You might think that heading to the zoo is something you would only want to do in the summer. However, a winter visit to the zoo is great too. The animals tend to be more active when it is cooler, according to the staff, and we have found it to be true.
Winter Visit to Chester Zoo
It has become somewhat of a family tradition for us to go to Chester Zoo during the Christmas break. No matter what the weather! We have slipped around in ice before now, so this year’s visit was positively easy in comparison. We also shook things up a bit as it was my Mum’s birthday, so opted to try the new restaurant there rather than taking my normal picnic.
About Chester Zoo
We have been visiting Chester Zoo since the early 80’s and have been privileged to see it grow and change. Once a quite small zoo, it is now covers 125 acres of land. And they’re not stopping there! It was started in 1931 by George Mottershead and his family and the idea was fuelled by a visit to Belle Vue Zoo (in Manchester). Mottershead wanted to design a zoo without the traditional Victorian iron bars to cage the animals. Instead, they opted for ditches and moats to contain the animals.
Since we were small, many of the species have come and gone (to other zoos!) and the zoo itself has dramatically changed. It has been named as the top zoo in the UK and is in the top three in Europe, which is some achievement. They also have a TV show about it, which gives you a behind the scenes look at their work.
The Oakfield at Chester Zoo
In 1930 the old manor house and land came up for sale. This was when George Mottershead and his family bought it and moved in. Over the years as well as being the family home, it would house the aquarium anda tea room for visitors. Now, after some recent renovation, it is home to the lovely Oakfield pub. I think pub doesn’t do it justice though, as it is a beautifully decorated and smart place for lunch, or afternoon tea. Bonus is that they have vegan options as well. Which is a winner in my book.
Having walked for a couple of hours around the zoo in the cold, The Oakfield was a warm and comforting respite for our lunch break. The building is a Tardis and the new conservatory style dining area is a lovely addition. Warm too. We booked our table in advance as we had tried to eat here in the past. Being the only ‘posh’ place to eat, it is pretty popular. We heard people getting turned away or having to book for mid afternoon for lunch.
We were all able to eat well as there were plenty of choices on the menu. And I have to share that the vegan pudding was stunning! So much so, in a post about the zoo, I am posting a photo of food!
Wandering the zoo
We all love listening to the talks about the animals, but we don’t always make it our main focus. Sometimes it is nice simply to wander and find the animals who might be overlooked for not being lions or monkeys! I have a soft spot for these ones and really enjoy that you get space around them to enjoy seeing them naturally doing what they do. Usually eating some hay or grass.
Of course, with me being a lover of all things feline, we did have to head to see the lions. They have recently been moved to a new enclosure which is much bigger and with more enrichment for them. They also have the perfect spot for sunbathing it seems.
Plants and animals
One thing which might not cross your mind when you think of zoos is the addition of plant exhibits. As part of the Zoological Society, plants are part and parcel of the work they do. They preserve some of the unusual and rare plants as well as supporting the animal life both in the zoo and in the natural world.
On a fairly recent trip, we accidentally discovered the green houses which are home to exotic plants, orchids, cactus and succulents. It is a plant paradise (and also somewhere to warm your fingers for a bit on a winter visit to Chester Zoo) If you’re there at the right time, you can also join a talk about the carnivorous plants.
Although I very much enjoy looking at, and learning about, the animals, there is something which catches me in the plant areas. The zoo has designed the outside areas to reflect the parts of the world they represent. This, I think, both softens the walks between areas and also gives you a greater feel for the life in those habitats. Long billowing grasses and short desert style plants help you imagine how the animals would move around there.
It is funny when you visit the zoo. You all have your old favourites which need to be visited each time you’re there. Just to check in and let them know you still care. One of mine, among many, are the flamingos. I love the pink hues and the way they can spread excitement through the group with one flap of a pair of wings. A winter visit to Chester Zoo means that you get the pop of the flamingos against the grey or cool blue sky.
One of the things I appreciate most about visiting Chester Zoo in the winter months is that it is quieter. If you wrap up warm, bung a flask of tea in your bag and keep moving, you will keep warm. There are plenty of indoor areas for that extra boost when you need it too.
I am looking forward to our next visit and will certainly be making a booking at The Oakfield again. Such delicious food!
Have you taken a winter visit to Chester Zoo before? What did you think?
What would be your tips for anyone visiting in the winter? Flask of tea? double socks? Let me know.
Chester Zoo, Upton-by-Chester, Chester CH2 1EU
Tips: There is an entry fee to go to Chester Zoo, which might seem quite expensive. Remember that it goes towards supporting the animals both in the zoo and their conservation work in the animals natural habitats. To make it cheaper, take a picnic and use the Jaguar picnic house for shelter and warmth. The yearly membership might also be worth an option – we got our money worth in about three trips.