Thursday, August 20, 2009

Things to do in Northamptonshire - Wistow Maize Maze

O.k, Wistow Maize Maze isn't in Northamptonshire. It's in Leicestershire, just a bit further on than Market Harborough if you're going up the A6, then turn off at Kibworth. It's within easy reach of North Northamptonshire (took us 20 - 25 minutes to get there), which is within the scope of these parts of my blog, as far as I'm concerned.

So what is it?
Wistow Maize Maze is a maze in Wistow that's made out of maize. And yes, it is pretty amazing. It's only around for 8 weeks every summer, and each year it is redesigned- this year the maize, from above, looks like a polar bear. Last year it was an Egyptian Pharaoh. The year before it was a witch on a broomstick.
#Edited to add: This year, it is/was a Spitfire aeroplane! Mmmrreeeeoowwww!

Each year the maze consists of around 3 miles of paths, hidden amongst which are 10 themed Quiz Trail boards, each with a different symbol. The idea is to collect the symbols and then head for the 'goal' area where there is a board that helps you to convert each symbol into a letter. Rearrange the letters and you have a message. Successfully decode the message and you can enter it on your entry card and deposit it in the box in the ticket office for a chance to win a prize.

There are also numbered boards at regular points within the maze. These boards are marked on the map you are provided with so that you can work out where you are if you get lost.

The maze itself is an impressive construction, designed each year using specialised maize-maze designing software and then converted into GPS coordinates which are then marked out on the ground by way of 1600 flags. The paths are cleared using hand sprays, and the rest of the crops are left to grow. By the time the maze is opened to the public, most of the maize is above head height. In October the maize is harvested and used to produce cattle feed.

There is also an 'activity funyard' outside the maze which includes activities for children including mini mazes and other activities including bean-bag throwing, hoopla, and football shooting.

Who's it for?
It's a great day out for any age- I went with Emma, and saw all sorts of people there: groups of teenagers; young families; older families; extended families; young couples; old couples; everything in between. Thought has been made about providing for wheelchairs and pushchairs, and such vehicles shouldn't have too much difficulty navigating the maze unless the weather's bad, although there may be some difficulties at points if you come across people coming the other way!

It's a worthwhile day out, in my opinion, for a number of reasons:
  • With three miles of paths to cover, it's a bit of exercise
  • It's a day out in the countryside
  • It has great educational potential for kids: the quiz boards provide talking points on a theme (this year it was about what we can do to lessen our impact on the environment), and it's a decent exercise of anybody's problem solving skills unless your tactic for finding the quiz boards is to wander aimlessly until they present themselves.

How much is it and when is it open?
Ticket prices (correct for 2009; check the Wistow Maze website):
  • Adults: £5.50
  • Children: £4.50 (13 & under)
  • Family ticket: £18.00 (2 adults, 2 children OR 1 adult, 3 children)
Parking is free at the rural centre on the other side of the road from the maze, and ticket prices include use of the Activity Funyard as well as access to the maze. You also get a map of the maze and a competition entry card.

Opening times(correct for 2009; check the Wistow Maze website):
The maze is available from early/mid July until late September. The following times are for 2009:
  • Sat. 18th July - Sun. 6th September: Open 7 days per week. Admissions: 10am - 4:30pm (maze closes at 6pm)
  • Mon. 7th September - Sun. 27th September: Open weekends only. Admissions 10am - 4:30pm (maze closes at 6pm)

Is there anything else to do there?
The maze itself took us around an hour to complete, without a break. We didn't spend any time in the activity funyard as we don't have children, so the venue may be a bit far for some people to travel to for the sake of an hour's entertainment. As I've already mentioned, free parking is available at Wistow Rural centre, the entrance to which is immediately opposite the entrance to the maze. The rural centre is worth a visit even if you've just come for the maze, but also adds something to the experience for those of you who may need to travel further to get there. Some of the things available at Wistow Rural Centre are:
  • Free parking (as already mentioned. Twice.)
  • Toilets (necessary information, as Wistow is in the middle of nowhere).
  • A cafe (decent enough food, as I recall, but with prices that you'd expect from a venue situated in the middle of nowhere).
  • A farm shop (nice looking produce, but with prices that you'd expect from a farm shop).
  • A couple of other shops, including a garden centre, a fish shop (as in pets and garden, rather than battered and fried), a pine and hardwood furniture shop, a contemporary arts shop, a jewellery and hangbags shop and a gift shop.
  • A model village (I was actually quite disappointed in this- it looks like it used to be fairly impressive, but has been left to rot. It's not very well tended, and appears to have been vandalised a bit.)
    #Edited to add: The model village is now undergoing what is stated to be an extensive period of restoration. About time! Here are a couple of pictures I took yesterday: The Model Village at Wistow and More of the Model Village!
  • Friendly ducks.

How do I get there?
It's signposted off the A6 at Kibworth Harcourt.
Here's Wistow maze on google maps
And here's the Wistow Maze website's 'how to find us' section.

Anything else I should know?
  • The maze ticket office takes cash and cheques only. The nearest cashpoint is in Fleckney, which is about 2 1/2 miles away.
  • The maze paths are uneven and potentially muddy, so wear appropriate clothing.
  • Dogs aren't allowed in the maze or activity funyard (there are plenty of fields nearby, though).

Sounds interesting, but I don't live near enough! Are there any more?
Yep. Check out these links for details of maize mazes in the UK and abroad: