Out of Africa, into Burford

Days out: a trip to the Cotswold Wildlife Park.
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The Independent Travel
Few manor houses can boast a view of rhino grazing beyond the haha and a collection of exotic snakes and other reptiles in the stables. The Cotswold Wildlife Park opened in 1970 to become one of Britain's most charming zoological gardens; the neo-Gothic house, extensive parkland and pleasant gardens provide a fine setting for the diverse selection of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibia and invertebrates.

Tastefully designed enclosures use the original layout of the manor grounds where possible. The walled kitchen garden, still planted with shrubs and fruit trees, is home to a variety of birds and mammals - hornbills, meerkats, penguins, spider monkeys - and it also accommodates the tropical house. The attractive stable block houses a reptile house, aquarium and bat belfry. Monkeys and birds of prey share the shade of the rhododendron bushes, and ostrich, camel, antelope and zebra graze in the distance.

For a more familiar repertoire, the children's farmyard offers a chance to be close to domestic favourites - goats, pigs and ponies - while learning to respect the geese.

The Wildlife Park exudes a genuine commitment to animal welfare and the enjoyment of its visitors. The park is actively involved in an internationally co-ordinated captive breeding programme, being the proud owners of amur leopards, Asiatic lions and red pandas and many other rare, endangered or near extinct species.

The visitors

Sophie Matthews took her sons Benjamin, eight, Oscar, six, Mungo, three, and Hamish, one, to the Cotswold Wildlife Park.

Sophie: The Wildlife Park is a wonderful place for all the family. We've been coming here regularly for the past seven years - since Benjamin was a baby. It is a really brilliant day out at all times of the year, whatever the weather. And every time we come we see something new. Today we saw the red pandas, recently arrived from Helsinki and Copenhagen, in the quarantine building. A friendly keeper coaxed one into the sleeping quarters so we could have a close view.

There's a good cross-section of animals here - from the weird and wonderful rhinoceros iguana to the common hen. There is always information on the pens giving details of the inhabitants, their natural habitat and eating habits, but it is really up to the parent to pass this on to the children. We tend to come here to let our hair down, and enjoy the space and the animals. It is a good combination of a fun day out and an educational experience.

I feel the animals here have a good life. The enclosures are well designed and very clean. The animals look healthy and contented. The only ones you can stroke are in the farmyard, where the boys love to stroke the goats. They also enjoy watching penguin feeding-time.

Benjamin: I think this is a great place. The lions were just lying in the sun as usual but the zebras came up really close chewing the grass right by us. It is so nice on a sunny day but we have fun here when it's raining, too, because there is quite a lot to see indoors. I really like the snakes, and there is a spitting cobra, an Indian python and a boa. But I don't like the alligators. The frogs are difficult to find because they are so well camouflaged, and some are really poisonous.

I think most of the animals have a lot of space, but the tarantula doesn't look very happy in the insect house. There were also hundreds and hundreds of ants collecting bits of cabbage and taking them back to their home, and lots of different sorts of butterflies.

Most of all, I like the birds. The king penguins make a very loud noise, and the hornbill has a very odd beak, but the kookaburra is my favourite.

Oscar: I liked the owls and the rhinos. There is lots of space at the wildlife park and in the children's farmyard they let you go in with the goats and stroke them. Sometimes they charge at you and you have to run away. The train is really good because it takes you round the park and you can wave at everyone and see all the animals again.

There is a good playground with swings and slides and a roundabout, a curly curly slide and an assault course.

Mungo: I come here a lot, and best of all I like the rhinoceros. We saw snakes and lizards which were fat, thin, long, spotty and stripy. We saw lots of bats hanging upside down in a tree and squeaking while the man cleaned their house. I chased lots of pigeons and went down the tunnel slide in the playground.

The deal

Admission: The Cotswold Wildlife Park, Burford, Oxon, OX18 4JW (01993 823006) is on the A361, two miles south of Burford. Open daily 10am-dusk. Charges: adults pounds 5.10, children 3-6 and OAP pounds 3.40

Access: Excellent for pushchairs, wheelchairs etc. Dogs must be kept on leads and are not allowed in some areas.

Food: The recently refurbished restaurant serves a good selection of snacks, sandwiches, main meals (pounds 4.95), children's meals (pounds 3.25) and also has a fast-food counter.

Attractions: There is a large adventure playground suitable for all ages. Penguin feeding takes place at 11am and 4pm daily. Extra attractions include a small roundabout 50p, train rides through the park 50p. Brass rubbing in the Manor House 50p or 70p according to size of rubbing. Birds of prey demonstrations 30-31 March.

Toilets: Good, clean toilets situated around the park. Baby changing.

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