Just before Yarndale when my days were full to the very brim, I confess that a part of me (the exhausted part) longed for it all to be over. I found myself thinking ahead into October and making a mental wishlist of things to look forward to. A shopping trip. A much needed hair cut (still on my to-do list). And a little trip away for my Birthday. I really wanted to head to the East Yorkshire coast (as I did five years ago) but the family point blank refused to deal with a three hour car journey each way. Instead, we decided to head West (which is very much closer) and I booked us a family room at the familiar and much loved Arnside Youth Hostel.
We arrived early afternoon on Saturday and instead of going straight to Arnside, we took a detour to the nearby village of Silverdale. I fancied a picturesque Birthday walk along the coast, and that's exactly what Silverdale delivered. From the centre of the village, we found the footpath that lead us through green fields....
We pottered and pootled, exploring the cave and the beach before taking a rest on a very conveniently placed wooden bench to eat chocolate. It was a lovely way to while away an hour or so before making our way back to the village....
....strolling along chatting and laughing together in the late afternoon sunshine. There followed a brief debate over what to do next, and it was decided that we would head into Arnside in search of food.
I've chatted quite a bit about Arnside before, as we were only here a short while ago. This time I wanted to take some different pictures to share so that you can get an idea of just how lovely it is here. This meant that I had to drag my eyes away from the horizon in order to show you the lovely little parade of shops....
Having eaten a filling meal at the local pub, we just made it to the shops before closing time to buy up some ice cream. We walked out to sit at the end of the pier to eat the beautifully named "thunder & lightening" ice cream, enjoying the ever changing skies and the wide open views.
I was thrilled when we checked in and were given room number 2 this time, as I knew straight away this was a first floor room at the back of the hostel with stunning views out across the estuary. We spent the evening in the cosy little upstairs lounge room, reading, playing games and chatting with other guests.
We woke early on Sunday morning thanks to our 3 year old living alarm clock, but that was ok as we had A Plan and needed an early start. After a hearty breakfast, we packed up and said good bye to this special place, then set off to drive north, up into the Lake District.
Our destination :: The South Lakes Wild Animal Park.
Just by chance I had picked up a leaflet at Little B's nursery the previous week, advertising a family pass to the wildlife park for just £20. We had no idea what it would be like, but after the success of our Blackpool zoo visit last year, we thought it would be worth a go.
We arrived early and were the very first family to enter the park. It felt rather strange as apart from the people busy working there, we literally had the whole place to ourselves. At first we didn't quite realise how this park operates, as I think we were expecting a zoo. And while there is much about this place that is zoo-like, much of it is very different.
For starters, the main animal enclosures are very open and spacious, with fenced walkways running around and through them. It meant that often you could get very, very close to the animals, and felt as if you were literally walking amongst them.
This is the "African Plain", home to a giraffes, baboons and white rhinos.
The raised wooden walkways allowed us to get fantastic views of the animals, we were all absolutely in awe of how close we felt to everything. It was a truly thrilling experience, made even better by the fact that we were the only people there for a good while!
The lion enclosure was completely incredible. There was a mixture of this diamond fencing and large glass viewing panels, so that we were able to stand literally a couple of metres away from the lions themselves (there were electric fences also, keeping the animals at a safe distance). I think we were fortunate to be there at a time when the lions were strutting their stuff very close to the perimeter fence, but even so, I loved the way it was designed.
As well as the very open areas, there were also more traditional animal enclosures and houses. I didn't take that many animal pictures as I was busy enjoying the experience with the Little People, but it was all great.
Much of the park has been designed with these fantastic aerial walkways, allowing great views of the animals below.
But the very, very best thing about this animal park is the abundance of free roaming animals. The official blurb says "get close and interact with free roaming animals in our walk through natural areas", and wow, by golly, that was absolutely spot on right. The "get close" bit was astonishingly accurate, and often came as a bit of a surprise/shock! Take this Emu for example. As tall as me, he came strutting (very closely) past us, causing Little B to squeal with shocked delight.
All sorts of other birds were free to roam and fly around the park, my favourite being some magnificent, huge blue and green macaws which live wild in the trees.
Madagascan Lemurs also roamed completely freely throughout the whole park, which was an incredible experience for the Little People (and Big People!). More than 100 lemurs live at the park, swinging in and out of the trees, leaping around the place and generally providing a great deal of entertainment. Tamarins and cute little Spider Monkeys were also allowed to free-roam in paces, it was remarkable to see these animals given so much freedom.
My absolute favourite thing about the whole park was the restaurant, or more precisely, the outdoor bit of it. There was a huge wooden terrace overlooking the African Plain, which was just at exactly the right height for some close-up giraffe encounters....
The giraffes came so close to us, that we could easily have reached out and stroked them. I absolutely loved seeing their faces up close, they are the most enchanting animals. Oh, those eyelashes! Not too sure about the long, slobbery black tongue, but I can easily overlook that if I focus on the eyes.
All in all, a most extraordinary experience which I'm sure will stay with the Little People for a long time to come. And if you ever happen to be up in the Lake District with a clump of children to entertain, I can highly recommend it.
We came home feeling like we had been away for aaaages and I think weekend holidays are such good things. Still nice to come home though, to light our fire and enjoy some cosy family time within our own four walls.