On Bank Holiday Monday, we went out for another adventure. We were going to check a new playground. First, we’d to join the long queues before the traffic turned off for the Wellesbourne Airfield. Finally we were on wintery country roads of the Oxfordshire rolling hills, past frozen fields and hedgerows, ancient grey, stone walls and pockets of snow. The current bout of icy weather was being blown in from snowy wastes of Scandinavia and Russia. High pressure to the north and east and low pressure down in the Mediterranean had created an easterly flow and brought in the cold. We came across historic market towns and charming picturesque villages, in the very heart of rural England. Unlike the rugged mountains of Mid-Wales, the landscape was far softer, with no jagged peaks and not many very steep climbs. The idyllic stone-built villages were soft brown rather than rugged grey. Buildings and landscape blended together in perfect harmony with ancient abbeys, medieval churches and manor houses, bustling market towns and quiet picturesque villages, all built in the local honey-coloured limestone, architectural gems that bejewel the region and enhance its natural beauty. Since it was a bank holiday, all the towns that we came across were buzzing with tourists. Tourism was a major economy in the Cotswold. We drove through the wide main street of the medieval town of Burford. We passed uphill through an old bridge built in 1322 over the River Windrush and was flanked by rows of exceptional period houses. We saw 15th century almhouses. Three miles south of Burford ,we reached our destination, the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens. After parking our car, we were greeted with snow showers :-). Babe wanted to find the facilities but the sight of this three awesome white rhinoceros ambling into view was a sight to behold. All that separated us was just a large moated paddock.
The rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he's not a feast.
Farewell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I'll stare at something less prepoceros.
Unlike Ogden Nash, they were a magnificent feast to our eyes. We stared at them for quite a while. They, together with a herd of cute Chapmans zebras, were grazing in the grounds of the 19th. century gothic Bradwell Grove mansion. Woo..hoo. We were speechless. All you could hear was our cameras rattling away. And this was only the beginning. We still have 160 acres to go:-). Bella the train carrying visitors were criss-crossing the park and I planned to be on them later. We got close to a herd of Bactrian camels grazing in the near-by field. It was surreal to see these desert mammals in an English environment. They looked a bit worse for wear because they were moulting.
Nearby are big cat enclosures which house a pair of Asiatic lions which last bred in 2002 and Amur leopards, the world's rarest cats. Both were fast asleep. Next was the giraffe enclosure with a walkaway where we were at the same height and eye-to-eye with them. This beauty was so close that I could count the sweeping eyelashes. Due to the freezing weather, all three giraffes were in their paddocks and this one was inches away from us munching his tea. As we navigate around the park, Babe was distracted by the rhinoceros again. I went to check an ostrich by another enclosure. Suddenly a flock of 4 came thundering towards me. Oops…they were checking me out. Although they were behind a barrier, I’d to move back. They were huge and their necks were quite long. I could see how curious they were. We followed the path and came across a pond full of different varieties of ducks. Most we’d seen before but it was still lovely to see them again. It was feeding time and the usual scramble was in motion. Among them were the obligatory Mandarin ducks, Eider ducks, T-Bar geese, Snow Goose, Golden Eye, Wood Ducks, Barnacles and Grouses. We walked on raised walkways through a wooded enclosure to catch a glimpse of Canadian timber wolves. They moved in here in 2006 and were fast asleep after a big meal. We spotted a huge half-eaten carcass of something in the middle of the compound. The park authorities had made the surroundings as close as possible to their natural habitat that It was quite surreal walking through the shaded woods. I felt like a wolf could pounce any time. We continued on and walked past a sleeping Wallaby, a flock of pretty, smelly pink Flamingos, being chased away by a male White-Naped Crane because the female was sitting on eggs, Capybaras and various bird aviaries with Burrowing Owls, Giant Hornbills, Scarlet Ibis, Guira Cuckoo and Vultures. But a pair of Anteaters caught our attention. I’d to chuckle when Babe mentioned that he found it all but impossible to look at them and not, at some point, expect someone to undo a zip and climb out of the costume…That was in my head all day :-)
"A genuine anteater,"
The pet man told me dad.
Turned out, it was an aunt eater,
And now my uncle's mad!
~Shel Silverstein~ There was a section for the little people where they can stroke rabbits, guinea-pigs goats, sheep and other domesticated breeds. There was also a spacious adventure playground for them to be explored. Domesticated breeds can be found in the Children's Farmyard. We checked out the gorgeous Farmyard animals and marvel at the ‘old’ species. They really looked different from the commercially-bred one. I couldn’t resist a photograph with this Wickerman of Oxford designed by Callum Smith who was only 10 years and built by ‘Wicker Man Oxford Community Project’.
You are my palpable, lithe
Otter of memory
In the pool of the moment,
Turning to swim on your back,
Each silent, thigh-shaking kick
Re-tilting the light,
Heaving the cool at your neck.
And suddenly you're out,
Back again, intent as ever,
Heavy and frisky in your freshened pelt,
Printing the stones.
“It’s practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry.”
As we were leaving the Walled Gardens, the loudspeaker came on to ask the visitors to make their way to the lawn in front of the manor house for a falconry demonstration. An opportunity that we weren’t going to miss. We sat by the edge of the lawn and watched displays by Kestrel, Barn Owl and a Falcon. Some of these birds were spooked by the Red Kited and Buzzards circling the skies above us. The final enclosure we saw belongs to the adorable Red Pandas. They were soo playful and just looked like a huge teddy-bear. One was climbing right to the tree-top and it was a miracle that he was able to climb down. By this time, Babe was already exhausted. It was a long drive home and it was snowing again. We gave the train ride a miss. We also missed the sheltered Walled Garden, the Tropical House with free-roaming sloths, bats and birds, the Reptile House and the Insect House. We will definitely come again to check all these places. It was a photographer’s heaven as we could get very, very close to the animals and there were no fences or glass panels giving us unparallel access to many of the animals. Amur leopard
There are lions and roaring tigers,
and enormous camels and things,
There are biffalo-buffalo-bisons,
and a great big bear with wings.
There are badgers and bidgers and bodgers,
and a Super-in-tendent's House,
There are masses of goats, and a Polar,
and different kinds of mouse,
And I think there's a sort of a something
which is called a wallaboo -
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!
If you try to talk to the bison,
he never quite understands;
You can't shake hands with a mingo -
he doesn't like shaking hands.
And lions and roaring tigers
hate saying, "How do you do?" -
But I give buns to the elephant
when I go down to the Zoo!
~Alan Alexander Milne, ‘At the Zoo’~