“ Address: Marsh Farm Road / South Woodham Ferrers / Essex / CM3 5W / England „
Having recently moved to a new area I am still trying out the local attractions with the kids. Marsh Farm had been on my list for a while but the price was delaying me from visiting. One quiet Sunday afternoon we decided on a last minute visit somewhere so I jumped on the internet and was really pleased to find the price was cheaper than I had thought, so off we went.
There is a large car park which leads to the reception area and gift shop. It cost us £9 per adult and my son was free as he was under two. £9 is quite average for this kind of visit in this area. Out in the main park there are numerous animal enclosures including sheep, pigs, cows and ponies. The enclosures are a good size with a good amount of animals in each and they were able to hold my sons attention. They were close enough to look at and discuss but far enough away for my son not to get scared. There are clear flat paths leading you round the park which are good for a buggy (had my baby with us)
Scattered around the park there are play areas, there is a tractor park where children can sit on and dig with various machines in a sandpit. There is a bark covered wooden play area with swings, slides and climbing frames. In a large field there are inflatables for children to go on (free of charge) with deck chairs for parents to sit and watch. In this field there are also plastic playhouses which we felt were a really nice addition for the youngest children that might not want to go on the inflatables. There is also an indoor soft play area although we didn't visit this part.
Tractor rides are available and while we were there they were doing sheep racing.
We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at Marsh Farm and could easily have packed a picnic and spent the entire day there quite happily. It is not too large and a great place for ages 1-4 but I think older children would get bored. I also think it is only good for a good weather day as it is mostly outdoors and although prices are inline with other similar places would be a waste of money to spend it inside.
Compared with similar local attraction this is the best, the size of enclosures, amount of animals, enducation information with each enclosure and the amount and type of play areas makes it a great place in my opinion. We will definately be visiting again next summer.
Marsh Farm Country Park is a working farm that is open to the public and is owned and managed by Essex County Council. It is situated in South Woodham Ferrers, Essex and is easy to find. It is signed up well from the main road alongside ASDA - I found it with no directions.
There is a main carpark and an overflow carpark and although we visited in the summer holidays there were plenty of spaces to park in the main carpark.
Marsh Farm opens at 10.00am daily (10.30 in winter months) and closes at 4.00pm or 5.00pm at weekends and school holidays (3.00pm in winter months).
At the entrance are toilets and an indoor reception area. Inside the reception area is a desk to pay for your entry and a giftshop, although I recommend looking around the giftshop after you've been around the park. Entry to the park costs £6.25 for adults, £3.75 for children (3-16 years), £4.50 for concessions and £19.00 for families (2 adults and 2 children). Children under 3 are free. These prices might sound reasonable but I personally find them quite overpriced for what the place is. I can think of a lot of better places to visit that cost less. This might also work out expensive for those who have big families.
**UPDATE 2012! Prices have been increased and it's now only free for children under 2! If it was overpriced before, it's definitely overpriced now**
You are given a wristband which allows you to leave and re-enter the farm if you choose.. You are also given a sheet of events that go on throughout the day.
When we visited the events included pony grooming, pet handling, craft activities, pony rides, tractor and trailer rides, face painting, milking demonstration, meet a shetland, meet a piglet, Kat's magic show and egg collecting. It was also a 'Mermaids & Pirates Summer Special' which sounds quite exciting but actually isn't. The only thing I saw that was remotely mermaid themed was a woman (sort of) dressed like a mermaid, blowing bubbles! There didn't appear to be anything pirate themed.
They did manage to put on a 'treasure hunt' which consisted of collecting letters that were scattered around the park. When you had all the letters written down you had to unscramble them to make a pirate themed word. Once the treasure hunt was complete it was entered into a prize draw. I personally think that being put in a prize draw is a total slap in the face for a child - they have spent their whole day trying to complete this treasure hunt only to be greeted with no treasure at the end. We wasn't even sure what the prize draw was for!
The first thing we came to was a sheep and goat enclosure, - you can walk through the enclosure or just see them through the fence. The sheep are friendly and you can pet them and feed them - food is available at reception (for 40p per cup) and most of the animals can be fed by hand (but not the pigs, ponies and donkeys). The food appeared to be a dry vegetable mix. The sheep enclosure was quite spacious and grassy.
The next enclosure was the donkey enclosure. There were 2 donkeys that were very cute and didn't really take much notice of us, they were too busy eating.
Next up were the pigs. There are 2 sheds of pigs - a Dry Sow House (pregnant females) and Farrowing House (where females give birth and babies grow up). The Dry Sow House was quite large and had an overhead deck to look down on the pigs. The first thing you notice is the awful smell which you get used to after a couple of minutes. There were facts and educational information all over the place. There appeared to be about 30 pigs in there and they were all really huge (not surprising when you see how many pigets they give birth to). It was a really hot day and almost every single one of them was laying still on the floor. The lighting was quite dim inside but the pigs had access to an outdoor area (although it wasn't a very big area and appeared to be concrete). There didn't seem to be any human interaction going on - the pigs were fed from a water bottle on the wall (looked like a water pipe with a spout on the end) like giant hamsters and were fed by an electric feeder - they walked through a door into a tiny crate, ate their food and left through another door, the next pig then came in and so on. I found it all pretty sad and I'm sure many other animal lovers would find it distressing. I wasn't the only one to point this out.
The Farrowing House wasn't much fun either. There were rows of tiny crates with large female pigs (that had recently given birth) and their litter of piglets inside. There was no room for the females to get up and move around, they were just laying there whilst the piglets suckled on them. There were actually signs on the wall saying something along the lines of 'We have received a number of complaints from the public regarding the size of our crates. We are working to resolve this issue'. it became clear to me that nothing had yet been resolved. The piglets were absolutely gorgeous and we arrived in the Farrowing House just in time for the piglet handling. I was handed the cutest little pink piglet but he was screeching really loudly so I made it quick so he could get back to his mummy. It brought tears to my eyes when I realised where these beautiful little things would be in a few months - I actually read a sign stating that they were taken to the slaughterhouse at 12 weeks (I won't ever visit again, simply for the reason that I don't want to fund and support any animal slaughter. Yes I am a vegetarian!). There were also some crates with tiny piglets in and no mothers, again this made me feel pretty sad. On the other side of the Farrowing House were lots of different piglets from different litters and of different ages, they were covered in muck but seemed quite happy. You could also lean over the wall and touch them, they didn't seem to mind at all. At the exit were pig facts, activities, sinks (with soap) and a small indoor play area (which appeared to be closed).
The Cow Shed wasn't huge and was home to a number of cows and their gorgeous calves. There was also a big plastic cow inside that has rubber udders which is used for milking demonstrations. I gave them a squeeze but they were empty. Inside the cow shed was also a classroom for childrens craft activities but you had to pay extra to get involved. There was also a big milking machine and loads of cow related facts and activities at the exit.
Next to the Cow Shed was the Sheep Shed which is home to a number of friendly sheep and goats. Whilst we were there they were sheering the sheep so we stopped to watch. It was very interesting and fun to watch, my daughter now understands that sheep have to have 'haircuts' too. My one complaint is that there was 1 person sheering the sheep and another person just standing there collecting the wool up and neither of them spoke or interacted with the big crowd that had gathered.
Behind the Sheep Shed were the Stables, Pet Barn and Pet Theatre. Inside both were horses, ponies, goats, ferrets, rabbits, chipmunks, rats, guinea pigs and a selection of different birds. The Pet Barn appeared to be a big hit with young children and we even got to stroke a ferret! Next to the Pet Barn are tractor rides, where you sit inside a trailer which is pulled along by a tractor. We didn't bother with this as the queue was huge and didn't seem to be moving. Nearby is also an indoor playbarn - my daughter loved it, although it was packed inside and not much space for parents to wait. The tables and floor were filthy (food and packets everywhere) and the snack bar had run out of everything we asked for!
There were also pony rides for £1.00 a go. The pony took the kids round a small paddock. I was going to put my daughter on but then noticed how knackered the tiny little pony looked. It was a steaming hot day and there were about 20 kids waiting in the queue to have a ride. The pony had clearly been working for some time and looked like he was on his last legs. I noticed one of the girls that was working with him say something along the lines of "not long now". Very sad. There should have been more than one pony and there should have been a cut off point for the queue in my opinion.
Right in the middle of the park were toilets and food stand/snack bar (the same snack bar which is also inside the playbarn).
There were chicken paddocks which you could walk through. We entered the first gate and we're expecting to enter the seperate gates inside to reach the seperate paddocks but they were all padlocked shut! Bit of a disappointment and waste of time. There was also a sign on the gate which said "No babies allowed, chickens may peck at their eyes"!!!!
When we visited there was a bouncy castle which children could play on for £1 (for 10 minutes) which my daughter really enjoyed - don't expect anything to be free here though! There is also a large sandy area with play diggers and slides in, which everybody seemed to really be enjoying. There is another seperate outdoor play area with bridges, slides, ladders, swings - the lot. This is a lovely play area for all ages and is surrounded by picnic tables.
**2012 UPDATE! We visited in 2012 school holidays and they had lots of inflatables that were free of charge to use**
At the very end of the park is a small cafe/tea room, an ice cream stand (handy but packed in the summer months) and the gift shop which has a great range.
Although the farm is quite small it would have still been useful to have more signposts up, particularly nearer to the back of the park as everything seemed jumbled together and some parts seemed hidden away. There didn't seem to be much staff either - I only saw a couple of members of staff and there seemed like a lot of jobs that needed to be done. On the upside the park appeared to be totally wheelchair and pushchair accessable - a lot of flat surfaces and ramps. From a vegetarians/animal lovers point of view I found the whole place rather deflating and depressing (eg. they had a fridge full of fresh meat next to the gift shop and there was a chart next to the sheep enclosure which said 'What are sheep for?' and an arrow pointing to a shepards pie box!) but on the upside it teaches children where meat comes from.
I was very impressed by the amount of facts and educational activities around the park and think Marsh Farm is a good place for under 10's to learn about farming and animals. However I was slightly disappointed to learn that certain things such as rides and activities were only available at weekends and during school holidays (and the fact we had to pay extra for everything).
I would recommend Marsh Farm to those who live nearby and who have young children, but don't set your hopes too high. I would advise going on a warm day and taking a picnic with you to make the most of it.
Take a look at the website for more info www.marshfarmcountrypark.co.uk