As much as I would love to dash off to the Kruger National Park, I'm feeling much more comfy right now back in the good old UK. But I do love seeing wild animals in large safari parks where they have room to roam and, as much as possible, in a natural habitat. Most safari and wildlife parks in the UK are truly wonderful institutions - not least for all the amazing conservation work they do and the programmes they run to rehabilitate endangered species. By visiting these places, you are contributing to this process and you get to see these wonderful animals up close. And safari parks in the UK are are levelling up big style. Yes of course lots of us have done the excellent drive ourselves around a big safari park, head into the monkey enclosure, gibbon shows bottom and snaps off car aerial, all die laughing and drive home. But stop right there. Literally stop. Because get this: the safari park will let you actually stay the night. This revelation has caused me a certain amount of hysteria and quite rightly so let me tell you. Because these places have made glamping out with the wild animals the stuff of dreams (unless you have an irrational fear of sleeping in a safari park, then it's the stuff of nightmares). I don't want to spoil the surprise too much, but you can go glamping in one of these stupendous safari parks and wake up in the morning, open the curtains and see giraffes roaming nearby, red pandas gurning in through the window or leopards yawning in a tree right outside. The glamping accommodation and lodges in these safari parks are beyond gorgeous and please don't be nervous, they don't leave you in the lion enclosure with a sleeping bag and a tin of Whiskers - you are staying in places of unrivalled luxury. Treehouses, glamping pods, glass-walled lodges, safari tents with hot tubs, you name it. For something really special - and without a flight to the Serengeti - check out these and book yourself a real treat...right here in the UK.
West Midlands Safari Park Lodges provide a quite extraordinary and truly immersive overnight wildlife adventure, where you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd stepped through an elephant shaped portal into the outer reaches of the Masai Mari. Nope, in actual fact you are just off the A456 near Kidderminster. What is wonderful about this whole experience is that, while not a budget option (it's in the treat category this one) most of us would not be able to afford to pack our khakis and head off to Africa - let alone stay in a lodge overlooking elephant watering holes when we get there. Enter West Midlands Safari Park lodges, where, not only can you visit a beautiful, award-winning safari park and see everything from lions to rhinos, you can sleep the night in one of their gorgeous (and I mean that with a capital G) lodges and wake up with elephants coming down for a drink right outside your window. The park itself is a vast, drive-around safari that takes you through areas such as Carnivores, the African plains, Wild Asia and the Borderlands. If you don't want to drive yourself there are minibus tours with experienced guides to tell you all you need to know. But it's night time where things get really interesting. Stay in one of their jaw dropping lodges and get a ringside view into the enclosures of elephants, red panda or cheetah depending on which lodge you choose. The divine lodges are furnished very tastefully, very luxuriously and completely in keeping with the safari theme. A really fantastic and very wild treat.
Port Lympne, a hugely well known safari park and - ultimately - a brilliant conservation project under the Aspinall foundation, has been looking after endangered species for years and years; releasing black rhino, gorillas and many other animals back into the wilds of their natural countries. The stuff they are doing is nothing short of marvellous. A chunk of all profits raised from visitors goes straight back into saving these wonderful creatures, so with all this in mind, you don't need any more reason to book a safari in this wonderful place. But things get even better: Port Lympne Safari Park offers a myriad of accommodation from cosy glamping to downright push the boat out luxury, and it is well worth the extra to have an overnight stay. The accommodation includes treehouses with birds eye views across the park, safari tents overlooking the bear habitat, cottages in the giraffe enclosure, transparent geodomes in the forest, hideaway huts, glamping pods and shepherds huts.....all the way up to the magnificent timber clad Lion Lodges sitting within the lions huge enclosure. The lodges have vast picture windows to view these big cats up close and are a completely unique blend of safari chic and urban Manhattan living. It is safe to say you will never stay anywhere else quite like this. All the accommodation at Port Lympne is done with care and thoughtfulness so that the animals remain undisturbed in their spacious habitats. Wonderful stuff.
A family favourite and one of the best known wildlife parks in the UK is Longleat Safari Park. Tucked away in the Wiltshire countryside and housing the lavish stately home of the Marquess of Bath, Longleat has long been popular with all the family; you can drive yourself through huge enclosures of big game, lions, tigers, cheetahs and pretty much every wild animal you could wish to imagine. They've got Annie the elephant - rescued from a circus and fully enjoying retirement, wolf packs and of course - the monkey enclosure where you can drive through and collect curious monkeys on your roof on the way. There are some beautiful self catering cottages to hire on the estate of Longleat itself, but if you want to camp nearby, have a look at the camping and glamping available at Botany Camping https://botanycamping.com/ This campsite is just a few minutes drive from Longleat Safari park and offers glamping in a plethora of pretty multicoloured bell tents with heaters - hurrah! - and futon beds. If you have your own campervan or tent then they have plenty of touring pitches too and the kids will love this family friendly site. Just check you aren't one monkey too many when you leave Longleat and return back to your tent.....
A very different kind of wild here at Knepp Safaris....in 3,500 acres of lovely Sussex countryside you can safari across the plains to encounter herds of wild ponies, deer, cattle and pigs as well as birds, mammals and reptiles. The tours can be taken in their own safari vehicle or you can go on a guided walking tour in a setting that - while chillier - can give the African bush a run for its money. It is a wonderful place to stay, either in their Wildlife campsite if you have your own gear, or glamping in a treehouse, shepherds hut or yurt. Wherever you lay your head you will be fully immersed in the sounds and sights of nature. Good to note here that it is for adults and older children (12+) to ensure the quiet observation of wildlife. So you can be sure of a fairly peaceful experience too. A team of highly experience naturalists lead different expeditions in animal tracking, early morning nature walks, dusk safaris (using echo-locators to find bats), bird watching and a myriad of other wild and wonderful adventures that make for a safari with a difference. The vast array of things to see and do will make you see wildlife in the UK in a totally different light. You can of course just come along for a safari, but here at Knepp they have some really beautiful accommodation so its worth staying a night or two for the full immersive experience. A rare treat.
Roar and Snore - the campsite located in the Yorkshire Wildlife Park is a great place to go for a family adventure with a difference. As the name suggests, you can see wild animals by day and at night, bed down near another pack of wild animals - snoring campers. It is tents only at this fab little site, with great facilities including large pitches, hot showers, very clean toilets and of course, ringside access to a whole host of wild animals at the Wildlife park including polar bears, lions, tigers and seals - in fact around 475 animals in total. Campers are allowed to go in and out of the wildlife park as often as they wish - it is a ten minute walk away so while you aren't camping right alongside them you are pretty close - and once in you will be treated to a host of shows and ranger talks to find out even more about the animals they have in the park. A great family friendly and excellent value safari break.
And for anyone who doesn't want the size and scale of a huge wildlife or safari park then there are also a number of other awesome options where you can go camping and glamping alongside some slightly less wild animals. Many farms across the UK are home to some slightly tamer varieties for those who don't want to wake up peering into the jaws of a big cat. Although frankly that's all down to the individual. I for one find goats terrifying. Anyway, for a more homegrown experience, there are some excellent places for close up animal encounters (homegrown style), and you can sleep alongside them too.....
Down on the farm something rather marvellous is happening. A true, back to nature, old fashioned experience here, where you can wake up, collect fresh eggs and cook them on the campfire before walking round the farm and feeding the animals which roam the fields. It is a simpler way of life; get up close and personal to the animals, go on a farm tour, see how a working farm is run and best of all, teach those kids where food comes from - field to fork. Too much? Well, a recent study showed that one in five primary school children don't know where milk comes from, so it can be an educational journey too. Featherdown run a whole host of farm stays all over the UK (and beyond actually) and the one familiar feature of each is the level of luxury you will be staying in while here. There is no bedding down in the hay barn at Featherdown; it is a luxurious glamping experience, with large safari tents, comfy beds, private bathrooms and wood stoves. However, they are off grid and rural....and this is the magic of the place. It is a real one-off adventure holiday; leave the screens behind, marvel over the stars in the darkest of dark skies, forget the urban world and explore some breathtaking countryside - more than 80% of the farms are either in or close to a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The best bit is, there are so many farms to choose - from Northumberland to Penzance, so wherever you live you can access a slice of this farm magic. Plus, you are boosting the income of the farmers and their families and you come away with a much better appreciation of how the countryside works. A farm stay with a real difference.
Cotswold Farm Park is something of an institution, having been founded in 1971 by Joe Henson and now run by his son Adam. At the heart of the whole thing is a passion for British farming and sustainability - initially created to protect rare breeds and now home to hundreds of different animals. Down on the farm you can see newborn piglets, calves and foals in the Animal Barn or get up close and personal with smaller animals like guinea pigs, rabbits, chicks and goat kids in the Discovery barn. There are of course, several rare breeds on on the farm too and lovely wildlife trails to go on to spot birdlife and butterflies. To let off some steam, run wild in one of the many awesome play areas - indoor and outdoor in case of rain - or climb over decommissioned tractors and combine harvesters. You can bring your own horse and enjoy the gorgeous private estate in the Cotswolds including a jumps course and trails through the woodland and across rivers. Cotswold Farm Park also has a lot of accommodation available that should suit pretty much every budget and whim; wooden camping pods, bell tents, lodges, safari tents...and for those who don't want to go glamping on the farm, there are excellent touring pitches. Entrance to the park is included in the price for as long as your stay, so that's all the activites taken care of too!
This vast 3,300 acre nature reserve on the Isle of Sheppey just off the north coast of Kent, is the only family owned and managed nature reserve in the UK, and the only one where you can stay overnight. It is magnificent. A wild wilderness of marshland teaming with wildlife, it is a wonderful place to come and reconnect with nature, take some time out away from the stresses of life. The family who run Elmley are ardent conservationists with a vision to restore nature and the natural habitats of the flora and fauna living within it. What they have created is a magical and tranquil place - soul stirring in a way that would have left Emily Bronte lost for words. And if you decide to stay overnight - which heavens, why wouldn't you? - they have created a number of beautiful places to stay. Aside from the main house and larger cottages, there are some wonderful glamping options too; shepherds huts, bell tents and cabins, with spectacular views across the marsh. During the day, take a nature trail with a difference on one of their huge safari trucks, where you will be guided around the reserves winding waterways looking for birdlife and roaming cattle. Or take part in a walking tour, led by an experienced guide who will tailor the route of the walk depending on the time of day - so you have the best chance possible to see the wildlife whether you are walking at dawn or dusk. A piece of magic right here in Kent.
Humblebee Farm - nestled into the countryside between the North York Moors National Park and the rugged Yorkshire coastline - is a working farm where you can come and stay and get involved with all the aspects of farming life. Whether it is feeding the pigs, collecting fresh eggs, wildlife spotting from a bird hide or visiting some of the farm animals on the Humblebee Farm interactive Nature Trail, you won't be short of things to do. It is really lovely here, a quiet and rural spot surrounded by wild flowers and it is a paradise for children and adults alike, providing a simple and very welcome break from everyday life. The glamping though is far from simple at this award winning site. Luxury cottages, cabins with hot tubs, yurts and bells tents make up a veritable bevvy of wonderful accommodation options, and there is also an excellent camping and caravan touring site complete with firepits and fabulous sunsets.
Bolton Abbey in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales is quite simply idyllic; rolling green countryside, narrow lanes, stone walls and slow pace of life makes you feel you have been transported into a begone era. Catgill Farm, set in this gorgeous location and with spectacular views across the Wharf Valley, offers happy campers the chance to sleep out surrounded by all this loveliness down on their family run farm. They offer luxury glamping in the form of timber pods and bell tents, all - may I add - with their own wood fired hot tub and glorious views across the fields. The beautifully manicured touring campsite - for those with their own tent or campervan - has plenty of space, a small stream winding through and more of the same breathtaking views. It is a truly lovely place. Hang out on this farm or head to another. 100 metres down the road is Hesketh Farm park - a working farm with over 1000 livestock - a veritable treat for those who love farm animals, tractors and all that goes with it. You can meet the residents, have a go at feeding and petting some of the animals and get lost in the straw maze, it's all good old fashioned fun. Stroll back to Catgill Farm for an evening of relaxation and campfire cooking or head out to the popular Devonshire Arms pub down the road. This campsite location takes a lot of beating.
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