“ Animal centre and donkey sanctuary - Address: Castle Hill / East Leake / Loughborough LE12 6LU / Leicestershire „
With two daughters aged fifteen and twenty, it can be a bit difficult finding good days out nearby that don't cost a fortune. We live in Leicestershire and my favourite local place to go is Twycross Zoo, but that would cost us about £100 for a day. My fiancé suggested we try Manor Farm Animal Centre and Donkey Sanctuary as a cheaper alternative, as we all love animals, so we went there last week.
As it is the summer holidays, it was quite busy and there were loads of children there. Needless to say, my two were probably the eldest! This is a great place for little ones as there are various play areas for them, plus nearly all the animals are able to be stroked. I would say it's an ideal place for toddlers to ten year olds and we saw quite a few babies enjoying themselves too, but my daughters definitely felt a little old!
Manor Farm is at a place called East Leake near Loughborough. It is open all year except for Christmas week, though they have limited facilities on (non-Bank Holiday) Mondays. Tuesday to Friday, the farm is open from 10am to 4pm, but on weekends and Bank Holidays, it is open from 10am to 5pm (from April to October) and 10am to 4pm from November to March.
The entrance costs £7 for adults, £6 for children with under-twos going in for free. It cost us £27 for three adults and one child. There was a surcharge of 50p for paying with credit card as well. There is plenty of free parking there, in a car park and spreading out onto the fields. So the only other expense you are likely to encounter is in the food and drink you buy there, but if you take a picnic, this can be quite a cheap day out.
As my daughters were a bit old for the play areas, we only spent about two to three hours here, but I think it was worth the money. There is quite a bit of walking involved though as the animals are spread out and there are various woodland walks and nature trails you can follow, so you may need to consider this if you are not very fit or mobile. The paths are good for buggies and wheelchairs though.
There are several toilets dotted around the farm, which is always useful and several hand-washing stations too, with reminders about hand hygiene. There is also a notice asking pregnant women to refrain from touching the animals if possible (though by this time, I'd already petted a nice goat, so just washed my hands and carried on!).
It was quite cold and windy when we went, but this wasn't really a problem. If it's pouring with rain, you would be better off going on another day though, as there are quite a few things indoors (play areas, some animals, the cafe) but you would miss most of the animals who are usually in the fields.
We began by walking round some of the fields and visited the goats first. They had a variety of breeds and most of them came over to the fence to be petted. All of the animals had good spacious areas and none of them seemed stressed or unhappy. Most of them have been rescued, so some have a few visible injuries (a couple of the owls only had one eye).
Near to the goats were a variety of hens, then llamas. After this, we went inside the stables to see the horses, rabbits, guinea pigs and a rather scary looking parrot sitting on top of his cage. Some of the animals have signs informing visitors of their stories and how they ended up at Manor Farm too.
Just outside, there are more horses (My girls both especially liked the little white one) and a wide variety of birds - ducks, chickens, geese and so on. There are also lots of donkeys, who are very sweet. You can have donkey rides too, but sadly both my girls were too old or too heavy. (I think it was a six stone limit.) There were also rides on the Manor Farm Express milk float (50p).
We went for a walk around the fields and the girls had a quick kick about in the playing field, where balls are left for kids to use. (There's a handy sheltered bench not far away for weary adults to rest.) Then we visited the owl area, where there are lots of different breeds of owls in big cages, again with little plaques of information explaining their stories and what they like to eat. You can hold an owl, which my two were keen to do, but they lost enthusiasm when they realised the owls would still be chained up while you held them. This costs £1 and takes place in a designated time slot each day.
After a bit more walking and more animal petting, we washed our hands and headed over to the cafe for refreshments. This is a roomy area with plenty of things to keep the little ones entertained while the parents get chance for a cup of tea and a sit down. As my little ones are not so little, all four of us sat down, ate paninis and had various drinks. The cafe offers basic food like sandwiches, crisps and cakes for reasonable prices, but there were only two staff on when we were there, so the service was a bit slow.
After this, we headed for the exit, though the girls insisted we walk round the farm a certain way so as to say goodbye to the goats! We took quite a few photos over the day and all enjoyed it, but it's not somewhere we will be rushing back to soon. I think it's a great place for younger kids though, as it's a good mix of the play areas and the animals and the sort of farm that would easily exhaust a couple of boisterous kids after an afternoon there.
They have a very informative website that is worth checking out, if you are interested.
Manor Farm Animal Centre & Donkey Sanctuary
Castle Hill, East Leake, Loughborough, Leics, LE12 6LU
Tel: 01509 852525