Finally, the day has come – but also gone again in a flash. Longleat is somewhere I’ve wished to visit for many years after first seeing it featured on BBC documentary series “Animal Park”, but never got round to as it’s so far from home – by British standards, anyway. Unfortunately, due to the current circumstances the Manor was closed on this occasion, but luckily I prefer the outdoors anyway!
Completed in 1580, the Longleat estate of the Marquess of Bath boasts gardens, visitor attractions and a drive-through safari park, the first outside of Africa, in fact. The first thing you see as you pass through the gates is an impressive vista of the lead up to the Elizabethan manor in all its glory, before parking up and heading on-site to explore.
Our drive wasn’t booked until 1pm, so we resolved to spend the morning seeing what the rest of the park had to offer. A riverboat cruise sees you checking in on the likes of gorillas, colobus monkeys, sealions and even hippos – though sadly, despite being the biggest thing in those waters, the hippos alas eluded us. Be prepared to wait in line for at least an hour for this experience.
Animal-wise, there are a few things to see on foot, but more of your time will probably be spent in queues than actually seeing them. The lorikeets are gorgeous and the koalas adorable, and while the bats and crocodiles were off limits due to virus restrictions, things like the meerkats and otters somewhat made up for it!
Then of course there’s the rest of the grounds that aren’t wildlife focused. Access to the inside of the house may be forbidden, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a wander through the stunning floral gardens or get lost in a hedge maze instead!
Finally, it was time for the drive, the heavens opening with an almighty crash.Great.It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, as the sun soon re-emerged, to stay for the remainder of the ride. The only problem was the damn monkeys – and idiot drivers who can’t follow simple instructions, but hey ho. If you’re planning a visit but don’t want to risk damaging your car, however, you can bypass this enclosure and continue straight onwards, so there’s no real need to fret.
As is always the case with safaris, some of the animals were very well hidden. We only caught a tiny glimpse of a tiger, but we saw a roaming Cheetah up reasonably close. Swings and roundabouts, you know?
All in all, the Longleat experience was an unusual one. If I had to pick on something negative, I’d definitely have to say both the signage in general and information about what is and isn’t currently open can be vastly improved as it got a little confusing at times. Also, expect to feel more like you’re in a theme park than a zoo outside of the drive itself. Did we have a nice day? Yes. Did we see some cool animals? Yes. Is it my favourite wildlife attraction in the country? Hmm… maybe not so much…