Newest Review: ... about the animals etc there is one big disadvantage to visiting Exmoor Zoo with young children - the toilets. There are 2 sets of to... more
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Exmoor Zoo (North Devon)
Member Name: ButterBear
Exmoor Zoo (North Devon)
Advantages: Great animals, hands on experiences
Disadvantages: Dated facilities, uneven terrain
It's become somewhat of a family tradition recently to mark a special occasion with a grand day out, a special day trip for all the family to enjoy and Elsa's 2nd birthday was no exception. After numerous hours scouring the internet for suitable places in the south west for us to visit and an awful lot of research into what each attraction had to offer we decided to pay a visit to Exmoor Zoo. Situated in the north Devon valleys it is a relatively young zoo having only been opened in 1982 but selling itself as the "family zoo" it seemed the perfect place to take my animal loving toddler to celebrate her special day.
It is quite a journey for us to visit Devon, even though it's a place we seem to frequent but we happily began the 2 hour drive with high expectations of what we were to experience. Dave, my other half, had been wise enough to take down some directions otherwise there's a chance we would have missed the zoo. Despite lots of signposting for the different attractions in Devon the zoo seems quite lacking and it would have been quite easy to miss the signs directing you to the zoo, it is not situated near the roadside as such and you're required to drive down a bit of a country lane before you reach the zoo car park and entrance. The car park itself is quite small and is primarily gravel based, there are 2 disabled parking spaces which are laid in tarmac and an overflow car park further up the lane, although we didn't need to use this having arrived early, the parking is free and if you're lucky enough to get a space in the main park then you're very close to the main entrance.
The entrance to the zoo is, shall we say, rustic, having been constructed in the 80's it doesn't really look like it's had much renovation in the last 20 or so years, still the desk was manned by a friendly and helpful staff member who happily took our payment and provided us with a site map and details on the different encounters that were to be had during the day, little did we know at that point that she would be one of the most regular encounters we'd have. With Christopher as chief map reader we headed off to begin our tour of the zoo, the initial displays are much like traditional zoos, enclosures featuring different species of animals, small monkeys, birds....that sort of thing. The enclosures looked well kept and each had a corresponding number to its position on the map we'd been provided as well as a plaque detailing information on the species enclosed, this was quite helpful in allowing Dave and myself to identify the creature within and then pretend to the children like we were awfully clever and just happened to know which was a regular mongoose and which was a yellow mongoose.
It was easy to notice straight away that the zoo had much more of a country zoo/wildlife park feel to it then the more structured city zoos, the walkways were quite narrow and the "gardens" were slightly unkempt, branches and leaves reaching out to say hello as you walked by, I was glad that we had arrived quite early and the zoo was still reasonably quiet, I imagine the small walkways would become quite crowded during busy times, which is far from ideal when you've got wandering toddlers and buggies to deal with. Still it was a very pleasant place, with the warm sun and a gentle breeze it felt quite peaceful and we were all enjoying ourselves as we viewed the different exhibits. There were many different benched areas and covered seating areas perfect for taking a break or sitting down for a picnic, all of these was near to an exhibit which was great as you could still enjoy the zoo and it's animals while having a rest, rather then being restricted to watching visitors wander by, it was particularly useful for us as, being 32 weeks pregnant, I needed to take lots of rest breaks but didn't find the kids getting bored or restless.
The zoo is almost divided into 2 sections, the traditional zoo style section with cages and enclosures of smaller animals and then a more wildlife park section with wider, more sprawling enclosures for larger animals. The zoo section was very quaint and had some lovely animals, the meerkats are always a favourite with my family as are the marmosets, the enclosure of tortoises was fantastic, simply made up of some wooden posts you could actually reach through and touch the animals as they passed you. Peacocks and peahens roamed freely and would happily come close to visitors to show themselves off, Elsa was a little apprehensive of the birds large size but she was soon taken by its beautiful colours. There is a lovely lake surrounded by lots of seating, and inhabited by many waterfowl, which is another lovely place to sit and relax for a few minutes and an adorable little enclosure of rabbits and guinea pigs which you are free to enter in order to not only picnic but encounter the animals who would happily allow you to approach and pet them, on our visit there were several baby rabbits hopping around happily which captured the hearts of not only me and the kids but my manly husband too.
The other section of the park, whether it's designed to be or not, is a bit more sprawling but worth the effort. Whereas much of the earlier layout of the park is paved with tarmac this section is still made up of gravel pathways, it's not the most wheelchair or buggy friendly of areas and the terrain is certainly more hilly, although there were notices up stating that work would be underway soon and these areas would be paved over which would be a real benefit and make touring this section a lot easier and more enjoyable. Despite the obvious effort this area was going to require I was determined to make the most of the zoo and so we headed off in the direction of the Blackbuck, small deer like creatures, and the cheetah. We passed enclosures starring Rhea, Cranes, Capybara, Alpaca, fought our way through some slightly overgrown nettles and eventually came upon the Cheetah enclosure, although saying that Dave did turn to me and complain about not being able to spot any just as one strolled past the glass separating us from it. The enclosure itself was smaller then I had imagined but the animals seemed happy enough, there was a viewing platform allowing you to view the entire enclosure from a height and also a covered area where you could see the animals as the walked from one section of their enclosure to the next, this was wonderful for the kids as they stood mere inches away from this incredible big cat. Having spent a fair while admiring the Cheetah we moved on, back up the hill and past the Wallaby encounter zone, a talk was just starting and we could have fed the animals if we'd wanted to but with Elsa still being so small we thought best of it and moved on again narrowly avoiding being spat at by some Alpaca in a neighbouring enclosure.
One of the things I take into consideration when I choose a zoo to visit with the children is the range of animals, after all there seems little point in travelling for 2 hours if we're only going to see the same creatures we could see at our local zoo, which only takes 20 minutes to get to and cost's us nothing to enter as we're annual members. We were certainly not let down by Exmoor zoo and while the old favourites were present, like the previously mentioned meerkats and wonderfully cute otters, there were some truly incredible animals making their homes in Exmoor. Alongside the Cheetahs which really held our interest were maned wolves, bat eared foxes and the stunning black leopard which is naturally billed as the "Exmoor beast" after the legendary big cat that is said to roam the surrounding area, while this creature in particular was quite difficult to spot having taken shelter from the heat in some bushes, it was still a wonderful sight to behold and we were lucky enough to be at the enclosure at the same time as a guide who was able to point out where the animal was hiding. Of all the animals we saw though my real favourite were the sleepy and curious looking tree porcupines, an animal I'd never seen before but truly fell in love with, I have a bit of an odd taste in animals really considering my complete adoration of the naked mole rat, but I digress, draped snoozing over their climbing frame style enclosure the porcupines had the sweetest little faces and I'd have happily smuggled one home with me, oh and of course I can't talk about the animals without mentioning our real family favourite the ring tailed lemurs, which put on a fabulous display for us, chasing around and playing together, even the young baby joined in, it was wonderful and the kids loved them.
No family day out would be complete though without the following things- regular bathroom breaks, lunch and a drop by the gift shop. The toilets within the park were pretty small, the ladies only had 2 cubicles which were quite compact but at least they were clean and well kept, there were another set just outside the main entrance which were a little larger but only by one cubicle, there are disabled toilets and baby change facilities provided but with Elsa now potty trained and baby3 still on the inside we had no need to use these, it always seemed like quite a trek to get to them though and you wouldn't want to be confronted by a desperate child if you're at the opposite end of the zoo to where the toilets are.
The café too was pretty small and although there was seating outside as well as indoors I'd hate to see what it would be like during busy peak periods when everyone is fighting for spaces, at least there were a lot of baby chairs available. They had quite a reasonable menu with everything from sandwiches to larger meals, hot and cold drinks and puddings. With prices starting from £1.00 it's the most reasonable I've seen in regards to prices and pretty family friendly too offering some very simple options including jam sandwiches, which I've never seen listed on a menu before, still if you've got a fussy eater in your group then the options are perfect, you're bound to find something. As it was we settled for some generous and delicious pieces of warm chocolate cake and clotted cream, the kids had cookies and we got drinks to go round, a yummy and generously portioned round of snacks for under £10, bargain! Now do you remember that friendly member of staff I mentioned earlier, well here's where we bumped into her again, for the main desk is also connected to the café and the gift shop and the poor love seemed to be manning it all on her own! Still she served us with the same level of friendliness as we'd received on the desk and I couldn't help but wonder how she managed to stay quite so happy and helpful considering the amount of jobs she had to do. The gift shop was really very cramped, 2 small aisles of animal related toys, gifts and branded goods, the prices were ok but strangely higher then we'd found at Longleat safari Park, with less options available, still we chose a fridge magnet to remember the day and went to the desk to pay for our item, which turned out to be the opposite side of the entry desk and of course there was no staff available as she was off in the café so we had to pay for the magnet there instead, she probably got tired of seeing our faces!
Overall we did have a lovely day, we spent just over 2 hours in the zoo and while I would have liked to stay longer Dave wanted to head off to a local beach so the kids could make sandcastles. I was very impressed with the range of animals on display and the kids were truly amazed by some of the different species we saw, there were lots of different talks and encounters available which added to the overall experience. The pricing was very reasonable from the food to the entry fee and I was more then happy with what we paid in comparison to the lovely day we had. I would say that a little gardening or maintenance might not go amiss, they could certainly do with improving the front desk/gift shop/café area and naturally the toilet facilities could do with expanding a little, but somehow these things don't spoil the day, having said that though it was quiet while we were there and I'm pretty sure I'd be saying something very different had it been busy and we'd been unable to get about properly.
The Technical Bits-
The zoo is open daily throughout the year, only closing on December 24th, 25th and 26th and opens from 10 in the morning, depending on the season the closing time changes with times being-
March 31st to May 4th 10am - 5pm
May 5th to September 15th 10am - 6pm
September 16th to November 2nd 10am - 5pm
November 3rd to March 30th 10am - 4pm
Last entry is 1 hour before closing time although I highly recommend you leave a minimum of 2 hours for a trip just so you don't miss something out.
Pricing reflects the seasons to a degree with winter tickets being slightly cheaper, it's worth spending the little extra though and making the most of the lovely grounds, picnic spots and beautiful surrounding areas, of course many of the animals are likely to hide themselves away in the cold weather too.
Summer Prices are as follows-
Children (3-15)- £6.00
Under 3- Free
Winter Prices are-
Under 3- Free
For our party of 4 we paid £22.50 which I feel is more then reasonable for all that is offered at the zoo, there's a lot to see and do and it is a very enjoyable family attraction, with animals, encounters, a play area.............it really does have a family friendly feel, uneven terrain aside of course, similar parks we've visited have charged for both Christopher and Elsa despite them being so young, with one park we'd considered visiting wanting to charge Christopher a full adult price because he is more then 92 cm tall, Exmoor Zoo is a fun affordable day out and was well worth the journey for all the fun we had there. I can highly recommend it.
Visit WWW.Exmoorzoo.co.uk for more on the park, its events, animals, directions and even a 5 day weather forecast-great for planning your own day out.
---Also on Ciao (Piggypine)
Summary: A lovely family day out, well worth the journey, just needs a little freshening up.
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