Bewilderwood bosses reveal global ambitions
15:05 28 November 2012
Archant © 2007
The architect of Norfolk’s brightest new tourism phenomenon has spoken of his plans to take the brand worldwide.
Since opening in 2007 on the outskirts of the Broadland village of Hoveton, Bewilderwood has impressively built up to more than 160,000 visitors a year.
Development director Simon Egan said they were now in the advanced stages of planning to open a second family adventure park at Tatton Park in Cheshire.
And he does not see the Bewilderwood story ending there if they succeed in opening the new £6m attraction on National Trust-owned land in 2014.
He said: “We are in regular discussions over a third Bewilderwood on crown estate-owned land at Windsor and we are receiving approaches from around the world all the time.
“We have been talking to parties as far afield as Singapore, Center Parcs in Europe and Toronto Botanical Gardens in Canada.”
Meanwhile, Mr Egan’s partner Tom Blofeld, who found a home for the first Bewilderwood on his estate, is poised to sign a deal with an international publishing company for his children’s books that have inspired the attraction.
Mr Egan said: “The books have already been very successful, selling 50 to 60,000 copies, and this could end up with them being on virtually every bookshelf in the country.”
In the future, he sees the characters of Swampy, the tree-inhabitating twiggles and the marsh-dwelling boggles featuring in a film - “very traditional and old-fashioned and definitely not Disney”.
They are also actively looking to diversify the brand into everything from clothing and toys to food, even board games.
Mr Egan said Bewilderwood was born in 2004 out of Mr Blofeld’s need to create an income for his farm - “it was no more than a farm diversification”.
He said: “We were friends with a passion for recreating the elements of outdoor play that we had both enjoyed so much as children, but neither of us had any knowledge of the tourism industry. It was a completely blank canvas.
“I took Tom down to see Bowood in Wiltshire, an adventure park I had loved, and we spent 2004 driving around the country looking at attractions. That was the start of the long road to us opening three years later.
“As we were building Bewilderwood characters emerged out of the woods - we found characters on the way.”
Planning for the second Bewilderwood at Tatton Park, a stately home leased by the National Trust to Cheshire East Council, began three years ago.
Mr Egan said: “We are nearly at the end of planning and we will hear in the spring. It has been very difficult on an historic landscape and we have been negotiating with English Heritage and Natural England.”
If they receive the go-ahead, the park - part funded by the council - is likely to open on the 2000-acre estate south of Manchester in 2014.
He said Mr Blofeld had already been working on new characters - including a hippopotamuddle and paddletails - for Tatton Park, which was a very different river and woodland landscape.
“It will be on a larger-scale and we are planning to make overnight accommodation in tree houses a new feature,” he said.
“The river is not suitable for boats but there will be a train around the site.”
He hinted that the new features planned for Tatton Park, including the train, could be incorporated at Hoveton in the future.
While the large-scale plans are held up in planning, the company’s in-house building team are working on a number of adventure playgrounds, including one for Holkham Hall which last Friday scooped two prizes in the EDP Tourism Awards.
Mr Egan said the ongoing expansion would ultimately benefit Norfolk where the business would always be based - “Tom is not going to be moving”. Meanwhile, it was also securing the future for the 35 to 40 full-time staff at Hoveton.