Muddy goes wild at Beale Park
A brilliantly bijou wildlife park by the river in West Berkshire that's all about fresh air, fun and getting up close to the furry and feathered friends.
The last time I visited Beale Park my now teen was a toddler. The train ride was a big hit, they had lots of birds and a large play area to occupy the kids while you enjoyed the first hot cuppa of the day and inhaled a Twix. In fact, the enclosed Little Tikes areas was always a favourite with mums as it was fenced in (safety first), leaving the human tikes to fight it out for the drivers’ seats like they were in some sort of gladiatorial arena. But things have changed… for the better.
It’s bye bye Beale Park and hello Beale Wildlife Park. The family attraction occupies 40 acres of a 350 acre estate right next to the river Thames between Pangbourne and Lower Basildon. It boasts a zoo and farmyard of 160 different species. It’s also open all year and there’s a real focus on fun and conservation.
In fact, they’ve just started a breeding programme. They’ve been match making Lynx. Finn and Lox have been dating a few weeks now. The hope is they’ll have kittens, with a view to re-wild the species in the future. Elsewhere in park five guanacos have also joined the family, including the only breeding females in a UK zoo. Once a hot to trot male is sourced, Beale will be the only place that the public can meet baby guanacos. Cuteness overload.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Beale Wildlife Park has a smörgåsbord of furry and feathered friends. The stars of the park are the Carpathian Lynx – now virtually extinct in many areas of their natural home in Eastern Europe. But you’ll also zebras (fun fact: they are black with white stripes), the cutest ring-tailed lemurs, a dwarf crocodile, meerkats, prairie dogs, otters and alpacas, pig, various owls and miniature Shetland ponies, to name a few.
This is a small brilliantly, manageable-sized park, so easy to get around and the miniature railway takes you round a large proportion of the park – which helps you get your bearings. For the kids there are several play areas. A whizzy zip wire at the furthest point. A huge bouncy pillow, rope play, adventure playground and the Toddlers Village Toddlers’ Village where imaginations can run riot and, yes, the Tikes are still there. But by far the best thing about this bijou zoo are the animals.
My boys are 16 and 7 years-old. The eldest is a bit past the age *sob* where he is happy just to potter around a wildlife park. But my youngest, is an enthusiastic wing man who loved the opportunity to climb, swing and bounce his way around the park while swooning at all the animals. In fact he would have adopted them all (something you can do here).
Don’t miss the Keeper Talks. They’re usually during feeding times. Right now you can get the inside track on the tapir, otters, meerkats and lemurs.
There’s a good focus on learning about the animals with opportunities to meet the keepers and listen to the daily talks. During the school holidays Beale Wildlife Park has a series of fun activities too. For Feb half term there is a Love theme (well it is the month of amoré). Solve the ‘animals in love’ clues on the Valentine’s Trail, there are free and simple crafts in the Beale Centre or meet the Love Bugs in the Education Centre.
Or you can give your child a hammer and under the expert supervision of Rob and Dave, and they can make a nesting box for your garden love birds. It cost £5, and Sam loved creating an airbnb for our visiting Blue Tits. It was a nice way to start our visit, but dash back to the car with it, otherwise you’ll be lugging it around all day.
Picnic on sunny days. The gardens are beautiful, particularly in the summer. There are a huge number of sculptures, some classical, some witty, but my favourites are the giraffes with they tongues out licking the leaves of the trees and the deer leaping over the water being chased by a big cat. There’s a very good café one site, if you can be figged making sarnies. Word of warning: the café gets very busy, so get in early or be prepared to queue.
Sam’s verdict? It’s a heart-melting review. He simply said, ‘ I’ve had the best day.’ *sniff*. I’m not sure you can ask for more than that.
WHAT’S THE COST?
Tickets: Adults, £12, Children (2 – 15 years), £9, online. Family ticket (2 Adults + 2 Children) is £56.00. This makes it the most reasonably priced wildlife park in the area. Annual season tickets are available from £53. Experiences cost extra. Opening times: 10am-5pm. From 9 April the park closes at 6pm.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Animal lovers old and young will love Beale Wildlife Park. But if you have younger kids, this is a sanctuary for you all. A lovely day out in the fresh air, that’s fun and informative. Love love love.
Not good for: Older kids will roll their eyes and exclaim it’s far too tame for them. But if you can get them through the door, they’ll love the chance to see animals up close and personal. Good luck with that.
Beale Wildlife Park, Lower Basildon, Pangbourne, Reading RG8 9NW