BIKE-MAD teenagers love Wendover Woods, and many runners find it the perfect place to work out their fitness routines.
But not everyone is over the moon, it seems, at the programme of improvements funded by a massive HS2 community grant – and not just because of where the money came from.
There’s a sense of adventure as you make your way up what seems an interminable entrance drive, and it gives you a chance to take in the full extent of the 800-acre site. This drive, the car park and the café are all part of the improvements financed by a £450,000 cash injection.
There’s even a promotional video from April 2020 saying how pleased Forestry England were with the redevelopment, although only a few hundred people have seen forest centre manager David Barnett explaining that it was “some 17 years in the making”.
Doubtless there are many who have found the easy car parking, new visitor hub and large café real improvements – and some visitors have praised all of those things. But there are also a number of reviews in recent months that have expressed less enthusiasm for the changes, with critics lambasting the parking and food charges, and finding the scale of the makeover a little overwhelming.
No one has any issues with the scenery, and on a quiet day the trails offer miles of varied paths and gradients to explore, along with picnic areas, a children’s playground, Go Ape treetop adventure course and nearby mountain biking area at Aston Hill for those wanting a more challenging range of adventure trails best suited to intermediate and expert riders.
But it rankles a little to pay £1.50 for the one-page map of the site, the coffee in the cafe was undrinkable on the day of our visit and the car park fees rack up for those staying for longer periods.
The signposting of trails around the cafe is far from clear for newcomers, and despite the facilities, the plethora of trail options and the impressive views out over Aylesbury Vale to the north, it’s clear several visitors have been disgruntled with aspects of their visit – though at the time of writing no one from Forestry England seemed to have answered their concerns.
Queues to pay for parking top the list of gripes, but some found the new cafe unappealing too: variously described as a “container” and “industrial warehouse”, dogs are not welcome inside, although some found the food reasonable and outside picnic area appealing.
Once in the woods and away from all the “commercial aspects” of the top area, it’s “magical” says one reviewer, but another found it a “dull commercialised version of nature” and yet another “little more than a countryside theme park”.
Sad to say, we found ourselves agreeing with the critics – especially compared to the blissful peace of Stoke Common or empty tracks at Black Park. And yet it was clear a lot of families were having a lot of fun at Wendover Woods, and long may it continue.
Outside peak periods the trails offer an escape from the cares of the outside world, and hundreds of families are taking advantage of that chance to engage with nature at first hand.
But Forestry England may need to pay a little more heed to the worries expressed by visitors. Numbers may be up, but that counts for little if the experience leaves a bad taste in the mouth or too large a hole in the pocket.