Wednesday 16 January 2013

Cotswold Wildlife Park, Burford, Oxfordshire

Cotswold Wildlife Park opened in the 1970's so @Readitdaddy and I have been going since we were little, we loved it then and still do now we can take Charlotte. The last few times we have been is on trips with nursery and was so much fun going with a little gaggle of 3 and 4 year old's but now Charlotte is at school age we went as a family.

Why we chose to go on a freezing cold January day I'm not quite sure, but thankfully there are a few indoors places to warm up (or hide from the rain). Considering the cold weather there were a lot of animals still out and about, and when they are all huddled in a group to keep warm they look extra cute. There were even some recent baby additions to ahh at (maybe not the crocodiles but the marmosets were).

Madagascar walk through
Some parts of the park haven't changed since I was little, but the recent changes are excellent. We love the Madagascar walk through area and the new giraffe house where you enter on a raised platform making you as high as the giraffe, you can look them right in the eye. There was another raised walkway taking you above the wolves, so you get a great view of them. Talking about little red riding hood at that point in time might not have been sensible. A lot of thought has been put into these new areas, and all areas are completely accessible for buggies and wheelchairs.
The shop has just had a refit and the restaurant is currently being refitted (January 2013).

Wolves from raised walkway
One of our favourite areas is the Children's farm/petting area. You can get into the little goat enclosure and pet them. Alongside are some pigs, sheep, larger goats, rabbits and guinea pigs. I'm reliably told by Charlotte that she will have 2 rabbits and 6 guinea pigs as they are so cute (once she has left home obviously).

Children's Farmyard with very well mannered goats
There is such a variety of animals, a manor house in the centre and wonderful grounds and gardens. And as with every best zoo or animal park there is a lovely little train ride (not included in entrance fee, and costs £1 per person extra).

Red Pandas
This is a real family friendly animal park that we will happily return to for years to come.

The park has a great little app too, along with directions and a map of the park there is a game to play and facts about the animals. Download from itunes

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Eden Project, St Austell, Cornwall

We love visiting the Eden Project, and was really surprised when I realised I've not reviewed any of our visits, as we have been about 4 times since it opened in 2001.

I'm not sure why but for some Eden is a bit like Marmite you love it or hate it, you get it or you don't. We love it, my brother doesn't, but we did mange to get him to join us when we visited between Christmas and New Year, and I think he even enjoyed himself.
It was quite a revelation visiting out of season, we weren't sure how busy it would be but turns out amazingly quiet and it was blissful. We have usually gone in the summer months and followed the flow of people round the biomes. It's an excellent day out what ever the time of year but having that extra time to explore and back track was nice. It also meant the Biomes (big domes in picture below) were cooler, a big plus with younger and older people.

Eden is built in a disused china clay quarry, and can't be seen from the approach. Once you are parked up, paid and through the door you can look down on the site and biomes. We love taking the winding footpaths down the hill with something different on every turn to look at and little steps for the kids to go down, where Charlotte would shout "I beat you" at every turn. There are sculptures to look at and spot, how many cows can you see, the giant bee etc. Even the gardens have themes, from finding out what goes into your painkillers, to an exotic kitchen garden.

Once your are at the bottom you can walk around the 2 biomes, you enter on a walk way above the cafes with the Mediterranean biome to your right and the rainforest to your left. The mediterranean one is the coolest and can feel peaceful and tranquil. You walk in and it feels like you have landed in Spain and a smell of citrus fruits greets you from the orange trees. There are boards to explain the different areas of the med you are visiting and the various plants from that region. A popular area is the chilli plantation, so many varieties each with a heat rating.
The rainforest biome is a lot warmer with a waterfall, bridges to cross, banana, cocoa, sugar and coffee plants to show children. There is a mini-paddy field of rice and a Malaysian hut. Something we haven't done before, we walked up the rainforest lookout. A wonderful view from a platform suspended from the ceiling taking you above the tree tops. Its high and daddy does struggle with vertigo but managed it ok, poor Charlotte was gripping my hand so tight it went red.

We stopped in the cafe between the biomes for lunch, selection of sandwiches, pasties, hot meals and wonderful cakes, with excellent lunch bags for kids.

We headed back through the gardens and past some of the temporary "whats on" items. While we were there was an excellent ice rink which looked like so much fun but half the family can't skate so we skipped that and a Arctic gnome art installation. We then arrived at the education centre  with lots of hands on things for the children, and adults. A video about how Eden was born and above is a lovely little cafe. Outside is a garden to explore and then take the glass lift to the top for a kids play area (or whilst we were there to see the reindeer) then across the bridge and a short walk back up to the where you started.

New in 2012 was the SkyWire, which I was kind of interested in going on but was not running the day we went, secretly I think I'm pleased... looked very high up and long! Adults and children over 7 can have a go at rock climbing.

There was a wonderful story telling session going on in the Mediterranean Biome with singing and a few actions that had the kids and parents gripped for 20 mins. As it was Christmas time it was about an Inuit fable being told which was fascinating. This is what Eden is good at, bringing something different and unique but making it inclusive for all.

The whole site, even though on a steep slope, is accessible. The footpaths are wide. There is a land train to take you from the visitor centre to the biomes, and one from the car park to the entrance. There are some steps in the Rainforest Biome with an alternative walkway for those with pushchairs or wheelchairs. Even a chill out room for those getting a little warm (we have used this in the summer).

Eden is a place we are happy to go to again and again, your ticket will give you free entry for a year which is great if you live local or visit the area often.