I’ll start this post off by wishing my readers a Happy New Year for 2017. I hope you’ve all had a wonderful festive season. Things have been quiet lately on my blog; we had a very busy December which included a quick trip to Sweden for my sister’s wedding, not to mention all the Christmas preparations, and so unfortunately blogging has had to wait for a bit. I’ve got lots to write about and hopefully (kids permitting) I’ll be able to settle down into posting on a regular basis!
One of the best things we did this Christmas season was to visit Longleat Estate in Wiltshire for the annual Longleat Festival of Light. Longleat is not just one of England’s finest stately homes; it is also the site of a safari park, so we went in the hope that everyone would find something to enjoy here.
We decided to do the safari first as we thought we might get stuck in traffic if we left it for later in the day. As you drive into the safari area, don’t forget to stop at the African Village. I’d advise stretching your legs and using the loo before the point of no return. You can also get a great view over the safari fields and see lemurs, wallabies and giraffe up close.
You are given a CD guide to play in your car while you drive around the safari. The first part of the safari is through the herd animal paddocks.
These animals are free to roam everywhere so you might get a traffic jam if the zebras decide to stop in the road in front of you. You can see plenty of animals including an elephant, Annie, who was rescued from a lifetime in a circus.
There’s a monkey enclosure which you can avoid if you like (we did!) as they will sit on your car and they will pull off any aerials and windscreen wipers they can get their hands on. The entrance to their enclosure is decorated with their spoils, including hubcaps, parking sensors, and many wipers. We saw several casualties (wipers, not monkeys). If you don’t mind risking damage to your car, drive on in – kids will love it.
The big predator pens are one of the highlights at Longleat safari. Wolves, tigers, two lion prides and cheetahs (complete with two fluffy cubs!) await. We had good views of all the animals, especially of the regal tigers, who strolled right past our car. The husband was tasked with taking photos of them as they were on his side, but we don’t have a single useable picture as he stuck his thumb over the lens.
Longleat’s Main Square
Decked out for Christmas and full of lanterns ready to be lit in the evening, the Main Square was looking great. We popped into the Arctic exhibit where there was an interactive projection with arctic animals. There was a seasonal train ride and meet Santa grotto but as this was at an extra cost we’d decided in advance to skip it.
There is so much to see in the Main Square and we knew that we wouldn’t manage to see everything. Kids of all ages will love the giant play castle and the hedge maze. We went into the Jungle Kingdom to see more animals including porcupines, maras and an anteater. Tiny monkeys scampered over ropes and rocks at the Monkey Temple, delighting the kids. The rainbow lorikeets were nowhere to be seen which was disappointing as the Cub had wanted to feed them.
There’s also an animal interaction hall with tarantulas and snakes, a bat cave, and a boat trip around the lake. We nearly joined the queue for the boat trip but it was too cold to stand about. Instead I got a coffee at the Orangery cafe and the Cub had a scamper in the gardens.
The interior of Longleat House is beautiful and quite impressive, especially the panelled banqueting hall. There is plenty of history to discover here as the house dates from around 1580. It’s filled with paintings and furnishings collected over centuries.
The house had a lovely festive atmosphere and was decorated as an Edwardian Christmas. Some of the staff were dressed as servants or the inhabitants, adding to the effect. We followed a route through select rooms; much of the house is off-limits to visitors as the family still live there.
The house often has an exhibition on; when we visited there were some rare Beatrix Potter books to tie in with the lantern display outside.
Longleat Festival of Light
Each winter, Longleat hosts a stunning lantern display. This year is the UK’s largest lantern festival ever, and a specialist team from Sichuan Province in China helped to build the displays on site. They used 20km of silk and more than 30,000 bulbs!
We’d seen the lanterns in the day as we walked around the grounds but when we came out of the house dusk had fallen and the lanterns were illuminated. There were two separate themes to the lanterns this year; one area celebrated the 50th anniversary of Longleat Safari and the other was dedicated to Beatrix Potter’s classic stories, marking 150 years since her birth.
The Cub knows a lot of the Peter Rabbit characters so she was especially taken with these lanterns. They were set out in scenes from some of the best known stories and the Cub had a great time finding her favourites. The Tales of Squirrel Nutkin and Jeremy Fisher were the most impressive, set out on the river. The whole effect was very charming.
Around the other side of the house, the safari animals were throwing a party. I liked that a lot of thought had gone into designing the lantern display and that there was a story being told. Each lantern was beautifully designed and the whole effect exceeded our expectations.
An avenue of lions greeted visitors and penguins played in a band next to the huge pile of presents. The multi-layered birthday cake was over 20m tall – that must have taken quite some building. Monkeys capered about on a huge dragon barge next to a giant hippo.
The Cub thought that the penguins playing guitars were the best bit. It really was beautiful and even the drizzle and the cold didn’t stop us all enjoying the atmosphere. The kid both loved our day out here and we will be returning in the summer – we’ve still got lots to see at Longleat.
Know before you go
Buy your tickets in advance online from Longleat’s website. There are a few tickets left for the Festival of Light which has been extended for the next two weekends only. Check opening times on the website especially if you visit in the winter as Longleat isn’t open every day.
Longleat can get very busy. Go as early as you can and try to plan out your day. You probably won’t be able to fit everything in; we missed some of the Christmas stuff, the boat ride and the play area and we were there all day.
We tried to get around the safari as quickly as we could as the Cub and Bee were getting restless and we also wanted to see as much of the estate as possible. I still think it took a good hour to get through and at busy times it can take longer. I’ll say it again – visit the loo first! You really don’t want to be desperate and stuck in the middle of the lion enclosure.
We didn’t eat at Longleat as for once I’d been prepared and packed lunch for us all, but there are a few restaurants and coffee shops in the Main Square.
You’ll need a car to get to Longleat. If you need to stay nearby, Bath isn’t too far away and shouldn’t be missed.
Finally, a note on the photographs. You can’t take photos inside Longleat House so the images of the interior were kindly provided by Longleat.