One of my favourite places in the Cotswolds is the wildlife park at Burford. It is a very special place to me as the birth and development of the zoo and gardens has run parallel to that of my family.
I dread to think how much money I have spent here over the years, on entry fees, snacks in the café, whippy ice creams, train rides, and the dreaded gift shop! But I believe every penny was well spent for the pleasure it has brought to me and my family. Not only that, but the money funds lots of conservation work here and abroad.
The wildlife park was opened by John Heyworth during the Easter holidays in 1970, which is just after my first child was born. It is set in the grounds of a beautiful house, Bradwell Grove, which was his childhood home. In 1970 it cost five shillings (25p) for entry in pre-decimal currency. These days it costs me £10 as I am officially ancient. However, as I go so often, I buy a season ticket for £50, which means I can go whenever I like.
Normally the park is open every day except Christmas day. But this year the winter has been so atrocious that the park has been closed on several days due to snow or waterlogged grounds.
Originally there were lots of animals to see including wallabies, tapirs, llamas, hornbills and flamingos. Soon a reptile house was developed. Then, rhinos and zebras arrived in 1972 when my second child was born. And, the very popular little railway was opened in 1975 when my third child arrived. That was followed by insects which I have never been very keen on, and butterflies in glass houses. Following on from the birth of my fourth and final child, leopards, tigers and bats arrived at the park.
By the time my grandchildren arrived there were lions, giraffes, owls, different types of monkeys, wolves, camels, meerkats and adorable penguins. One of the great attractions these days is the petting area where children can play with goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs and rabbits. There is also a super adventure playground, which, being an over-anxious granny, I try to steer clear of.
Sadly, John Heyworth died some years ago. He must have been a fascinating man with a great love for animals and plants. Apparently as a child he kept many pets, including rabbits, grass snakes, slow worms and a toad that he found in the garden. Over the years, as a schoolboy, he added terrapins, tortoises and newts to his menagerie of birds, ducks and slowworms.
This reminds me of my dear friend and roommate at college, Pat, who kept her own menagerie of assorted hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs in our tiny room. She also had a tiny Shetland pony who lived nearby and travelled with us everywhere in the back of a mini with the seats removed! When we moved to a marginally bigger flat after college, she added snakes, which she kept in the bath!
Nowadays I look after my gorgeous 3-year-old granddaughter, Thea, every Tuesday, and we make a beeline for the wildlife park. Thea’s favourite animal is the white rhino. This year she was thrilled to meet Belle the little baby rhino. Belle was born with a leg problem which meant she had to be hand reared and fed from birth. Thea is very family oriented so she loves to see the mummy and daddy animals with their babies. I have to say there is something very appealing about seeing large wild animals like rhino, giraffe and zebra breast feeding their small offspring.
I believe our wildlife park visits have nurtured a great love and respect for animals in all of my children and grandchildren. Here are some of our photos taken over the years and as recently as this week.