Even though we live in London, it takes about as long to get to London Zoo as it does to get to Marwell Zoo near Winchester. If you’ve never been and you live in the south, it’s well worth a visit. It’s nearly three times bigger than London Zoo, though it is home to far fewer animals and species. This is actually one of the things that makes it appealing during a pandemic – you have a lot more space to move around, are less likely to have to wait to get close to animal enclosures and social distancing is easy!
For me, the other reason I wanted to take my husband and daughter to Marwell earlier this year (we visited in September) was nostalgia. I grew up not that far away and remember going to Marwell when I was young, and also a few times in my 20s and early 30s, but it had been ten years since I’d been. My daughter, who was two and a half at the time, had visited animals at a few parks, but had never been to an actual zoo before, so I was excited to take her.
At the time, between lockdowns, Marwell Zoo was allowing a limited number of visitors each day (though as the car park was almost full when we got there, it can’t have been especially limited), with a requirement to pre-book, with tickets only going on sale a few days in advance. We had taken a few days off work with the intention of visiting on a weekday in term time, and had no problems securing tickets. Adults pay £18 – not bad given you could spend the best part of a day here, though our visit was about four hours – and children over three are charged £14.50. That seemed a lot to me for a three year old to me – we were with my sister and niece, who is three, while my daughter could enter for free.
My daughter’s favourite animals were the giraffes, which she had never seen before; she was also a big fan of the penguins and meerkats. We were lucky to get a good view of one of the tigers as it paced around its enclosure, while we stood eating ice cream. The lemur loop – where you can walk through an indoor and outdoor area to get up close to the monkeys – was unfortunately closed, and the train around the park didn’t seem to be running, but other than that it was a really refreshing experience to be able to almost forget about COVID. The zoo does ask that you wear masks in any indoor or covered areas, which included sections at the penguin and monkey enclosures where we started viewing the animals outside, then went through a covered walkway where we had to put on our masks. We took a picnic that we could eat outside – I find that’s a lot easier with a toddler who just wants to graze – and found a patch of grass to sit on. There’s plenty of space for picnics and we saw a large play area but as it was aimed at older children, had to explain to our daughter that she wasn’t quite big enough yet. I didn’t realise until afterwards there are several play areas including one suitable for under 6s which would have been much better for her.
When we visited there was also a brick model exhibition (I assumed Lego but if not, it was similar) featuring different creatures dotted around the zoo. They were fun to spot and some were very impressive.
We didn’t go into the tropical house – I’m not sure actually if it was open – or the ‘fur, feathers and scales’ section – we were generally trying to avoid indoor areas and also conscious of how far our daughter had walked.
We had taken the buggy but she didn’t want to use it at all, and was too excited to explore – surprisingly, while all our feet were hurting by the end and my niece wanted my sister to carry her, my daughter was still going without complaint!
The zoo is currently closed during the November 2020 lockdown but hopefully will reopen soon, and I encourage you to visit!