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Cornish seal sanctuary (formally Gweek)
National Seal Sanctuary (Helston)
Member Name: Huomenna
National Seal Sanctuary (Helston)
Date: 05/11/12, updated on 05/11/12 (62 review reads)
Advantages: discounts on entrance fee, beautiful views, lots to see
Disadvantages: expensive if you don't get a voucher or book online, access issues particularly for disabled people
As a child I went to the Gweek seal sanctuary a number of times with my Dad and on a recent trip to Cornwall this past August I took my boyfriend along for a visit.
What is is and where?
Now known as the Cornish seal sanctuary it is located in Gweek (suprisingly enough) by the Lizard peninsula in south Cornwall. They rescue seals and sea lions etc - rehabilitating them where possible for release back into the wild.
What animals are there?
They have seals, sealions, penguins and otters on the lower level of the sanctuary (the whole place is perched on a slope), at the top are some farm animals including goats and a sheep called Patrik.
There is a large carpark available, which again is steeply sloped so make sure your handbrake is in full working order! You then walk down to the entrance lobby to get your tickets and proceed out the back where a tarmac road ascends slightly - you can get on the back of a 4x4 driven trailer here if you want or you can walk along it.
A little up the road you can turn up a small woodland path - this is very steep and quite slippery at times (when we got to the end of it we saw someone sitting on the ground as they'd managed to lose their footing and twist their ankle) but you might see some birds. We came across a rather tame robin who was quite happy to sit still and very close to is while I took a couple of photos.
If you go along the woodland path, you will exit it at the very top of the sanctuary where the farm animals are - here you walk along past the sheep and goats, before walking down a steeply sloping field to the lower half of the sanctuary.
Down at the bottom there are properly defined paths the weave around all the different seal and sea lion pools and along to the otters at the far end. The penguin enclosure can be viewed from ground level or under water and the rehabilitation pools have a higher viewing platform so you can look down on the pools from above.
As you can probably tell alot of the sanctuary, isn't really wheel chair friendly - you should be able to get around the lower level without issue, but then I personally feel like you'd be missing out on a good third of it which seems a shame. That said I don't see how they can do much to improve disabled access due to the location.
Down the bottom of the sanctuary around the main hub of pools was a small cafe - the had a chilled cabinet containing a selection of drinks, fruit and sandwiches and I think there was a small range of warm foods available to order. As we just purchased some bottled drinks I didn't look into it to closely.
The drinks were as expensive as you'd expect in this sort of establishment - over £1 for a bottle.
There were also a couple of vending machines near the entrance.
There is a small gift shop next to the cafe - I didn't venture in on my most recent visit, but I remember my dad buying me a dolphin tshirt from there when I was a child. There's another gift shop by the entrance/exit which you have to go through to leave.
Prices didn't necessarily seem unreasonable - my boyfriend purchased a sterling silver neckglass and a little glass octopus for his mum's birthday from here which came to £23.50. As he'd spent over £20 he got to chose either a free cuddly penguin or dolphin (he went for the penguin).
Standard fees are pretty expensive at a whopping £14.40 for a single adult - there are discounts for students, children and concessions, but you can get even more discount. To be honest you should never have to pay full price - if you book online you get 40% off and if you don't have access to the internet you can cut discount vouchers out of the local papers and leaflets.
Luckily when we went it was a lovely day weather wise so we could properly enjoy walking around. The otters were fun to look at - especially when one woke up and started licking the other in a rather intimate place only for a child to ask 'mummy what's it doing?' and everyone else had to supress a little giggle. It was also pretty funny watching the seals in the rehab pools sleeping in the most awkward and uncomfortable looking positions with their mouths wide open.
We also got to listen to a talk on the penguins which was pretty interesting - especially when they said how fussy penguins are when it comes to fish and how they're just not interested if if not quite right.
If you're a bit on the unfit side or maybe getting on a bit, you could struggle to get around in places - my nan can walk without a stick, but I know she wouldn't have managed to get up at least one of the tarmaced slopes due to the steep incline.
Overall I do recommend it - the entrance fee is excessive at full price, but the discounts make it reasonable. Access could be an issue for quite a few people, but the sanctuary can't do much about the location and the views are stunning.
Summary: Worth a visit