As every parent of a toddler/small child can testify, there is a strong positive correlation between the amount of time since your first child was born, and the number of hours spent petting small animals at farm parks. It’s scientifically proven.
Needless to say, we have visited a great many farm and wildlife parks in the four and a bit years since our lives changed for the louder, when Mr O arrived. However, I can honestly say that the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens is the best that we have been to. I mean, it’s got a baby white rhino called Alan…. say no more!
Sure, it’s not cheap…. Tickets are £16 for an adult and £10.50 for a child aged 3-16 (or £14 and £9.50 if booked in advance). However, I genuinely think that it is money well spent. We got there early to make the most of the day, arriving shortly after the park had opened at 10am and we didn’t leave until 5.30pm; there was still plenty more to see and do, but even though Oskar was still going strong, we were totally wrecked!
Cotswold Wildlife Park has the ‘golden triad’ – animals, an adventure playground and a train ride – everything you need to keep a mini-human totally entertained for the day.
However, it’s the animals that are the main attraction. This place isn’t a zoo. It isn’t a petting farm. It has an incredible selection of animals, spread out over an enormous park area, and it rather feels like you are on a walking safari.
There’s lions, giraffe, zebra, white rhino, anteaters, tapirs, reideer, camels, wolves, penguins, otters, sloths, and crocodiles to name but a few, plus a whole load of primates and small mammals, like Colobus monkeys, tamarins (the monkeys with the cool moustaches!), meerkats, wolverines, and some pretty rare species, including red pandas and lots of varieties of endangered lemur. Plus there are dozens and dozens of species of reptiles and birds. I am quite sure we did not see them all, though we saw hundreds of animals!
What is lovely is that the animals are not in cages, which is why this is so preferable to a zoo. The animals are right there in front of you, with perhaps just a wall between you and the penguins, or a fence/ditch between you and the rhinos, but it makes for a very different and much more personal experience.
In fact, as we were watching the white rhinos, two of them decided to have a bit of a ‘tête-à-tête’ (a particularly hazardous choice when one is a rhino) and you could actually hear their snorts, the sound of their rough skin rubbing against each other and the clash of their horns. It was wonderful. Though thankfully they became bored with this little fight before any damage was done. And it was wonderful seeing “little” Alan. I don’t know how something so big can be so cute, but he sure was. It was just fantastic to see the little rhino family all going about their daily lives…. In the grounds of a large manor house in the middle of Oxfordshire!?!
Seeing the Lemurs was also especially cool – you actually walk into and through their enclosure so they’re just hanging out, right there in front of you, remarkably unphased. In fact they all seemed to be sat around in the sun watching us as we wandered through – it was a kind of reverse-zoo experience.
The park is huge, so most of the day was spent just wandering around, enjoying the fresh air and a lovely stroll, but with the excitement of new animals at every turn to keep the little fella motivated and walking. He genuinely did not get bored once.
There was a momentary whinge when tiredness kicked in late in the afternoon, but it was nothing that a quick ice-cream couldn’t fix.
The adventure playground was also pretty awesome and Oskar would have happily spent HOURS in here just charging around. The wooden ‘fortress’ was the centerpiece, which was the focus for most children, but there were loads of different things to climb on, swing off, slide down, clamber up, jump on/off, explore, hang off, run along, and bounce up and down on.
Conveniently, the playground is located near the café/restaurant, so like many a parent, we were able to purchase ourselves a caffeine fix, whilst Oskar played to his heart’s content.
Although the restaurant serves lunch/snacks, I would definitely recommend bringing a packed lunch. We always do in order to keep costs down, but there was an ENORMOUS queue tailing out of the restaurant, which appeared to be very slow moving indeed. Not something you want to be stuck in when you have a tired and hungry small person. Plus I will be honest, the food didn’t look great – there were very limited sandwich/ light lunch options, with mostly big main meals being served; not something we would necessarily want on that sort of day out.
But all in all, an utterly brilliant family day out. I genuinely think we enjoyed it as much as Oskar (not something that can be said about many of the places we visit as a family). So, if you are looking for something to do in the upcoming summer holidays, we would highly recommend a visit.
And I have just discovered something very cool indeed…. Because I am a member of the Royal Horticultural Society (not because I have any inclination towards or any knowledge at all about gardening, but rather because I am a regular visitor to RHS Wisley Gardens as it is close to my sister)…. I can get into Cotswold Wildlife Park for free as it is a ‘partner garden’! So, if Oskar and I come again in the holidays, it will only cost me a tenner. BONUS! We will most definitely be back and probably more than once…. After all, we need to check in on little Alan and see how he is growing.