Piers’ famous ancestor

There are many things to do at Longleat, one of which is to explore the home of the 7th Marquess of Bath, Alexander Thynn, who is a rather eccentric and amorous character if media reports about him are to be believed.

But we shan’t talk about the Marquess because I’ve never met him. We shall talk about his house because I just visited it.


Longleat House


One of the reasons Piers wanted to show me Longleat House was because one of the innumerable pieces of priceless antiques furnishing the house was made by his ancestor.

Piers has a very interesting family history dating back to 1066, of which I’m very jealous because the oldest ancestor I know of is my great grandmother, whom I have one single brief memory of being carried out of the house dying of diabetes, which is very sad.

Piers’ ancestors were Italian cooks serving William the conqueror. They came with him to England when he seized the throne in 1066 and became the first Norman King of England.

Through the centuries, his ancestors gained repute as craftsmen, the most famous of them being Edward Cockey, who made astronomical longcase clocks, among other things, for England’s nobility. One of his clocks was given to Queen Anne as a gift.

In 1706, the first of his astronomical clocks was commissioned for the Great Hall in Longleat. It still stands there today.


Longleat House Great Hall


Astronomical clocks tell other things besides the time, such as the positions of the sun, moon, stars and planets.

Another one of his clocks can be seen at the British Museum.


Astronomical longcase clock


I don’t think there are anymore clockmakers in the family. I suppose clockmaking isn’t as cool a trade as it used to be.

So, anyway, after finding out all that, I was quite excited to see the clock in the Great Hall.

We had picked a great day to go see it: When we got there, there was no clock in the case.

The longcase was there, but there was no clock inside the case. It had probably removed for cleaning or something.

How stupid.

I can’t show you more photos of the house because we’re not allowed to take photos in there. The one above is a Longleat archive photo.

So, that’s it about the house.

I want to talk about the other attractions at Longleat now.

There’s a new attraction called Monkey Temple where you’re supposed to be hounded by monkeys trying to steal your hat or untie your shoelaces as you walk through the area.


Monkey Temple


But Piers and I went in there and we saw every animal but a monkey.

That was a bit sad but, fortunately, there were enough interesting sights to keep us happy.

For example, this giant killer bunny.


Giant killer bunny


Okay it’s not a killer.

Not so giant, either.

But it’s HUGE.

It didn’t really like children poking at it so it tried to stay in the middle out of reach from seeking hands on both sides.


Giant killer bunny


I would like to have a giant killer bunny as a pet. But Piers says he prefers a dog.

I told him my bunny will eat his dog.

Unfortunately, this was the point at which my camera ran out of juice and I had to take photos with my Blackberry, which is really sad because, well, it’s just sad.

There were so many awesome things to photograph in this animal planet.

Like this tame guinea pig. Which was just sitting there letting kids touch it.


Guinea pig


And iguanas, which I at first thought were fake and just decorative items. I swear they looked fake. They were so still; they never moved.

I’ve loved iguanas since reading the comic Foxtrot when I was younger. Quincy is the cutest iguana ever.

It was a bit disappointing for me to see that real iguanas aren’t really cute like Quincy.




I still do like house lizards very much.

There’s also butterfly kingdom, which I didn’t want to visit at first because I’ve never really fancied butterflies. But then I was glad I did because it’s kind of cool having big, colourful butterflies flutter around your face. Or perched quietly somewhere enjoying a banana, not caring about people shoving camera lenses right into their psychedelic wings.

That was when I really wished I could’ve used my Lumix.


Butterfly 1


Butterfly 2


Butterfly 3


Butterfly 4


We went into a hedge maze and that was pretty crazy. I’ve done mazes. Like on pen and paper. But never in real life.

It was really disconcerting. A bit claustrophobic because the spaces inside were long and narrow.


In the maze


It’s apparently one of the most challenging mazes in the world.


Hedge Maze


The aim is to try and get into that pavillion in the middle where you can stand and look down at the entire maze. And then try and get out from there.


Hedge Maze


You will come across bridges scattered around the maze where you have a bit of elevation to look about you and try to figure a way to your destination. But it’s a bit impossible to figure out because the hedges are all packed so close together.


Hedge Maze


Here’s a postcard of the maze. Took a photo of it so you can see what the entire maze looks like.


Hedge Maze


Piers and I spent about 12 minutes walking around it and ended up right where we started.

I decided to give up because I felt that the sense of satisfaction getting to the middle wasn’t going to be big enough to worth risking a lot of time spent going round and round the stupid maze.

From one of the bridges, I could see how easy it was to go round in circles forever and never get to where you want to get.

We went on a boat cruise, instead.

One of the first things we saw was the little house belonging to Nico the gorilla, who lives on a little island by himself because his mate died last year or something.


Nico's house


If you squint a bit, you can see from the photo that Nico has a satellite dish so that he can get cable TV.

What a good life.

Nico loves children shows and cartoons. His current favourite is Spongebob Squarepants.

I’m not making this up. The boat guide told us this as we cruised past Nico’s little island.

Apparently, he plays computer games, too. (The guide didn’t tell us that; I read that on the Longleat website.)

It was really unfortunate that my Lumix was out of commission. I couldn’t get a clear shot of Nico with my Blackberry. He was hiding at the back of his house, peering out at us from behind a pillar.


Nico the gorilla


We also saw seals and hippopotamuses but that’s a bit boring because they were mostly in the water. We did get to see the seals get fed, which was a bit fun to watch, but hard to photograph because they came in and out of the water so quickly.

The trip was fun, though. Took maybe about 10 minutes and the guide was quite funny.

We ended our day with a “picnic” on the grass.

Well, we had one hotdog each and a bottle of coke to share.

We just sat on the grass, no picnic mat.

But we did have a gorgeous view and the weather was quite pleasant.




I had such a great time, the only real disappointment being that we didn’t get to see Piers’ ancestor’s clock.

I suppose that means we’ll have to go back again.


Monkey Mayhem — A safari adventure

One of Piers’ favourite places to visit in England is Longleat. He’d been waiting for the weather to turn warmer to take me there.

A suitable day finally came.

Longleat is a tourist attraction comprising a safari park, an adventure park and the stately home of the Marquess of Bath, who apparently still lives in the house even as parts of it are open for public gawking. (It has like a zillion rooms so there are enough to spare for tourist visitations.)


A bit of trivia:

Around the 1960s, England’s nobility started facing financial stress due to changing economic landscapes and rising costs in building maintenance. So the previous Marquess of Bath decided to open his house to the public for a fee so that his family can continue living its lavish lifestyle.


The entrance fee to the Longleat attractions is currently priced at £26.




I wasn’t expecting to be too impressed by the safari park until Piers told me that someone had gotten eaten by a lion in there. Supposedly, the lion had crashed through a car window and chowed on the driver.

He forgot to tell me it was a joke, until the next day.

The thing is, I’ve been to two safari parks (Singapore and China) and I suppose they’re pretty interesting, but I thought the animals were too far away. There are animals wandering around nearish, but you can’t stop to look at them because you’re on a constantly-moving tram.

So, Longleat surprised me. It is, after all, the very first drive-through safari park to be established outside of Africa. And you can get very close to the animals, even attempt to get eaten by them if you so wish.


Sheep and lambs


Not by sheep, of course; they’re herbivores.

Sheep dot the landscape as you drive through the Longleat grounds. The little lambs are so cute. And friendly. And harmless.

To see more aggressive animals, you’ll need to get into the safari park.

You’ll know you’re there when you see the warning signs.




It was a bit scary, bearing in mind Piers’ fictional tale about the lion was still fresh in my mind and he still hadn’t told me it was fictional.

Once in the park, you drive through different zones, each sporting its own set of warning signs. In some zones, you can park your car and walk about freely. In other zones, you’re asked to close all your windows and sunroofs and stay safely barricaded in your car.




The first animals that caught my fancy were the giraffes.

I’ve seen giraffes before, of course. But these ones were so pretty and maybe more remarkable because they were so close and because we were allowed to stop our cars and look at them.

Here’s one crossing the road in front of us.




There’s going to be a giraffe-feeding attraction coming up, where you can buy food and let the giraffes eat out your hands. I shall have to go back to Longleat again for that!

Maybe we should have bought annual passes.








Coming up next…

A smiling camel.

I didn’t want to take a photo of the camels because my camera was running out of battery (forgot to charge it) and I think camels are kind of boring.

But Piers loves camels.

“They’re so cute,” he said.

So I had to take a photo for his benefit.

I aimed my camera at the camel and it looked up and smiled.

Yeah, okay. Camels are cute.




Moving forward, my favourite part of the day.

Monkey Jungle!


Monkey Jungle


Monkeys can be really mischievous and rude but they are also so very cute. I love how they’re tame and explore the world with natural curiosity.

The first thing we saw when we drove through the gate was this car stopped in front of us, a big group of monkeys running around on top of it, having a ball of a time.

When our car approached, half the monkeys abandoned that car and started bounding towards us. I didn’t see at first because my eyes were focused on my camera, which I had zoomed in at the car.


Monkey Jungle
(Can you see the smiling camel in the background?)


Piers set the mood by yelling, “OMG they’re coming, they’re coming at us!”

Excited and scared, I went “OMG OMG OMG” nonstop. I couldn’t stop squealing and looking and taking photos. It was very overwhelming and I didn’t have enough eyes and hands.

They camped on our bonnet, on our roof, on the boot, they ran all over the top of the car and they peered through the windscreen at us.


Monkey Jungle


It was a really delightful experience. Probably not for the car. Maybe not for Piers, thinking about monkey footprints all over his car’s exterior. Maybe monkey poo.

After a while, he drove off slowly and the monkeys hopped off the car.

All except one, who decided to take a ride with us.


Monkey Jungle


“Come on, then, let’s be off!” it said.


Monkey Jungle


He enjoyed his ride with us until we reached another monkey gathering point where more of the rascals came to visit with us. Our monkey hopped off as other new ones hopped on.

We had one very curious visitor.


Monkey Jungle


He took a look at us and decided that the car was more interesting. So he started examining it, reaching into the space between bonnet and windscreen. He plucked a dead leaf out of that space and started eating it.

He pulled at the wipers.


Monkey Jungle


That was when Piers decided that our visitor had had enough and tried to scare it off by turning on the wipers. The monkey let go but continued sitting on the bonnet.

In front of us was a car with its own visitors.


Monkey Jungle


And some car is missing a license plate.


Monkey Jungle


Very soon, Piers got tired of having monkeys wreaking havoc on his car and decided to leave Monkey Jungle.

A friendly sign bade us farewell.


Monkey Jungle


We had to drive through another gate where a warden stood to ensure that all monkeys stayed within the boundary and didn’t try to smuggle themselves out on unsuspecting cars.

Next, we saw more camels. Yay for Piers.




You can also see in the above photograph that there are areas where you can park your car and have a picnic or walk around or enjoy the views.

That particular space is the deer-feeding zone, where you can buy deer food and feed the deer through your car window.


Feed the deer


Now, here is a rhinoceros.




And here is a rhinoceros crossing the road.




And here is a rhinoceros stood right outside Piers’ window.




And here is Mr Thinks-Hes-Camouflaged.




I don’t know what animal he is.

That was the end of the “safe” animal zone.

We soon approached the man eaters.

The park has named them Tiger Territory, Lion Country and Wolf Wood.

It was a bit terrifying. Remember, I was still thinking about that stupid story of Piers.

It was very realistic. He had cleverly worked it into a conversation that went something like this:

“Do we need to wear our seat belts in here?”


Short pause.

“In fact, it’s recommended that you do not wear your seat belts here because that’s how a man got eaten by a lion.”

He went on to describe how the lion had crashed through the window and the man wasn’t able to escape because he couldn’t get his seat belt off.

And then there were all those warning signs adding credence to his story.


Warning sign


He also talked about how, the last time he was at the park, the animals were roaming right next to the cars.

That bit is real, apparently.

So, I was very disappointed when all we saw that day were sunbathing animals.

All the lions and tigers and wolves were just sat on the grass sunbathing, a bit of a distance away from the road.

And cars were parked by the side of the roads to look at the sunbathing animals, causing mini traffic jams.


Sunbathing lions


A bit more exciting were the wolves. They were just about 30 metres from us and they were on Piers’ side of the window.

Piers’ window was dirty because we didn’t clean it. We had only cleaned my window because I had expected to be taking photographs through the window.

We’re not supposed to wind our windows down in man-eatersville.

But I wanted a clean picture of the wolves.




So we decided to do it quickly.

I framed my picture and said, “NOW!” and Piers wound his window down. I took my snapshot and he wound it back up.

The wolf yawned at us.




Or was that a snarl? Maybe a laugh?

You can never tell with these man-eating creatures.

And so we came to the end of our safari adventure.

But there are many more adventures in Longleat. There’s no space left to talk about them today, so I’ll leave it for the next post.

Come back again to read about Piers’ famous ancestor and a TV-watching gorilla!

Uh… they are separate entities so don’t you be having any funny ideas.