Stuart Parish finds that Longleat’s famous lions have been joined by pop-up pandas.
It was early 2015 when my two daughters and I went ‘Shaun hunting’ in central London. Our task was to find 50 Shaun the Sheep, elaborately decorated sculptures of the iconic Aardman Animations character hidden around London as part of Shaun in the City, organised by the Wallace and Gromit’s Children’s Foundation. It really was a Grand Day Out (one for all you Aardman fans).
Looking back fondly at the pictures from the day it occurred to me that my youngest daughter, Chloe, wasn’t even five years old as she covered over 10km in search of the elusive sheep. 8km on foot, and the final 2km in my arms. We found 28 and were quite content with that.
It was this experience, and Chloe’s love of pandas, that attracted us to Longleat and its Pop-Up Panda art installation which opened on May 5. For a still-unknown reason she has called me ‘Daddy Panda’ from the age of three, so what better way to celebrate her seventh birthday?
With real-life pandas in short supply throughout England, it was a wonderful way to add further excitement to what still continues to be a fantastic family day out since the Longleat Estate first opened its gates to the public in 1966.
That said, you’ll have to be quick to see this colourful collection of animals as the installation is only in situ until September 3. The pandas are all uniquely hand-painted and showcase different artistic styles and elements of Chinese culture and tradition.
The largest collection could be found in the formal gardens overlooked by Longleat House. My children ran around the pathways surrounding the gardens, counting each of the pandas and choosing their favourites, arguably as excited by each of the statues as they were the real-life animals we had just experienced through the Safari Drive-through.
My only wish would have been to have had an app or booklet to tick each off as we saw it, as we quickly lost count of those that we found.
More to see
The Longleat Estate has developed enormously since those initial days in 1966, when the only drive-through outside of Africa opened to the public. It’s so much more now than the safari element for which it remains best-known.
While the park’s incredible animals still provide the overwhelming allure of the Wiltshire estate – the monkey drive-through being my children’s highlight of the day – these additional attractions undeniably add further joy to your day out.
In addition to the Pop-Up Panda installation, the girls greatly enjoyed the brief but impressive T-Rex: The Killer Question exhibit – a walk-through of spectacular dinosaur-animatronics where the children were asked to decide whether the fearsome T-Rex was an alpha predator, or more a perfectly-adapted scavenger of others’ kills.
The T-Rex exhibition is in partnership with the Natural History Museum and also runs through to September 3.
Price of entry
A day ticket with entry to all attractions and additional exhibits is £34.95 per adult (16-59yrs) and £26.20 per child (3-15yrs) with additional concessions for seniors and larger groups. Children under three years of age are free of charge.
Gallery: Longleat visit