My son and his girlfriend returned from university for the weekend and were up for a day out with me and my teenage daughter. I had imagined that their tastes would be rather sophisticated with all that London has to offer but the unanimous decision was London Zoo.
So we took the train to Waterloo (and spent the journey discussing what were our “must-sees” which included llamas, fennec foxes, penguins, komodo dragons and monkeys) and the Northern Line to Camden Town and from there it’s about a 15 minute walk although the sign posts left a little to be desired.
With our three adult and one child tickets and a guide coming to £82.50 I took the time to provide my home address so that the Gift Aid money could be claimed and we walked through the gates to a large map near the aquarium entrance to agree our plan of attack. There were lots of advertising signs up for the fruit bats and as this was under the tunnel in the same direction as the night creatures we set off.
Rainforest World and night creatures
Imagine our delight when we entered the Rainforest World to find that the monkeys, tamarins (some were golden lion headed but most were little black chaps with darling white moustaches) and sloths were in an open area and that there were no bars or glass to separate us.
Occasionally the air was filled with mist and we watched them grooming each other and jumping between the branches for ages. We were also hugely excited when one crossed the path where we stood to sit in an open cage area right next to us – we really could have reached out and touched the little guy (although the signs told us not to do so, so we didn’t!).
Walking around the periphery of this wonderful open area we peered into glass cases to see piranhas and iguanas as well as cockroaches and spiders. Then we stepped into the downstairs dark area (with twinkling drop shaped lights that changed colour) and laughed at the antics of an armadillo, cooed at the sweet bush baby type creatures (lons and pottos?) and a variety of rats as well as marvelling at the flitting bats. Finally, we gave up trying to find the fennec foxes and Aardvarks and emerged blinking into the marvellous March sunshine.
Otters, lemurs and meerkats
Then we separated a bit as there was an area offering otters (they started off a wriggling mass in their hoult before coming out to play to the crowds), lemurs (we naturally sang a little bit of “I like to move it, move it”) and meerkats. There was a tiny, baby meerkat that was simply irresistible and the older ones did their “stand on the highest point” look out bit. But how mean of the keepers to have a model owl overlooking them – I bet they never relax as a result!
Africa and Aviary
We doubled back on ourselves to make a loo stop and found ourselves in the African section. The iconic walk through aviary provided a great back drop to a group of hunting dogs who were in throes of Spring induced passion (look away kids!). We saw Pumbas, I mean wart hogs, completely unphased by the canal boats gliding past silently behind them.
As we walked past the tapirs, topakis and zebras we had to climb the steps to join the small crowd which had gathered on an elevated walkway to come face to face with the giraffes. We marvelled at how large their heads were – and how long their tongues - and we giggled as they gambled off on impossibly spindly legs.
Dragons and Gorillas
Back under the tunnel and we watched three huge tortoises take a bath and the entertaining tourists who were taking photos of each other posing on and in tortoise statues. Then we walked through the Komodo Dragon enclosure – who would have believed that a lizard could get so big!
Around the corner we spied a special bio-secure area which was home to toy-like poison arrow frogs in brilliant blues, greens and yellows. We looped back on ourselves (we wanted to enter the Aquarium and Reptile House but preferred being in the sunshine) and entered Gorilla Kingdom. There was a play area here and statues of gorillas which kids were climbing on. We took photos with our heads sticking out of a gorilla cut out.
Whilst I don’t like to see animals in captivity, the gorilla enclosure did look like lots of fun with all manner of ropes and hammocks and straw hills to provide a rich environment. The two females sat comically looking out at the visitors and after a while the huge silver back ambled over to also check us out.
We also watched some black and white colombus monkeys race around their cage – they seemed to be having a great time. As we left this area we were confronted by signs about the Tiger SOS and new enclosure that is due to open next Spring.
Llamas, café and Children’s Zoo
With the old elephant house ahead of us (we didn’t go inside so don’t know what’s in there now) we diverted to the Children’s Zoo as we had spied the llamas who were happily sharing an enclosure with some donkeys and alpacas.
We had a peek at the pigs, turkey and bunnies before entering the encounter area so that we could feed the goats and sheep and wind up the chickens a bit. Taking care to wash our hands before leaving we were channelled into a café area where we all enjoyed a much needed sit down, drink and some cake. I was sad that I had missed storytelling in a giant tee pee there. Just outside we admired the old listed art deco penguin enclosure before being lured by the roar of the lions.
Lions, flamingos and butterflies
We watched with bated breath as a daring squirrel made his (or her) way across to the lion enclosure but the huge male was fast asleep atop his tree house so luckily didn’t notice. We passed by a flock of flamingos who were various shades of delicate pink and did a pretty good job of synchronising their movements.
There were lots of children near here as there were two large inflatables providing an alternative source of entertainment. We took a walk through a large inflatable caterpillar which houses the butterfly house. It was hot and steamy in here and there were butterflies coming at us from every direction. There were loads of people taking photos here too and the chime music made it all rather relaxing.
Outside we chatted a while to some parrots – the hyacinths looking remarkably like Blue from the recent film Rio. We were running out of time so the allure of the bug house had to be resisted.
Penguins and the shop
Finally we came to penguin beach and spent a fair amount of time watching them potter around on the land and whizzing through the water courtesy of some glass sided panels on their pool. We lost count of how many different varieties we saw there and agreed that it was a much nicer environment than the old one.
The big central area contains a number of kiosks, a large café and bar (and more loos), face painting and a carousel but my lot were into the shop in a thrice. I have an extensive collection of Schleich animals but fluffies were the order of the day – so many! I found a mosaic lion and added to my hoard at the checkout was a fluffy llama, a cute (Humboult) penguin and a soft baby hippo.
Camden Market and Lock
There was a diversion on the canal side and so we had to suffer the indignity of having Londoners asking a Scotsman for directions to the lock. After a short walk we passed The Engineer pub where we all remarked about Amy Winehouse while watching a photo shoot that was in progress there.
We finally reached the canal and headed towards the lock – taking in the canoes outside the massive Pirate Castle there (we always mean to go back and check this out in more detail every time we see it).
We reached the market and enjoyed the vibrant buzz of the area – some of us were drawn to the jewellery, others to the clothes (so much vintage) and leather goods - and all of us to the bars and food stalls.
Our senses being assaulted on every level we ventured into the Horse Tunnel Market and admired the fabulous chandelier and statues. We found another market and were mesmerised by the amazing teen-oriented goods on display. We even dared to take a peek inside the extremely loud Cyberdog store and tried very hard not to stare at the incredible outfits of the sales assistants. We finally emerged through Stables Market and walked back towards Camden Town tube.
It was amazing watching all the people here – including a healthy smattering of punks and we couldn’t resist popping into one or two of the interesting shops. The tube home was crowded and we were all worn out – but had thoroughly enjoyed our great day out. And we resolved that we would try to get to the zoo earlier next time as we realised that we had missed huge sections during our rather rapid tour.