Reviewed by Sally Ellis
Anyone with a young family will know that going on a day out can be stressful, so it was no surprise that it took longer than expected to get out the door with a 4 year old (Tristan) and a baby of 5 months (Jacob). Nonetheless, we were all rather eager to begin the trip to Matlock Farm Park, even with the drizzle starting and the forecast threatening rain for most of the day. We were armed with wellies, hats, gloves and scarves, not to mention a few snacks and sandwiches.
The park is open from 10am although we arrived at 11:20am, after a scenic hour’s drive past a number of farms, picturesque villages, a logging mill and most excitingly a herd of cows being walked down a road: something straight out of a Postman Pat story! Turning into the car park we realised that most people weren’t planning to go out in the rain as there was one other car there. No problem with queues or overcrowding then.
We bought a cup of animal feed for £1 and were handed a little printed schedule with activities every half an hour throughout the day, although a couple were weather permitting e.g. The Sheep Race was called-off and I believe the owl meet & greet was cancelled when most people chose to have some lunch instead. There were plenty of staff on-hand (who were expecting a lot more visitors had the weather been better) and we immediately had a warming coffee and snack in the Garden Room café. I was thrilled that as well as tables and chairs, they have two big sofas, very comfortable when you are nursing a baby.
My husband and son went out in the rain to watch the ferret races while I finished feeding the baby. They backed a losing ferret unfortunately, but there were little prizes for the winning ‘bets’ (no money involved here). We then all went to pet the small animals and Tristan held and stroked a guinea pig. They also had rabbits out and we saw chickens, turkeys, tortoises and a lazy cat enjoying the warmth of the barn!
Next we had a walk around and saw meerkats, horses, ponies, alpaca, pigs and goats. There is even Ziggy the parrot, although he stopped talking whenever we went over for a chat. Most amazing for me was seeing wallabies – something I didn’t actually realise we even had in this country to be honest! I was sure I would have to go to Australia to see one. They are apparently a hardy breed and at one time some lived wild on the moors after the owner couldn’t afford to keep them any longer. These ones are of course well cared-for and after entering the paddock, which made it extra special, Tristan loved feeding them bread, carrots and banana skins. It really was a treat to see them up-close.
Despite bringing some packed lunch, we decided to skip the now very wet outdoor picnic tables and enjoyed something hot in the café. Prices are very reasonable and we had some delicious food: pork and apple sauce baguette with salad and coleslaw for my husband, tomato soup and half-baguette for me and a hotdog for Tristan. Absolutely lovely!
Although everything was soaked, the rain had stopped for a while and Matlock Farm Park have quite a few large wooden climbing frames and playground areas. Our son loves climbing and would have been on the slides too if I wasn’t concerned about not having a spare pair of trousers! I imagine these areas would be packed in Summertime, although any dry day would be better for the outdoor play to be honest. We even had to discourage him from getting covered in wet sand as the huge sandpit and many buckets and spades were extremely tempting.
A few more families had arrived during the day and about 7 children joined in the seasonal Eerie Guided Tour (again, lovely and intimate due to the weather), starting with a fun poem about the resident witch who helps or hinders the local farmers, depending on what mood she is in. Thankfully she was being a friendly witch today and after ringing a doorbell on a little barn, the children met her and were given a sweet. After a couple of ghostly goings-on, the finale was the appearance of the famous headless horseman who was busy hunting for his head. My son was a bit shocked at first so we had to spoil the illusion to reassure him. He is perfectly happy understanding when something is just pretend though and thought it was all very funny.
Finally there was a snake meet and greet session. We actually have one at home, but he is quite new and Tristan hasn’t held him, so this was a nice introduction. Most of the children were curious and happy to give the snake a stroke and ask some questions.
We didn’t have a chance, even in such drab weather, to do the indoor activities, which included some fayre-style games and pumpkin carving (there was a small charge), as well as a bouncy castle in a marquee. We found the scheduled activities kept us busy all day.
I could go into much more detail, but should wrap this up, so basically I think this is a wonderful place to visit, with a great variety of animals and activities, good facilities, clean toilets, baby change etc. and polite and helpful staff. I’m sure we will go back on a brighter day so that our son can have more time on the outdoor play equipment. Tristan’s best bit… meeting a real witch who gave him a chocolate spider!! Fantastic day out for all the family.
Tickets cost: £7 Adults / £6 Children / £24.50 Family / Annual Passes from £15 to £35.
For more information visit www.matlockfarmpark.co.uk and this Halloween sees Halloween Spooktacular: Saturday 24th – 31st October and Spooky School (31 October, Interactive event, 11am and 1pm).