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.

My Sunday Photo – May 14th, 2017.

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About 20 years ago my dad went to the opticians for the first time – a visit that changed his life, forever.

The optician spotted something abnormal and referred him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (or RP). It’s a name given to a group of inherited conditions which all result in a gradual progressive reduction in vision.

He was going blind.

Within weeks he had lost his driving licence (obviously with good reason) and he was also no longer able to work as a forklift truck driver. Since then many of the things he loved (he was a proper jack of all trades, able to turn his hand to anything practical) have became more difficult, if not impossible.

Not once have I ever heard him complain.

His attitude has always been really positive, he just gets on with it as best he can. While some things are a struggle, he is happy to be alive doing what he loves best – spending time with his grandchildren.

Even though his sight has now deteriorated, so much that he often can’t really see what is going on, he loves visiting different places. On Friday we went to Banham Zoo where, among other things, we watched the always entertaining Amazing Animals indoor show. As we went in, I asked Mark to tell a staff member, Steve, that my dad couldn’t see (I did this because the show features audience participation and they seek volunteers but also just in case there was an emergency).

Afterwards we went to see the brilliant outdoor Birds of Prey display, which my mum was especially keen on. Steve was flying a couple of the birds and, as he came into the audience with a beautiful peregrine falcon, he stopped before my dad and explained he was going to gently brush the bird’s feathers against his face so he could feel what they were like.

Even though my dad says he simply enjoys being with us, I always feel a little guilty that he’s normally on the fringe of things (as much as I try and take him places I think he will enjoy too). That wasn’t the case on Friday. How many people ever get that close to a peregrine falcon?

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We were all so surprised and touched by the gesture (my dad was thrilled). Thank you to the staff, especially Steve, for making it a day we will all remember for a long time.

My dad gave me permission to share his photo and a bit of his story.

I’ve linked up this special moment with #MySundayPhoto (please click on the camera below to see what other people have posted).

I’ll share some more zoo pics in the week (although approximately 800 of them were of blurred wings). Tomorrow is also my second Behind The Book interview (this time with the fabulous saga writer Susanna Bavin) so please come back and visit again soon.

Photalife

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

St Marys

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.

Photalife