“ Address: New Road, Mistley, Manningtree, Essex CO11 1ER. „
We're always looking for different places to visit, especially relatively cheap ones so when a friend of mine questioned if I had ever visited Mistley Place Park I was intrigued to learn a little more about it. I was quite surprised that I was unaware of it's existence, being just down the road from us but was able to find out the necessary information and we decided that we would pay it a little visit.
LOCATION AND ADMISSION
The park is located in Mistley, which is just outside Colchester in Essex. It is easy to find using a sat nav but is not incredibly well signposted and the entrance features a rather abrupt turn after the sign post, so be cautious!
The park is open every day (except Monday) from 10am until 5pm. It is open on Bank Holiday Mondays from 10am until 5.30pm. These times change during the winter months due to the change in daylight hours so it is worth checking before visiting. Children under 3 can enter the park for free, children up to 16 are £3, adults £4 and senior citizens £3.50. Entry fee is either taken at the kiosk at the entrance to the park or in the adjacent coffee shop.
The park is essentially an animal rescue centre - providing a sanctuary for abandoned animals whilst also looking to re-home them where possible. The park is set in 25 acres of natural parkland. The park is made up of mainly fields but there is also a woodland and lake area. At the front of the park there are various hutches and cages
There is a small car park which can fit a fair number of cars in (I should imagine there is always ample parking) and here there is also a tearoom. The tearoom can be visited without entrance to the park and any money made here also contributes to the running of the park. The park itself receives no funding from outside organisations and is totally reliant on the income from the tearoom, park and donations.
The animals homed in the park are subject to change at any time, depending on what has been taken in. There can be up to 2000 animal homed at any one time but when I visited, I would estimate that figure to be much less - around 500-600 - but still a lot to see.
Animals that were there when we visited included pigs, goats, dogs, ponies, peacocks, chickens, guinea pigs, ducks and rabbits. Some of these are kept in cages and some are allowed to roam free.
When we first arrived at the park, we did not really know what we needed to do to gain entry. There was no signpost nor admission schedule and nobody was manning the kiosk. I should not think that this would be an issue if you visited in the peak summer season, but it was a little unwelcoming and off-putting on first arrival. After asking and paying at the tea room we were given an orange sticker with the date written on to wear to show that we had paid, but nobody really seemed to check this.
There were a good variety of animals to see and all seemed very happy. A lot were able to roam freely and often followed at your feet. I should imagine that this is an experience that many young children would love as they are able to get up close to so many animals. However, this was not so ideal for us with a pushchair and relatively young child. The park in general is not particularly pushchair friendly and we would definitely only visit again once we have fully walking children!
The dogs were also let out and about to exercise which meant that the main field was shut off to visitors for 40-50 minutes. You could stand and watch the dogs or visit other areas of the park in the mean time but, as the main field leads to a lot of the other animals, this meant we were walking around the parts that we had already seen.
The cages where the birds were kept looked pretty old and past their best but, that said, the birds that were in them seemed happy and were lovely to see. The whole area in general was pretty run down and in obvious need of further funding to get the place into a better condition - there were several broken fences around the park.
One area we did really enjoy was the walk around the lake. Yes it was muddy but more than easy to negotiate the path with a pushchair. There were lots of ducks on the lake that we enjoyed feeding with some bread that we had bought. Our visit lasted about 90 minutes, and this included an ice lolly from the tea rooms. I would struggle to spend any longer looking around as there is only so much to see - it is definitely a morning or afternoon trip rather than a full day.
The park is very obviously a working animal sanctuary first and foremost and, as such, things that you generally associate with visitor attractions are not apparent. For example, there are no obvious toilets (presumably these are located in the tea rooms - we did not visit them) and the park is absolutely littered with feathers and animal faeces. This is fine as it is, after all, an animal sanctuary but worth noting if you intend to visit with young (and curious!) children. We felt a little like we were in the way at times and that, if the sanctuary could afford to run without the funds bought in by visitors, there would be no hesitation in shutting the doors for good. I fully appreciate the job this does as an animal sanctuary but also believe that if you are going to open to the public as an attraction and charge an entrance fee, a certain amount of thought should be given to visitor-friendliness. For example, it would not cost much to put a few activities in for the children like simple signposts with information or a 'can you spot the....' activity.
That said, the experience of getting so close to animals is not something that you can get just anywhere and we saw a lot of happy young children during our visit. The good work done at the sanctuary is there for all to see when you realise just how many animals it looks after and how happy they are (particularly the dogs). With that in mind, I do not mind paying the entrance fee of £4 per adult. Had this not been going towards such a good cause, however, I would question whether I really got value for money as I do not believe there to be enough to see and do to warrant this price.
In summary, the work that this sanctuary does is amazing. As a visitor attraction it is not. I would look to support the sanctuary by visiting the tea room (the prices are very reasonable) or looking into making a donation rather than visit here again. It does really depend on what you look for in a trip out and personal taste and expectation. If I didn't have children, I probably wouldn't have been so worried by the uneven ground/litter/faeces, so I can appreciate that other people may enjoy it here more than we did.
Mistley Place Park is an animal sanctuary situated on New Road, Mistley (just opposite St. Mary's Church and two minutes walk from the estuary). Living in the area it is one of a number of places that we visit on a semi-regular basis with year old Freddy and as we've just returned from a trip, now would be as good a time as any to write a review. Mistley Place Park is fairly easy to get to, either by public transport or car. Mistley train station is less than ten minutes walk away and the buses from Colchester, Clacton and Harwich all stop five minutes walk away. To get to Mistley Place Park by car, you need to follow the signs for Manningtree and then turn into New Road, where the sanctuary is fully signposted. There is a gravel car park with free parking and plenty of space for fifty or more cars, but be warned care must be taken within the car park as there are free-roaming chickens, ducks and geese.
Housing over 2000 rescued animals, Mistley Place Park receives no outside funding and so depends on the revenue from visitors and the tearoom along with donations from the public. For this reason an entrance fee is charged, but I must say that this fee is very small, with us being charged a paltry £3.50 for each adult today. This entrance fee does allow you to enter and leave the park as many times as you like during the day, meaning that if you leave to get lunch you can still return later in the day. You can also purchase food to feed the animals at 50p a bag.
Although the sanctuary covers 25 acres, not all of it is accessible to the public, but there is still a fair amount of walking and in the main there are no footpaths and the ground is uneven. This makes pushing a buggy or wheelchair quite difficult so this is something to think about before visiting. There are a few benches for resting, but these are mainly positioned quite close to the entrance. Toilet facilities are available, but there is only one cubicle available for each sex plus a disabled/baby changing room. The toilets are very small (there's not really even enough room for one person to be washing their hands while another tries to get past), but they are spotlessly clean with plenty of toilet roll and hot water for washing the hands.
As this is an animal sanctuary and re-homing centre the animals on display will change regularly, so although I'm now going to be describing what we saw today, that's no guarantee that you will see the same animals. Not having a car we always walk down here so as to take in the view over the Stour Estuary and see the swans that congregate along the wall over the road from sanctuary. Mistley Place park really is set within one of the most picturesque areas of Essex and is surrounded by rolling fields on one side and the estuary on the other. On entering the car park the first thing that draws the eye is a large but very tired looking decorative swan, which really sets the scene for the whole visit. I'm not saying that the conditions that the animals are kept in are inhumane or dirty, but everything does look a little tired and in need of refurbishment.
Before getting anywhere near the rather small kiosk to pay for entry we were immediately surrounded by a mob of chickens and cockerels. These birds are used to be fed, and will try to find any food that you may be carrying. We stopped to give Freddy a sandwich before we went in to see the animals and it took two of us to do this, one to give him the sandwich and the other to stand on guard. As entertaining as it was to watch the chickens try and sneak past, I would definitely recommend that you if you have brought a picnic and have a car, eat in there.
The entrance to the main part of the sanctuary is not always manned and if it is not then you will need to make your way to the tea room to pay, but when it is manned the staff are always friendly. Credit/debit cards are not accepted so you will make sure that you have cash on you and when you pay you are given a little sticker, (that is identical to how supermarkets used to price their goods) with the date written on it, which you then need to display to allow entry. Now, if I'm perfectly honest, I really don't like the idea of walking round with a fluorescent orange price tag attached to my coat and wish they'd find some other method of indicating that I'd paid. But there again it is nice to know that such superfluous costs are reduced to a minimum and as much is spent on the animal's care as possible. There is often a small stall beside the kiosk selling a number of second hand goods with the proceeds going to the animal care.
Although there are over 2000 animals housed within the sanctuary, not all of these are on display, but those that are, separated into several sections. The chickens, ducks and geese are all free-roaming and can be seen in every corner of the sanctuary. There are many different breeds of chicken, from what we would consider standard laying breeds to really fancy ones with beautiful plumage. These chickens are very noisy though, our whole visit was accompanied by the sound of cocks crowing, which was particularly loud and entertaining when two cocks started competing. Freddy was absolutely fascinated by all the chickens and found them quite funny, right up to the minute that one tried to take the food out of his hands. I guess the fact that these birds show absolutely no fear is a testament to how well they are cared for, especially as a number of them have been rescued from battery farms.
On first entering the sanctuary we decided to check out the smallish area housing the aviaries. Among the various birds we found here were a number of different owls, which I found quite beautiful. Although not the largest the aviaries were clean, with plenty of space for the birds to stretch their wings and perches for them to rest on along with a nest box for them to hide in. On each aviary there was a small sign giving basic information about the bird or animal that was housed there. While the information was basic, it was certainly enough to give an idea about where the animal/bird came from and what they like to eat. Many of the aviaries also displayed warnings not to stick your fingers through the cage as the inhabitants may bite. While I did like the fact that I could get much closer to the owls than I would have been able to in a zoo, I would worry that a child would put their fingers through, as you are literally only separated from those very sharp beaks by some chicken wire.
Along with the owls there are a number of birds housed in this section, as a lover of the parrot family, I was sad to see just how many different members of this family needed rescuing. There are a large number of budgies in a large aviary all of which were tweeting away. There are also a large number of cockatiels, which is a bird I absolutely adore, along with parakeets. I will say that each of these breeds was housed in a suitably large aviary with lots of space, plenty of perches and toys. I spent quite a time talking to the cockatiels and they all looked extremely well cared for and as they are very sociable birds it was nice to see that they weren't housed separately. One of the other aviaries had been converted into a home for a skunk, which I must admit is an animal that I've never seen in real life before, and I really can't imagine anyone having kept one as a pet. Although he did look very sweet, I really couldn't bring myself to get too close in case he sprayed me. Although all the aviaries were very obviously old, they were all clean, (which can't be a small job considering how much poop twenty birds would create) and in good repair.
The next area of the sanctuary that we visited was the rabbits. Most of the rabbits are housed outside in hutches with attached runs, although some are kept in a shed along with guinea pigs. Although the hutches are not the biggest I've seen, they are perfectly adequate, especially as in the main only one rabbit is kept in each hutch. While some of the rabbits are available for re-homing, many of the ones we saw today are quite elderly and will be spending the rest of their lives here doted on by the staff. I must say that the member of staff we spoke to really does seem to love these floppy eared veterans.
Once we'd finished admiring the bunnies, which again Freddy loved, we moved onto the larger animals which take up most of the sanctuary. Which animals are roaming free depends on which day you visit, but today there was a rather large sheep making it's way from visitor to visitor for a snack or two. I loved Freddy's reaction to the sheep, and must admit that I was a little amazed at how big they are close up. Somehow when I think of sheep, I think of fluffy white clouds, but in reality their fur is quite greasy and not at all fluffy. The sheep was very friendly and posed for pictures without being at all pushy. On previous visit's the goats have been out and these couldn't be more different. Although they don't mind being stroked, a goat's main preoccupation does seem to be food and it can be quite intimidating to be mobbed by three or four of them. But that's what I do like about visiting here, to Freddy a goat isn't just something he'll see in a book, but an animal that he has fed and stroked.
There are many other animals that are housed in fields and from which you are only separated by a fence or gate. Today we stroked some lovely ponies, who were really friendly and allowed us to rub behind their ears. There are also some very large pigs and let me tell anyone that wants to tell me what clean animals they are, they may be clean but they don't half stink. We also had quite a long conversation with a very friendly goat who really enjoyed us feeding him, in fact he fed out of our hands. Among the other animals are turkeys and horses. All the animals appeared to be very well cared for and showed no fear of people (most were very friendly) and the enclosures were a good size.
Once we'd finished looking at all the animals, which took about an hour, we decided to make our way to woods and lake path, which is a short route around the infamous ducking pond. As we left the animals we took advantage of the alcohol gel dispenser, to protect ourselves from the risk of salmonella and other nasty bugs. While it's good that this gel was available, I would have preferred that there had been more than just the one dispenser, as I could see queues forming in the summer.
The walk around the pond is very difficult to traverse with a pushchair or buggy and becomes very muddy in wet weather. I wouldn't say it's the most fascinating of walks either especially for young children. It is, however, a lovely haven for wildlife and even when the road next to it is busy it is a wonderfully peaceful place to while away a few minutes. The pond itself is believed to be the very pond where the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins' victims were put to trial by water and the women's ghosts are said to wander the area.
==The Tea Rooms==
To complete our visit we decided that it would be a good idea to have our Sunday dinner in the sanctuary's tea room. We have previously eaten here and found it to be reasonable value and quality, but that was only egg and chips, today we decided to have a full roast dinner. The tea room itself is quite small and the tables are positioned a little too close together in order to cram in as many people as possible. This does make it quite difficult to negotiate a buggy or wheelchair and makes eating quite an intimate affair as you get bumped every couple of minutes. The tables are, however, clean with dirty plates being removed quite quickly. Seating is split into two distinct sections, with one half utilising wooden chairs that are fairly comfortable and the other half wicker chairs that are definitely not. There are also a number of picnic style tables outside, but I really wouldn't recommend eating outside unless you like the idea of sharing your food with chickens.
As I said, today we decided to have a roast dinner and there were a choice of three different meats available, turkey, pork and beef along with a vegetarian option of nut roast. There is no waitress service so to order your food you need to go to a counter, place your order and then take the number you are given to your table. Being firmly of the carnivorous type, both my partner and I went for meat, with me choosing turkey and him beef. Two roast dinners and two cups of tea cost us a shade under £15 so not too expensive, or so we thought. We had to wait rather a long time for our meal, coming up to half an hour, which in my opinion was just too long, especially considering that we had a young toddler with us, who doesn't understand the concept of waiting. I was impressed with their highchairs though, in many restaurants I've visited the highchairs are noticeable by their lack of straps, but these highchairs had safety harnesses attached. It's just a shame that I wasn't happy with how clean the highchair was. While the seat and tray were spotless, the footplate was grubby and the legs sticky, a little more attention to detail was in order.
Once our food arrived there was plenty of it, but that's about the best I can say. Rather than having been carved from a joint, my turkey was very obviously processed and pre-sliced. The slices were just too uniform for them to have been freshly sliced, it was decent processed turkey though and tasted alright. Although my partner would disagree with me, I would say that the beef was seriously over done as there was not a speck of pink in sight. Thinking about it, this probably points to the beef also being pre-sliced especially as again the slices were very uniform. I did taste a small piece of the beef and again it tasted alright, but nothing special.
The beef wasn't the only thing that was over-cooked, the peas were like bullets while the carrots and broccoli, while at least fresh, were soggy and watery. Surely they couldn't go wrong with a ready made Yorkshire pudding, after all it just needed to be heated up. Well mine was still very cold in the middle. But there was still worse to come, before I even cut into the roast potatoes, I knew that they were a disappointment. Yep, they used frozen roast potatoes of the 'Aunt Bessie' style, which were cooked well but tasted, well like frozen potatoes. The gravy, however, did taste homemade, it was rich and meaty if a little salty. All in all I was very disappointed with this roast dinner, I know that this isn't a Michelin starred restaurant, but I didn't expect everything to have come out of a packet. Let's put it this way, while I may buy a cup of tea and cake in here, I will never buy another roast dinner and would dissuade anyone else from doing so. Along with roast dinners, the tea room serves many other different meals, from all day breakfasts, to fish and chips. Just be prepared for the food to be frozen rather than fresh. I will say though, the cup of tea was very nice, the tea bag was of good quality, meaning that the tea was a nice strength.
Within the tea room there is a small gift shop and when I say small I mean tiny. There is actually very little for sale here and the only thing available with the name of the sanctuary on is a 25p postcard. There are a few pieces of the usual over-priced tat along with some jars of locally sourced honey and preserves. There are also a few second hand books for sale along with some videos (does anyone still use videos) and a few children's games.
We really enjoyed our visit to Mistley Place Park today, just as we always do. While I think it's a shame that this sanctuary has to exist at all, I also think it's a wonderful opportunity to introduce Freddy to animals. Although there isn't a huge variety of breeds here, as animals are re-homed and rescued, the animals we can see do change regularly meaning that there's always something new to see. While in a way, we're lucky and get to see plenty of animals in the flesh (so to speak), I think that this would be a great place to visit if you live in a town and don't get to see sheep and horses every day. There are far too many children who have never been close to a farm animal and while they may be nervous to start with, I'm sure most children would love being able to feed and stroke the different animals. Freddy is only a year and we have taken him to Mistley Place Park several times over the last year, so he now has no fear of the animals and is happy to stroke them and even attempt to feed them. Although there is an entrance fee, it's ridiculously low, which means that it's great value for money, even if you do only stay an hour. And you know that you're making a difference in the animals life too.
As for the tea room, well today's dinner was very disappointing and in no way worth the money we spent, especially as there is a garden centre that does a carvery with freshly cooked food up the road. Personally, I'd put the quality of food at just above greasy spoon standard, while the prices are a little higher. I do understand that they need to keep their costs down, so that the maximum profit goes to the animal's upkeep. But I would have preferred to have paid a couple of pound more and had some decent food, especially as there is so much quality food grown locally and I'm sure it would work out cheaper to by fresh ingredients.
So while I'm heartily recommending that you pay Mistley Place Park a visit if you're in the area, I'm afraid I can't recommend that you have anything more than a cup of tea and cake in the tea rooms. And while I would give the animal sanctuary five stars out of five, I can only give the tea rooms three, giving an overall total of four out of five.
Opening Hours :
Tues-Sun : 10am-5.30pm (may vary in winter)
Bank Holiday Monday : 10am-5.30pm
Tue-Sun : 10am-4pm
Bank Holiday Monday : 10am-4pm
Under 3 : Free
3-16 years : £2.50
Adults : £3.50
Senior Citizens : £3.00
(prices correct as of 27/03/2011)
Mistley Place Park Animal Rescue Centre is a brilliant location for a day out with the kids. This kid friendly venue runs solely on donations and cares for aging and unwanted animals from Essex and beyond.
Little ones can while away the hours feeding rabbits, goats, horses, pigs, sheep...in fact, if it moves, you can feed it! The location is easy on the budget too, feed for the animals is just 50p and the entry is neglible. All proceeds go towards the running of the centre and Mike and his team do such a brilliant, and largely unsung job.
The tea rooms, run by Mike's brother and his partner make what is possibly the best cream tea in three counties, the tea is hot and plentiful and there are a variety of snacks, meals and refreshments available.
Warm in winter and refreshingly cool in Summer, the tea room has books, toys and plenty to keep adults and kids happy. The toilets are kept clean and well stocked and the staff are all friendly an knowledgable.
The location is also the site of the infamous Ducking Pond, historic site of Matthew Hopkins (The Witchfinder General) swimming of the witches.
Local Essex company Phantom Encounters Ltd www.phantomencounters.co.uk regularly run ghost hunting events in the woods and pond area, proceeds of which go to the rescue centre. Recently, strange mists and the figure of a woman in a red capelet have been seen on these tours...not for the feint of heart, but worth an evening in the woods.
Phantom Encounters also run a childrens Halloween event at Mistley on the Saturday usually from 11am, where kids get to participate in dress-up competitions, drawing and colouring competitions and go on a mini ghost hunt in the woods.
The saturday night however, is for adults as the ghosts of Mistleyy Place Park are tempted into the woodland to meet you on the tracks and trails with the Phantom Encounters team.
Animal sanctuary and tearooms.