I first heard about Auchingarrich Wildlife Centre some time ago, through that most trusty source of local information, the mummy grapevine. One of those truncated conversations among a group of parents trying to supervise young children who are running fast in all different directions: “Auchingarrich… oh yes, you must go!” Auchingarrich is a wildlife and safari park housing a multitude of different animal species, located just outside Comrie. It takes around forty-five minutes to drive there from Perth, and is suitable for children of all ages.
After three years raising my little boy, James, I am by now pretty well acquainted with what might keep him entertained for a day. As well as farm animals, birds and other more exotic wildlife, Auchingarrich offers two indoor play barns, an outdoor playpark, and (I heard rumoured) a collection of mini tractors perfect for small, reckless drivers… I knew Auchingarrich was going to be a hit.
My parents took little persuasion in joining James and me for a day out, and the four of us made the picturesque drive from Perth into the hills. It’s a gorgeous setting and I really felt as though we were off on a little adventure. On arrival, we wasted no time making friends with the menagerie of animals meandering through their roomy enclosures. James is (at least) one-eighth farmer, on his granny’s side, and he wasn’t afraid to engage the sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens in conversation. The turkeys, ducks and geese were also keen to say hello, and before long we found ourselves at the aviary, eye-to-unblinking-eye with an imperturbable owl. There were also quail, cockatiels and parakeets vying for our attention, but eventually we left their cacophony for the quieter Hatchery just next door. The Wildlife Centre is compact and well laid-out, making it easy for little legs to get from one attraction to the next.
In the Hatchery we were welcomed by staff who immediately took an enormous rabbit out of its pen and encouraged James to gently stroke its fur. Children are allowed to hold and pet the bunnies, chicks and other small creatures. It was lovely for James to get up close to the animals in this way, and they were very docile – clearly accustomed to wee hands clumsily plying them with affection. Both James and I were fascinated by the new chicks soaking up some heat in an incubator: less than a day old, they looked like tiny bundles of fluff, their own newly broken eggshells lying nearby. I knew Auchingarrich was going to be a hit.
At this point, my mum started dropping hints about how long it had been since breakfast, and so we headed to the Torlum Coffee Shop for a snack. Perched atop a small rise, it commands great views of the Wildlife Centre and surrounding countryside and we enjoyed tea and coffee there, along with a selection of tempting sweet treats. James must have been distracted by the collection of toys laid out to keep wee ones amused – he ate his apple without a murmur and I got to devour my carrot cake uninterrupted.
We had been informed of the various feeding times for lambs, meerkats, wildcats and otters and trooped back to the Hatchery to check out the lambs enthusiastically slurping down their bottles of milk. Again, the staff were quick to engage with their agog young audience and answered all questions patiently. A small pony stood nearby, and James was invited to brush its coat free of loose hairs. He complied with enthusiasm, and the horse stood unruffled under his inexpert attentions. There were tortoises, hedgehogs and chinchillas in the vicinity, but James had spotted Clover the cow outside and wanted to try his hand at milking.
Clover, thankfully, is not a real cow, and it was water rather than milk that James managed to squirt all over his shoes. But he enjoyed himself in the process, and anything that teaches kids about where their food and drink comes from (ie. a cow, not a carton) is helpful. After this, I fancied seeing some of the other animals being fed but, as any parent of a toddler knows, it is the toddler who is in charge. So our next stop was the tractor circuit.
Lots of tractors, lots of different sizes. Ones with pedals, ones without. It’s a great concept (I’m pretty sure that this kind of thing wasn’t on offer when I was a child!) and James was in John Deere heaven. Auchingarrich aims to keep families happy whatever the weather and we popped into their spacious soft play barn, where a ball pool, soft toys, and ride-in cars cater for babies and children up to age seven. A second indoor play barn is aimed at five to eleven-year-olds, and includes mini golf. Seating allows adults to relax while the kids burn off some energy.
Back outside, we encountered yet more animals of staggering variety: pheasants, marmosets, alpaca, highland cows, chipmunks, lemurs, emu, deer and horses. We didn’t make it as far as the fly fishing ponds stocked with rainbow trout …we needed sustenance. The Torlum Coffee Shop boasts an extensive lunch menu of soups and salads, toasties, baguettes and sandwiches, with a wide range of fillings, and hot and cold drinks. There are highchairs and baby change facilities, and James contentedly tucked into a kids’ lunchbox containing a roll, yoghurt, piece of fruit, crisps and juice.
Refueled, we went to explore the play park outside. A wooden train, slides, swings, climbing frames and flying fox, all set against a stunning backdrop, ensured we had a good time. James particularly liked the ingenious ‘rabbit warren tunnels’, a small underground network where he could run away and hide from Granny and me, cackling with mischief. I thought we would never get him out again!
Our day out had flown by, and James finally stood in the middle of the playpark, furiously rubbing his eyes, and declaring “I’m NOT tired!”. We stopped off at the gift shop on our way out, and before we had even left Auchingarrich, James was anxiously asking if we could come back again. On the drive home, he fell into the kind of rosy-cheeked, blissful slumber that you can only obtain after spending an entire day playing and exploring in the fresh air. And don’t tell anybody… but Granny did too.
For a great day out, find full details on Auchingarrich Wildlife Centre here.
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