Day out at Peak Wildlife Park, Staffordshire
My daughter looked aggrieved. But why couldn’t we have a wallaby as a pet, she wanted to know? And a lemur. And a meerkat. And ideally a couple of penguins.
We had been to zoos before, but the Peak Wildlife Park near Leek in Staffordshire, had proved a big hit, thanks in part to its open enclosures where you could walk among the animals – and for a handful of adorably cute baby meerkats.
Although I grew up not far from the Staffordshire Moorlands, where the wildlife park is based, it was my first visit during a trip back to see my parents: the park itself only opened in its current form in 2015, replacing the old Blackbrook Zoological Park.
And although it’s small, there’s plenty to discover without ever feeling overwhelming – ideal for littler legs – as well as cleverly designed enclosures for the animals, who all looked healthy and content, plus the facilities you need, from food and play areas to toilets.
Normally we manage to find ourselves in totally the wrong part of the park for feeding time, or end up hanging around waiting for it to start, but here it seemed you were never too far away to pop back and there was always plenty to watch as you waited.
Baby meerkats scampered, dug and valiantly copied their elders at sentry duty , the sandy space looking far more African than Midlands under a blue sky. Getting to meet them is one of the animal experiences on offer too – minimum age seven, as otherwise I think Minnie might have attempted to smuggle one home.
But you needn’t pay extra for the experiences to get up close and personal. Although the African village has more traditional glassed or fenced off sections, the wallaby enclosure and the lemurs are both open to walk through, with paths winding between the grassy areas.
The animals can wander wherever they please, so it’s easy to stroll off if they have had enough of the large creatures visiting their home, but may equally choose to hop over and investigate.
You can even hand feed the wallabies, although on our visit they were all far more interested in lying in the shade than bounding around. As a child, I was told stories of the wild wallabies which lived on the moors themselves – released from a private collection almost 80 years ago, the majority struggled with the harsh winters, so no-one quite knows how many might be left these days.
The lemurs – ring-tailed, black, and ruffed species – were jumping more enthusiastically from branches and tightrope walking gracefully along the high ropes strung throughout, hooting, leaping and pouncing on the choicest pieces of fruit and veg in their feed.
But perhaps my favourite – despite my love of lemurs – was the penguin paths. A multi-level area for the penguins, it has underwater viewing window and another viewing area to look down from above onto their pool.
Wander around the side, and you can see yet more penguins by a separate pool (also the section where they go to moult) and there’s a penguin walk during the day for those which fancy a stroll.
Nothing is stopping them ambling off down the path at any point (up to certain limits) but the best chance to watch them waddling in single file comes around feeding time – where we also spotted one cheeky bird marching to the front of the queue and looping round in circles to pick up five fish before his pool-mates had got their beaks on one.
Having watched the animals being fed, it was time for our own lunch – and definitely a step up from buckets of veg or raw fish. There are stone baked pizzas for sale, which kept both myself and my five-year-old very happy, and some more unusual soft drinks, along with cakes and healthy snacks. It is popular, so an early lunch is a good plan!
There are also two lovely play areas, an indoor soft play and an ourdoor playground, plus the chance to wander past various other animals from zebra to warty pigs, spy a giant tortoise and stroke equally giant bunnies.
The short-clawed otters were not showing so much as a whisker though!
And after making a couple of loops of the park, with time to stop, eat, play and stroke, we realised that more than five hours had passed. It might be small, but it’s very easy to spend a day out at Peak Wildlife Park – and have a huge amount of fun, even if you aren’t allowed to take the wallabies home.
Day out at Peak Wildlife Park: Need to know
Tickets cost £11.95 for adults, £9.95 for children aged two to 16. Under-twos are free, and there are also annual passes available.
The park is open 10am to 6pm every day except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. It’s in Winkhill, around 20 miles from Stoke-on-Trent and Derby, on the edge of the Peak District National Park.
We visited in August 2017 – the baby animals to be seen will change from year to year…
PIN FOR LATER: DAY OUT AT PEAK WILDLIFE PARK
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