If ever there was a Willy Wonka moment, this had to be it. I was standing, gazing through a wide glass panel into a room decorated with giant grinning cocoa beans. My two children were inside, standing rapt as they watched two perky, bouncy women talk about chocolate. The staff at The Cocoabean Company, in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland weren’t as small as Oompah-Loompahs. Neither were they as creepy. Instead, judging by the smiles and merriment coming from behind the soundproofed glass, they served up their rich chocolatey treats with warmth, humour, and a big dose of cheekiness.
Dumfries and Galloway’s Cocoabean Company is one of three branches of the chocolate-themed visitor attraction. The other two are in Glasgow and the Lake District. The Dumfries and Galloway branch was the first to be established and, close to the small town of Twynholm in this unspoilt corner of Scotland, it attracts legions of visitors, especially in the summer months.
The changeable Scottish weather granted us a dry, sunny day, so we were able to take advantage of the Cocoabean Company’s large outdoor play area. The place looked as though it had been scrubbed up since the last time we visited, two years before. The play equipment was looking a little tired back then, and it seemed as though every single one of Dumfries and Galloway’s wasps had given up trying to find food in the sparsely populated county, and come to the Cocoabean Factory for a party. Perhaps they were summoned in by the chocolatey scents wafting out from the building. Picnicing families were besieged by hordes of the insects. They swooped onto fizzy drink cans, crawled over sandwiches, and swarmed over the bins.
But today, there was no sign of the yellow beasties. Instead, the children were able to play freely on the spruced-up pirate ship, the giant dinosaur and the Cocoabean Castle, complete with slides and tunnels.
Mismatching though the different bits of play equipment were, they were perfect for a good afternoon’s romp. My daughter even tried her hand at panning for gold.
Once they’d run off some energy and worked up an appetite, we headed indoors for the chocolate workshop. Pre-booking isn’t required, as the workshops run all day. Instead, you book a time slot when you arrive. The regular workshops are for children aged three to eighteen (they run special sessions for adults, too). When it was our turn to go inside the chocolate room, the staff gave the children aprons and hairnets – and they all lined up to give their hands a thorough wash.
That was a necessary move. Through the glass, I saw an awful lot of chocolate squidging and sweetie squishing. Not as much finger-licking as I would have imagined – I suspect the staff gave the children a talk about not doing that beforehand. But the experience was extremely hands-on, with molten chocolate taken out of ovens then poured, swirled and patted by the children into moulds of their choice.
Although I couldn’t hear what was going on, there were lots of laughs along the way from the small group of children. The whole thing took 45 minutes, with bowl after bowl of sweet-smelling milk or white chocolate being poured into small paper cups so that the children could shape it into sweet treats. When they’d finished making each piece of chocolate, the staff whisked them away into deep-chill cabinets, to harden.
Just before the end, the mischievous staff piped chocolate moustaches onto the unsuspecting children.
If you worry about your children having a sugar rush, then the chocolate workshop might not be for you. Austin and Gwen emerged from the chocolate room with a phenomenal amount of chocolate. They were brandishing animals that they’d made by shaking the chocolate inside plastic moulds. There was a choice of animals: Austin chose a pig, while Gwen plumped for a duck. On top of that they each had a dense, swirly chocolate slab decorated with sweeties, and several chocolate-coated marshmallows. It was almost enough chocolate to fuel a small army of Oompah-Loompahs. Or a county full of wasps.
We enjoyed our afternoon at the Cocoabean Company, and the children have asked to go back, the next time we visit our cottage in Dumfries and Galloway. At £16 the entrance fee was a little steep, but this included the chocolate workshop as well as the play areas, which we could happily have spent almost an entire day in, weather permitting. If it did rain, children could always decamp to the indoor soft play space, although this wasn’t anywhere near as big as the outdoor areas.
Need to know
The Cocoabean Company is on the outskirts of Twynholm, Dumfries and Galloway. Car is the best way to travel there. It’s signposted from both directions on the A75, and the SatNav address is DG6 4NP.
Entrance is £16. This includes access to the play areas and a 45-minute children’s chocolate-making session. Adult chocolate workshops are available too, on request.
A cafe serves light lunches – soup, toasted sandwiches and other light bites. The factory shop offers even more chocolatey goods, to those who haven’t eaten enough in the workshops.
The Cocoabean Company is open seven days a week, from 9am to 5pm.
See more on their website: https://www.thecocoabeancompany.com/twynholm/
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