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The Big Sheep (Abbotsham, Bideford)
Member Name: yabbadabbadoo
The Big Sheep (Abbotsham, Bideford)
Date: 07/12/09, updated on 18/02/11 (238 review reads)
Advantages: Shear good value, indoor and outdoor attractions aplenty
Disadvantages: Precautions needed around animal farms
If, like me, you really enjoy a good old fashioned British day out, particularly those of you who have kids, I'm sure you'll be familiar with the constant struggle to find new places that are just that little bit different, entertaining and even very possibly educational for both young and old alike.....
Step forward, Britain's only (to my knowledge) dedicated Sheep based Theme Park, Ladies and Gentlemen I give you - The Big Sheep!
In total I've now been here three times with big family groups, during the last three summers. In each case, we have thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
The added bonus is that there's a good mixture of indoor and outdoor activities available so you can always enjoy a full day here whatever the weather.
~~~~Getting there and admission costs~~~~
The Big Sheep is near Bideford in North Devon, just off the main A39 trunk road.
Here are the latest available prices from summer 2009 taken directly from the website at http://thebigsheep.co.uk.
Summer Season (opens daily from April to October)
Children = £9.95 Adults = £9.95
Groups of 4 or more = £9.45 each
Children under 3 feet tall are free of charge. (aka make sure you take their shoes off when they stand next to the cardboard cut out and they might just scrape through- just kidding!)
Return admission within one week = £4.00 - handy if you want a second look while on your hols.
Less abled = £9.45 (carer free of charge)
As "Ewe-ltide" is rapidly approaching, the good news is that even through the winter season, they are open at weekends and during school holidays at £5 per person, adults and children.
There are a lot fewer activities available , baa humbug, although apparently there's a farmers market, plus they've just opened up an ice rink - still what a bunch of sheep skates!
Last time we were there, anyone living local to the attraction could purchase a season ticket, although at £32.50 per person or £30 per person for families of four, would need to visit at least 4 times a year to make it worthwhile.
Also worth noting that if you sign up to the email newsletter on the web page, you will get a £5 discount off your next visit.
For those of you who collect Tesco Club Card points, the good news is that The Big Sheep is one of a handful of South West attractions that qualify for and accept Club Card Days out Deal points.
Anyway on to the main attractions....
There are a number of special timetabled shows and talks running for around half an hour usually in both morning and afternoon sessions throughout the day in case you miss one, and they really are well worth a visit.
Now for those of you already starting to wonder about the ethics of using real farm animals for entertainment value, please be assured that from all the evidence I've seen and reports I've read, that all the animals are very well looked after throughout. They are fed during the shows, and what really comes across from the people who do the talks is that they are genuinely knowledgeable and passionate about what they do.
My personal favourite and a good starting point for your visit is the Sheep Show which takes place in the main barn, where we get to meet a unique line up of 10 woolly coated characters that come out one by one to their own personalised theme tunes!
There are 10 rare breeds on show from across the British Isles and all except one are Rams. There's plenty of interaction with the children and adults in the audience to keep them interested and involved. Look out for the Victor Meldrew look-a-like, Scooby Doo, a Shaun the Sheep, plus the lone female the Devon Longwool (aka Bob Marley - you'll see why) who currently has little Ziggy appearing with her. The show's surprise climax is worth the entry money alone I reckon!
(Small word of advice, if you do have really little ones or toddlers they may just get a little bored at some point, but its easy enough to get in and out if you sit near the end of the rows)
Another very entertaining show is the Duck Trials - basically it's a kind of sheep dog entry level training. There are 3 resident non-flying duck characters who have their own enclosure to waddle around in, with 5 separate gates or pens scattered around the place. The host invites the kids and accompanying adults to go and stand by the gates, and the trainee pup follows the commands and guides the ducks through the gates one by one.
Depending on the season, you and your little ones can also try your hand at lamb feeding, where you sit along the front row, playing pass the parcel with the milk bottles to a very appreciative set of fluffy funsters.
Other shows include sheep shearing and the proper One Man and His Dog style sheep trials, a brewery show (yes they have their very own ale production line) and even a horse whispering demonstration.
Also running throughout the day, for bigger groups there's a wooden train ride departing from Ewe-ston station, or even an ever so slightly bumpy tractor farm safari for the more adventurous. Leading up to the area where you can queue up for the rides there is a petting / baby animals enclosure, though obviously with the current e-coli and other health concerns, make sure you wash hands thoroughly before and after making contact with them.
There are also a couple of mini-tractors the kids can power drive around a circuit for a pound a time, further up on the hill there's a fairground favourite with the spinning chairoplanes and some pedal powered go karts. There's also the live battlefield combat zone spread over 7 acres, which I believe offers some kind of laser based (i.e. pain free) alternative to paintballing for anyone of 8 years and older.
If that's all a bit too fast paced for you small ones, for a small extra charge there are pony rides available, and close to them there are a couple of netting enclosed trampolines.
~~~~The Indoor Play area~~~~
Now I don't know about you, but I've always been just that bit jealous of kids nowadays, because when I was growing up I never got near anything remotely resembling these ball pool play areas. But since having a toddler of my own to look after, on the fairly flimsy pretence of making sure the little one doesn't get too overwhelmed, or stuck, I now get to jump in after him and barring the odd occasion where I smack my head on a bar or get compromised squeezing into little spaces
The good news here is that the soft play area at Big Sheep , aptly titled "Ewe-topia" gives you the perfect excuse to not only shadow the little ones, but have some fun of your own. The first thing you notice as you go in is the enormous blue multi-laned slide. Just like those classic old seaside versions, you pick up a mini sledge made of rope and twine, with foot space for you and any mini passengers, head up to the top and away you go!
A quick word of warning about the slides here. The last time we visited was on a Monday, and my brother-in-law spotted a chap treating the main slide with Silicon. When he enquired, the chap explained that it was done once a week, just as a regular maintenance thing.
Being an adventurous soul, he decided to take this as an opportunity and stuff his 6 foot 6 frame into the sack and just went for it. Needless to say, the freshly zip speeded track and his sheer mass, sent him slamming into the end wall, flying back a few feet and landing with fortunately nothing more than a few bruises and a bit of wounded pride! So take my top tip, wait till late on Monday afternoon before you venture onto the slide otherwise you may get a bit of a shock!
The main restaurant , situated near to the entrance offers a decent enough selection of reasonably priced hot foods like jacket potatoes, pasties etc. We weren't all that struck with the relatively pricey pre-packaged sandwich boxes for kids though, finding the bread a little on the stale side and not a great range of fillings available. There's quite a big sit down area both indoors and out, and there are fairly good baby changing facilities on hand.
There's also a café area in Ewetopia, including with seating up on the second floor. Plenty of hot, cold, slushy and fizzy drinks available here, as if the kids needed any more excitement with all the ball pool and slide action available.
~~~~The Sheep Race~~~~
The grand finale of the day is the Sheep race, run at 3.50pm in the afternoon.
Basically so the story goes, that when it came to feeding time, they used to release the sheep from up in the field, and they'd scamper down the track to the main enclosure.
Never one's to miss an opportunity, they decided to produce a set of 6 colour coated mini jockeys, attach one to each of 6 sheep, mark out the course and bingo, the sheep race was born.
Throw in some suitable names like "Wooly jumper", "Alderknitty", "Sheargar" and "Red Ram", get a man in a colourful suit with a chalk board and betting odds, (all bets must be in Ewe-ros). Seeing my tip Alderknitty leading all the way, only to be edged out at the photo finish by Wooly Jumper was hard enough, but knowing that my sister picked the winner and won a winner's mug to boot, still sticks in the throat
Apparently they have special festival days for Grand National and Royal Ascot , and it's certainly a fun way to round off an eventful experience.
~~~~Ewe know it makes sense~~~~
I promise I'm not trying to pull the wool over your eyes, no one is trying to fleece you.
You "herd" it here first, this place is a genuine baa-gain!
Summary: Don't be sheepish, give it a whirl