Autumn is a wonderful season for a walk in the woods. Although temperatures are falling, the colours of nature range from fresh green to warm oranges, reds and browns. But it is often still warm enough for a pleasant stroll in the woods. Mushrooms shoot up out of the ground and often make a beautiful subject for a photo. Especially when you can spot the attention-grabbing red-and-white spotted ones. And I always hope to see a little gnome sitting on one. If you’re lucky, you may enjoy autumn sunshine on a walk in the woods. But even in wet autumn weather, the forest is an adventure well worth experiencing.
During our weekend in the French Ardennes near Sedan and Charleville-Mézières, we spent a morning in the big forest near Le Bannet. The original plan was to have a picnic there as well, but it was just too wet on the day. However, a nice hike in a part of the French Ardennes where there’s also a great playground is a good idea whatever the weather.
About 15 minutes’ drive northeast of Sedan you can find the ‘Le Bannet’ recreation area. The great forest lends itself perfectly to walks and bike rides, with about 100 kilometres of marked mountain bike trails. There’s a sports route as well with various obstacles for the more athletic. And for kids there is a playground, which offers challenges for various age groups. There is plenty of entertainment in this nature reserve besides what nature itself has to offer.
It was still raining heavily when we got into the car in Sedan. I always try to be positive, but even so I wondered if it was such a good idea to go for a walk in the woods in that weather. We don’t usually rush home at the first hint of rain, but a walk in a downpour doesn’t cheer anyone up, not even our dog. So we decided to drive towards Givonne. Besides keeping a positive attitude, deciding that ‘we’ll see when we get there’ has often worked out well for us, and so it should be okay now as well. The route is well signposted and the car park at the Le Bannet recreation area is also easy to find. One of the advantages of this autumnal weather is that it’s nice and quiet at the destination. It felt as though we had the whole forest to ourselves. And the weather almost looked dry when we parked up! With rain gear to hand, we were ready to spend the morning in Le Bannet.
Walking in the forest
It’s funny, but when I ask my kids “Are you coming on a walk with me?” their reaction is usually “Nah, don’t feel like it!” But when I ask “Who’s coming to the woods with me?” I often get the enthusiastic reaction, “yes! I’m coming!” So it’s about the way you suggest such an activity to children. But, of course, the enthusiasm also depends on how you put it into practice. If previous walks in the woods have been rather boring, then children won’t exactly rejoice at the prospect of another one. But if your previous walks have been challenging, with fun games in the woods, then their associations with walking in the woods will be a lot more positive.
What are fun activities for a woodland walk? Obviously, that depends on age. For a toddler, everything around them can be an activity. From leaves falling from the trees, to the rustling sound as you walk through them. The stick they find in their path becomes a sword. For older children, falling leaves are just something that happens every autumn. And that rustling is no longer so absorbing. And as for the sticks they find? Yes, there’s always energy enough for dragging them along. For older children, more challenges are needed to make the walk fun, and to keep their interest up.
Good preparation is half the job too. I regularly see children walking in wellington boots, but ordinary wellies are not as comfortable as proper shoes. So make sure the children wear good shoes. That will make walking a lot more pleasant and the children will be less likely to whine about sore and tired feet. And, of course, being prepared for the weather won’t hurt either. I always advise my kids to wear layers. While walking you can sometimes get too warm, so being able to take off a jacket is very handy. But getting cold and wet isn’t much fun either! Is the weather forecast rather wet like it was for us? Then make sure you take good rain gear.
As I regard my kids as ‘bigger’ children, we tried to make our forest walk at Le Bannet as challenging as possible.
Entertainment along the way
Autumn is an excellent season for foraging. So always bring a bag with you when you go for a walk in the woods with the kids. Who’s never looked for chestnuts and acorns? No one, right? It’s also a good idea to give the kids a goal for the walk. A goal gives purpose, but also the feeling that something is important. And a goal gives satisfaction when it’s finally achieved. For example, the goal can be to find six different shaped leaves. Or maybe a competition to find the biggest chestnut. And in autumn, a mushrooming expedition shouldn’t be missed, especially in the French Ardennes where mushrooms are a delicacy. But be careful and don’t just pick anything you see, because you need to have some knowledge to avoid picking the poisonous ones,
In autumn, the forest is also crawling with tiny creatures. Just look under the leaves or a fallen branch. Studying these creatures is naturally fascinating, and a magnifying glass makes it even more fun! It’s very easy to search the Internet for the animals you’ve just seen. This makes the walk even more instructive.
We brought along our metal detector. We can used this to detect metal objects like iron and aluminium, or even gold and silver. Last summer we spent a few great afternoons on the beach searching with the metal detector. In a forest like this, there’s probably a lot of stuff hidden away, as we found. The metal detector started beeping as we swept over the leaves. But we hadn’t taken into account that digging into a forest path isn’t as easy as it is with sand. So we quickly give up this activity.
Meanwhile, we had kept pretty dry on our walk and our next goal was to reach the playground, shown on the map at the entrance. A game is always a fun way to help you keep on walking for a bit, and the alphabet game is excellent for this. Normally we play the alphabet game when we are sitting at a table in a restaurant. You have to name a name that starts with the last letter of the previous name. In the forest, you can play the game with woodland items instead of names. You can change the game a little by naming the letter yourself. For example, name something from the forest that starts with the letter ‘b’. Whoever thinks of an object first then gets to choose the next letter.
So while we were busily thinking of everything that could be found in the forest, we stumbled upon the Le Bannet playground, which we ended up having all to ourselves.
Playground in the forest
The playground in the forest of Le Bannet has beautiful surroundings because it is right in the middle of the forest. It’s suitable for children aged from 3 to 12, but playful adults can have a great time here as well. There’s a variety of play equipment that can be divided into three categories. First, traditional playground equipment such as swings, a seesaw, and a hut with a slide.
Second, there is active playground equipment like a roundabout and a zip line. And third, the climbing and balancing equipment, where agility and balance come into play. Personally, I always prefer this category for children, mainly because this equipment promotes concentration and coordination. But of course that means nothing to my kids. They mainly go for speed and thrills and, with that mind-set, they always race straight to the zip line.
And I do get it; using the zip line certainly is a great activity. Especially when the children are big enough to operate it themselves. After going back and forth on it a dozen times, the children went on a discovery tour of the playground. And it really is a voyage of discovery, because there are so many things to play on. Boredom is not an option, and I was a bit disappointed with the weather, because picnicking here would have been wonderful. By the way, picnicking is not limited to the playground: there are plenty of places in the forest where you can find picnic tables.
And while the kids were still occupied with all the play equipment, first on the see-saw, then on the slide, OK, it was my turn to practice my balance between the ropes (something they don’t think of, but I do). Meanwhile, I was sorting out the route to Charleville-Mézières. Here we have a nice substitute for our picnic, lunch at Central Park.
Even though the kids hadn’t finished playing (do they ever?), we walked back to the Le Bannet car park where our car was. Along the way we only met one runner, who was taking the sports path. But I can imagine that it’s a lot livelier in lovely weather in this beautiful part of the French Ardennes.
The drive to Charleville-Mézières took about half an hour. That was great, because the kids needed to calm down after their adventure in the forest of Le Bannet. We drove into Charleville-Mézières and I realized that this part of the French Ardennes really is a perfect combination of nature and culture. It’s a beautiful and characterful city with a very rich history. Skipping the picnic gained us some extra time in this fine city, which made up for it a bit.
Lunch at Central Park Bowling
We were going to have lunch at the restaurant of Central Park Bowling. At first I thought, “huh? Lunch at a bowling alley?”, but when I saw the menu I understood why. This isn’t a bowling alley with a restaurant, but a restaurant with a bowling alley. And very child-friendly too, with a kids’ menu and an indoor playground in one corner of the restaurant. As if my kids weren’t exhausted enough by the forest of Le Bannet, they played here too for a bit while we waited.
But the adult menu also had the most delicious dishes. I was afraid this was going to be yet another big lunch. My husband and I ordered our food, looked at one another and read each other’s thoughts. Next time we really will take the sports route in the forest.