We’ve visited Longleat several times over the past few years and had already spoken about plans to return in 2016. When viewing the Longleat website for the opening times and ticket prices, I noticed the announcement of the Longleat Photographer of the Year which seemed like an opportunity too good to be missed! (More about this later)! Shortly after, my camera gear was packed and plans were made to visit that weekend.
Longleat Safari Park opened its gates to the public in April 1966, the first of its kind outside of Africa. The idea of lions roaming the Wiltshire countryside was unpopular with some, but since its opening, Longleat has become a huge success attracting large amounts of visitors.
Longleat comprises of 3 main areas, the safari drive through, the main square and finally the house and gardens. I will cover each area individually.
Note on the trip: The downside of photography is that sometimes you get so engrossed in taking photos that you actually miss a lot of what is going on around you. If you’re hired or asked to take photos for a particular event or occasion, that is fine. However when photographing for fun, this isn’t necessarily the best, especially for the people you’re with. Determined to get the best of both worlds (including some good shots to enter into the Photographer of the Year competition) I decided to aim mostly for the bigger headline animals. This doesn’t mean that the other animals aren’t interesting. It meant that I was feeding/petting/watching them do funny stuff and totally forgot about the camera as I was engrossed in the moment.
Safari drive through.
The safari drive though is undoubtedly the main attraction to Longleat and probably the reason why 99% of people visit. As soon as you arrive at the huge Jurassic Park style gates, you can quickly see the attraction. You’re transported to a place where animals of all shapes and sizes roam free in a controlled environment that mimics their natural habitats.
First off is the walking safari and the African village. This is where you can get out of the car and get in amongst the animals. A viewing platform allows you to view the giraffes at their height and gives you a perspective of the animals that’s not usually seen.
The lemur walkthrough gets you up-close and personal with the lemurs. The area essentially has a lemur playground which allows them to swing overhead. The path leads through the enclosure with plenty of places to stop and see what mischief they are up to. We also managed to spot baby lemurs snuggled up in a nesting box.
Leaving the lemur enclosure takes you past tortoises, various birds, pigmy goats and on to the next enclosure, the rednecked wallabies.
A wallaby is a small- or mid-sized macropod found in Australia and New Guinea. They belong to the same family as Kangaroos and it’s easy to see why!
After the Wallabies, the trip takes you back to the car and into the driving section of the safari. This is where the larger animals live in specially designed areas. Lion Country, Monkey Mayhem, Tiger Territory, Wolf Wood, Cheetah Kingdom to name a few.
The enclosures are large and the road that leads though the park doesn’t give you access to all areas, because like us, they also need a private place away from prying eyes. This does mean that sometimes a few of the animals are hard to spot, which in itself, is actually quite a fun game of ‘spot the animal’.
Some of the animals are naturally curious about what’s going on and happily approach the car (probably to see if you have any food for them which can be bought at designated areas and can be fed to specific animals only).
The crowning glory of the Safari is it’s impressive Lion prides. The first time you drive into the enclosure and spot a Lion or Lioness, you get a sense of uneasiness. Its sort of like an ‘is this really happening feeling?’. That feeling quickly turns to excitement as you realise that, yes, it really is happening and the lions actually aren’t interested in the car passing by and are just going about their business.
I’m going to let the photos do the talking for a moment so you can bask in the glory of these marvellous creatures!
Moving on from all the big cat enclosure leads you to the final stop in the Safari drive through: Wolf wood. Any Game of Thrones fan will probably have a soft spot in particular for wolves and the wolves at Longleat don’t disappoint.
The wolves are impressive creatures! As we drove through, we were listening to the CD given to us at the entrance which was all about the animals in each enclosure.
The main square hosts restaurants, gift shops, sweet stalls, and of course, more animals! Sign posts guide you in different directions depending on what takes your fancy. Over lunch we spoke about what would be next on our trip agenda.
First on our list was to tackle the maze.
Once you enter the maze, it’s hard to imagine ever leaving and feel you should have brought a weeks worth of supplies, just incase! Luckily, with a fairly good memory ,you can navigate your way through using the bridges and the tower in the centre to help direct you.
Leaving the maze, we headed back to the square and promptly to the next area which was the Jungle Cruise.
The cruise take you through a large lake on a fairly large boat. The entire time you are escorted by sea lions hoping for some fish (which can be bought onboard). The crew of the boat are very knowledgeable and give a detailed talk as the boat cruises around the lake, past the hippos and finally ending up at Gorilla Colony before heading back to dry land.
Everyone has a favourite animal and mine has to be elephants. Unfortunately we only managed to get a small glimpse of Anne the elephant on the drive through safari as she was keeping warm in her house. Luckily though I have a second favourite animal… Penguins! I’m not sure why but I think it’s something to do with the amusing way they walk. Anyway, visiting Penguin Island was next on the cards and I couldn’t have been happier!
Remember I spoke earlier about Longleat Photographer of the Year? Well I was lucky enough to come third! The next photo was the chosen one which won me the third place title! I was also glad deep down that it had been my
favourite second favourite animal that won me the prize!
If the penguin hadn’t have been so interested in what I was doing the picture wouldn’t have been half as good. So I can only thank the penguin for getting me the third place price!
House and Gardens.
Longleat House has a huge amount of history behind it. A lot which I’ve learnt from the TV show ‘All change at Longleat’. Once again, walking through the house you are greeted in each room by very knowledgeable staff who are more than happy to help and discuss the specific features of the room you’re currently in.
Several rooms in the house are still occupied and therefore off limits to the general public. However, all the main rooms are perfectly aceessable and each hold a specific item of interest. Whether it’s a grand painting, ornate ceiling or a battle damaged suit of armour.
Behind the house is the spectacular gardens. We visited in early February, so the gardens weren’t to their full colourful potential. But you get the idea of how grand it would be during the summer months.
Longleat is a proper day out and it will actually take a complete day (10:00 – 17:00) to explore the entire site. There really is that much to see and do! As I mentioned at the beginning, I barely scratched the surface on the photo front. There is so much going on, this blog could easily have had several hundred photos and several million words describing everything that Longleat has to offer. But I know we will be returning again soon so I will get another chance for photos. Next time, hopefully with one of Anne the elephant!