is out) – a lot of the causeway was swept away with the bad storms, so is being rebuilt – so they ask that you get back before the tide comes in. They’re obviously not going to stop you walking over it when the sea covers it, but I guess if everyone did there’d be a problem. It was a good 4-5 hours of wandering around the rock, listening to storytellers and H had a special trail to follow which she enjoyed and got a medal at the end for completing. The views too – and the glorious weather! If you don’t make it back before the tide, you can still get back by boat which costs a reasonable amount. There are food places on the rock, but expect queues. We went to the Sail Loft which had good priced food. Be aware, while everywhere takes cards, the boat rides back don’t – so make sure you have cash! The National Trust gift shop offers cashback as long as you spend £5 – there are no cashpoints there.

Seal Sanctuary Gweek

We didn’t just have glorious weather though, the rain really made its presence known. We headed out to the Seal Sanctuary in Gweek on one of those days, assuming there’d be cover – but it’s all outdoors. Fortunately we were wrapped up well so didn’t feel it (it was a warm but wet day), and gained free entry with our Merlin Passes as it’s a Sea Life Attraction. It’s a wonderful day out – a place where all the sick seals go – and they have the freedom to move around in large areas, some of them likely to live the rest of their life there. Each area has a story about its inhabitants and where they came from, and it’s fascinating. H really enjoyed it, and again, they had a trail which she completed and got a medal. There’s a Lego City quiz on at the moment which she enjoyed doing, you get a nice folder with stickers and things inside. There were areas you could shelter from the rain, so when it got really bad we stopped for food, expect to spend a good 3-4 hours there – there’s lots of walking to do!

We popped into Roskilly’s Ice Cream Parlour on more than one occasion. We also stopped by the area where the cows are milked – having read a lot about it lately, it was reassuring to see the cows graze on pastures which are farmed in a sustainable way on their organic farm. While I still feel uncomfortable seeing cows milked (it’s the being taken away from their babies bit I don’t like), it was interesting for H to see.

We visited other beaches too – Poldhu was great, and we found had lost all its sand in one of the severe storms over the last few years. Fortunately it came back after another severe storm, and was a good place to pitch our chairs and relax (and for H to bodyboard of course). The Poldhu Beach Cafe sells lots of t-shirts and essentials – slightly more expensive for the beach essentials but a good cafe nonetheless.

On our first night we went to Praa Sands, unfortunately just as the tide was coming in but it was good to be by the sea again – a place I always feel calm. There’s cafe’s there as well, and shops too. We also visited Gunwalloe – be aware, this is different to Gunwalloe Church Cove. Pebbles! It’s the fishing side of the bay, although I did get a laugh when a giant wave completely soaked H – I probably laughed a bit too much….

A trip to that part of Cornwall (Helston) isn’t complete without a trip to St Ives – at less than ten miles away, we used the shuttle bus service, going into the main village and wandering around the shops before heading towards the Tate and getting the shuttle bus back. It cost £5 to park our car, and a £5 return for the three of us. Wandering around the shops was great, and I finally got into a branch of Seasalt where I treated myself to a new skirt in their sale! I’d been looking for a book of Cornish stories for H after she heard ‘Jack the Giant Killer’ at St Michael’s Mount – and found the perfect book in the St Ives Bookseller – it’s a small independent bookshop and has a great selection in there. We ate at the Seafood Cafe which caters for vegetarians and was really reasonably priced too.

Eden Project

Our journey home involved a stop at the Eden Project, which had so much to do we need to go back to get it done – there’ll be a more in-depth review to follow. We bought tickets heavily discounted with the CSSC membership.

At the very end of our break we made the most of a trip to Stonehenge, the half-way mark on the way home – and free of course as we’re English Heritage AND National Trust members. Phew!

Stonehenge National Trust English Heritage