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About The Place…
The Living Rainforest is a couple of very large greenhouses that are linked together. The greenhouses are filled to bursting with luscious plants and animals (and bugs!). Its laid out nicely and gave our kids a couple hours of fun.
A large, modern extension is the gateway into the facility. Ironically, we had to pass through a downpour from the extension’s roof to get into the building – not quite like a tropical rainforest experience. Some rework to the gutters is in required.
Stump up at the end of the corridor for the admission – remember to fill in the gift aid form if you are a UK taxpayer (you can ask for the slightly cheaper admission if you don’t want to gift-aid your admission). The place is a bit on the pricey side when compared to other attractions (e.g. it is slightly more than Andover’s Finkley Down Farm Park), especially when you consider that there just isn’t that much here to keep you busy more much more than a couple of hours.
The extension also houses an education centre (i.e. a very large room) and an (overpriced) gift-shop. Just outside the gift-shop, in the entrance corridor, there is a sitting area for kids. There’s a table set up with scissors, paper (with pictures to colour in), and crayons. It was a good place for us to pause during the afternoon’s visit. There’s only four chairs, though.
Through the extension are doors leading outside and to a medium sized playground. The equipment is similar to that seen at Dorset’s Monkey World, just on a much smaller scale. There are covered picnic tables here for parties. It probably would get quite crowded here in the nicer weather.
There is a small cafe on-site; its just past the craft table mentioned above. You can sit inside or outside with your food (picnics are only allowed outside, near the playground). They serve pretty good grub and cappuccinos. Be sure to visit the toilets nearby: their walls are painted in a tropical theme.
The star attraction, of course, is the vast collection of plants and animals in the greenhouses. You enter them from just beside the cashier by going through the hanging clear plastic curtains (they keep the heat and animals in).
The first greenhouse that you enter is filled with plants, but no animals. There’s a few deep ponds which were half-filled when we visited. The first thing we saw when we emerged from the plastic curtain is a purple flowering orchid! Gorgeous.
We ignored the arrow sign pointing left. Instead, we went right and through another plastic curtain to enter the second greenhouse; This is where the animals were. We arrived just around 2:30pm when they were feeding the monkeys. They were fascinating to watch (the monkeys, not the feeders). Don’t put your finger around the side of their enclosure – the monkeys can nip your fingers if you’re not careful (the front is glass, but the sides are just wire fencing).
Warning: there are a couple of beautiful tropical birds that love to swoop down at you, parting your hair, as you stand and read the sign beside the nearby butterfly hatching cage. You have been warned. Good luck getting a photo of their colourful feathers as you try to save your skull. The secret is to ignore them – they soon learn to just skim over the top of you. But I still didn’t manage to get a good photo of them flying.
There’s a concrete path – good for pushchairs and wheelchair access – that snakes its way around the greenhouse. It even dips down below ground level to give you a cross-section view of a tropical river!
We were fortunate that on the date we last visited, Sunday 6 April 2008, that the place emptied out later in the afternoon [it probably didn't fill up earlier either due to the snow storm!]. This gave our boys the opportunity to go running around all the paths.
There’s a large pond which you can sit beside; if you are daring (what kids aren’t?) then you can dip your hands in to clear a view through the green bloom on the surface to look for fish.
Be sure to look in the forest sections beside the path for wandering birds; if you’re quiet, then they’ll come out and walk on the path with you.
Can you find the alligator? Don’t worry, he’s secure in an enclosure and not running free. There are also groups of turtles, spiders and toucan (birds) to gawk at.
When you are ready, you can head back through the plastic curtain to the first greenhouse; you’ll find it refreshingly “cool” compared to the one that had the animals in it. There’s that beautiful orchid again!
If you follow the path around to the far corner then you’ll find a tank that has a couple of piranhas and some guppies in it. The little guppies don’t know what their in for. Nearer to the plastic curtains is a chameleon in a glass enclosure. Its fascinating watching his eyes dart around independently! It would have been nice, though, if a step stool could have been provided so that younger kids could look into the enclosure more easily.
Lots of beautiful flowers are all about in this greenhouse. Its quieter here than in the other greenhouse – if you stop for a moment then you could imagine yourself on a tropical island…right, its time for that cappuccino!
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Its in Hampstead Norreys, just north of Newbury. Open daily, with the exception of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Opens at 10am and closes at 5.15pm (last admission 4.30pm).The Living Rainforest Hampstead Norreys Berkshire RG18 0TN UK