FAMILIES visiting the National Trust's gardens at Cliveden this half term will find a new wooden carved character has come to the Storybook Play Den to replace one of literature's most famous wizards.

The latest addition is inspired by Old Brown, the owl from Beatrix Potter's classic story, 'The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin'.

The new model, which features the wise old owl perched on top of a selection of classic children’s books, has been created to replace the life-sized carving of Gandalf, at the play den’s entrance.

Gandalf, the famous wizard from J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ has welcomed thousands of children to the play den since it first opened in 2010. Unfortunately over the years the wood gradually deteriorated and despite efforts to repair him, the time had come for Gandalf to ‘retire’.

Skilled wood carver Dennis Heath from Knebworth Carvings who created many of the play den’s other characters was commissioned to bring the new design to life. Using chainsaws and a single piece of wood from the Cliveden estate he worked for several days to create the intricate carving.

Gardener Claire Primett, who designed the carving, said "We know that many children are incredibly fond of Gandalf and we are just as sad to see him go. He was a great presence at the play den so we wanted to see if we could make our new carving even more striking.

"A wise old owl, sitting on a throne of books felt like a really appropriate gatekeeper for a storybook themed play area. We hope that our younger visitors will be as delighted as we are with the finished result."

Before designing the carving Claire spent time talking to families at the play den to find out more about their favourite storybooks.

Some of the most-loved classics, including The Wind in the Willows, The Jungle Book and Cinderella are tucked amongst the stack of books that forms the base of the carving. ‘Old Brown’ is the first Beatrix Potter character to feature in the play den.

Other new additions for 2014 include Pooh Bear clutching a pot of honey, a Tigger see-saw and giant ladybird.

There are many old favourites too, including Peter Pan, his arch rival, the villainous Captain Hook, and the ever-hungry crocodile, who have already been welcoming back families when Cliveden’s gardens opened for the 2014 season last Saturday.

The gardens at Cliveden will be open daily from 10am to 5.30pm.