In 1966, the Marquis of Bath, owner of the Longleat estate in Wiltshire, opened the first safari park in the world outside of Africa. Started with just one lion, the park has now grown to house over 100 species – from lions, monkeys and tigers to giraffes, wolves and ostriches.
Many of the species at the park are classified as â€˜Endangeredâ€™ or â€˜Rare in the Wildâ€™ and Longleat do what they can to encourage their populations to breed. They house the animals in as natural an environment as possible and take part in a number of research programmes to advance understanding of them.
Longleat safari tour
The main safari tour can be done in your own car or one of the parkâ€™s buses. If you wish to splash out, you can also opt for a VIP jeep tour. We took our own car and the route took us about 90 minutes â€“ but you can take as long or as little time as you like. Youâ€™re given an audio CD narrated by Kate Humble to guide you round all the different enclosures â€“ including Monkey Mayhem, Annie the Elephant and Cheetah Kingdom.
You have to stay in your car for most of the trip, but you can get out for the first enclosure which contains giraffes and wallabies. You can also open your windows in certain areas such as the deer enclosure where you can also feed them.
Our favourite bit was Monkey Mayhem as all of the monkeys clambering over peoples cars was frankly hilarious. But be warned â€“ when they say that monkeys may damage your car, they really mean it! We saw windscreen wipers and trims pulled off and monkeys sitting by the side of the road eating random bits of vehicle that theyâ€™d pulled off. We thought weâ€™d escaped in one piece but when we parked up later, realised that one of our parking sensors had been nibbled! You can choose to bypass this enclosure if you prefer!
The adventure park
We didnâ€™t spend a huge amount of time in the adventure park. Weâ€™d already gone round the safari and the main house and it had started raining so we had a quick look round some of it then went off for lunch. Weâ€™ll definitely check these out properly next time weâ€™re there!
The attractions include:
– Jungle Kingdom (including Jungle Cruise and Jungle Express train)
– Hedge maze and mirror maze
– Deer valley
– The bat cave
– Ranger shows
Longleat House and grounds
The Longleat estate started life as 60 acres of land, an orchard and a dilapidated priory purchased in 1540. By 1580, the house was largely complete and today it sits within over 900 acres of parkland landscaped by Capability Brown.
The house is an absolutely beautiful example of Tudor architecture and there are many interesting features and items â€“ from the painted and gilt ceilings to a blood-stained vest worn by Charles I at his execution.
The library in the house contains thousands of books and is one of Europeâ€™s largest private collections.
I thought the most interesting parts were the room-sized family tree which traces the Thynne family line right back to the 13th Century and the displays on the amount of conservation work that goes into making sure the house is kept in god condition. The photographs and paintings of the family scattered throughout the house also give you a real sense that the house is a real home and not just somewhere that exists purely for tourists.
Visiting the estate
Longleat is located near Warminster in Wiltshire, between Bath and Salisbury. The website gives plenty of information to help you plan your trip.
There are a number of ticketing options. Walk-up day tickets cost Â£27.50 for adults and Â£19.50 for children. You can save yourself 15% on day tickets by booking online before you go (and if you plan to eat in the park, you can also download a voucher to save Â£5 in the parkâ€™s many eateries). We used decided to pay for entry to the park using Tesco Clubcard vouchers â€“ you can swap Â£8 of vouchers for an unlimited day pass.