As we wound our way through the stunning Wiltshire countryside, the ambient early-evening light threw dappled shadows on the road ahead and we instantly felt a million miles away from the hum drum of our busy, everyday lives...
For twenty-four precious hours, we were on a family mini-break and, much to the delight of the three little people sitting excitedly in the back of the car, Sat Nav dutifully informed us that we had “reached our destination.” Arriving at the Bath Arms at Longleat is akin to coming home after a long day in the office; warm, inviting and familiar. The staff are generous with their smiles, the aromas emanating from the kitchen are more than enticing and the calls of the sea lions in the distant (I’m not joking!) is just, well, brilliant!
We were staying at the Bath Arms on their 'Longleat Experience' package (www.batharms.co.uk) whereby guests receive an overnight stay, including breakfast and admission to Longleat safari park, for two adults and two children for a total of £305.00 (children under 3 are free of charge). Our family room was spacious, immaculate and complete with a four-poster bed and roll top bath. The children were delighted with the huge flat-screen television, state-of-the-art coffee machine and sounds of our exotic neighbours for the night!
As we sat at our table in the bar area of the pub, safari workers from the Longleat estate made their way into the pub for a well-earnt pint and to chew the fat with colleagues over the day’s events. The place was buzzing; banter and laughter a-plenty! As we deliberated over our supper choices, the staff were keen to offer advice and suggestions and, as it transpired, our steaks were cooked to perfection. The children’s fish and chips (from the £6 for two courses children’s menu) were delectable and, latterly, the sticky toffee pudding was, quite simply, to die for. Whilst my husband and I enjoyed a coffee at the end of the meal, the children were given activity booklets to complete; this family-friendly pub has clearly thought of it all. Replete, the five of us, took a post-meal meander down the lane to admire the beauty of Longleat House from afar before retiring to our beds ahead of the following day’s activities.
Breakfast at the Bath Arms is certainly worth getting up early for, the menu is both varied and comprehensive; from traditional full English to pancakes, smoked salmon and even freshly-cooked kippers - I'd say there’s certainly something to suit everyone’s palette. Filled up and ready for a day of safari shenanigans, we bid the Bath Arms farewell and made the short trip by car to Longleat itself.
As we turned off the main road and passed through the ticket booths, the drive leading down to Longleat House and grounds was absolutely stunning. I couldn’t help thinking how in days gone by, coachmen and horses, in full regalia, must have navigated this route on a daily basis – oh yes, we were in the heart of ‘period costume drama’ country!
We had been advised by the team at the Bath Arms to head straight to the safari, as queues can get fairly lengthy during the school holidays, so that's just what we did. When you take part in the Longleat safari, you do so from the comfort of your own car, following a clearly signed route around the estate. We passed through different enclosures where lions, tigers, wolves and cheetah all roam. The enclosures are spacious and the animals certainly appeared relaxed and content in their surroundings. The kids' eyes were out on stalks; to get up close to some of the world’s most iconic and dangerous animals was a fabulous experience for them – the animals they’ve learnt about in books were now right there, in front of them, in all their majestic glory.
Our family highlight had to be taking part in the monkey safari – although, I have to say, my husband was rather less enthusiastic than the children. Why? Well, the Longleat monkeys have a habit of doing some pretty extensive damage to certain cars as they drive through the monkey enclosure. Fortunately, we escaped without much more than a nibble of the wing mirror…but some other poor souls were less lucky!
Another ‘must do’ for any Longleat visitor is to take a trip by boat out onto the lake to visit the gorillas on Gorilla Island. En-route you can try and spot the resident hippos and sea lions who happily share the lake together. The children absolutely loved this part of the day and were particularly fascinated by the agility (and noise!) of the sea lions. Longleat have recently acquired a pair of young gorillas onto Gorilla Island and they were adorable and playful on the day we visited – a real bonus!
Back on terra-firma and we headed to Longleat’s very own train station for a trip around the grounds; another real winner for the kids...and an opportunity for the adults to sit back and take in the beauty of the place. We spotted deer roaming free in the fields and caught a glimpse of the amazing adventure playground – something to visit later!
When it comes to eating, Longleat has it covered; from pizzas and hot dogs to sandwiches, salads and smoothies. We spent half an hour chilling out on the freshly mown grass before heading off to see the meerkats, porcupines (what funny creatures they are!) turtles and bats. Our ticket also included entrance to the house but that will have to wait for another day – the adventure playground was more of a pull on this occasion.
Exhausted, happy, and clued up on a whole host of animal facts, we headed back to the car and made our way home. We’d only been away for twenty-four hours but somehow it felt so much longer, largely due to the fact that there was so much to do!
If you’re looking for a fun, family night away with adventure, enjoyment and fun all thrown in for good measure, then I can’t recommend the Bath Arms and Longleat Safari park enough!
check out www.batharms.co.uk for more information on their Longleat Experience 2018 package.