“ Ottery St Mary / Devon / EX11 1LU / England „
If you are looking for a day trip and you are in Devon, then look no further than Escot. This beautiful park of gardens, animals, wetland and maze is situated in Ottery St Mary, Devon and is a fifteen minute drive from Honiton and Exeter. Set in the Devonshire countryside with the air smelling of cows and the hills rolling around this is definitely a great location for a great day out.
I went to Escot with my Nan, specifically to see the Otters as these were the only thing about the place that I remembered. On arrival I was surprised to see that there was much more to see and do.
Parking - My opinion is that parking here is poor. We were in the overflow Carpark which was a very small field, almost like a holding field. It wasn't ideal and people had parked anywhere and anyhow. We grabbed what could be seen as the last space, though in reality I parked in the middle of the field at a funny angle and hoped nobody would hit the car in my absence. When we left Escot the gate to this field had been shut and I had to get my Nan to open and close it for me to drive the car out. Between us we struggled to lift the gate from its base and open it - not very visitor friendly.
Paying - Escot cost £7.50 for adults and £6.50 for children and concessions; Children under 3 go free, whilst a family pass (2 adults & 2 children) cost £26.00. Admission for dogs is 50p. The cashier is based in the gift shop which was a bit chaotic. There were two women taking payments but the queue was out of the door and if you wished to purchase a gift I am not sure where you joined the queue. The wooden shop was small and compact with and entrance/exit to the park but also an exit/entrance to come and go from the park. This resulting in doors opening and closing a lot and a very full shop. The staff give you a sticker (so you can come and go) and a map/guide of the site for your conveience. If you decide you love Escot enough to repeatedly come back (which if you are local is an ideal day out) you can opt for one of their Multipasse memberships which costs £18.75 for an adult and £16.25 for a child/concession. For more information on this it is worth visiting their website.
So what goes? - We followed the map and started at the otters as this was my purpose in visiting, sadly there were no otters to be seen on my first visit to their habitat, nor were there any peacocks which I had been told tend to hang around just inside the entrance. Following the path laid out on the map we passed the birds of prey and the owls all in their individual areas. Each bird was kept separate from the next and they all had different names/information pinned on their enclosure. The falcons were in a grassy enclosure attached to pegs in the ground, with enough lead to drink and move around but not enough free space to reach other birds or the edge of the enclosure. These birds were awaiting to perform in the display which take place at the park during the months between Easter and October. The number of daily performances and the time they happen varies and it is best to speak to a staff member to ensure you get the correct time. There were no shows whilst we were at the park so I cannot comment on how impressive they are.
After the birds we passed a green area with several picnic benches and hungry families, before making our way up the path into the woodland. On the map this area seems vast, but in reality you are never far from the next feature. We had quickly stumbled upon the kids play area with swings and climbing apparatus (which was very busy) before reaching the wild boars. I love pigs and there was a LOT of boar in this area. The park is designed so that the boar enclosure runs through the middle of the trees and stretches from one side to the other - it's not a great space but it was long and muddy and not too small. There were plenty of baby boars to see and we were surprised by the loose one which appeared to have escaped and was happily wandering around digging in the shrubs. At this point we were at the drop slide which also had plenty of picnic benches, ideal for lunch and entertaining the kids at the same time. There was a ranger doing some work on the drop slide when we reached it and he had spotted the baby boar, keeping an eye on the safety of both the boar and the visitors, no doubt dreading the afternoon he would have to spend searching for its escape route.
The next feature we found was the giant's seat - a wooden lookout point which offers exceptional views across the Devonshire countryside. On this occasion though, it offered a view of the clear up process which was happening after hosting the Beautiful Days festival; the place was a state and the clear up was massive. This didn't hinder our experience, but I can imagine that if you choose to walk the bigger walks this would have disrupted the experience.
We wandered around the woods until we found the pig pens but we didn't see any actual pigs so I am not sure what happened there. We also came across an area called Red Squirrels, but again we didn't see any. The park is running a campaign to raise funds for a new squirrel enclosure as the one we saw was quite dilapidated and is desperate need of replacing. Randomly behind this enclosure was a beautiful old cottage. Who lives in this cottage I do not know but it was gorgeous and had it not been for the number of visitors which walk along the side of this building it would be an ideal place to live. It was idyllic and tucked into the woodland, only visible from the pathway running past the squirrels and not able to be seen from the woodland path behind it.
Our walk took us back to the otters which thankfully were out playing and we arrived just in time for "snack time". The ranger entered their enclosure and all of the otters playfully landed at her feet for feeding. They were so lovely to watch as she fed them chunks of vegetables and fruits. Once she had left they delved into the water and scratched around in the mud for the leftovers, swimming amongst each other and rolling onto their backs once they had found their food before scuttling off to a corner to devour it. The otters here are a family of 6 and whilst their habitat is not true of a real wild one, it offered a pool for them with rocks, a mini waterfall and lots of greenery and tree trunks, both solid and hollow for them to play/sleep in. Further back the shrubs became thicker and we couldn't see what else was in the enclosure. The animals looked happy and well treated. I could have watched them for hours.
For younger children, or those who love interacting with pets, there is a small pet enclosure which houses guinea pigs and rabbits. The open aired space, contained by just a small fence and a gate is open for people to go in and sit with the animals; the only restriction is that tapping their huts is not allowed. Children can pet the animals and feed them. I am not sure how I feel about this set up - kids being kids are loud and animals cannot feel settled in that environment, also no-one can know which child is going to be unruly and misbehave. However I like the idea of animal/children interaction and feel it is a perfect opportunity for children who do not have pets to get to know them (and then ask their mum and dad for one all the way home).
Escot has a large maze which we did not attempt - but only because the last time my Nan visited with my young cousin they got truly lost. Escot sells the maze as a "fabulous world class beech maze complete with natural history quiz". It has 5 hedge leaping bridges and 4 switch points, which means the maze can change its routing daily.
The park is an ideal place to educate children whilst on a day out. They have letterboxing set up which offers children a list of clues which will take them around the entire park. As they solve each clue they stamp their sheet. We stumbled across several letterboxes (complete with stamps) but must have missed a large section of the walks out as we didn't come across all of them. Escot introduced this feature in 2004 and it was an instant success. There is a small fee for the paper and maps, however I cannot find out how much that is from the website and didn't see it advertised at the park.
Escot is also home to a large manor house. Though the house is not open to the general public, they do host weddings and corporate events. Aside of the house is the coach house. This has been turned into a restaurant area which opens up into the courtyard. There are tables and chairs both inside and out and the menu offers simple lunchtime foods both hot and cold. We opted for coffees and cakes which was nice. Thankfully we got a table just before lunch, as within 15 minutes of sitting down the place was full.
The toilets in the coach house were clean and tidy and the staff were friendly and helpful. Throughout the park there are eco toilets. I didn't take the opportunity to investigate but from the outside they looked a bit like long drops. They were wooden cubicles (1 male 1 female) which had no roof and were set under the trees.
Additionally Escot offers an Aquatic centre and the main base for the Seahorse Trust. The trust is internationally known for research and conservation and there are seahorses on show for the public to look at. We didn't visit either of these two attractions but they were clearly signposted.
The final place I visited was the wetlands. This was as we exited the park and went back to the car; A short circular walk around marshland, which followed a path between the different types of flowers and reeds which thrive in marshy conditions. We saw dragonflies and butterflies all in their element. The pathways in this area had a plastic mesh over some of them to prevent slipping up on the wooden boards. There were several areas which when wet overlapped the pathways and other areas which were especially muddy. As the rain steadily began the floors became wet regardless and we had to be very careful not to slip. To the edge of this area was a small pond, which didn't appear to house fish and picnic bench.
Thankfully there was a second gate and this opened out to much near the Carpark than the one we entered.
My review offers just an insight into what Escot has to offer. We spent 3 hours at the park and were constantly moving, but we didn't take the opportunity to explore the woodland walks or the estate walks which are available.
Also, Escot has just launched a new initiative to entice children into nature. They now offer Camp Wild which is a 5 day residential package (or 2,3,4) for children aged between 8 - 12 years old. The package includes exploring the history of the area, fossil hunting, rock pooling, boat trips and beach games as well as feeding the wild boar, handling birds of prey and learning bush craft skills such as fire-lighting, swamp walking and building shelters. We saw some of the children emerging from the marshland and they were muddy and extremely smiley. This costs £300 for a 5 night stay and runs between the 12th and 28th August. They also run day sessions for £30 per child between 19th and 28th August.
I absolutely adored my trip out, the weather held for the best part of the day and the area is beautiful. I would most certainly recommend it as a day trip for any family wishing to make the most of the area. The prices are very reasonable for such a large range of opportunities and the facilities are excellent. I got my wish and saw the otters but since returning and reading the literature properly I have noticed that they also have a beaver breeding programme in place which I missed entirely.
For more information on Escot you can view their website at www.escot-devon.co.uk which is very comprehensive and informative.
Also published on Ciao
A couple of months ago we hired a cottage in Somerset for a week from Hoseasons. We had a very relaxing time and the weather was surprisingly good for a UK holiday. We took our dog, Tattie, along with us and she enjoyed all the new sights, sounds and smells. However, one of Hoseasons' rules (and with most other on holiday rental companies, I hasten to add), is that you never leave your pet unattended in the property whilst you go out. This can pose somewhat of a problem, as you are forced to take your pet with you everywhere you go...and a lot of places you may wish to visit are not going to be dog friendly. Therefore, before we set off I did a bit of research into the area, and made a list of places in Somerset (and nearby Devon) that would accept visitors with dogs. Sadly Wookie Hole and Cheddar Gorge were no-go areas for us and our pupster, but I did find a couple of other possibilities, namely the Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth and Escot Park at Ottery St Mary (both in Devon). Therefore, pup in tow, we duly set of one sunny July day to explore the possibilities of a good day out at Escot Park.
~*~ WHAT IS THERE TO DO AT ESCOT? ~*~
Situated in East Devon, Escot is the home of Kennaway family, and has been for over two hundred years. However, instead of doing the usual thing and opening their Georgian Stately House to the public (or handing it over to the National Trust to do the same thing), the family have opened up part of their 250 acres of parkland to the general public instead. Indeed, you can only visit the house by appointment or through a private function such as a wedding or a conference. The part of Escot open to the general public is an area of parkland, where they have played on the great natural beauty of the area, and complimented rather than spoiled it. They've done a very nice job of making a delightful country park for families to enjoy nature at its best.
We decided to visit as I rather liked the sound of the maze at Escot, and the gardens and surrounding woodlands sounded pretty interesting too. Added to which the Tattie Monster got in for 50p, so that was her entertained for the day. She did have to remain on her lead throughout her visit, but this proved a wise move, as the second* thing she did was try and eat the male peacock she came across (*the first thing she did was a massive pile of dollop in the car park...so vast in size and weight it almost needed a small forklift track remove it...moving swiftly on.....).
The helpful lady in the admission booth did give us details on some of the walks around Escot, one of which allowed dogs to off the lead. However, it was a very hot day and we didn't fancy a 45 minute walk around the border of the estate when we had the whole of the woodlands to explore. Added to which the off-lead walk would have taken us past a rather large lake....and Golden Retrievers such as the Tattie Monster are incapable of passing water without wallowing in mud and/or swimming, which would have been a right old kerfuffle.
~*~ BIRDS AND BEASTIES ~*~
Escot is home to a number of different furry and feathered friends. There are plenty of stunning looking male peacocks strutting their stuff (although one nearly did loose his tail feathers thanks to our over-exuberant pup). We were lucky enough to spot one with his tail fully extended as he preened in front of a female. As well as the peacocks, there are a series of cages housing many different types of birds of prey (the owls were very interesting), as well as a regular falconry displays in the summer months.
Near the entrance is a petting area / pets corner, where you are allowed to stroke and handle the rabbits and guinea pigs. As it was an extremely hot day when were there, every creature seemed to be asleep in their hutch or cage; obviously too hot too forage for food or tourists. Even the otters decided not to come out and play, despite their large pond to play in. You can see the otters being fed twice a day at Escot, so maybe we might have seen them if there was some food on offer.
There are plenty of other animals to see too. The red squirrels were very cute looking, and safely enmeshed in a cage in case any passing grey squirrels decided to have a go. Right in the heart of the woodland in some nicely shaded areas are enclosures housing wild boar. There is also another enclosure for several Vietnamese pot bellied pigs.
I must say that all the birds and animals seemed very well cared for in clean and spacious cages or enclosures. Escot even run a pet hotel on site where you can leave your rabbits, guinea pigs and gerbils (sadly no dogs or cats can be left there, which was a shame as we were tempted to offload ASBO dog and earn ourselves some respite). Also on site is an Aquatic Centre and a Pet Shop.
~*~ FLORA AND FAUNA ~*~
The woodland area is very pleasant indeed, and it was lovely to get into the shade on such a hot day. Escot have made the most of their woods, and have designed some lovely children's play areas out of the existing trees and plants. It's all very natural looking, and Escot have done a brilliant job of complimenting rather than spoiling the natural environment. For example, an old piece of wood has been sculpted into a stunning dragon shape, which is big enough for children to climb over, and surprisingly life like it is too! Swings on ropes suspended from ancient trees abound, and there's a huge wooden seat (called The Giant's Seat) which you can climb up on and look over the surrounding land.
Around every corner, is something new and rather magical for children (and adults) to discover. There's a huge wooden pirate ship to climb aboard or a bug shaped slide with all sorts of ropes and bridges to climb over. There is also a very scary looking structure called a Drop Slide. I climbed to the top to have a go, but it was much too high and the drop too sheer for me to attempt it. Instead I was put to shame by some fearless 7/8 year olds who followed me up there (and I'm not so sure I should have been attempting it anyway, as I think it was just for kids....that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it).
The plants and trees are all very mature and well-established, with some lovely looking specimens. The Cedar of Lebanon was huge, the magnolias stunning and the Acers beautiful .There's an unusual looking cork tree, which Escot have strung up with (empty) bottles and corks so children will know what it's used for.
~*~ OTHER THINGS TO DO ~*~
As I suspected it would be, the highlight of my visit was the maze. The Escot maze was designed by someone called Adrian Fisher and was built by estate staff in 2004 using around 4,000 beech plants. They've even put in some switch gates so that they can change the route periodically - good if you're a regular visitor. They recommend allowing at least half an hour to solve the puzzle and make your way out. Despite several "flying" bridges in the midst of the maze, we really could not work it out. You'd have thought the bridges would have given you a clearer insight into where you should be heading....but it just wasn't that simple. We gave up after half an hour and ended up going out through the entry point. It was great fun though, and a very good maze - not quite as good as the ones at Hampton Court and Hever Castle, but well up there with the best.
If you have children then they will love all the different play areas they'll come across in the woods (we enjoyed them...and we're both old enough to know better!). In addition to the woodland play areas, there is an indoor play barn (great if it's raining).
Another big draw for the kids is "letterboxing", and there were lots of children racing around doing this on the day we were there. Letterboxing is where children are given a card and various clues which lead them to an ink pad and rubber stamp. If they stamp all the boxes on their clue card they get a certificate at the entrance kiosk. The clues take everyone round the whole of Escot so you certainly get your money's worth.
~*~ FOOD AND DRINK ~*~
We stopped off at The Coach House Restaurant after our amble through the woods, as we were rather hot and rather tired (not to mention frustrated by our stupidity in the maze...). I had a very nice scone and cup of tea, and the other half shared his fairy cake and biscuits with ASBO dog. It's a very nice courtyard area with seating inside and out. It was fairly reasonably priced and the portions were generous. There's also a site Farm Shop adjacent to the cafeteria, which we didn't visit.
However, if you want to do your own thing and take a picnic, there are plenty of benches in the grounds - both in the woodlands or in the grassed areas.
~*~ WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD? ~*~
I can't really think of any huge downsides to Escot. It's clean, tidy and there is plenty to do and see. The only slight off-putting thing are the toilets in the woodlands. They're billed as "eco toilets", so they're just a hole in the ground you have to hoover over. My partner wandered into one and can swiftly back out again, having declined to avail himself of the facilities. I decided they must be really grim if he'd been put off...as men can basically go anywhere! He said the aroma was a little ripe, to put it politely....However, do not fear, there are some clean, "normal" toilets by the entrance kiosk, and I used these instead.
~*~ RECOMMENDATION ~*~
A good day out with plenty to see and do, and at a price that's not going to break the bank. It's nice way to get back to nature and appreciate all that it has to offer. Escot have done a really good job of working with their environment and improving rather than spoiling it - and that's something you don't see too often nowadays. Escot is very quiet and very peaceful - which is lovely. There were plenty of people visiting (afterall it was a sunny July day), but the site is so large, peace and quiet were only ever a few steps away.
I'd say that this site would appeal to all ages. Adults can admire the trees, plants and beautiful views, and children can go wild in the woodlands on a variety of swings, slides, ropes and bridges. And as for the maze...that appeals to all ages...even if it is impossible to fathom.
~*~ OPENING TIMES AND ADMISSION CHARGES ~*~
Escot is open every day from 10am (closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day) until 5pm in the Winter (1st November to Easter) and 6pm in the Summer (Easter to 31st October).
Entrance is via a large walk in "shed" which also doubles-up as a gift shop. Access to the Aquatic Centre, Wetlands and the Coach House Restaurant is free.
Adult £ 6.95
Concessions £ 5.95
Children £ 5.95
Family (2+2) £ 24.00
Children under 3 FREE
~*~ CONTACT DETAILS ~*~
Escot Park can be easily found as it's located just off the A30 between Exeter and Honiton in the village of Ottery St Mary.
Parking is plentiful and free. Disabled access is good with specially designed routes through both the woodlands and the maze. We saw someone being pushed about in their wheelchair in the woodlands, and there were plenty of mothers with babies in buggies negotiating the pathways throughout.
Ottery St Mary
Tel: 01404 822188
Please note that visits to Escot House are by appointment only.
I have lived near Escot park all of my life and I am ashamed to say that I had never been until recently. I was invited to go here during half term, five of us went (two adults, three children) and I have to say what a great day out we had here, I was pleasantly surprised.
I always thought it was just a posh house with nice garden (national trust type thing) and I could not have been more wrong, its a country park for families to enjoy.
There is loads to do here, you have a maze to complete (yes we got well and truly lost in this one), there are animals to see and learn about, they have fish in the Aquatic Centre (to look at and buy), they have a pets corner (and even a pet hotel for when you go on holiday), you can look at the various birds of prey they have (they also do a daily show where you can watch the birds flying and learn a bit more about them) and when you walk around the park you see pigs, peacocks, red squirrels, otters etc etc.
As you walk around the park you come across various play areas for the kids, you have the indoor play barn which has a big padded climbing area in it with ball pools etc, then as you venture further into the forest you have a assault course and swings, then you come across a drop slide (which has been built out of the estate timber) and a little further on you have another outside play area with rope climbs, a pirate ship and various swings.
To get to all of the play areas you walk through the woodland, which in itself is very pleasant, they have lovely trees and plants to look at and there are loads of wild life living in them which the kids loved looking at.
They also do letterboxing here, we didn't have a go at this but I think next time we head there we will. Its another great way to entertain the children, you get given various clues which lead you to rubber stamps and a ink pad, once you have found the stamp you use it on the card they have given you and when you have them all you take it back to the kiosk and get a certificate. The clues take you round the whole park so it's a great way to see everything.
Admission prices for Escot are £6.95 for a adult, family of two adults & two children £24, dogs 50p, children under 3 free. If you think you may end up visiting here a few times a year its probably worth getting a year pass, for two adults & two children is £52, you only need to visit three times to make this pay for itself. These passes also give you discounts in the shops etc.
A slight downside to the park though is some of the toilets, they are what they call eco toilets (basically a hole in the ground with a plank of wood over it and a toilet seat attached), as you can imagine these are not that pleasant to use, there are a couple of these around the park, the children didn't care but I found it much better to walk to the normal toilets near the entrance.
They have there own website www.escot-devon.co.uk, this tells you about all the activities they have here and have maps etc so you know how to get to it.
I don't want to come across like a snob, but I have to tell you - in general I don't like theme parks. I grit my teeth at the sight of a ball pool, my shoulders tense at the thought of queuing for a rollercoaster, I will never enjoy a meal whilst sitting on primary coloured plastic chairs, and seeing signs in Zoos begging visitors not to hammer on the glass of the monkey enclosure makes me ashamed of the human race.
Having said this, I have children, and we like a day out! Thankfully, whether by nature or by nurture, my children tend to prefer the 'quality' end of theme parks too. Some readers may have read my recent review of Cricket St Thomas Wildlife Park - we love it there, and Escot is another family favourite. The gardens, surrounding the ancestral home of the Kennaway family, were originally set out by Capability Brown and have been developed by 'land artist' and TV gardener Ivan Hicks.
Escot Park is quite local to us, being just off the A30 between Exeter and Honiton, we can be there in 15 minutes easily. This is one of the reasons that I decided to buy an annual pass, as it costs less than the prices of 3 visits (although it has gone up a bit since last year). The other reason was that when I first visited Escot I felt like I never wanted to leave! An adult ticket currently costs £6.45 (annual pass £16.75) and a child's is £5.45 (£14.00). There are also family tickets and concessions available. If you decide at the end of a visit that you'd like to buy an annual pass, you can have the day's ticket refunded against the cost of the pass.
There is plenty of parking, and without actually entering the "Historic Gardens, Maze and Fantasy Woodland" you can visit the shop and Coach House restaurant, and also the Wetlands duck pond area, before even having to purchase a ticket! There is also a large Aquatic Centre here, selling fish and accessories for ponds, as well as pond plants, and small pets such as rabbits and hamsters. Escot run a pet hotel at very reasonable prices and we intend to leave our gerbils in their safe hands next time we go away.
The Coach house is a 'proper' cafe/restaurant (no plastic chairs) although they do a cardboard lunchbox filled with 5 items for children, this is as gimmicky as it gets, and in the main they sell home made real food like Ploughman's Lunches or Fish and chips, with Vegetarian options always available. They also have a good range of teas and coffee. This is a nice place to eat lunch but of course you may prefer to take a picnic.
Anyway, we're not even inside the Park properly yet! Tickets are purchased at a walk through booth (a shed, really) in which there are a few gifts to buy. Also for a £1 donation per sheet you can opt into the "Letter-boxing" quiz. This means that you follow clues all over the Park, to find stamps, the kind which you press into an ink pad, and collect these stamps on a sheet, if you solve all the clues and find all the hidden stamps - you get a certificate at the end. It amazes me how motivated kids can be at the idea of a certificate! This is essentially a treasure hunt (without much treasure, admittedly) and is a challenge for children from about age 6 up. My son was thrilled by this (he was 7 the first time we went there) and now has several certificates to prove it. The clues and hiding places change every 3 months or so.
Highlights of the first part of the Park include the famous Escot Maze. Yes, I got lost, in fact every time I've been there I have got lost and ended up coming out the way I went in, shamefaced. There is a petting area (bunnies and guinea pigs) and cages contained birds of prey - an informative display is given of the birds twice a day, we particularly like the owls. Best of all though, there are otters! Last year the pair of otters had babies (awww!) and it is likely that there will be more to follow. Don't miss their feeding time (hard to spot them otherwise) at 12 or 3pm, when the keeper will give a presentation, whilst tossing food such as mice or prawns for them!
And then into the woods. This is where it all gets a bit magical, although in a very low key sort of way - don't expect special effects. Instead, children stumble across a mysterious mini door in a tree, they may notice that some of the trees in the Boar Enclosure are growing upside down (actually a clever sculpture) and they can explore the woods, which have been left very natural but enhanced with sculptures. I won't spoil it for you by telling you what is around every corner, but I should also mention the beautiful trees and flowers, I'm not really a gardener but I loved the magnolias especially.
The thing that struck me on our first visit was how quiet it was. Not that it was deserted, just that kids (and parents) weren't yelling! Admittedly this was Spring and a bank holiday in August is likely to be much busier, but we've visited all year round and even with a lot of visitors you can lose yourself in the woods and at times feel like you have the whole place to yourselves. There are several good quality sturdy wooden play areas, one including a climbing frame based on the design of a beetle - which wouldn't look out of place in an art gallery! These are good places to have a picnic, and tables are provided.
I'd strongly recommend a look at Escot's informative website, as there is so much else to tell you that I'm not able to cover here. I will mention that the grounds of the house play host to an annual music festival, "Beautiful Days", and it is also possible to have weddings there. Escot run "Nature Days" for families, some including camping.
For a really good quality, educational (without being stuffy) and good value day out, I whole heartedly recommend Escot.
A large park that is home to numerous businesses featuring: a beautiful estate home, aquatic and pet centre, gardens, maze and fantasy woodlands, as well as host to events.