Stonor Park in Oxfordshire has been home to the Stonor family for over 850 years. Located around 5 miles from Henley on Thames, it nestles in a valley in the Chiltern Hills, with the house at its centre, surrounded by a beautiful deer park. Behind the house, there is an Italian style formal walled garden and on the hillside to the east, a small existing play area previously known as Wonder Woods.
Our involvement began when the Stonor Family, who still live in and operate the park as an attraction, decided to extend the existing play to increase dwell time for guests and add more challenging play for slightly older children. As is often the case, the brief grew, and soon we were in discussions about adding a whole new layer of story. The team behind CAP.Co have all worked on the creation of story-led adventure play projects before with Skelf Island and BeWILDerwood before that so have the experience to create story-based attractions from inception.
Delving into the history of Stonor opens a very rich theme of history and a depth of stories on which to build. The Jesuit priests Edmund Campion and Robert Parsons who lived and worked at Stonor Park, the family history of Droving and Wool Trading as well as being the site of a prehistoric stone circle, close to the house. In more recent years the House has been the location of Bladen's Safe House in the 1987 Bond Film, the Living Daylights and the home of millionaire Victor Hazell in the film version of Roald Dahl's 'Danny, the Champion of the World.'.
After discussions with a number of exceptional children's authors, Amy Sparkes was appointed to create the first in a series of stories set in and around the new adventure play area under the name of Tumblestone Hollow. The first book, 'The Legend of Tumblestone Hollow' is now available and looks incredible, with illustrations by our old friend, Steve Pearce.
Taking inspiration from the stone circle in the grounds of the estate - an iconic feature of Stonor Park - the concept for the new masterplan for the play area accentuated this through form and theme. Our plan saw circles of play radiate out from different points within the play space.
A central tower, set within the circle of trees half way up the slope, became the focal point to the play space. Walkways and bridges radiate out from this structure, offering a myriad of play features and options on multiple levels.
Links to the existing play features, through walkways and bridges also make sure that the play area is coherent throughout. With the inclusion of a story and theme also based around the stone circle and its history and relevance to Stonor, the new adventure play is rooted in its surroundings, transporting visitors into another world whilst clambering amongst the trees.
You can see how this began to come to life with the initial CGI's showing the stones being designed right into the build as supports for the central tower.
One immediate restriction that was placed on the build during the planning application process was the protection of a gorgeous old Field Maple in the middle of the planned build site. Not to be deterred however, we made this a feature and designed an extraordinary stone circle, to surround the apparently significant tree. The link directly back to the first in a series of stories and their relevance and positioning will become even more apparent as the story unfolds.
Throughout the planning and build process, we worked with the slope and topography. High-level walkways and lookout decks give adventurers views across the site, encouraging exploration and imagination. Whilst on the woodland floor, ground play trails and the stone circle continue the sinuous shapes. Links to the existing play features, through walkways and bridges also make sure that the play area is coherent throughout.
The central tower is the focal point of the site. A structure that, judging by the huge number of PR shots it has generated, has become synonymous with Stonor Park and Tumblestone Hollow. Set across multiple levels the tower acts as the crossing point for a number of walkways and bridges which are accessed from the tower at different levels. An internal double spiral of steps carry adventurers from ground level right up to the top look-out deck and then out on to the connecting bridges. It's been clad throughout with gnarled natural timbers, the tower has a rustic, gentle place in the environment.
The official opening of Tumblestone Hollow was on Friday 2nd April 2021 and as the CAP.Co team have also been involved in the overall branding, design and marketing of the attraction, we are delighted to announce that it completely sold out every day throughout the Easter Holiday period.