An insider's guide to the county's best kept secrets
Pensthorpe Wildlife & Gardens
Tel: 01328 851465
From wetlands and woodland walks, to bird hides and wildlife conservation; a delight for nature explorers young and old. Plus discovery tours and wild Rootz adventure, nature’s way.
Where to find it
Pensthorpe can be found just through Fakenham, 24 miles from Kings Lynn and 23 miles from Norwich. Being inland, it’s easy to reach without the coastal traffic jams often present in the peak of summer. Set in a large area of woodlands and wetlands, it is home to over 170 species of wildlife as well as being an important site for migratory birds and nationally recognised as a breeding ground. Its visitor layout is clearly thought out to be accessible for all with plenty close by for children and those with limited mobility as well as offering lengthy walks for the more agile and keen to explore. It’s commercialised but in a way that hasn’t spoilt its natural appeal at all.
What to expect- limited mobility
Entry via an expansive gift shop leads you straight to an indoor viewing area; its floor to ceiling glass frontage looks out over a vast lake. All around are information display boards with images of wildlife, particularly varieties of duck and geese, for you to spot. Exit right and you’ll find yourself in beautiful gardens with red squirrels and a heated aviary setting. This area is all wheelchair friendly (as is almost the entire park) and there are plenty of benches to relax and observe from.
What to expect- hitchers and explorers
If you love nature, you’ll be in your element here. Bird watchers will find hides dotted around wetland and wooded trails and with paths that wind round miles of wildlife meadows and unspoilt land, walkers will enjoy a pleasant hike. On my last visit the crew of BBC’s Springwatch were there setting up recording equipment around the park. It really is an excellent setting for observing natural habitats.
What to expect- children
I knew Pensthorpe ticked all the wildlife lover’s boxes but I was curious how it faired as a family outing venue so I borrowed my friend’s excitable three girls to see if it could amuse them for an afternoon. I was surprised to discover a variety of child friendly activities. The bug walk was a hit as too was the process of collecting stamps of different animals on the way round. The girls delighted in finding each one. Pond dipping was highly anticipated although an anti-climax on arrival but the many activity booklets with questions and prizes kept them amused throughout. Plus wide open space and animals are a winning combination for kids.
What else can you do here?
As well as nature observation, walks and interactive activities, due to open this summer (2013) is a new £1 million nature play area called Wild Rootz. Built with the view to encouraging children to play and explore in natural habitats such as woods, fields and streams, it looks set to be an impressive addition to an already well thought out park. There’s the Wensum Discovery tour that takes you through remote parts of the reserve giving an insight into Pensthorpe’s farming and conservation work too. Warden walks also set out at 12 noon every day.
A rewarding day out
Pensthorpe has shown its versatility in providing an enjoyable day out for all and ingeniously appears geared for the bird watcher, walker, pensioner or disabled guest. As for its child friendly appeal, I’ll let my visitors speak for themselves:
Alice, aged 8 “My favourite thing was the waterfall in the flower garden.”
Izzy, aged 8 “It has got lots and lots of fun things to do”.
Emily, aged 11 “I like Pensthorpe because you always have fun and see fantastic wildlife.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself girls.
Pensthorpe is open all year round, 10am to 5pm (4pm in winter). Entry is £9.75 for adults, £6.25 for children aged 4-16yrs, and £8 for OAPs. Entry combined with the Wensum Discovery Tour is £14.50, £10, and £12.50. Wheelchair hire is available. Feeding time of the birds is 4pm daily.