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Carving a trail across the hill

Carving a trail across the hill

August 25, 2016
Gruffalo trail at Horsenden Hill - little girl meets the fox

You may have noticed the new Gruffalo trail snaking across Horsenden Hill for children to chase along, finding characters as they go. But ever wondered how the wooden carving collection of creatures got there?

The trail features a seven-foot-tall Gruffalo, sculpted from a redwood tree, and four smaller characters made using sweet chestnut: Mouse, fox (pictured above with a young fan), snake and owl. They are all hidden along the adventure trail pathway in the Perivale park for children to explore and discover.

Children find the mouse along the Gruffalo trail at Horsenden Hill
Children find the mouse along the Gruffalo trail at Horsenden Hill

Based on the best-selling children’s picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, the Gruffalo is the story of a cunning mouse’s walk through the deep dark wood where he encounters a variety of dangerous creatures who all want to eat him, but he scares them off with the idea of the ‘imaginary’ Gruffalo.

You can find out just how imaginary the Gruffalo is by hunting it out at Horsenden Hill.

From Devon to Perivale

The artist behind the sculptures is Devon-based Dan Cordell. He used an array of different sized chainsaws – with bars ranging from three feet long to eight inches. It is skilled work which, as he said himself, takes many years to master. Over a six-week period, the five characters steadily emerged, before travelling to Ealing on a trailer – which made for a curious sight for people driving along the A40 that morning.

He said: “It was great doing the Gruffalo because it is big and quite playful. I don’t usually do staining and paintwork but it was quite fun to do with this because it brought the Gruffalo to life and made it a lot more animated.

The Gruffalo at Horsenden Hil
The Gruffalo at Horsenden Hil

“You start off with the wood selection. It has to be the right size obviously – the scale is already determined by the design before you begin. Smaller pieces are simpler but the Gruffalo needed a large piece of wood, which takes more finding and speaking to lots of contacts. In the end I found a suitable tree, which was a redwood in Tiverton, Devon, nor far from where I live. Then it was a case of hauling it somehow to your work space.

“You need to take off the bark and sapwood and get to the heart wood, at which point you can start drawing on the log and choosing where the first cuts will be made. This is the most difficult part because the first piece you remove is quite big and you need to make sure you don’t make a mistake. As it starts to take shape it becomes easier but when it is still a log it is very hard.

“After the work with the petrol chainsaws, there was a little bit of sanding and some chisel detail, plus doing things like adding the horns on the head and spikes on the back of the Gruffalo. And there was the painting, and drying time.

“We then took it up to the site. I was there to install all of the sculptures. It was a long day but I like to make sure the job is done properly.”

Artist Dan (right) watches the Gruffalo being lifted into position on the trail
Artist Dan (right) watches the Gruffalo being lifted into position on the trail

Once back in Devon, Dan had left his work behind for good but he still got to see it being used for its intended purpose: “I was sent some pictures of children enjoying the trail by people on Facebook,” said Dan. “Which was nice to see.”

There are five information boards alongside the sculptures which aim to encourage children to learn about their local woodland and wildlife. Horsdenden Hill is a conservation site.

The project was funded by the council and the council’s Perivale ward forum. It was licensed by Magic Light Pictures.

‘Get set for your own adventure’
One of the information boards along the Gruffalo trail on Horsenden Hill
One of the information boards along the Gruffalo trail on Horsenden Hill

Councillor Bassam Mahfouz, the council’s cabinet member for transport, environment and leisure, said: “In Ealing we have some of the most enviable outdoor spaces across all of London. With the opening of the Gruffalo nature trail at Horsenden Hill, I know that kids of all ages – even adults – will be excited to lace up their walking boots and hit the trail, all set for their very own Gruffalo adventure.

“For Gruffalo fans new and old, this trail is a really great way to not only introduce them to the wonderful characters of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, but to also get them out and about and enjoying our fantastic open spaces.”