NESTLED in the heart of the Cotswolds is the Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens, which features a huge range of wild animals amongst pretty gardens. Fortunately for my family, my brothers share a house just a few miles away from the park and had invited us for a weekend with the view to introducing us this great day trip destination.
Turning into the park, we caught our first glimpse of some four legged beasts - couldn't tell you exactly what they were – beside the drive that led us up to the paying hut before turning into a grassy parking area. I recommend turning up at opening time to secure a parking space close to the park opening. As the area is not marked with parking spaces this also means you have enough space to open the doors to manhandle smaller children in and out (hurrah!).
Divided into four sections, there were animals to please everyone from enclosures housing birds and owls amongst lush vegetation to primates, large mammals and reptiles. Bring comfortable shoes because there is plenty of walking in between areas. A train that will slowly chug around a variety of areas (no buggies, leave at platform) which is always good for tired little legs though our one year old baby reacted to it like it was a fast rollercoaster – unfortunately it isn't of the 'hop-on, hop-off' variety but is still very popular.
Our children were particularly pleased with the penguin enclosure where keepers hold regular talks about the birds and also feed them. The same walled garden enclosure also housed the meerkats (delightful little creatures), otters, and an enclosure that led into the lemurs area (no buggies, leave outside) where cuddly black and white families snuggled up to each other and provided perfect photo ops. Many of the animals were close enough to touch and provided an experience that is unparelled by many other animal attractions.
A small pet's corner provided wooly sheep, guinea pigs, rabbits, a pig and other small animals which the children particularly enjoyed even though the animals did appear to be mostly asleep. There was also another domestic animal paddock where enthusiastic children could get up close to sheep, goats and a donkey.
Further on in the park, we found what we had came for. An enormous rhino in a field (see left, click for bigger pic), an ostrich, a small herd of zebras enjoying a gallop, tigers, sunbathing Asiatic lions, camels, tapirs and a herd of wolves to name a few. This involved a long walk but the pleasures of animal spotting kept our older two enthused whilst the baby soon nodded off. Despite the large enclosures, we were able to get great views of the animals and the children enjoyed themselves immensely.
At lunchtime, the cafe was certainly pleasant with healthier baked potatoes and various toppings amongst other standard fare. The queues do get long so I'd recommend finding a table whilst other family members do the queuing. There was also several large grassy areas perfect for picnicing. nearby was also a well equpped play park with swings, roundabouts and the most magnificent slide we've ever seen which involved a climb up steps to a wooden platform, from the midst of which an old tree grew, then zipping down the slide. Naturally the grown-ups all had to have a go! We also found kiosks for ice creams and drinks.
We think the park represents excellent value for money and is a 'must see' if you're in the Cotswolds.
How much? Adults £10.50, Children (3-16 inc.) £8, Over 65s £8, Under 3s free.
Opening times: 10am
Pushchair accessibility: Very easy to access all areas
Facilities: Toilets easy to find, access and clean.
Cafe: On site with inside and outdoor seating. Some healthy options.
SatNav postcode: OX18 4JP
Images and words: Camilla Chafer
Map to Cotswold Wildlife Park: