“ Address: Hampstead Norreys / Berkshire / RG18 0TN / England „
When I think of rainforests, I think of jungles with ridiculously dense foliage where your only route through is provided by the manic wielding of machetes, I think of stifling, humid conditions with thousands of insects buzzing round you or nipping at your ankles and I especially think of gigantic snakes or toxic frogs hiding above you in every tree waiting to devour or kill you. Not to mention jaguars, piranhas, black caiman and many other species just waiting to take you down....
So when I heard that there was The Living Rainforest in the very county I live in I thought to myself "I'm so there".
How to Get There
The Living Rainforest / Trust for Sustainable Living
Open at 10am and close at 5pm. Last admissions are at 4:30pm. Open every day barring Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
The Living Rainforest is easily accessible by the M4 it is about a 10 minute drive when leaving the motorway at Junction 13 and can be done by following some cunningly placed brown signs that will lead you all the way. I managed to get there without any mistakes and I live by the navigator philosophy of "if I can go wrong I will go wrong, especially if steep drops are involved".
Coaches are advised not to follow their SatNavs which suggest J12 as the preferred exit from the motorway as there are some unusable roads along the way. Good old SatNav.
For me the car park looked a little small, so to be assured of a space best to get there fairly early.
By Public Transport
The nearest train station is Newbury, and from there you can make use of a bus service that runs 6 days a week and will take you near to the centre - there will be a 10 minute walk from there and with some added danger of uphill paths and even areas without pavements . There is also a bus service that operated from Pangbourne 5 days a week.
As an added incentive for not using planet destroying cars, the Living Rainforest will offer a £1 discount for anyone that travelled in by train, bus or bicycle.
Adult ----- £8.75
OAP/Student -------- £7.75
Children (5 - 14) -------- £6.75
Children (3 - 4) -------- £5.75
Under 3s -------- Free
Family (2A + 2C) -------- £27.50
Family extra child (3-4) -------- £4.75
Family extra child (5-14) -------- £5.75
Carers -------- Free
About The Living Rainforest
The Living Rainforest is run by the Trust for Sustainable Living charity. The mission of the Trust is "to further the understanding of sustainable living in the UK and abroad through high-quality education".
The Living Rainforest has many tours and events to fulfil this mission statement particularly aimed at children and School visits including `Amazing Adaptations', `Edible Forest', `A Sustainable Future' and `Rainforest Medicines' tours all with downloadable notes and information as well as scheduled events such talks, workshops and even seasonal activities such as Easter Egg hunts.
Naturally as a charity they need all the help they get, so they subtly ask for donations and volunteers, and you also have the option to adopt an animal.
Now with all the boring admin stuff out of the way we can get to the nitty gritty part of this review - the actual rainforest itself. Now obviously my rather grandiose view of the rainforest was never going to be a reality - having a real-life Anaconda slithering about a hot house in Berkshire was always going to raise serious Health & Safety issues.
The actual "rainforest" itself had a very structured feel to it, being divided into two houses: the Lowland House and the larger Amazonica House. It was always going to be impossible to replicate a real-life rainforest, but attempts were made to make it as authentic as possible with all the walkways being overgrown with dense foliage, ponds full of giant water-lilies and the sounds of birds echoing about.
There is no one way to go around the rainforest in my opinion, but I would recommend doing the Lowland House first as all the cool animals are in the Amazonica House. You are issued a map upon purchasing your ticket which highlights the locations of the animals on display. One thing that was a bit disappointing was on the map they had such animals as Bird Eating Spider and Imperial Scorpion - proper scary animals and they were nowhere to be seen! The Bird Eating Spider didn't even have a home so maybe had been eaten by a bird - poetic justice - and the Imperial Scorpion was off in quarantine - so I suspect the map was a bit out of date.
Ah well, plenty of other interesting things to see, so if you don't rely too much on the map you will be intrigued by the wealth of different animal and plant species this tiny rainforest hosts. In fact, there are over 700 species to discover - I think I noticed about 100 at the most so there are a lot hidden away. There are plenty of signs with information and fun little stories on to help you identify these species.
For the botanists out there you've got an array of medicinal plants and food plants such as bananas, coffee, ginger, avocados and some stunning examples of the weird and wonderful with giant lilies (which were unfortunately not open when I visitied), stunning orchids, insect-eating pitcher plants and amazing jade vines with their metre long turquoise flowers which sweep down from the heavens above during late Spring and early Summer (which I missed again).
For the zoologists out there you've got deadly snakes, a dwarf crocodile named Courtney (no relation to Courtney Love) who somehow manages to look quite sweet despite her undoubtedly blood-thirsty nature, the beautiful Goeldi's Monkeys - small and furry and everything you could want from a primate, terrapins and tortoises, giant fish, pygmy marmosets and many more.
What I particularly like, which also adds to the authenticity of the rainforest is that there are free ranging birds, lizards and butterflies which are great fun to spot. Alas though, an unfortunate incident was to ensue. I attended the rainforest with my sister and upon espying one of these colourful and yet still unidentified free ranging birds perched directly above my sister's head I cried out excitedly "Ooh look up!". Just as said sister looked up, said bird decided then was the best time to go about its bathroom business. After a quick trip to the toilet facilities (which were quite small with only two stalls but were very clean) to err...freshen up.... we were back in the rainforest hunting out exotic species.
After you have finished in the rainforest there is a cafe, a gift shop, a children's play area and the "Human Impact exploration site" which mainly consists of computer screens. I didn't actually use the cafe so I can't really comment on the range of food, but the small gift shop and exploration site were very much geared towards kids. The gift shop did have a nice range of fun little items which I'm sure kids would love, from books, to animal purses, stuffed animals and odd musical instruments. For the adults there are some DVDs - that's about it.
The Living Rainforest is a gem of a place. Very easy to get to, it is a place that both adults and kids can thoroughly enjoy, with a great range of animals and plants to look at and plenty of information available to hand from the signs dotted about or downloaded information you'll soon find yourself immersed in this new world. You even get to be up close and personal with some of the free ranging animals and if you're lucky enough to spot a basilisk lizard running about you're in for a treat - though best not to stay directly under the free ranging birds for too long.
The only downside is that it all gets a bit cramped when there are too many people around, especially during a school visit so if you can avoid going at peak times I would advise it. It may also seem that £8.75 is perhaps a little expensive for what you actually get especially since there are so many seasonal species, but this ticket will actually allow you free entry for a whole year so the value for money is incredible!
I would recommend this place to everyone interested in the natural world - adults and kids will love it alike.
Theres £25 and 10 minutes of our lives we'll never see again. Have all these people really been to the same place we did!? It was awful! Tiny, smelly,(my 4 year old smelt like somebody had died) boring and hugely expensive. It took us less than 15 minutes to walk round the greenhouse, (thats nearly £2 a minute) and hated every second. Don't waste your time or money.
One wet Sunday my Husband decided that we should go and do something as a family as by this time it was already 10am it needed to be somewhere fairly close and also indoors following extensive trawling through the internet discounting the inevitable indoor ball bit play parks (fantastic for dispatching Daddy to alone with children!) I came across the living rainforest.
I have seen the sign s for the living rainforest before and too be honest it really isn't my cup of tea however after looking at their website www.livingrainforest.org and seeing monkeys I decided that there was nothing better and so we set of.
The living Rainforest is located at Hampstead Norreys which is about 8 miles from Newbury or Pangbourne I could give you full directions however as these are on there website and are very comprehensive and as the website is excellant it is worth a look not just for directions but also for detials on the animals and plants great for getting a fact and impressing hubbie or child!
I have to say I was still not particularly impressed and my first impression was not that good however upon noticing the play park which I thought looked very good although due to severe weather we were not able to test it things began to look up. I was defiantly impressed when having paid our entrance fee of £17.50. (Our children were free but all admission prices are listed on the website) The lady then advised that this entitles you to a year's admission as many times as you want in a year defiantly a bargain in my eyes!
There are activity sheets for the children to complete as they go around these are tailored for each age group starting at 4 my daughter enjoyed looking for different animal and filling in her work!
What can you see?
Well we saw Dragon Birds, Turtles, piranha fish, snakes, spiders, Butterflies, ants Toucans, frogs, crocodiles and monkeys plus many more and lots and lots of plants. I was unsure if my daughters would be that interested in the plants but the eldest told everyone for the next week about the green banana and the chocolate tree which is silly as chocolate comes from the shop!
Would I recommend a Visit?
Yes it was brilliant and much to my surprise we all enjoyed it my three year old loved the monkeys and turtles my 15 month old loved the toucan and the fish I loved the Dragon birds and the spider my Husband liked the plants and all the technical information.
I have been back again with friends and have enjoyed as much and will be going again hopefully in the better weather
I recommend it to anyone I feel that young and old will enjoy this place so a good choice if you have young children and older ones.
The living rainforest is fully wheelchair accessible and therefore you can use a pushchair they also have baby change facilities and bottle warming available.
There is a small café selling the usual snacks with homemade cakes. We only had a drink and shared some yummy cake and I am hhappy to report that it was not over-priced!
There is also a small shop which stocks a variety of animal related products. Fair-trade products are also available.
By the shop is also a activities areas with arts and crafts and education information about the rainforest again a hit with my daughters and also activities to look at.
I thoroughly recommend this place and hope that after looking at the website and reading my review that you are inspired to go and visit yourself as I believe it will become your favourite place to go.
A tropical paradise with exotic plants, animals and free flying birds.