I went to university in Lancaster and spent many a day wandering around the beautiful Williamson Park. Located at the top of a hill on the edge of the city, it is dominated by the Ashton Memorial, and is home to a number of attractions including a butterfly house and a 'birds and beasts enclosure'. Whether you want to enjoy the acres of grassy and wooded areas or marvel at the creatures that live there, you'll find that Williamson Park offers a fun day out for all the family.
On a summer's day (without a doubt the best time to visit the park), you can wander along the many paths, admiring the waterfalls and planted areas in relative peace and quiet. There are large grassy areas where you can have a picnic and there are often people flying kites and playing ball games here. There are also a couple of playgrounds with the usual swings and slides for children to play on and there is almost always an ice cream van there in summer for a light refreshment.
At the top of the park is where all the pavilions are, including a cafe that offers standard fayre for reasonable prices. This is also where the Ashton Memorial is. Built by Lord Ashton is 1907 in memory of his wife, it is a 100ft building that can be seen from almost anywhere in Lancaster. Inside there is very little, other than the small art gallery at the top, however it is well worth ascending to the top where you can go outside to admire the fantastic views. Along the walls are placards pointing out what you should be able to see and, on a clear day, you can see as far as Morecambe Bay and the Lake District in the distance.
In front of the memorial is the large butterfly house. Entry is through the small gift shop to the left and one ticket gives you entry into the three different areas:
The butterfly house is the star attraction and is home to a large number of different species that fly freely around the warm building. Designed to replicate their natural environment, there are large leafy plants and small streams that are adorned with the magnificently coloured creatures. Placards around the place show you the markings and the origination of the various butterflies. It is a perfect place to get some wonderful pictures. They also breed the butterflies here and there is a small area that demonstrates this and you can see the many chrysalises in the breeding cupboards. In stark contrast, it is worth looking out for the other residents of the house; many small terrapins live in the streams - although you are advised not to touch them as they can bite!
Next to the butterfly house is the mini beasts' cave, which is a small but well presented area full of snakes, lizards and spiders. Inside a dark room, it is designed to look like a cave with many little viewing windows. Each window is accompanied by a placard detailing the inhabitant and its natural habitat. The area is obviously designed with small visitors in mind as the viewing windows are at children's height.
Going back outside again, you go through the free flying birds exhibit, which does exactly what it says. There are plenty of exotic birds here including parakeets, cockatiels and doves, all of whom are completely at ease with people walking through their home. Also here, although not free flying, are a couple of parrots who do in fact chatter to you as you wander past.
The final area in the tour is the small animals garden. Very much aimed at younger visitors, this area is full of cute animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and exotic rats. They are housed in long pens that have very low fences - making it ideal for children to see into them. There are bags of food available and cleaning stations for washing hands afterwards.
All of these areas are included in a single ticket and I think it does offer pretty good value - the experience of the free flying birds and butterflies is fascinating and the whole area is very educational, but in a fun way. Overall, I would definitely recommend Williamson Park as a fun day out, with plenty of things to keep children entertained and for a very reasonable price.
How to get there:
If you are travelling by car, take the M6 motorway to junction 34 and follow the signs for the city centre that are accompanied by brown signs with a butterfly on them. There is ample free parking either in the car park or on the roads leading up to the park.
If you are travelling by train there is a stop in the city centre, from which is it roughly a twenty minute walk (uphill) to the park or you can catch a bus easily, which will stop outside.
Opening times and entrance fees:
The park is open all year round, with the exception of Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day, from 10am until 4pm in winter and from 10am until 5pm in summer. There is no entry fee to the park itself, however you are asked to make a small donation want to ascend the Ashton Memorial. For entry into the butterfly house and the birds and beasts exhibit it costs £4.50 for adults, £4.00 for senior citizens and £3.50 for children. When we went we actually were given a voucher that admits one adult for free if you return in the same year.