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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
“Come on, then, let’s be off!” it said.
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.
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.
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.
And some car is missing a license plate.
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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.
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.