Call of the wild
Ellie Woodward takes a trip to Keynsham's Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park
WE could all do with some good news, says John Douglas – the founder of the Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park. In the current economic climate John believes that the family and educational values that his Keynsham park offers are the perfect antidote for both children and adults.
"The park provides an appreciation of the natural world," he explains.
The park opened 19 years ago, initially as a thriving fruit-picking business. Visitors were able to visit to pick raspberries and the farm was also used for marketing purposes.
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John says that on the realisation of the waste of a "nice piece of land by the river", the idea to develop the farm into a country park was born. Trees and fences were put up and the rest, as they say, is history.
The transformations haven't stopped there, however. Two years ago, the park changed its name to Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park because, as John says, it "suits what we are". The park has expanded from simply being a farm into a well-rounded attraction.
John wanted the park to be a family-orientated day out for children of all ages – from toddlers to teenagers. Indeed, it seems family is extremely important to John – he says that the fruit-picking business began as a family venture, so it seemed only right to develop the park into an accessible family attraction.
When the park was founded, the focus was on its animals. However, it has since expanded into an adventure attraction (featuring a play barn with slides, rope ladders, soft play and cushioned and obstacle areas), and it's attracting more than 75,000 visitors every year.
Then there are the animals. Many are rare and exotic breeds, including Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs which, according to John, are "some of the ugliest and funniest in the world", as well as sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and Shetland ponies.
There are also smaller animals for smaller children to enjoy, including rabbits and guinea pigs – many of which can be petted by visitors. There is also a daily falconry display, and a question and answer session with the resident falconer.
Boating, fishing and trampolining are also available, while older children can enjoy the physically demanding mini-golf and quad-biking, and there is also a pre-school area for children under five, with large inflatables and crash mats to ensure entertainment in a safe environment.
The miniature train has also proved a big hit, not to mention the land tractor train which pulls train coaches across the fields and meadows to visit the new lake, river and various enclosures of some of the most appealing animals in the park.
However, the park and its developments haven't detracted from the natural beauty of the area. There is a picturesque, one-and-a-half mile river walk.
And, for the little ones, there's a one-and-a-quarter mile junior assault course.
This summer there was also an eight-acre maize maze – now harvested – which is likely to return next summer.
The park is situated between Bristol and Bath, "as central as you can get", adds John, "which of course really counts, what with petrol prices."
And John is keen to ensure that the park remains a financially viable attraction, too.
"A family of two adults and two children can have a day here for £25," he says.
Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park, Pixash Lane, Bath Road, Keynsham. Call 0117 986 4929 or visit www.avonvalleycountrypark.co.uk