Tag Archives: nature

Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens

I’ve never been much of an animal lover. Zoos and wildlife parks have never held any appeal for me; I prefer cultural and culinary adventures rather than getting up close to nature in all its glory. So I very nearly didn’t go along when the Baberoo’s Gran and Oxford Daddy planned a trip to Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens (near Burford, Oxfordshire, OX18 4JP; £14.50 for adults, £10 for children 3-16 and seniors, free for under-3s). And that would have been a shame – because as it turned out, it was more fun than a barrel full of monkeys.

And there sure were monkeys. Monkeys, marmosets, lemurs, tamarins, and gibbons! They were all so interesting up close – I never thought I would enjoy observing  small primates so much. The Baberoo loved the smaller animals, especially the meerkats and the squirrel monkeys. She also enjoyed seeing the penguins and tropical birds as well as the larger mammals (although I’m not quite sure she can distinguish between most of them yet: the wolves, warty pigs, and capybaras all elicited a ‘woof woof’ sound).

Cotswold Wildlife Park penguin

What struck me most about the Cotswold Wildlife Park was how nicely it was laid out and how beautiful the vegetation was – both in the animals’ habitats and in the landscaped gardens. The gardens are as finely and professionally cultivated as any botanical garden, although they prefer to refer to their style of horticulture as ‘theatre with plants’. We were lucky enough to go on a beautiful sunny day that was not too hot, but I imagine that the gardens are equally lovely in different seasons. Since nearly everything is outdoors, make sure you plan accordingly with umbrellas, stroller covers, sweaters, jackets, and/or sunscreen, depending on the weather forecast.

Cotswold Wildlife Park landscaped gardens

The Cotswold Wildlife Park is an easily walkable size, and for those who don’t want to walk the whole time there’s a narrow-gauge railway (£1, free for under-3s) that will take you around the park. (Unfortunately, you wouldn’t be able to fit a stroller onto the train, so it’s not suitable for babies or toddlers.) If you have an older toddler or child who likes crafts, you can also visit the Brass Rubbing Centre, located in the Victorian Manor House in the centre of the Park (open school holidays and summer weekends; £1-£2.50). There’s a Children’s Farmyard where young ones can pet the animals and an Adventure Playground so they can run around, and a new ‘Skymaze’ adventure playground is set to open on July 19th.

Cotswold Manor House

Judging by the number of strollers and small children, Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens is no secret to families around Oxfordshire. We loved it and will definitely be back. Here’s how it rates for baby- and toddler-friendliness according to my five criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: The Oak Tree Restaurant is the main eatery at the Wildlife Park; it offers standard cafeteria-type dishes such as chilli con carne, jacket potatoes, burgers, or chicken nuggets, with chips as a side for most meals. A few of the dishes can be eaten one-handed if you are holding a baby in one arm. The restaurant offers children’s portions as well as baby-sized portions of most of the main meals. There are also three kiosks serving ice cream and snacks. But frankly, your best bet, for price as well as for ambiance, is to bring a picnic and eat in the gardens or at one of the picnic shelters or picnic tables around the park. We laid our blanket out on the Anniversary Lawn and ate a lovely picnic while we watched the train circling the park.

Space: There’s plenty of space in the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, and even double strollers – of which we saw plenty – will fit comfortably into all the entrances, paths, and facilities (although pushchairs are not allowed in the Madagascar exhibit, so you’ll have to take your little one out if you’d like to visit that one). The hard part is getting there: the Park is two miles south of Burford on the A361, about 20 miles west of Oxford. Coming by car is by far the best (some might say it’s the only) option, as buses to Burford are few and far between. The bus route from Oxford is the Swanbrook No. 853, operating three times daily on weekdays, four times on Saturdays, and once on Sunday, and you need to get a taxi from Burford to the Wildlife Park after getting off the bus. If you don’t have a car, it might be an idea to hire one for the day. Parking is excellent, with staff directing drivers to the next available space in the grass car park.

Ambiance: This is definitely a place for kids and it’s geared towards their enjoyment, from the signage to the Adventure Playground. Whoops of delight and happy faces everywhere made it clear that families were enjoying themselves, and the commercial aspects of the Park were kept very clearly within the shop and the eateries. The animals we saw looked like they were thriving and happy in their surroundings. All the staff we saw were pleasant and knowledgeable.

Facilities: There are four toilet blocks around the park, one of which is in the restaurant. All of them have baby-changing and disabled facilities. The baby-changing in the large block of toilets nearest the shop (shown at left in the picture below) is bigger than the one in the restaurant (shown at right). All of the baby-changing facilities I saw were clean and well-aired.

Cotswold Wildlife Park baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If your little one is eating solid food, you can get a child- or baby-sized meal at the restaurant. If you’re breastfeeding, there are many places to sit around the park, including picnic tables and garden benches, or just on the grass. If you’d like a secluded area for breastfeeding, you’ll be able to find one somewhere around the park.

In total the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens gets an 8.25 out of 10 for baby- and toddler-friendliness. Although it’s much more geared towards school-aged kids than towards babies or toddlers, I’d highly recommend it as a great day out for even the youngest of babies. Most little ones will be thrilled to get a close-up look at the real-life counterparts of the toys they snuggle with and the animals they read about in books.

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University of Oxford Botanic Garden

The forecast for tomorrow is 16 degrees with rain all day, a sure sign that autumn is right around the corner. Today, however, was a scorching 27 degrees. The Baberoo and I took advantage of summer’s last hurrah by visiting the University of Oxford Botanic Garden (Rose Lane, OX1 4AZ).

Riotous colours

We’ve been big fans of the botanic garden since the Baberoo was only three months old. I first took her there at the end of March, when the hellebores were nearly the only thing blooming and the rain and my baby-induced sleeplessness made it seem as if the winter would never end. We’ve been going back ever since on our annual pass, which is the best £15.50 I’ve ever spent (and it gets you into Harcourt Arboretum too!). Every few weeks we’ve gone back to see the changes in the botanical season, from tulips to peonies to dahlias. And that’s only the herbaceous borders: there’s also a fabulous vegetable garden, fruit trees, seven glasshouses, a rock garden, a bog garden, and the new Merton Borders, which feature an ornamental, environmentally sustainable display using direct sowing of seeds.

Merton Borders

Today the vegetable garden was a pretty amazing sight, with corn, beans, rhubarb, and squash all looking like they were at their peak (we missed the giant pumpkin, though, as I discovered to my chagrin when we got home). The Merton Borders were full of bees (a good thing!) and blooming splendidly; I remember seeing the area in March and there was nearly nothing in it. I can’t believe it’s the same garden! There was some riotous colour in the herbaceous borders, and the bog garden – where we sat for an alfresco lunch – was so lush that you could hardly see the water for all the plants.

Corn

Not only is the botanic garden a treat for all the senses, it’s baby-friendly too. Here’s how it stacks up against my four criteria for baby-friendliness (space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding – see my About page for a full explanation of my criteria for rating attractions that aren’t eateries).

Space: There’s an entrance for prams and wheelchairs at the side of the garden on Rose Lane. There’s plenty of space in the two outdoor gardens (the Walled Garden and the Lower Garden), so you can wheel your baby carriage around as much as you like. It’s a bit more difficult getting into the glasshouses; the conservatory (which houses the citrus plants) has plenty of room inside but it’s difficult to get in the doors; usually I need someone to help me because you need to open both doors to fit a stroller in. Happily, today they were already open because of the hot weather. The other glasshouses are more difficult; a larger pram might not fit the width of the very narrow corridors (especially since there are huge plants coming at you from either side), and if you do fit, there’s no chance of anyone being able to pass your carriage in the space so you might have to do some backing up. The rose garden facing the High Street isn’t accessible to strollers unless you have wheels that can roll on gravel; mine can’t. To be fair, I don’t think that this is actually part of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden so isn’t managed by them – but when you’re going for the experience of a garden, you don’t care about technicalities like this: you just want to see the roses!

Ambiance: Couldn’t be nicer, at any time of the year. Whenever I visit I marvel at how quickly things change and how beautiful each season is. The staff at the reception are very welcoming and helpful, and so are the garden staff if you happen to meet any of them working outside. Even the ducks are friendly!

Borders

Facilities: There is a baby-changing facility in the disabled toilet. It’s spacious and has a pull-down changing table. It’s clean and presentable, although there’s no place to put your changing bag.

Baby-changing

Feeding: There are plenty of benches to sit on throughout the garden, but you can also bring a blanket and sit on the grass with your baby. We dined alfresco on a bench today (with regular food, although I’d have been happy to breastfeed as well). If you go in the winter it might be too cold for breastfeeding, though!

As an attraction, the Botanic Garden is a wonderful resource and a haven of peace and quiet away from the crowds in the city centre, and a perfect place to bring your baby to relax. I give it a 7.0 out of 8. If you love gardens, treat yourself to an annual pass and go throughout the year.

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