The old curmudgeon in me used to quite enjoy the fact that we didn’t own a car, mainly because the idea of going to places like Peppa Pig World or The Making of Harry Potter used to fill me with dread – hell is other people, right? However, now that we’re paying through the nose for a posh SUV (look, I’ve not lost touch with my roots, we still rent our house AND our car, ok?) I have no excuse not to take the girls outside of London for some ‘family fun’ now and again. Add this unusually clement weather to the mix and it would be criminal not to hit the road once in a while.
To kick off our summer of family-based excursions, we decided not to travel too far, and opted for Old MacDonald’s Farm, just outside Brentwood in Essex – a 30 min drive from us. It’s a ‘farm and fun park’ with a petting zoo and plenty of rides and attractions – we knew Martha would love it, and Scarlett being Scarlett, would just watch on impassively. The first animals we met once we got through the entrance gates were some alpacas, which came as a bit of a surprise, but as it turns out, Old MacDonald has a bit of a thing for the exotic, as we also saw meerkats, wallabies and ostriches on our travels.
The petting zoo is the first interactive section of the farm, and is a small barn divided into pens containing goats, sheep and lambs, ponies and cows. Martha squeaked with delight every time a wet nose touched her hand, so as far as I’m concerned, that was worth the entry fee alone. Rather disappointingly, we noticed quite a few empty pens as we wondered around, whether or not this was down to the rotation of the animals to different areas, or just some very shy pigs and otters wasn’t clear, but Martha didn’t seem to care too much either way. The rabbit and guinea pig enclosure also allows for petting, but only twice a day, not that Martha took any notice as she climbed over the fence to get a closer look anyway.
Where Old MacDonald’s Farm really succeeds is with its activities and rides; including a carousel, a roller coaster, a maze, tractor and train rides, inflatables, trampolines and numerous soft play areas; if the meerkats aren’t doing it for your child then maybe the giant sandpit filled with JCBs will. I’d also advise you to bring a packed lunch as there are plenty of covered picnic areas scattered around and the cafe only really stretches to burgers, chips and soft drinks.
Overall I was pretty impressed by the farm. There’s plenty to see and do and the only real downside for Martha was the fact she wasn’t tall enough to go on the roller coaster or the helter skelter. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more animals, and the constant hiss of the M25 as is passed close by shattered the bucolic idyll somewhat, but apart from that, it’s decent value, the staff are friendly and you get to look an ostrich right in the eye – which is something you can’t say everyday.
TIp: drop in for a pint and some food at The Bull in Brentwood on the way home.