African Summer, Longleat

By Nick Baumber

2016 sees Longleat enjoy its 50th anniversary and as part of their year of celebrations “fit for a king”, we wanted to spend a family day out to discover and join in all of the African Summer celebrations.

Arriving just after opening, we headed off down the main drive, admiring the views of the Elizabethan architecture of Longleat House and the ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped parkland as we drove through on our way to the start of the Safari.

Giraffe feeding, Longleat

First stop was the African Village, home to zebra, lemurs and wallabies. Here, you can also come face to face with the Rothschild giraffe, which you can also feed with tree branches from your hand (an extra charge applies for this). A great experience, our son George loved this! There was also an African music and dance performance in the village.

 

Back in the car, we headed off on a safari tour heading for the Monkey Mayhem enclosure, passing tapirs and flamingos on the way. Having ensured our windows were wound up, we drove through watching the rhesus macaques, mischievously (and yet so intelligently) climbing over the vehicles, hitching a ride and trying to loosen any car (or bus) parts they could find. We sat wondering and laughing about the cheeky monkeys (not George this time!) and what was going on top of our car roof.

We saw white rhinos, Bactrian camels, ostriches and Ankole cattle next in the Big Game Park and deer wandering around in Deer Park. Next stop was ‘Tiger Territory’, where we had a great view of the tigers relaxing in the grass, watching the passing cars.

Longleat lion

We then headed through to ‘Lion Country’. Here, George could see the pride of lions striding around amongst the cars. One walked straight in front of our car, George was amazed. They must have just been fed, as some were still enjoying their lunch under the trees. Another lion stood up and used one of the trees as a scratching post – probably to sharpen his claws as we drove through.

Final stop on the safari was ‘Wolf Wood’ to see if we could spot any of the grey wolves hiding in the woodland. George managed to spot one, most of the others were obviously much better at playing hide and seek!

After lunch we headed over to the Main Square, which is full of colourful bunting and banner flags to create a real festival and celebratory atmosphere for visitors. Looking at a map, there was so much to do here; it was difficult to know where our adventure should start… so we let George choose!

He wanted to go on the ‘Rockin Rhino’, a great ride-on attraction for children. George loved the ride, which follows the path of destruction that characters Rocky and Leroy had left behind. Next we discovered the new play area called ‘Little Explorers Garden’, which was inspired by British wildlife. George thoroughly enjoyed this sensory area, walking through the rabbit burrows, playing on the climbing frames, listening to sounds and learning about wildlife.

Penguin

Now time for some more animal encounters, so we made our way over to ‘Ray Bay’, an open air pool where visitors can watch the large rays swimming around the lagoon, bobbing their face out of the water as if to say ‘hello’. ‘Penguin Island’ is next door. George was excited about walking with the Humboldt penguins, though no matter how much he tried to talk to them, they were far too busy enjoying the sunshine to bother with a walk (or waddle), but a great experience nonetheless.

Walking around ‘Monkey Temple’ next, watching the little marmosets scurrying around the trees crossing the ropes, and nibbling on their food. The chirp of the rainbow lorikeets next door invited us all into the walk through aviary, where visitors can feed these birds nectar from little cups.

Longleat House

It was full steam ahead on the ‘Jungle Express’ as we took our seats on the narrow gauge train ride along half mile lake and through the grounds. Keen to take shade from the afternoon sun, we made our way through the gardens of the stately home, admiring the beautiful flower displays, to the ‘Jungle Cruise’. Like a child on a school bus trip, George raced to the back of the boat, determined to get the back seat. As we set off on our voyage, we kept our eyes peeled for any sign of the animals that lived in or by the lake.

Longleat boat

We enjoyed fantastic views of the house and lake from the boat. First we spotted the resident hippos that were bathing in the calm waters along the bank of the lake, unbothered by the ducks resting on their backs. Next we saw Nico, a silverback gorilla (Europe’s oldest male gorilla in fact) on his private island home in the middle of the lake. We drifted past ‘Gorilla Colony’ before being surrounded by the sea lions, looking for some tasty treats. We bought some fish from our cruise guide and fed the sea lions from the boat. They swam alongside the boat as we headed back, barking to get your attention and ultimately some fish to fill their tummies.

We arrived back on dry land in the early evening, the perfect time to find a great spot to enjoy the new ‘Pride of Longleat’ parade as part of the African Summer Celebrations’. The Longleat staff got the large crowds ready to ‘roar’, creating a really fun family atmosphere before the procession started.

Some of Longleat’s better behaved animals led the parade and greeted the waiting visitors. This was then followed by a wonderful procession of floats, which depicted some of the memorable experiences we had during the day, from ‘Monkey Mayhem’ to the ‘Jungle Cruise’. George laughed as he was squirted with water by one of the floats.

Lion

Vibrant music and dance filled the air, as African artists joined in the amazing celebrations, before giving a brilliant performance on stage. The music and beats of the African drums then welcomed Atlas the lion, a giant lion puppet, created by puppetry specialists from the National Theatre’s production of Warhorse. The mechanics were amazing and cleverly reflected movements the lions. Visitors were then invited into the main square by staff to sing, dance and join all of the celebrations, which as billed, were ‘Fit for a King’… and they certainly were.

Longleat’s summer of celebrations continues daily until 4 September.

Related

Longleat
Safari Park
Tigers at Longleat

Longleat, nestled within 900 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped grounds, is home to the UK’s original Safari Park, one of the best examples of Elizabethan architecture, and an abundance of exciting attractions including Jungle Kingdom and Animal Adventure where you can get up-close and personal with truly amazing animals.

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