We arrived at the hotel in Cornwall in the evening and upon checking in, we got settled into the room before heading to the cluster of paperwork in the foyer shouting for our attention, the numerous leaflets and glossy bits of paper screaming for our cash, come and visit us they all say, look what attractions there are to visit.
Overlooking most of the single leaflets advertising single attractions, the booklets were our target, the 20-odd page pieces of paper which often include discount vouchers, for I am a tight wad and a bit of cash saved is always a good thing.
Later that night, flicking through the many places we could go, a single, small, half page advert caught my eye, Hidden Valley. Its computer generated character beckoning me to read further. The advert didn’t seem to say very much, but it did seem very child friendly, and with a 6 year old, that’s what we were looking for.
Jumping on the free internet – again, free is better than paid, I don’t mind waiting on a slow connection if it saves me a fiver. Things only got better, with the website explaining that there were trials, hidden passages and activities, we were sold, and if that wasn’t good enough, I held in my hand a voucher that would save me 50p per person – that was it, I could have a day out AND save £1.50 – Hidden Valley, you had got 3 more visitors at some point in the week.
The day arrived when we would be heading out to Hidden Valley, and, off we went, a boring journey along the A30, almost double carriageway all the way, quite a distance away, past Bodmin and beyond. The last half mile is scary, a single track road, and we met a tractor and a 4 x 4 coming the other way at some speed, but, eventually, heart in mouth, we made it, and joined a handful of other cars in the car park.
¬It struck me immediately that this wasn’t what I expected. I expected some home grown attraction in somebodies garden, somebody trying to cash in on me coming on holiday, but this was professional, it was big, it was imposing, quite honestly, it was impressive.
Entering the foyer, a café was to the left hand side, and the pay desk to the right. A man, I presume the owner, welcomed us warmly, and after taking our entrance fee, totalling around £25 for us all, gave us some puzzle sheets and a credit card sized piece of plastic.
Explaining the basic layout of the park, we were sent on our way, to go and find clues and surprises.
Walking back outside and in front of us the miniature railway, now, I won’t go into it again, but miniature railways make me go YAY, so that was definitely on the list of things to do. Walking away from the station, a small play area was to one side, and the smallish mansion building inside which we have seen all the photos of weird and wonderful things.
We headed off into the park and soon found the Indiana Jones Discovery Trail. Here, we had to follow the path of a rope, well, a piece of string, but still, a trail through the trees and off the beaten path, finding clues along the way. Each clue gave a picture and a maths problem. We noted them all down as we went around on the activity sheet, solving the now complex maths problem and working out a hidden character name.
Next we headed for the Sherlock trail, this one says it is aimed at older children, and indeed finding the starting point turned out to be a challenge. There were 15 clues in this trail, and each clue found pointed you in the direction of the next, some with grid references from the map we got at the entrance, others were just odd at first glance, and one I remember is ‘David Brown is a Block’ – made no sense, and I won’t spoil it, but we only stumbled upon the answer, it is nothing you will ever guess, but once we found it, it made perfect sense.
We gave up after completing the first 5 finding it a little difficult, and stressful in finding those answers, however, I think that if it wasn’t for Daniel being 6 and not getting this at all, it would have been fine, take a couple of young teenagers and I think we would be well away.
Around the park, other attractions include a really good maze with lots of chances to get yourself lost in the tall and narrow walkways, a hobbit house which you can enter and explore, and a small farm yard.
The small miniature railway, a teeny tiny 7.25 inch gauge, take you on a journey around the park, with lots of details including telegraph poles, stations and junction boxes. It’s a bumpy ride but quite fun, and the element of danger is there from the get go, with the driver telling us that it’s a narrow railway and sometimes the train can jump the track meaning he has to put it back on like a giant Hornby train set – he assures us that its really a non-event with no dangers to riders, however, it doesn’t stop us wanting it to happen!
The highlight of the day comes in the form of the Forbidden Mansion. This small looking building hides around 12 rooms to explore, with a theme park style trick used to make the house actually bigger than it appears, with the part you can see being just a façade.
We entered the house through the main front doors, and the man from reception earlier was there to meet us, now dressed as a Butler. He explained that our card we had been given earlier now comes into play. As we make our way around the house, there are challenges, and we need our card to access them. Each challenge is timed and you only have 3 minutes for each challenge.
There is a locked door and a countdown in front of us, and as it counts down to zero, the door unlocks and we gain entry to a long narrow corridor, and instantly we start to feel a little un-nerved.
The corridor led us to a larger room, a grand staircase in front, and our adventure into the house really starts.
As we make our way from room to room, we discover plenty of small hidden passages, through fireplaces and holes in the wall, and sure enough, those challenges.
The challenges are set a little too high on the wall to be comfortable, however, we quickly work out what we are meant to do, and challenge is an understatement, some of them are down right impossible. The challenges range from playing the pairs game, finding matching pairs in a series of images, seeing a grid of lights, and then a path of those lights flashes for a second, you have to then re-create the path, and one which is more than a little scary, lighting up some lights in the boiler room.
Now, the boiler room got my heart racing, and anybody who has seen the Saw movies will understand. You have a large box, in it, three deep holes, at the end of those holes, a button. The challenge is to reach in and press that button. One hole near the floor was the most difficult, and then one in the front and one in the top. I was imagining that puffs of air would be blown into the hole, it certainly screamed of a Saw trap. In reality, we had to press those buttons without our arms touching the edges of the holes, which sounds incredibly easy, however took us a few attempts with lots of shouting and stress in the process when one of us accidentally touched the sides – looking back, great fun!
In the boiler room, which was dark, a boiler sat, and inside a secret passage. Climbing through the pitch black boiler again felt like a Saw trap and I was getting a little nervous once again.
Other rooms include an upside down dining room and shrinking corridor.
You could go around the house more than once, however, to do the challenges again, it costs £3 to recharge the card, however, I feel that this would be a waste as you would know how to start, and the answers to some, so we didn’t.
Hidden Valley is one cracking little attraction, and not at all what I expected, it is professional, it is high quality. It has a few minor faults, such as there being only one trail for younger children, where it could really do with 2 separate Sherlock trails, one as it is, a little difficult, and one for children with easier clues and puzzles.
Saying this, Hidden Valley became a highlight of the holiday and we will certainly be returning when we return to Cornwall in future.