“ North Devon. „
Just came back from visiting Devon last week and one of the 'must do's' on our list was the Combe Martin Dinosaur park after finding it on the internet, it looked really interesting. What a disappointment it was. We travelled nearly two hours to get there and then spent £56 to get in followed by £36 for burger chips and beans plus drink for 4 of us.
The park is very, very steep, not a good idea if you have a pushchair or walking disability, and it is certainly not suitable for anyone in a wheelchair. I witnessed people having to stop and use inhalers to enable them to make it back up the hills.
The dinosaurs are all in the one place, inside a cage effect and operate for around 10 mins every hour. The one spitting water was a hit with the younger children but even that had a mechanic working on it at one point.
Most of the animals were out of sight, we caught a fleeting glance of a wolf as it went from one bush to another at the top of a far distant hill. A keeper was chasing some of the little monkeys out of their indoor quarters and into their cages so we could see them and I never even saw the lion save for its tail at the very far end of the enclosure that was inaccessible to the public.
The Egyptian tomb was good but small and we couldn't get into the light show as we had nowhere to safely leave the pushchair.
It would have been nice to have some model dinosaurs hiding amongst the trees to bring a bit of magic to the kids and the fairground part was really small and cramped although the staff were nice and friendly.
What a shame I hadn't read the reviews before going as nearly a £100 of my hard earned holiday money was wasted on this day not including the petrol it took to get there!
Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park is a strange mixture of theme park and zoo. If you are interested in the zoo element its a great place to go, but if you prefer the theme parks then it might be best not to bother. The park is a bit out in the sticks too, and takes some getting to across Exmoor or along the coast roads.
When you arrive your first challenge is getting into the car park up some very steep hills. When you do find a space the next challenge is negotiating the path back down into the park itself without falling base over apex, thats how steep it is! My suggetion is to aim for Car park 6 as that is closest to the entrance. Take a picnic lunch and venture back for it when you get hungry as the food inside is all fairly cardboard like and quite expensive.
Once inside try to steer your children past the coin opperated rides and activities and on down to the animal enclosures - all also on the side of a steep hill (I'm spotting a theme here) - it's not the easiest place to take a pushchair - I know from bitter experience! Try to get a map or leaflet that tells you when the animal feeding time is and visit then, the chappies who work there are very informative and entertaining.
There are also shows. The two best ones we did were the sealion show (fun and you might get wet) and the Wolf talk, by the original Wolfman himself Shaun Ellis, as seen on TV. At the end of the talk he brought out the latest wolf puppies and everyone got to pet them! They were soooo cute!
On the theme park side of things the big draw is the dinosaurs - they are animatronic, move, roar and spit water at you! Little children are always very scared and older ones love getting wet! They aren't awake all the time - when we went it was for 15 minutes on the hour every hour. Then there is the Egyptian crypt - children think its going to be scary and its not, and the Journey to Mars Light Show - children think its going to be a wild simulator ride and its not.
An addition ride is the Earthquake train ride, which costs an addition £1 per person. Quite fun if you like getting wet. Sit in the middle of the train for the best view of the 7000 gallons of water hurtling towards you.
Cost of entry is £12 for adults, £7.50 for children. If you're planning on visiting again during the season you can get a voucher for half price return. Go all day to make the most of it.
We visited the park on Thursday the 5th November 2009. This park should have been closed down at least in early October.No amusements, no cafe,<the floor was being washed we where told>The pharoes treasures, most of it closed, light show...closed..The animals looked miserable, lonely. One sea lion swimming about aimelessly. Monkeys all on their own. One African Grey Parrott in a cage outside with no cover,shivering in the pouring rain, watching the other parrotts roaming around free in the rain...I had to ask one of the kiosk staff to go get a keeper to get it inside.I dont quite understand why so much money had been spent on these life size Dinosaur models + the other "attractions" as I said above,when it could have been spent on making life a little more comfortable for the inmates of this "zoo". In all a pretty diablolical experience. Dont waste your money or disappoint your kids..
We visited Devon for a lovely week in a wonderful part of England, and were based in Woolacombe. The Wildlife and Dinosaur Park was on our list of must sees so we ventured off. It is based within beautiful grounds within Combe Martin. The car park was as the top of a very steep hill so it was a little difficult keeping upright at this stage of our visit.
On entering the park, down alot of steps, we were greeted by the sound of dinosaurs and found several varieties from velociraptors to a T Rex putting on a very tame show. One of the smaller dinosaurs spat a little water at the people outside and was fun for the children.
I was delighted to see parrots and macaws flying freely throughout the park and this meant that we could get up close and personal. We ventured through to the section which housed the birds of prey, falcons, eagles, large owls etc. Unfortunately it was a very windy day so the falconry show was called off. Onwards and upwards to the Meercat Section which was fascinating. The lady who feeds the Meercats was very accommodating and informative and we watched the feeding section.
There is a very nice Japanese Garden, which led us through to the big cats. There were only 2 that we could see and this section i found a little disappointing, however, a much larger section was under construction when we visited. The most fascinating part of our visit was the Wolf section. We were given a 15 minute talk by the Wolfman Shaun Ellis, who has lived with wolves for many years and knows them inside out. He was amazing, and what he doesnt know about Wolves isn't worth knowing.
It was a delight to see Wallaby's roaming freely within their compound and being able to feed them and to stroke them was truly a lovely feeling. I felt this place was much more personalised than most wildlife parks.
We had lunch in the restaurant and the food, which ranged from sandwiches to full lunches was very reasonably priced. The restaurant is designed to look like a forest and again great for familys.
A sealion show in the afternoon was a good way to have a nice rest and marvel at these beautiful creatures who do everything they are told by their trainer.
We then visited the light show which was in a makeshift space shuttle, which did look very authentic, although the show left alot to be desired. However, all in all it was a good day out. A very friendly lady then took us up by buggy to the car. This service is free and saves on the shoe leather and the aching legs, getting back up the hill.
All in all it was a good day, and is worth seeing the animals so closely.
This summer we ended up down at a Park Resorts site called Bideford Bay which is situated in North Devon. Whilst there we had a couple of very good days out and I thought it would be a great idea to tell everyone a bit about them as there were no reviews on these attractions on the site.
The two attractions we visited were The Big Sheep and Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park. Now I know you're probably wondering why I would mention both of these when the review is only about one of them. I will explain. When we arrived at our site we did the inevitable leaflet hunt at reception to see what was available in the local area. We found one for The Big Sheep, which had a 10% discount voucher on it and grabbed it instantly as I had already had a look online before we left to get some ideas of attractions. Later on in the week we saw other vouchers off for The Big Sheep too so it is a good idea to have a look out for them if you are in the area and planning a visit. Anyway, we went to Combe Martin first and when we paid we were give a half price voucher for The Big Sheep for up to 6 people. Later in the week, when we went to The Big Sheep we were given a half price voucher for Combe Martin, so it's worth having a tally up to see which one to go to first so you save a bit of cash. Not sure if they do this in peak times as we were there the first week of July but it's worth having a look or getting in touch with them to find out before you visit.
Now that's all done with I'll get on with the review.
***Where Is It?***
Combe Martin is a little town on the A399 in North Devon. It's just under 30 miles to the west of Minehead, 7 miles to the east of Ilfracombe and around 12 miles north of Barnstaple. The Park itself is about a mile and a half south of the town but is well signposted from all the directions. When you get into the park, you are asked to pay at the gate and then you drive up some steep hills with sharp corners to get to the car parking area. This of course means that you can get back to the car whenever you want without having to worry about passes out. However, I would recommend that you take what you can with you, as there is another steep incline between the parking area and the park itself.
***What Is It?***
As it says in the name, it has dinosaurs and wildlife but that doesn't really give a true picture, as this park is set in a wonderful 25 acre estate, which surrounds High Leigh Manor. The park is full to the brim of woodland walks and steep hills between the animal enclosures. Add to this, a mixture of fantastic gardens, various exhibitions within the Manor itself and the animatronic dinosaurs to spot along the way and you realise that this attraction is an all day event that will have something for all the family.
***What's On & When?***
When you pay, you are given a free souvenir book and guide with a leaflet inside that shows all the times of the demonstrations and talks that are due to take place that day on one side and a printed map of the park on the other. We found this very useful although the map was a little bit confusing at times, as there are quite a few ways that you could wander through the wooded areas. We were also delighted that this glossy souvenir book was given to us free, unlike many wildlife parks where it costs a couple of quid at least to buy one of these.
There are many shows on throughout the day but only two that are repeated morning and afternoon. They are the sea lion show and the falconry displays. The sea lion show is the same both times but they use different birds in the falconry display so it's worth popping along to both of them if you have time.
One thing that was a bit disappointing, was that there isn't much time to get from one talk to the next, so choose carefully, as it may not look very far on the map to get from one area to another, but with all the very steep hills and the very hot weather we had that day, it can take quite some time.
The talks throughout the day are focused on a number of different animals, so there are plenty to choose from. On the list are, Meerkats, Red Ruffed Lemurs, Wolves, Primates and Penguins. As well as this you can have encounters with bugs in the Dinosaur Museum (one I had to miss due to my utter disgust of bugs) or an animal handling session with a snake, a lizard, a ferret and a cockroach. I'll come back to the latter later, as this is one I did enjoy, apart from the cockroach, that is!!!
The Into The Light experience was on once an hour, as was the main dinosaur demonstration where the recorded commentary describes a bit about the various dinosaurs as they come to life before your eyes.
***The Manor House***
The Manor House was built in 1866, reportedly under the orders of a gentleman called Snell. During the war years it was run by an order of nuns and there is still a memorial to them in the gardens today. A lot of children were evacuated to the area and the convent was one of the places they were sent to. It wasn't until Robert Butcher bought this estate in 1985 that it got a new lease of life. It had been sitting empty for over 10 years and was in a bad state of repair.
Nowadays it features the Dinosaur Museum, The Into The Light Show and The Tomb Of The Pharaohs Exhibition.
It was lovely to be inside for a while, as the heat outside was almost unbearable in the sun. It was pleasantly cool inside the Dinosaur Museum that has many exhibits and quite dark too until our eyes adjusted a bit to the dimmer lights. This only added to the atmosphere of it all as we saw the skeleton of a Megalosaur standing directly in front of us with it's jaws open wide, baring it's teeth. My 4-year-old son was awestruck by it for a few moments before getting very excited and exclaiming how big it was. Other exhibits included a fossilized dinosaur egg, iguanodon's footprints and some teeth of various types of dinosaurs. My son loved all this as he is a bit of a dinosaur fanatic as it is.
The Into The Light show was something we really weren't too sure about. It was advertised as a truly out of this world experience as we journeyed on to Destination Mars. We climbed the metal stairs into what looked like a spaceship from the outside and went into the inner section where we saw about 8 rows of seats with an aisle up the middle. It was quiet when we were there so my son immediately headed for the front row to get the best view. The lights went down and this scared some of the young children behind who immediately started crying. I think this took the atmosphere away a little bit and spoiled it for the rest of us as we saw ourselves get further and further away from earth in the spaceship. All this was recreated with a selection of coloured lights and moving projected imagery. I must say I wasn't that impressed as the whole thing lasted about 10 minutes tops, but my son thought it was fantastic and that he really had been out in space.
The Tomb of the Pharaohs was down in the basement of the Manor and was very entertaining for the adults but a little scary for the young kids. It started by a walk through the tombs, which have been recreated with paintings copied from the ones in Egypt themselves. There was a chart on the wall that translated the hieroglyphic alphabet into letters so that you could read the writing on the walls as you went round. This was a little bit out of my son's depth but my teenage daughters found this fun to do. My bloke had a go at trying to steal a precious Ankh, a bit of an Indiana Jones style task on a small level. I won't spoil it by telling you what happens but will say he did make it out at the end. At the end of this exhibition is the mummy, which does waken up and is quite amusing to watch although my son was terrified by this and hid round the corner until it went to sleep again. There is also an impressive sarcophagus or coffin that resembles the famous Tutankhamun death mask.
The park belongs to a breeding programme, which helps prevent the extinction of endangered animals and this means that the animals can be paired up with an unrelated partner from anywhere in Europe. There is information about this program on site and the keepers are available to answer any questions about it at the talks throughout the day.
The first animal we encountered was a little bit unexpected. We walked through a gate system and into an enclosure where wallabies were hopping about all around us. Most of them were very tame and came right up to us so we could stroke them and feed them leaves. This was a lovely experience for all of us and was a good start to the day.
The red ruffed lemurs were next and it was a pleasure to stop for a while and watch the mothers and babies interact with each other as they played chase and made swings from overhanging branches. The enclosure was spacious and there was plenty of foliage for them to get some privacy if they wanted it. However, these funny and sociable creatures decided that they would prefer to show off and came right up to the fence to greet us.
The meerkat talk was one that we didn't want to miss so we headed off to see them and found out all about their habits, from how guards work taking it in turns to watch out for enemies to the alarm call that will alert them all to take cover or gather in a group where they will make a lot of noise and spit at the offending predator until it retreats. The enclosure is special made so that the meerkats can bury up to 3 metres down to make tunnels and living quarters for themselves. This is also where the babies will be born and we were able to see quite a few young ones playing in the dust and sand, which amused us all.
There is a big selection of primates at the park including the lemurs, squirrel monkeys, greater bush babies, white-faced sakis, tamarins, goeldis, gibbons and capuchins. There were quite a few running around and jumping from branch to branch in their smaller enclosures as well as using the runs to get to more open-spaced ones. Again the enclosures seemed pretty impressive and although it would be better for these animals to be in the wild, most of them are endangered due to deforestation so the breeding programme is essential for their continued existence.
The wolves are an impressive sight even though they are not usually liked because of all the bad stories we get told as children. Research is being done through the Wolf Pack Management organisation to get a greater understanding of their behaviour and it was shown through the talk that they are not as fearsome as you may think.
The snow leopards were doing what most cats do when it is hot weather. They found a shady spot and lounged around. Who can blame them with temperatures in the high 80s that day? Zeth and Makita are more active at dusk and dawn as this is when they have the advantage when hunting.
There are many birds around the park ranging from the huge pelicans that looked quite scary with their huge snapping bills, to the colourful site of the macaws that are left to fly freely around the park. As well as these captive birds, so to speak, there are many wild birds that fly through the woodland areas and we spotted a number of finches and tits as well as thrushes and house martins who were nesting in the eaves of the Manor. Unfortunately we weren't lucky enough to spot any woodpeckers but were informed that there were some about.
The butterfly house was very hot and humid but as we were already used to the heat from outside, we ventured in. Inside the heat hit us like a tonne of bricks and we felt we couldn't stay in as long as we would have liked to. There were lots of big and beautiful butterflies flying around and I have to admit I had to stop myself from swatting one that flew rather close to my face and took me by surprise. There was also a section where the chrysalis could be seen and where new butterflies were hatching out.
The penguins are always a favourite of mine as I remember the trips to Edinburgh Zoo as a child, where I would watch them go for their twice-daily walk around the grassy area. The jackass penguins are found in South Africa but their numbers have dwindled by about 90% in the past 60 years so they are another concern for the conservation team. We stood and watched enviously as they began swimming around in their pool where they, at least, could keep cool.
The sea lion show wasn't so much as a show of how the animals can perform but a way of showing the audience the real reasons that trainers get them to hold out a flipper or to play dead. This was all explained by a young Scottish lady called Nikki, who showed us how she could get the sea lions to respond to certain commands so that she could check for cuts or bites and so she could give them a full body check as they lay still for her. There were no balancing balls on these sea lions noses, although they did do an impressive high dive into a pool and jump in the air to move a hanging ball. It was explained that they would jump off cliff faces into the sea in the wild and leap through the air as they swam. We thoroughly enjoyed this display and my son loved to join in with the clapping to encourage the sea lions as they showed off their cheekiness to us.
The meet the animals display took place on the grassy bank in front of the Manor and was started off by a keeper telling us a bit about the 4 creatures he was bringing out for us to be able to hold and stroke. He then explained how to handle them and then they were handed to other keepers who went to 4 areas around the bank. The one we headed straight for was the snake. It was only a small python so I thought nothing of getting straight in there as I have held big boas in the past. It did seem to take a liking to my younger daughter though as it curled it's tail around her wrist and didn't want to let go. The one I was dreading was the cockroach and I watched in horror and amazement as my bloke and son let it run over their hands. My son seemed to enjoy the experience immensely although it was all I could do not to shake when I was taking the photos of him. The ferret experience was not what I expected as their coats were a lot rougher and not as cuddly as I would have expected. My elder daughter Danielle wasn't to keen and neither was my son despite the fact he had thought nothing of holding a cockroach - strange boy. The last holding experience was that of the bearded dragon. It gave my younger daughter a big cuddle and she was delighted, as she loves reptiles. My son also had the chance to stroke it while it sat on my bloke.
Last but by no means least, was the falconry display. As I mentioned earlier there were two displays and the sport of kings was described to us by using many different birds including the harris hawk and the falcon. Unfortunately the harris hawk didn't want to participate and despite many efforts by the young man in charge of it, the hawk sat in a tree and refused to play. The display continued later with the appearance of a barn owl that flew over the top of our heads and hopped from shoulder to shoulder in the crowd. At this point a balding man was warned that it may head straight for him and this caused a bit of hilarity with the crowd as he looked across with a worried expression on his face.
The domain of the dinosaurs is in the wooded area and there are plaques, which not only named them, but also described how each of them lived. There were exhibitions of Stegosaurus, Diplodocus and the fearsome Velociraptors made famous by Jurassic Park. Some of these dinosaurs just sit still whilst others move behind the bushes but there are noises of their calls being made all the time through the trees.
The main dinosaur exhibit is right next to the Manor and this is where you can find a full sized T-Rex, a Megalosaurus and a Dilophosaurus. Most of the time these just sit perfectly still, however, once every hour they waken up and start to move and roar. This is done through computer technology using hydraulics and pneumatics. The one to beware of is the Dilophosaurus who spits water out at the watching crowd. This was actually quite nice on a day as hot as it was but did catch a couple of young children out and they got a bit upset by this. The whole scene is caged though so that the dinosaurs can't escape and there was a commentary throughout although it was a little bit quiet at times so we didn't get to hear it all due to the noise of the gathering crowd.
The gardens are fantastic throughout with a wide range of unusual plants and shrubs. Many tropical plants can be found as you walk through them because of the warm weather coming up from the Atlantic. You can find waterfalls, bridges and a beautiful Japanese garden filled with gorgeous maples.
There was a Wild West Train Ride that we didn't actually go on but we heard the delighted screams from people who were on it so it did sound quite good. This was the only part of the day that would have cost us more money and although it was only £1 each that would have cost us another £5. I'm not quite sure why they have decided to charge for this when everything else is free. I hope it is not a sign of things to come for the park. It is apparently meant to simulate an earthquake where several thousand gallons of water fall towards you and was inspired by one in an American theme park.
The opening times are from 10am til 6pm and last admission is 3pm but it is an all day experience so be aware that it is better to get there early. It is only open for half the year between March and October.
Prices are £12 for adults, £7 for children and £8 for senior citizens. There is good news if you have an under 3 as they are Free. Family tickets for 2 adult and 2 children are also available at a cheaper price of £34. We were lucky as my son looks small so he got in free and we only had to pay for a family ticket so it worked out really good value for us.
There were a couple of gift shops and a cafeteria but there are also lots of picnic tables set out that were kept clean and tidy. We took a picnic with us and it was lovely sitting under the shade of the trees at the tables whilst we ate.
The only toilets are beside the Manor, so if you have a little one you really need to try to get them to use these whenever you are near them. We were lucky this time that my son didn't need to go when we were at the opposite end of the park but I did think this was badly done and that there could have been toilets near the sea lion enclosure. The toilets were kept clean though and there was plenty of toilet paper and hand towels available.
Finally in this section, the warning!!!
This is a very hilly park and if you have a buggy then you may struggle by the end of the day. We didn't and it was tiring enough. The park is also not suitable for wheelchairs because of the terrain but there is a warning about this on the information leaflets and on the website about this. It does however welcome disabled visitors and you can get more information from the site itself.
This was a fantastic family day out and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. I felt that £34 for the 5 of us was very reasonable and even though we did get a bargain, I wouldn't have minded paying an extra £7 for my son.
There was lots to do throughout the day and the kids didn't get bored as we alternated the attractions and talks with wandering round and looking at the animals. I find that often a park with just animals gets boring for my son after a while, but the light show and the handling experience broke this up, as did his love for the dinosaurs.
The animals looked clean and happy in the park unlike some of the smaller wildlife parks that we have visited in the past and it was a real joy to walk through the gardens and the shaded woods, which would have given good shelter if there had been any rain. It's good to know that a conservation project is in place too.
My favourite parts were handling the snake and petting the wallabies, which are activities you wouldn't get to do at just any wildlife park. I also loved the falconry display even though we didn't get to see the hawk at work and one of the owl decided to keep flying back to it's enclosure to get out of the heat. It was also refreshing to see how the sea lions are trained and be told the reasons for it to be done is not just to entertain but to encourage them to behave as they would in the wild and also so that the keepers can make sure they are healthy.
The only thing that would put me off going again were the steep climbs, as this was very tiring, not only for my aging legs, but for my son's as well. If you have a toddler that doesn't like to walk far and wants carrying, then you are in trouble with this park. I saw quite a few people struggling with large buggies that had lots of bags under them and I would recommend that if you do need to take a buggy, you invest in one of the cheap, lighter folding models for this day out.
One final thought for you is that if you are interested in working with or learning about animals you can arrange a day where you can shadow a keeper and find out what exactly it's like to do this. There are also courses available where you can specifically learn about the behaviour of wolves and learn to howl along with them at dusk.
***Address & Phone Number***
Check out the photos on Ciao to see my son holding the cockroach and other piccies of my family enjoying this great day out.