All that maize will simply amaze

If you feel unhappy about taking the children to see caged animals in a zoo, try Mole Hall Wildlife Park in Essex for as an alternative for a family day out.

This pretty moated manor house, fringed with weeping willows, has generous-sized pens for the animals to roam about in and plenty of undergrowth for when they grow tired of prying human eyes.

The park is spread over 20 acres. As well as paddocks full of deer, otters swimming in glass tanks and an enormous pig snoring in the mud, there are wallabies and chimpanzees. Ducks on the lake live side by side with flamingos, as well as a very bossy black swan.

In the butterfly pavilion, children can learn how caterpillars change into butterflies, which flutter around you in a jungle-style environment that is also home to a few spiders and snakes. You can feed the animals: at 30p a bag, the grain for the ducks and pellets for the deer isn't outrageously expensive, and there are handwashing facilities. Humans can take a picnic or head for the café.

A maze made out of maize with clues for both adults and children can be very hot: take a drink in with you. It's supposed to take about 45 minutes to get to the golden horns in the middle, but if you're still wandering around hopelessly after that, you can always wave a little red flag for a speedy rescue, or cheat a bit with directions from the bridge.

Mole Hall Wildlife Park, Widdington, near Saffron Walden, Essex (01799 540400; is open every day of the year except Christmas Day from 10.30am-6pm or dusk in winter. Tickets: £5 adults, £3.50 children aged 3-15. Family tickets for two adults and two children cost £15. Prices reduced from 1 November, and café and butterfly pavilion closed midweek. The park has access for disabled visitors.