A couple of days ago, we were due to meet some friends at a wildlife park outside Bristol. I’ve never been before, but understood as well as farm animals, there are also more exotic creatures such as reptiles, lions and water buffalo. There’s also an adventure playground and plenty of hands on animal demonstrations. We were all rather looking forward to it.
The night before we were due to meet, my friend called to say her eldest had gone down with tonsillitis so bang went our plan of throwing all the children together to collectively exhaust themselves, whilst we sat on a picnic rug for a bit of a natter.
This was bad enough, but after passing on my commiserations and ‘get well’ wishes by phone, a far more disturbing thought hit me. I was facing an entire day with my children, with no fellow adult for moral support and no planned activities. A hastily dreamt up Plan B was required.
I settled on a picnic at Thistledown, a nature reserve of sorts about a 15 minute drive from my parents house, aka base camp for the summer. It clearly didn’t sound anywhere near as exciting as the wildlife park, but promises of bags of crisps and cartons of juice with the picnic seemed to grab the small people’s attention.
We set off with a boot full of food, a picnic blanket and me silently praying that there would be some goats or sheep to look at after lunch and perhaps the odd ladybird for entertainment.
It’s all a bit low-key when you arrive. There’s a rather charming ‘honesty box’ system for payment, although no information whatsoever about how much you should be contributing.
Most people come for the camping. I kid you not! It’s all very eco-friendly with talk of composting toilets and a tap that delivers UV filtered spring water. Personally, I can’t think of anything worse, but there were plenty of happy campers mooching around in the undergrowth who seemed to be enjoying themselves.
We set up our picnic pitch in a small meadow area surrounded by some large stone statues. It was a bit like Stonehenge for munchkins. I’m sure the eco-warriors would have told us great tales of the complex symbolism of said stones, but for two, two-year olds and a seven-year old, the appeal was simply to climb on top of them and admire the view.
Lunch was a fairly predictably messy affair so the less said the better. I’m sure the wildlife were grateful to my daughters for the feast of crumbs and crusts they left behind.
Fuelled by our picnic we set out to roam around the 70 acres on an impromptu nature walk. For the next hour and a half, my trio delighted in spotting bees and butterflies, clambering over logs and rocks until finally, we came upon the undoubted highlight of our holiday.
We climbed over a rickety stile to find a mummy pig surrounded by nine tiny piglets. Quite simply the cutest sight I’ve seen in a long while. We must have spent almost half an hour admiring these pigs; watching them feed, watching them sleep, and the hilarious sight of them trotting off en masse to get water.
We sat on the grass and collected stones before heading home, everyone thoroughly exhausted from the fresh air and exercise.
A simple day and extremely simple pleasures. Not easily beaten.