When our friends suggested a group of us should all get together for a day trip to Longleat Safari & Adventure Park, we jumped at the chance. The last time I went, I wasn’t much older than Monkey is now – I remember my parents talking about the notorious monkeys who pull off your wipers and scratch the car…
And considering this attraction has been pulling in visitors to its 9,000 acres of Wiltshire countryside since 1966, we knew the kids were going to love it.
Longleat is home to the 7th Marquess of Bath whose 16th-century stately home is open to the public – and a majestic sight it is when you drive along the winding road into the estate. It’s a grand building and one that stands out like a beacon amongst all its surroundings. And, as much as I wanted to go on the house tour and learn more about its history – we were never going to stand a chance with three toddlers desperate to explore.
The day we chose to go was awful weather-wise. There’s a running joke amongst our friends who claim that my husband and I are magnets for the rain. After meeting in the large on site Costa mid-morning, I couldn’t agree more. It was pouring down. But, after frantically checking our BBC weather app, which promised us the afternoon would brighten up, there was nothing for it but to get back in our cars and experience the world’s first drive-through safari outside of Africa.
I’ll be honest – I didn’t quite know what to expect. As we drove through the main gates – it was reminiscent of that scene in Jurassic Park where the convoy of cars enter the jungle. I suppose it would conjure up this image as the Safari is called Deadly Safari… We put up our windows pretty sharpish after receiving our free audio CD which is narrated by wildlife guru Steve Backshall. We didn’t really listen to it – only because the journey was interesting enough for Monkey once the tour got going in earnest.
Longleat Safari is home to over 500 animals from flamingos and lemurs to bigger mammals such as rhinos and giraffes. As you approach each enclosure, there are signs warning you of the dangers – you can even avoid the infamous monkeys by driving around their compound. But where’s the fun it that?
Only a couple jumped on to our car, but several were attracted to the pick-up truck in front of us much to our Monkey’s delight – who had now taken off his seat belt to sit in the front seat with me. They didn’t seem the mischievous monkeys that we had been warned about – but perhaps they were having an off day?
The deer park also proved to be a winner – after queuing up briefly to buy some food, the deer came right up to our car and fed straight out of our hands.Our favourite part, however, were the big cats – the lions, tigers and cheetahs. It was brilliant to be able to get so close to these magnificent creatures – who nonchalantly strolled past us. We were all giddy with excitement.
By the time we’d made our way round Longleat’s safari, it was well past lunch time – although we’d scoffed most of our sandwiches in the car! Unfortunately, it was still raining but this didn’t deter us from venturing into the Adventure Park, which comprises of several sections including the Jungle Kingdom, Penguin Island and Postman Pat Village.Our first stop was to queue up for the Jungle Express – a steam train that takes you through the woods and past the lake up to Pelican Cove. As soon as the whistle was blown, the kids squealed in delight.Next stop, was catching the Jungle Cruise. We didn’t have to wait and boarded the boat straight-away. We all managed to get prime position to see the sea lions that reside in the lake. They were fantastic – swimming up to us, playing about and diving under – even more so when we brought some fish for the kids to feed them.
We also sailed past Longleat’s new Gorilla colony but were unable to catch a glimpse of the four lowland gorillas who now live there. And the same can be said of Nico – Longleat’s oldest silverback who has his own private island with satellite TV. I have a feeling the weather was a little too cold for them.
Meanwhile, the rest of our time was spent observing the monkeys at the Monkey Temple; stroking stingrays; getting up close and personal with Humboldt penguins; and touching snakes in the Butterfly and Reptile House.
The kids were still full of beans, so we saved the most strenuous activity till last – by letting them run wild in the Adventure Castle – a large playground and park with several slides, climbing frames, and an indoor play area.
But with a long drive still ahead of us, we decided to find a restaurant to have some dinner before shooting off back home. Unfortunately, all the park’s restaurants were closed so we had to find somewhere outside of the estate. I’m not sure if this is the case during the summer months, but this was a little inconvenient when there were six hungry adults and three ravenous toddlers to feed. Luckily, a nearby Pizza Hut saved the day.
So, apart from the weather and lack of evening dining options, it was a successful trip. The map was quite deceiving as the adventure park is fairly compact – and can easily be done in an afternoon. But perhaps that was because it was such a wet and cold day, and we rushed around it like a whirlwind. However, that said, even though some areas look a little old and tired, that didn’t detract from the fun the kids had – they really had a good time. In fact, we all enjoyed ourselves – being able to see a lion and cheetah so close, was worth the price of the ticket alone – everything else was just a bonus.
Tickets can be purchased on the day, but if you book online at longleat.co.uk you save up to 15%. Adults All in One Day Ticket £28 (if booked two days in advance); Kids 3-14 £20.35