A trip to Chester Zoo in early autumn, a day of warm sunshine and blue skies – seems almost unbelievable today, a day of ice, snow and freezing temperatures. Nice to look back…… Trips to the zoo in the dim and distant past with Son were never too successful. He never seemed too keen so it dropped off our radar. Two things put it firmly back on there again. First Trip Advisor ranked Chester Zoo as one of the top ten worldwide – that made us take notice. More significant was the BBC drama series “Our Zoo” – a classic which drew us in from episode one.
Lying just on the outskirts of Chester this is the largest zoo in Britain. Its justly famous collection of over 11,000 animals from more than 400 species is displayed in 110 acres of the most glorious, landscaped gardens. It is beautiful – and definitely no small town menagerie.
We knew all this, what we didn’t know until we watched the BBC series was how it all started and what a fascinating story that was. Based on the memoirs of June Mottershead whose father George founded the zoo in 1930, “Our Zoo” tells of June’s unconventional childhood, surrounded by all sorts of exotic animals that were rescued and adopted by her war veteran father. The story of how the family eventually managed to buy a crumbling old mansion in Cheshire to house this menagerie, then went on to open Britain’s first collection of non-caged animals is entertaining, intriguing and heartwarming. They achieved their goal, the zoo went from strength to strength and today is one of the best in the world.
Not a cheap day out by any stretch of the imagination – £64 for the three of us – Husband was more than taken aback at the ticket kiosk. The zoo is a registered charity, at the forefront of conservation and all visits help with that – this made the ticket price a fraction more palatable. Right from the early days this was a haven for rare and endangered creatures. Now they pioneer captive breeding programs – evidence of that in the first enclosure with a couple of very cute baby elephants.
A lot of ground to cover, a huge number of things to see, we discovered 12 main attractions or areas. Over the years since our last visit the zoo has developed a number of magnificent new enclosures aiming to recreate the animals’ natural habitats as closely as possible. The elephant area is a great example of this.
We passed through Spirit of the Jaguar, also impressive and where the big cats roam freely. Son’s favourite was Realm of the Red Ape – a group of breeding orangutans enjoying the run of a recreated Indonesian forest.
A monorail or alternatively a boat ride will save your legs and allow more ground to be easily covered. However we discovered at the monorail station it would cost a further £16 for us to ride (the same again for the boat), so these were given a miss.
Several playgrounds, plenty of eateries, information everywhere plus interesting nooks and crannies to explore, there is so much to see and do we really struggled to fit everything in. By closing time, having gave it our best shot, we just about managed to cover most of those 110 acres.
The zoo apparently had a record number of visitors last autumn – maybe thanks to the BBC – we found it busy but not too crowded, there was plenty of space for everyone.
All change too, on the way out we saw extensive building work going on – a £30 million expansion and by the look of it something big and exciting in the pipeline.
A great day out, a gorgeous setting, fun things to see and do but a strong conservation message throughout – Husband conceded it was worth the money in the end.