Things To Do In Norfolk: Banham Zoo.

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Victoria crowned pigeon.

There are so many things I like about Banham Zoo – and that’s before you even get to the animals.

We’ve been visiting once or twice a year since Freya was a baby – more for Mark’s benefit at that time – and she really loves it now, especially because there are two cheetahs among more than 2,000 animals – and Fuli, from The Lion Guard, is her absolute favourite.

Set in 50 acres, it opened in 1968 with a collection of parrots and pheasants before acquiring a colony of monkeys in 1971. Since then it has gone from strength to strength – often crowned Norfolk’s Top Attraction by various organisations – and in 2013 it became part of the Zoological Society of East Anglia, a charity which also owns Africa Alive in Suffolk.

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Sri Lankan Leopards having a play.

The staff, who all seem to do lots of different jobs (when we visited in winter the same lady who painted Freya’s face also drove the train and fed the cheetahs), are always so friendly and happy to answer questions. What’s more they really seem to love all creatures great and small – and are especially invested in the ones they care for. That comes across so well in the way they talk about them with such pride and passion.

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Blue and yellow macaw.

I also want to mention the food, which is simple but oh-so-delicious. I had to compliment the lady who served us on one visit because, even though I only had a jacket potato with cheese and beans with a lovely fresh salad, it was perfection. For some reason I never expected that at a zoo, maybe I should?

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Red panda (cuuuuttttee).

Ok, but what can you see?

Of course, what you really go to the zoo for is the animals. On our most recent visit, it was all about the birds for me so I thought I’d share a few photos here.

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Sam the bald eagle.
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Great grey owl.
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Hooded vulture.
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African Harrier Hawk.
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And again.
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Ruppell’s griffin vulture having a snack.

There are also reptiles, fish, amphibians and invertebrates, such as the red-legged millipede I got to hold on one visit, mammals, like Freya’s favourite below and a Siberian tiger which took me by surprise on a previous trip, and also domestic livestock. You can find a list here.

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If you want a break from walking, there is a fantastic indoor Amazing Animals display, which has been really entertaining every time we’ve been, a birds of prey demonstration, which was very special for our family recently, and various animal feedings to watch.

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Red ruffed lemur.

Two of my favourite things are the lemur encounter, where you can walk through their enclosure and get very close, and also Eureka! Anamazing Oasis. The latter is always so warm that my camera steams up but on our most recent trip it was a bit cooler in the afternoon and I managed to get some photos, including of the Victorian Crowned Pigeon at the very top and this Postman butterfly.

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The eagle-eyed might also spot a sloth among the exotic trees and plants. You can find out more about the animals in this area here.

Freya, who has endless energy, also loves the outdoor children’s play area and the small indoor softplay area, where she also gets her face painted.

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If your legs get tired from all the walking/playing you can also take a ride on the safari road train (although it’s worth doing this anyway for the accompanying talk).

All in all, it’s a great day out for all ages.

What does it cost?

Discounted tickets can be booked online before you go, all the details are here.

In May 2017 online prices were – adults, £18.15, children (three – 15), £12.95 and there are various concessions. Season tickets are also available.

The zoo runs both on-the-day and pre-bookable animal experiences, which look a lot of fun. As do the birthday parties (am I too old?).

For details of how to get there and everything else, please click here.

Hopefully I have all the names of the animals correct but I’m no expert so if you spot one you think is wrong, please let me know.

Things To Do In Norfolk: St Mary’s Church Ruins, East Somerton.

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Some think of it as the witch’s finger while others know it as her wooden leg.

Whatever you believe (or don’t believe) about the oak tree growing within St Mary’s Church in East Somerton, there is no doubt the ruins are the perfect setting for all sorts of tales.

I’d heard of the crumbling church in the woods before but I was reminded of it recently by a story in one of the newspapers I used to write for. This time it captured my imagination and I knew I needed to visit.

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Not that easy to spot from the road, even going really slowly.

Dating from the 15th century, it is thought the grade II perpendicular-style church was in use up until the last part of the 17th century, although latterly as a private chapel for the inhabitants of nearby Burnley Hall.

Only the roofless nave and tower remain but it’s easy to imagine how impressive it once was. Nature is very much reclaiming it now, in a rather beautiful way, with the oak tree at its heart.

According to one, rather gruesome, version, a witch with a wooden leg was caught near the church and buried alive underneath the nave. From her leg, the mighty tree grew, destroying the church as retribution for her death.

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It’s said if you walk around the tree times, her spirit is released. I wish I hadn’t told Mark that because, not one to believe in “such rubbish”, he just had to give it a go. Rather him than me.

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There are other spooky tales attributed to the site, and it’s clear from graffiti carved into the stone that many people have come across it over the years, but as I wandered about I felt nothing but peace.

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Remains of the bell tower.

Surrounded by lush new spring growth, and with the sounds of gentle bird song (and the odd jackdaw) I’d go as far to say I felt serene. I certainly wasn’t in any hurry to leave.

Top tip: We were parked almost next to it and, despite its size, still didn’t spot it. Rather helpfully, there is a sign at the end of the road pointing you in the right direction.

* I’ve added this post to the wonderful #MySundayPhoto linky. Please click on the camera below to find out what other people have captured this week.

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Things To Do In Norfolk: Strumpshaw Fen.

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Safe to say I’m in my happy place here.

As a family, we quite often find ourselves rushing here, there and everywhere to try and fit everything in.

For the most part we have fun while we are doing it but sometimes we just need to ease up on the pace a little – and where better than the RSPB’s Strumpshaw Fen, where even this memorial bench had a lovely, gentle reminder, in Norfolk dialect, to slow down.

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I feel a bit cheated that we’ve only just discovered this wondrous place (even though it’s my own fault for not visiting sooner). We are making up for it by visiting two weekends in a row.

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The site is easily found by following the brown signs through the pretty village of Brundall into Strumpshaw and then turning down a thin country lane until you reach the car park.

To access the reserve you have to (very carefully) walk across a railway line, after that it feels like you’ve stepped into a completely different world with so many habitats, including reed beds, woodland and lush meadow, to enjoy.

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The second time we went, we hired an activity rucksack (£3) for Freya (they also do pond dipping kits).

She walked further than she ever has before while enjoying the contents of the bag, which included child-size binoculars, a magnifying glass, specimen jars and an assortment of handy guides. In fact we all had fun using the bits and bobs and loved it so much we made our own version when we got home to take to other places.

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As well as lizards basking in the sun, we spotted numerous butterflies (orange-tip, brimstone, peacock, green-veined white, small white and small tortoise-shell) and our first damselfly of the year. And that’s before you even get to the birds!

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Strumpshaw Fen is home to barn owls, bitterns, cetti’s warbler, kingfishers and marsh harriers to name just a few.

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I haven’t really got a big enough lens to get the best photos of birds (that’s what I tell myself, anyway) but there was more than enough to keep me happily clicking away (especially on our last visit when the bluebells were out, which not only look amazing but smell divine).

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Two of my favourite things.

There are two circular walks (although we just did a relatively short walk to the fen hide the first time and then the longer woodland trail the next). A meadow trail also opens at certain times of the year.

While the paths can get muddy, we managed fine with our buggy (although hardly used it, as it turned out). There are also several benches dotted about if you need a rest or just want to enjoy the tranquility.


The highlights change depending on the time of year and I personally can’t wait to visit in the summer and hopefully get the chance to photograph a swallowtail butterfly.

The reserve is open from dawn until dusk every day except Christmas. Reception is open from 9.30am – 5pm April-September and from 10am – 4pm October-March. Events are also run throughout the year (we enjoyed the Easter Trail).

RSPB members, under fives and carers accompanying registered disabled visitors are free. Non-members: Adults £3.50, students: £2.50, children (5-17 years): £1.50. One child per family goes free.

There are no dogs allowed (other than registered assistance dogs).

For more information, please visit the website by clicking here.