Reviewed by Joanne Watson
How is it possible that I haven’t discovered these gems of places until now?
I have just returned from the most fabulous day out at Monkey Forest and Trentham Gardens in Stoke-on-Trent. My party was made up of myself, my 8 year old son, my twins under 2 and my 60 year old mother, and I can honestly say that a great time was had by all! The staff have clearly considered the needs of all visitors from the very young to the old, and there truly is something for everyone.
On arrival at Monkey Forest we found that the entrance was neat, tidy and understated, and there was ample car parking. We were able to park right outside the front and entered quickly. The staff on the reception were polite and helpful. We were then introduced to Matt Lovatt who manages the forest – and what a wonderful job he does! Every member of staff we encountered throughout the day were knowledgeable and passionate. This is clearly a venue where the staff are happy and enjoy their work and it shines through to the visitors. We were given a glossy guidebook and my older son was given two trails to follow where prizes could be won by answering questions about the forest. This was a big hit with my son, and made the experience even more ‘purposeful’ for him.
We entered in to the forest and spotted a monkey almost straightaway! It was an amazing experience and all three of my children were in awe, as were my and mum and I. Members of staff were dotted all throughout the forest and they all seemed to have a natural ‘knack’ of being there to give information about the monkeys when you wanted it without obtruding on your visit. As we continued through the forest we saw lots of monkeys. I thought they might be hard to spot, especially for my younger children, but they were incredibly close. We saw monkeys playing, eating, swinging and sleeping. They were so relaxed and calm, and the forest in which they lived was incredible. It was natural and authentic and probably the most realistic habitat of any zoo or animal park I have ever visited. There were beautiful trees in the forest, as you’d expect, but the trees had branches growing at interesting angles, with vines for the monkeys. There were streams running the forest, uprooted trees, and hollowed logs. The paths were gravel, but easily accessible with my double buggy. The whole forest experience was natural and tranquil.
Outside of the forest, the rest of the park was a delight as well. There were two age appropriate children’s play areas, a café on site and plenty of seating for picnics. Everywhere we looked there was something interesting to see, right down to the mini beast mansions – homes for bugs! The toilets were large and clean, and the baby change facilities were excellent.
The whole experience in Monkey Forest was brilliant and I would recommend it to everyone. The overriding thought that kept coming back to me throughout, was how ‘un-plastic’ it all was. This might seem odd, but so often tourist attractions, especially those aimed at children, are just a sea of plastic, whereas Monkey Forest was attractive and natural. Everything was wooden and this was probably the best thing about it for me! We will definitely be returning; in fact we have already discussed a return visit, so my partner can share the experience too! I am also a primary school teacher so will be looking at possibly returning with my class at a future date.
We exited the park and followed a trail round to the South Entrance to Trentham Gardens. We entered via a café on the south side of the lake and once again our breaths were taken away! It was an unexpected treat as we saw this beautiful lake in front of us, which was wide, clear and simply stunning. We were given a trail book again for the children, and they were told they could spot fairies all around the gardens. My son was again hooked! We had the option to cross the lake via boat, or we could walk around the lake and get on a small train. We opted for the walk and train ride, and straight away we were spotting fairies!
After a short walk, my mum and son got on the train, but as I had the pushchair I wasn’t able to, and had to continue to walk around, but it was so scenic and pretty, I didn’t mind at all. We walked around the immaculate gardens, looked at the ruined stately home, and continued to spot fairies! We all made a wish under the circle of willow trees where fairies grant wishes. Like Monkey Forest, there was something g to see everywhere you looked but the best part of the gardens for me and my family was the amazing play area. It was huge with something for every age! They had unusual and different equipment; large sandpits, racing car track, ropes to climb, climbing walls. They had really thought of everything! There was an immaculate maze complete with talking pipes to pass messages back and forth. We had a great time getting lost in the maze and finding each other using the talking pipes! There was the option of going on a barefoot walk which looked like a lot of fun, but we didn’t complete it as unfortunately it started to rain! We managed to make it to the café though where we had a very welcome cup of loose leaf tea and cakes. Again, throughout the gardens, I was so pleased to see all the natural materials.
As we walked back around the lake my children fell asleep as they were exhausted from all the fun we had. All three slept on the way home in the car which is always the mark of a great day out to me! I have uploaded pictures of our day and already friends are asking me where we went and where it was! We have hopefully inspired other people to come and visit.
I cannot of any negative aspects to the visit – it was a memorable day and one we hope to repeat soon. Thank you to all at both venues, we had a wonderful day.
Tickets for Monkey Forest cost from £5 to £7.50. For more details visit www.monkey-forest.com.
Tickets for Trentham Gardens cost from £4.50 to £32. For more details visit www.trentham.co.uk.
The Trentham Estate, Stone Road, Trentham, Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 8AX | 01782 646646