Longleat Safari and Adventure Park, in Wiltshire, England was first opened in 1966. The Safari Park was the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and was considered to be a massive breakthrough in the way in which captive animals were kept, with the animals roaming freely across hundreds of acres of land, able to interact naturally with each other, while the visitors are restricted (in their cars). Longleat Safari Park and the concept of safari parks were the brainchild of Jimmy Chipperfield, who was the former co-director of Chipperfield's Circus. The park is situated in the grounds of Longleat House, an unbelievably beautiful stately home that is a huge tourist attraction in its own right, and is the current home of the 7th Marquess of Bath.
Today Longleat's collection comprises over 500 animals, and the whole estate is situated on 9,000 acres of stunning countryside. The house is set in 1,000 acres of parkland landscaped by Capability Brown, with 4,000 acres of let farmland and 4,000 acres of woodland, which includes a Center Parcs holiday village. As well as the world famous drive through Safari Park, Longleat boasts an adventure park that contains a whole host of attractions including Jungle Kingdom and Cruise, animal encounters and shows, fantastic play areas, mazes, exhibitions and of course the wonderful House and Gardens.
We have visited the Longleat Estate a few times before, and while we have never managed to see it all in a single visit, we've picked up a few tricks which work really well for us. Firstly, most visitors head straight for the Safari Park when they arrive. Consequently, as I understand it, morning is the Safari's busiest time. As well as driving through the Safari in your own car, it is possible to buy a ticket for the Safari Bus Tour, that leaves from the Adventure Park that surrounds the house. This is the option we have gone for on the last couple of visits. It means we can park by the house, check out the other attractions, but know we have the tour booked for later in the day. It is also a great option if you are visiting with friends, as it means you can all enjoy the Safari together, rather than all being in separate cars.
Once we had our tour booked this time, there were another couple of experiences that I knew we didn't want to miss. Firstly, we headed for the Jungle Kingdom and Animal Adventures, which is all about getting up close and in many cases among the animals.
We watched the highly entertaining parrot show, held snakes and tarantulas, and fed nectar to the beautiful Rainbow Lorikeets.
We also knew we didn't want to miss the Jungle Cruise on the lake, which gives you an opportunity to see the Gorillas, Hippos and feed the Sea-Lions from the boat, while the guide tells you all about them.
There is currently a temporary exhibit called Dinosaurs Alive at Longleat, which features 20 life-size animatronic pre-historic creatures around the park, which looked totally amazing in the Longleat setting.
It was then time to catch our Safari Bus. The lady driver was lovely, and gave us a really fun and informative tour around the Safari Park. Having such a knowledgeable guide, really adds to the experience for us, and the bus gave us great views across the park (we sat upstairs).
The bus is also a great way to avoid having your car damaged in the monkey enclosure, and gave us a perfect view of them happily pulling bits off other visitor's vehicles, much to everyone's amusement - apparently their vandalism comes mainly from their fondness of windscreen wash which contains alcohol! The photo below shows a cute little guy who was hiding at the entrance of the enclosure waiting to ambush cars!
Longleat, of course, is most famous for its Lions. It is difficult, today, to imagine the consternation aroused when Longleat’s plans for an initial 100-acre lion reserve were made public. It is reported that there were dire warnings of big cats running amok in the Wiltshire countryside, local clergymen were up in arms, and there were even questions asked in the Houses of Parliament! Our driver told us that the first lions to arrive at Longleat were 50 'extras' from the wonderful film 'Born Free' which was released the same year that the park opened.