Friday, 12 November 2010

Longleat – part 2

From the point of view of convenience for returning to Longleat on Sunday, Longleat campsite was not so convenient.  To walk back to the estate would have taken about 5 minutes.  You can see the car park from the entrance to the campsite.  To get there in the van however, was a long and circuitous drive through country lanes which took nearly 20 minutes!

Nevertheless we eventually arrived back at the Longleat estate and proceeded to enjoy the indoor activities.  These included the mirror maze, Animal Adventure, Old Joe's Mine, a simulator ride, the State Chariot and Longleat House.  In fact the weather was mostly dry despite the horrendous rain of the previous night but we were happy to continue with the indoor activities.

The mirror maze was fun.  It was actually quite tricky to find King Arthur's sword Excalibur.  I don't think I would have spotted it if my clever son Richard had not sussed out how to find it.

The simulator was okay – not the most interesting I have been on.

We almost didn't bother with Old Joe's Mine because it looked like some gimmicky tourist thing.  We were so glad we did.  The 'mine' is where they keep a colony of bats and is a low light area.  It was fantastic being among the bats and having them flying around you.  We could get up really close to them whenever they settled.  The young keeper in there was most knowledgeable about the bats and we stayed talking to him and asking questions for quite some time.  This turned out to be one of the highlights of the day.  The photo is a little fuzzy because you are not allowed to use a flash in there and the bats generally didn't stay still for very long.

On the Saturday we had sampled 'safari burgers' for lunch and they were a great disappointment.  Expensive and not very good.  On Sunday we discovered the Cellars Café and this was fantastic.  Great food, reasonable prices and a pleasant setting.  Highly recommended.

The tour of Longleat House was also wonderful.  It is a beautifully maintained and decorated house.  We were quite unprepared for the extent of its splendours – artwork, furniture, the ceilings are amazing, costume exhibits, books, silverware.  I was totally engrossed.  Unfortunately we were not able to view Lord Bath's murals which was a shame.

We finished our weekend with Animal Adventure.  This is an area with small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs and more exotic animals such as porcupines.  It is aimed at younger children I would say.  There is also a butterfly area – although they were quite difficult to find. 

There was the opportunity to hold a snake and a tarantula.  I would have quite liked to have held the snake but there was a queue to do this and I was really tired by then and couldn't face standing around.  Dan and I went to find somewhere to sit, but Richard and 'ö-Dzin waited and did get close up and friendly with the snake and the spider.  Thank you to Richard for the photographs on today's posting.

Longleat is a great attraction.  The passport ticket is expensive but you get a lot for your money.  I don't think it would be worth it for one day, but if you can spread your visit over two days then I would say it is reasonable value.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Longleat – part 1

In October we had a family weekend at Longleat.  We had been promising to take our sons to this famous safari park for many years and at last we achieved it this year.

The weather was overcast and threatening rain when we arrived at Longleat around 10 am on the Saturday.  We decided to begin with all the outdoor activities while it was still dry and save the more indoor areas of the estate for the Sunday in case the weather had turned wet.  So we began with the drive through the wildlife park.  First up was an area where you can leave your car and see the animals wandering quite close by.  It felt a little like having been dropped into Jurassic Park – the giraffes are so extraordinary and feel deeply ancient.  They were grazing with zebras, huge camels, ostrich and several others species.
Next up were the monkeys, but this section was closed to cars so we could only see them through the fence as we slowly drove past.  Then we saw the rhino, and a large herd of deer.  We were able to park here and hand feed them.  This was a lovely experience.  They are so timid and took the food so gently.
We carried on into the section of the safari drive where you have to keep your windows closed.  We saw lionesses—but sadly no lions—and tigers and wolves.  This tiger definitely knew how beautiful he was and that it was his duty to lie in a position where he could be fully admired.
All too soon the safari was over and we were back at the main car park.  We had lunch and in the afternoon took in the hedge maze, the boat trip to see seals and hippos and the train ride.  There were some really fun sculptures of giant ants to be seen from the train ride.
It was great feeding the seals from the boat.  They were so fast and full of personality.
As it was nearing closing time at Longleat we headed for the Caravan Club campsite.  Last year we joined the Camping and Caravanning Club, but this year we are trying out the Caravan Club.  This was our first visit to one of their sites.  It was clean and had excellent facilities.  We would recommend it.  The pitches are sizeable, but it was the first time we have had to pitch the awning on a hard standing.  It was difficult to peg it down.  The weather was definitely heading towards a rainstorm by now and we were concerned that we were going to have a problem.  The van only sleeps two so at least two had to sleep in the awning.
We had a pleasant evening but then the rain arrived and it was pretty torrential.  The van leaked a little from the passenger side sliding door, the awning did not provide a useful connection to the van, and rain got in over the groundsheets in the awning so that everything got wet.  We survived neverthless!  We have decided that we have to get a different awning.  This one is too big for the Peugeot – the tunnel opening is wider than the length of the van and there is no metal strip on the van for attaching it.  Khyam have been very helpful and suggest that we get an awning with a smaller tunnel that can be attached using magnet clamps or a sucker system.