“ Syon Park, Brentford, Middlesex, TW8 8JF, ENGLAND. Tel:020 8560 0378. „
Is that tropical holiday just beyond your reach? Are you pining for the sounds of gently falling water while you sit among vibrant exotic blooms and allow the warm humid breeze to waft away all the cares of work and everyday life? It could all be a lot closer than you think. It might even cost you less than a tenner for you and your whole family to enjoy an afternoon of tropical temperatures and sweetly-scented flowers not to mention watching the most beautiful and fragile of creatures flit around sucking nectar from the blossoms and occasionally landing on you for a few moments rest before fluttering across to the red hibiscus or tropical lilies? The London Butterfly House is an absolute must for a Summer holiday visit. Situated at Syon Park in Brentford, the Butterfly House is a haven of tropical colours, scents and heat even when it's cold and rainy outside. You'll find yourself transported to a magical world where blue tigers and orange dogs flit around your head and suddenly you understand, when you watch the Indian Moon Moth drinking nectar from a flower, how people once believed in fairies. I can almost hear those of you with boys muttering "all very nice for girly families!" under your breath as your sons hurtle around the living room pretending to be express trains or to kill eachother depending on their age and the mood of the day, but believe me, the boys will love it too! We discovered the Butterfly House, or rather Alexander discovered the Butterfly House thanks to a wonderfully enjoyable school trip where they got to pet pirhanhas and tarantulas as well as learning about butterfly life cycles and watching leaf-cutter ants (who can, of course, carry 5 times their own body weight!) The pirhanhas we haven't yet seen as they're part of the aquatic centre which is a separate place although also situated within Syon Park. The tarantulas we also haven't seen, although we did see som
e bird-eating spiders (only baby birds I'm told!) and some stick insects which looked as big as a log! The Butterfly House does have a separate annex for insects, so if you hate the things (apart form the pretty ones like butterflies!) you can steer clear and send them in there while you sit in peace and quiet and enjoy the sounds of the fountain and the bee-eaters and dream of having a garden in a climate hot enough to grow the amazing red, fuschia, orange and purple blooms. I took my 3 boys age 10 - 14 for the afternoon and found the Butterfly House to be one of only a few places they have all been able to visit without asking when we could go home. It isn't particularly large, and I wonder how pleasurable it would be to visit if there are a couple of school trips in there, but over the holiday, and certainly today, it was far from being too busy. Syon House (a National Trust property) is next door, and is only open for part of the week (Wed, Thurs and Sat I think) so I also wonder whether the Butterfly House might be less busy on the days when Syon House is closed. Alexander assumed we would visit the Butterfly House more than once during the Summer holiday, and I must admit, that despite a 50 minute drive to get there, I think we will be becoming regular visitors. There is something completely magical and unexpected about having a delicate Swallowtail flutter by you and if you stand still enough you may well have one or more beautiful butterflies land on you. We observed that light clothing appeared to attract them more than darker colours, with white being the apparent favourite, so if you're planning a visit and you like the idea of having butterflies rest on you for a while, wear white or something very light. I could wax lyrical about the amazing iridescence of their wings, astound you with facts about the sheer size of some of them - the Owl Butterfly and the Giant Atlas Moth are so enormous that you wonder at first
if they can be real - and try to describe the breathtaking moment when the first one settles on your arm, but words just aren't going to do it for you. The Butterfly House just has to be experienced. Make it a must this holiday. If you've never been here, don't miss the chance. This experience is unlike any we've ever had. It's engaging, enthralling and entrancing as well as being extremely educational. Did you know that there are butterflies with wings which you can see right through? Amazing, awesome and utterly utterly unforgettable. All 4 of us have had a fantastic afternoon, we all want to go back, we all have learnt something, although the sheer delicate beauty of the butterflies is worth far more than any useful knowledge your kids might manage to accumulate about the difference between moths and butterflies or the stages of a butterfly's life cycle. After exiting the Butterfly House you walk through the insect area (complete with African snails and scorpions, not to mention the cockroaches and giant millipedes) and the through the gift shop. The gift shop is on the tacky side, but will have plenty for little ones to spend their pocket money on should that be a consideration! Toilets are over by Syon House and there is also a restaurant there. We did use the restaurant, but found it stank of fish and were extremely grateful to be able to eat outside. We also cheated and brought our own drinks as theirs seemed hugely overpriced. Hot food is served up until 2.30pm, but looks fairly unexciting and again seemed overpriced. We paid £2.60 for packs of sandwiches (which were OK) and £2.50 for Covent Garden Soup with a nice fresh roll and butter. There was an interesting selection of traybakes at £1.60 a time, but although I liked the interesting-looking choccy ones, my kids were less than impressed and found that they were created with adults in mind rather than kids. A carton of 5 Alive will set you back 90p, although
a kids meal (hot only) will set you back only £2.50 and include a fizzy drink. The restaurant was clean (but very smelly) but the toilets were horrible. If Syon House is closed you can still visit the gardens and gift shop, and if gift shops are your thing, the Syon House one sells National Trust items and so is rather more upmarket than the one in the Butterfly House! Next door to this is a big Wyevale Garden Centre. All these places share the same large free car park, so parking is not a problem. Finally, if you're so taken by the insects in the Butterfly House that you just have to have one, or you're looking for that rather unusual present for the person who has everything, you can buy giant African Snails and stick insects at the Butterfly House (live!) I got my kids out of there just in time!