The Prince of Wales has opened an epic nature-based children’s adventure playpark – inspired by Prince George’s treehouse.
The 300-square metre rustic wooden playground is nestled six metres up among the trees on the Dumfries House estate in Ayrshire, Scotland, and features elevated rope bridges, a netting tunnel, two side-by-side racing slides and a tube slide.
Commissioned by Charles’ charitable organisation The Prince’s Foundation, the park is designed to encourage youngsters to immerse themselves in nature, boosting their physical wellbeing and mental health in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The central play tower, made from sustainably sourced English chestnut, took inspiration from the treehouse at the prince’s Gloucestershire home Highgrove.
The original – with a pointed thatched roof – was built as a den for princes William and Harry for William’s seventh birthday in 1989, but Charles refurbished it for his eldest grandson George in 2015.
The new one at Dumfries House, near Cumnock, was also due to have a thatched roof, but this was switched in favour of cedar shingle to match the rest of the tower.
Future king Charles, 73, explored the playpark on Thursday, following a line of children as he made his way across the longest of the suspended wobble bridges.
The prince smiled broadly as the walkway swayed, occasionally holding on to the netted side as he walked behind the troop of four youngsters.
He encouraged pupils from nearby Muirkirk Primary School to race each other on the parallel slides.
Paul Travers, of Creating Adventurous Places (CAP.Co) which designed the structure, said: “He thought it was fantastic… He didn’t go on the slide but he encouraged the children to go down and he watched them as they raced.
“I think he said ‘Let’s see how fast you can go’.
“He did go across the suspension bridge. He enjoyed it and said it was great fun.”
Mr Travers said the firm did its own research on the Highgrove treehouse.
“It’s loosely based on the treehouse in terms of shape and form,” he added.
Charles chatted to youngsters as they clambered around.
“Have you enjoyed it? Have you run around the whole thing? Which bit do you like most? You like all of it – great,” he said.
Charles chuckled as he watched one boy jump from a height on to the ground in front of his feet, pointing and saying: “That’s what I like to see.”
The playground draws on Charles’s own “philosophy of harmony” and his belief in the importance of understanding the “balance, the order and the relationships between ourselves and the natural world”.
The initiative also follows in the footsteps of the Duchess of Cambridge – a key champion of outdoor woodland play.
Kate designed her own Back to Nature garden for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2019, which featured a tree house, waterfall, rustic den and a campfire.
She has stressed how spending time outdoors can help children grow up to become “happy, healthy adults”, and says her own youngsters – George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis – are “dragged outside” whatever the weather.
The duchess also opened a children’s playground at RHS Wisley in Surrey, inspired by her garden, featuring a rope swing, tepee hideaway and a tree house.
CAP.Co also worked on the recent adventure play area on the Queen’s Sandringham estate.
The design of the new playpark is intended to complement the nearby towering 35-metre-high sequoia redwood trees, and gives youngsters an aerial view of the nearby maze, which opened in 2016 and was inspired by Charles’s memories of his childhood visits to Sandringham.
To encourage family members to play together, the two racing slides are big enough for adults to use, as is the rest of the structure, and it features interactive educational elements, including a wooden finger maze – a scaled-down replica of the Dumfries House maze.
Gordon Neil, executive director of The Prince’s Foundation, said: “The work of The Prince’s Foundation is inspired by HRH The Prince of Wales’s philosophy of harmony: that by understanding the balance, the order and the relationships between ourselves and the natural world we can create a more sustainable future.
“Encouraging young people to engage with, and learn from, nature is at the heart of everything we do as a charity.
“We are delighted to expand the range of nature-based activities available to estate visitors with the opening of our new adventure playground and are very much looking forward to seeing families enjoy it.”
Construction of the playpark was funded by supporters meeting environmental objectives including EB Scotland, the foundation said.
The prince led a consortium of charities and the Scottish Government to save Dumfries House “for the nation” with a last-ditch £45 million purchase in 2007, with his own charitable foundation contributing £20 million.
General admission to the estate is free and it is open 365 days a year from dawn to dusk.
Hidden away in an area at Highgrove known as the stumpery, William and Harry – and now George’s – treehouse was built around an old holly tree, and nicknamed “Hollyrood House” in a nod to the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.
It was accessible only by a rope hanging through a trap door, but the trap door has gone, and access is now through a holly leaf-shaped door.