“ Address: Woodsetts Road / North Anston Near Sheffield / S25 4EQ / England „
Well what do you know?
Back again on the kids party discovery trail. My 5 year old little boy's slightly older female cousin being the source of this latest invite, but huge sighs of relief all round that it won't be a girlie girl occasion.
It's all new territory once again, so off we all set on a brand new Saturday morning adventure to the Tropical Butterfly House and Falconry Centre.
All that's missing is parking......
With the aid of sat nav, its a relative doddle to get there. Nestled away down a quiet country lane in North Anston on the outskirts of Sheffield, according to the website its only 5 minutes away from M1 J31. We came up via the A1 and A57 past Worksop, and it was a nice easy journey.
That is until we needed to get parked.
Clearly with more than a couple of children's parties on the go they are struggling for parking capacity. All of the 30 or so parking spaces near the front were occupied, so we ended up parking on a grass verge aligning the way in. Maybe there's an overflow on the grass in the summertime, otherwise I can't imagine how they cope!
Moving swiftly onwards, we headed through the courtyard to reception. Seemed reasonable pricing to me, at £7.50 an adult and £6.50 a child with family tickets, other concessions and the under 3's going free. As party guests, we got one adult and child in free, so just deja vu muggins paying up again. To be fair, with so many other guests arriving at the time, the lady was honest enough to say that she loses track, and thanked us for asking to pay. The reception also doubles as the shop, seemed quite a decent selection of cuddly toys and games in there. No time for browsing for us though, as our party was ushered into the adjacent building.
Fun and sunshine, there's enough for everyone
Our destination - the Fun room. Now I'm always a bit sceptical of such leading titles, but in this case, it pretty much fitted the bill. Sort of a combo between a junior youth club and a nursery class, there was something here to keep a variety of age-groups occupied. The sportier kids (and the competitive 40 something Dads -i.e basically me) were naturally drawn to the paddle ball, the table football and the pool table. Bonus ball that neither the table football or even the pool table required any cash to play - what a rare result! Naturally my little fella was most keen on the paddle ball, but at 50p a throw it wasn't going to break the bank.
In the middle was a set of four steering wheels and coloured lights constituting the rainbow race. Each player spins their wheel as fast as they can, hoping against hope that their colour will make it to the end first - high octane action! A face painting lady was on hand, so we swiftly side-stepped that, there were a couple of tables full of drawing materials and brass rubbings so we ducked out of those, and before you knew it the lunch time line up was finally upon us
Back downstairs in a mini-cafe area, being the ever diligent parent, I made sure it was me that took our little one to his seat. Whilst there he just happen to hand me the unwanted spares from his platter, a pizza slice, a ham sandwich and a sausage roll - how could any Father refuse to help out! For the remaining slower to react grown up helpers, there were hot and cold drinks available plus a selection of snacks. The main cafe is elsewhere in the complex (near the main butterfly enclosure) but we didn't get to sample it on this trip.
Once the birthday girl had blown out those candles, we assembled outside, and had a quick toilet stop. Bit confusing with Girls and Boys pointing to one area, but as its all cubicles, my inner genius eventually cottoned on to the fact that they were unisex facilities. Whilst we were waiting for the last few, we discovered some great little air blowing machines. There's just something undisputedly magical about getting a large inflatable ball and watching and some tiny little ball pool ones and watching them float effortlessly in the air or be launched into the stratosphere. Or maybe that's just me! Also spied a signpost advertising tractor and trailor rides - probably another seasonal attraction.
Let's take a Walk on the wild side!
Now I can sense the question forming out there. Hang on a minute Paul, when are you going to get to the furry funsters? Fear not, for at this very point, a taller and thinner but just as softly spoken Sarah Mulligan a like lined all the kids up ready for their special guided tour round the centre.
As they were all full of e numbers and mid sugar rush, it was never going to be plain sailing, but she went about her business with professional aplomb. First stop a little wooden shelter, and she brought out a brown owl to show the kids. Apart from the minor bird in the cage wolf whistling the adults as we looked on, it was all going swimmingly until she asked a question about where the birds ears are located. When they got it wrong initially, she made the fatal mistake of asking them to try something different. Moments later a chorus of river dance erupted , courtesy of 20 pairs of wellies smacking against the wooden boards and the poor birdie tried to make a dash for it! Luckily it all calmed down, and some of the group were moved on to take a look at the guinea pigs and gerbils in the next room.
Onwards and upwards our next stop was the farmyard animals enclosure. We followed a trail round past the parrots (where a talk was in progress , repeated 10 minutes later by the pretty pollies no doubt), and unwittingly marched into the path of the skunk surprise. An intermittent jet of water caused no end of panic and consternation amongst the little ones which was reasonably out of proportion given the fact it was already bucketing it down with rain, but nonetheless a source of adult amusement.
There was a chance to feed the goats, which my son took one look at and oh so predictably handed over to me to dish out, plus a few other mini beasties to say hello to.
Definitely time to get in the warm...
No high-5s please Denzil!
In case anyone needs an explanation of the section title, I'd highly recommend watching the Fools and Horses classic where they try and capture a rare butterfly - never fails to make me smile.
In the tropical butterfly enclosure, and certainly no shortage of the winged wonders , ranging from tiny little transluscent ones through to big blue flappers (not sure if that's the correct latin name). Plenty of information and signage to help educate along the way. Our little troupers were then gathered up just outside the nocturnal room.
To our left, a tank containing a mini Crocodile. Overhead we spotted that lizard of the Bud-weis-er adverts from a couple of years back. Was this about to go into full on I'm a celebrity mode?! Fear was rising , especially as soon as the idea of holding a snake was suggested. A tiny little python - called Monty - go figure? was the brave volunteer and was passed around the circle of wonder. Little man volunteered his mummy to assist, and they both agreed he wasn't a bit slimy. The parents started to wonder if the next creature in line was a spider - one or two were checking for the exit signs. But no, second time around it was a mighty - Hedgehog - cute!!
All done in terms of the tour, a quick look through the bats and the other residents in the black out room, and a few pennies spent on feeding the coy carp and other tropical fish and our tour was done.
Have a break, have a Meerkat!
The good thing is that party guests are free to spend the rest of the day touring around. Further around we could see sign posts to the falconry area, but unfortunately we only had another half hour or so before we needed to head home. Naturally, top of the list, due to that never getting out of your head style advertising campaign was a visit to the Meerkat enclosure. Now, I have to say that I didn't expect to see a smoking jacket, or here a Russian accent in the process, but I do admit to being a little disappointed that there was only one little fella braving the elements. What on earth could we compare it to? But round the back , you can watch the rest of the sensible creatures, sleeping through the glass windows. No doubt they were roller skating around the minute we walked away - but such is the Simples life we lead.
All-in-all, had we had better weather and more than the 2 and a half hours we spent here to really explore, I could certainly see the attraction of the place as a family day out. Will definitely make a return trip in the summer months, and in terms of finding something a bit different for a party venue, I can testify that all the kids and most of us grown ups really enjoyed themselves.
The final word must go to the website
"Home to animals from South America, Australia, Africa , the Phillipines...and South Yorkshire!"
The Sheffield tropical butterfly house, wildlife and falconry centre is a quiet little gem located in the North Anston region between Sheffield and Worksop. It is somewhere i only heard about through friends after my children were born, but since then we have visited on numerous occasions, and we always manage to find new bits when we go.
When you arrive, you almost drive past the centre as it is set well back from the road. First impressions are that it is not that big a place so you won't find that much to do, but we always manage to fill a good five or 6 hours.
Entrance is through the visitors centre/shop which is attached to the cafe. Here you pay your entry, and you can also purchase some live mealy worms and vegetable treats to feed the various animals when you go around. These bags are quite small but cost 50p, so are reasonable.
The butterfly house is attached to the shop. We tend to go and see the rest of the sights first and then go back to that at the end as we find it so warm and humid in there we don't stay that long.
As you go out, there are goats and chickens. We have been in May as the baby goats were being fed milk from bottles, and the keeper was there letting children feed the goats. There are also a couple of little monkeys that you cand feed bits of fruit through the bars of the run. As you wander round, there are lots of different animals that the children can engage with and also information posters and displays that i assume get used more by children older than mine or visiting school trips.
There are the run of the mill animals that you would find at any farm - chickens, turkeys, pigs and goats. You then start to meet the more exotic animals they have in the enclosure. The meercat enclosure is a delight. There were only 2 in there the last time we visited, but they hope that these 2 will breed and fill it in the near future. Both are nosy little things that stand on their hindlegs to try and catch the mealy worms as you throw them down to them.
The bird of prey selection includes owls, falcons and Harris hawks. The birds are on display in an enclosure, but they also do demonstrations of the birds in flight at set times during the day. These are written on a board near the shop so worth watching out for. There is also a parrot enclosure, and again, the parrots perform at set times. Some are better trained than others, but they are a joy to watch.
Since our first visit they have been adding new bits. There is now also a small animal petting zoo bit, where you can see the rabbits and guinea pigs up close and stroke them.
You can buy food in the cafe, but it is also quite comfortable to take a packed lunch. They provide a room where you can eat it in comfort which is good for days where the weather is not good. Right next to this room there is also a teaching room, and a play area where the kids can play with cannons and soft balls, or see how balls float on air. We always seem to spend at least an hour trying to get the kids out of this bit as they love it.
We only noticed on our last visit that they also have an outdoor playground area that merits a visit all on its own. There is a huge sandpit where the kids can dig to their hearts content with the toys provided. There are also a selection of ride on toys and a sectioned off track for kids to play on. I also noticed a slide and a zipwire, but my two were happy to dig in the sand. It was excellent because it was a large area and the kids were safe to play.
Overall, it is not a cheap place to visit. It would cost £27 for 2 adults and 2 children. However, for £49 you can get an annual pass where you then only pay £1 per person per visit. This works out very cheap if you plan to go often. The play park alone is worth a regular visit in my opinion. I would highly recommend this venue, as they are constantly working at adding new things so there is always something a bit different to do.
The Tropical Butterfly House is a little recognised facility on the very outskirts of Sheffield, ideal for visitors of all ages.
As you arrive you down an clear and unassuming lane the landscape changes, from open and flat farmland to a very specific locale, like stepping into another world almost, so separate is the venue.
There are limited parking spaces, for around maybe 30 cars and then the overfill of another 15 or so before people begin parking on the drive. Space is limited, especially during peak times.
Entry is variably priced:
Adult are £6.99, children are £5.99 (Under 3's admitted free), the family ticket: is £25.99 (2 adults and up to 3 children or 1 adult and up to 4 children), students and OAP: £6.25 or Friends of the Butterfly House: £45.00 per year (allows unlimited admission at £1 per person per visit for up to 8 people).
You are immediately thrust into the experience, first seeing a large cage, overhung and grown with ivy and providing a wonderful calm and serene shelter for a pure snowy white owl who gazes back at nosy visitors without a ruffled feather. Then walk past a large cage of marmosets whose adorable faces lure you to feed them from the box of chopped fruit carefully placed for visitors to join in the routine , but then you'll be treated to the sight of a hen or two dashing across your path, squawked at by the parrots and other tropical birds and grumpily honked at by a goose.
Welcome to the tropical butterfly house.
Once inside the main building you pay to enter the full facilities which include the entrance to the butterfly house from the entrance/gift shop and a further door to the outside areas.
Flanking the entrance, there's a large ride, a chicken reminiscent of seaside rides in the 70's and 80's and it's completely free of charge. Throw on the child, push the button and cast your mind back. My daughters are highly amused about riding on such a giant and loony looking chicken so it's a repeated experience every time.
The gift store holds much of the same stuff you'll find in most visitor attractions, pens pencils and other items with the logo printed on, an enormous selection of creatures in rubber, plastic, wood, pewter and so on, some of whom live at the venue and some don't but otherwise ticking all children's potential souvenir requirements. Be prepared to use the chicken ride as bribery if you don't plan to spend a lot, you have no choice but to leave via the gift shop, wise marketing but troublesome with tots.
There's a farm area with friendly sheep, performing goats and an incredibly grumpy alpaca who spits so do treat him with caution. The sheep are prone to eating anything in their reach but give up quite happily for a scratch round the ears. The goats love showing you how nimble they are, leaping on the half barrels provided for their mountaineering delight and scrambling off, sometimes via the shoulders of their pen mates and all for the sheer hell of it. The alpaca does let you know when he's vexed, though many seem to miss the clues. Admire form a distance and you'll be fine. If he does look especially grumpy, be careful where you run, just by their pen is a wall chart depicting a skunk. There's a little puzzle for the kids to try and if they get it right, a jet of water shoots out, soaking passers by. This can be comic timing if the alapaca is getting shirty and some little monkey just found the skunk button.
After this you can loop back to the other side of the marmosets. There's an option to feed them but they are quite picky and will take the fruit you give them (provided in cubed form) and throw it down on the floor until you give them the things they actually fancy. Perhaps not the best example for toddlers! On colder days they are likely to be AWOL as their cage has a high wired tunnel which leads into the heated butterfly house and a nice cosy shelter out of the weather. Don't be disappointed, you'll most likely get a chance to see them indoors later.
There are nature trails to walk, insect information posts and a stationary tractor to scramble over to your hearts content. It's concreted into the ground so there is no danger of your little one creating havoc with it. There's also a digger with a huge caged sandbox for those budding builders of the future.
Next there are a series of low buildings which house birds of prey and small handling animals like rabbits, chicks, ferrets and degus, all caged in low level facilities and allowing easy access and viewing for the smallest visitors.
There's also a picnic room with tables and chairs for those who bring their own supplies, with a cheerfully painted room with block puzzles for the younger visitors who might have finished eating.
Alternately you can go through to an indoor play area and tiny cafe. This is the kind of place to buy a bar of chocolate and a cup of tea or similar small drinks and snacks. There are party areas for those celebrating birthdays so seating at the cafe is almost none existent.
The indoor play is a large room with four large air cannons and a huge supply of soft balls to be launched at your adversaries. It's much safer than it sounds and entirely painless.
Additionally there is an upstairs room which is not clearly marked or advertised. It's free to use though and has drawing and painting facilities, more free rides, a pool table, toys and sometimes face painting (at £2 per child for very mediocre painting), brass rubbing and a variety of other activities.
As you loop back around the route you come back to the gift shop and the entrance to the butterfly house in an ill signposted back door. The butterfly house is really, really hot! I'd strongly advise you wear removable layers in cooler weather. Pretty much what you would expect with the word 'tropical'. In essence it's a giant greenhouse, brimming with greenery and little areas of interest, there are bridges where you can see the pools of many fish, some of them enormous!
Above the door is the caged tunnel which allows the marmosets into the buildings so you can see them directly above your head, watching you and enjoying the tropical heat.
There's a large box of ants with a cunning set up to enable them to roam the greenhouse and you have no idea until you come across the box. You'll see them carrying enormous pieces of leaves into their nest, demonstrating their incredible strength and organised community.
There is a caiman, snakes, turtles, African snails and of course butterflies. There's a new display box of cocoons, failed growth and hatched pods. It shows the variety and sizes and stages which is a great educational tool.
There's even a nocturnal area with bats, scorpions which glow in the dark (and for all accounts look plastic but are in fact real), tarantulas, deaths head beetles, coackcroachs and many more creepy crawlies. It's a narrow covered walk way in partial darkness but you can avoid it if it doesn't appeal.
Through yet another door off the entrance and shop there is a cafe and public toilets. You can get a meal or snack and a drink, with seating here, at a variety of prices, some entirely realistic and some a little overpriced. You can borrow an old penny to use the fortune telling box, a relic of the 1920's and another unique element of the venue.
Overall it's a little tatty, the funding to run the place must be near on impossible to get and may explain the somewhat high admission charge given the small scale of the place. But tatty somehow lends itself to natural, no matter how lacking in aesthetics.
Having said that, my kids absolutely adore going. There's enough to keep them entertained for upto 4 hours at best, less on a cold day. It is an option to visit all year round, with themed events at Halloween and Christmas but summer is the usual appeal.
There is a new area being built, with a pool and a wooden habitat inside, I'm under the impression there may be meerkats going in there which should be quite a coup and another level of entertainment for the kids.
I'd recommend it as a visitor attraction when passing or if you live locally, but it isn't enough to drive a long distance unless you can combine it with a visit somewhere else too.
You can see pictures and get more details at http://www.butterflyhouse.co.uk/index.html.
Come visit our winged and non-winged friends. There are special events going on througout the year that your kids wont want to miss.