November 25, 2019
Castle Howard, Yorkshire
One of our favourite recent projects has been Skelf Island at Castle Howard in Yorkshire. It was created on an island at the edge of the Great Lake and connected to the existing play area by a gigantic jungle bridge that spanned the water between the two, as well as a low-level walkway for more accessible entry.
The location of Skelf Island is on the Medieval site of Henderskelfe, the settlement that preceded Castle Howard and was lost to fire in 1359. During the concept design, the Skelves were 'discovered' and a whole new layer of story was born around their legend. When this is done well and created around a real sense of place, as it was at BeWILDerwood, the experience for visitors is more immersive and the attraction becomes more sustainable into the future.
The launch event went well and Skelf Island was thrown open to the press and local dignitaries. What's more telling however is when the reviews from real families start to roll in. We're now at that stage and they're even better than we could have hoped for. Here are a couple of extracts.
The first of the Skelf Island reviews is from the One and Other. There are a few great quotes from their review.
"Tentatively crossing into this world via the lagoon spanning rope-bridge, my three year-old Edie found a universe inhabited by the ‘Skelves’, elfin creatures named after the long disappeared Medieval Henderskelfe Castle which Castle Howard replaced. And if you look closely, you can see their evidence with small tree houses nestling in branches.
But this is not a grotesque theme park, but a sensitively constructed adventure island with a labyrinthine wooden pathway set on stilts combined with a slide, hideaways, rope tunnels and a zip wire that actually works, instead of the anaemic drift you find with some. The diversity of ‘things to do’ meant that both my older children (seven and eight) had to be bribed out with ice-cream and promises of boat rides, instead of the ‘bored within two minutes’ syndrome that can accompany more obvious play areas. I have paid more, far more, at other places to find less there."
The second is from Little Vikings who came along to the launch with their own family and they were every bit as taken with their day amongst the Skelves.
In their review, that you can read here, they commented on the fact that it's been designed to to encourage kids to take calculated risks outdoors to challenge themselves and as they get braver and more confident, they eventually conquer things they couldn't do on their last visit.
This is something we believe in as a design philosophy as for us, too many children, wrapped in cotton wool, spend too long indoors, which is bad for their mental health. You can read about our thinking on the value of play here.