Country Life: Lee Valley Park Farms, Waltham Abbey
My mum kept chickens for years, even when we lived on an estate with a small back garden, until she tired of going down to collect the warm brown eggs in the morning only to find the local fox had got to them. It’s obviously in the, er blood, because as I get older I want to follow in her footsteps, and some. We have just two cats, Misty and Moses, but if I could I’d add some goats and chickens. Living in an Essex suburb makes it slightly antisocial (although that didn’t stop Mum nor Tom and Barbara in the Good Life - my model for urban-smallholdings), so for now I stick to petting goats when we go on a walk or visit a farm.
One such is the Lee Valley Park Farms just outside Waltham Abbey. Previously a farm, it opened as an attraction back in 1977 in acres of unspoilt rolling Essex countryside with a good combination of traditional farm animals, such as goats, pigs and sheep with llamas, birds of prey non-native creatures like meerkats and tarantulas.
I took my daughter Maya, aged 13, and her friend Ella,14, (pictured right and left), during the summer holidays. Armed with a brown paper bag of goat and sheep feed, naturally we began with the goats in the farmyard area. I don’t know why goats are so feisty and enjoy head-butting so much but they just do and not just each other but humans. There’s a little hole in the wood so you can feed them presumably without fear but I flattened my hand and fed them directly (the large white male remained a bit huffy but I enjoyed it).
We moved around the area, sympathising with the swollen, pregnant pink and black pigs snoozing in the afternoon heatwave then admired the twittery quails in the aviary opposite. In Critter Corner, aquariums hold various species including a Mexican Redknee Tarantula that I couldn’t bring myself to look at (the photo on the website shows it has red knees) but I could gawp at the beady-eyed bearded dragon, named after their habit of puffing up their necks in self defence. Maya and Ella hold Blue, (pictured below) the resident Lanner Falcon, a nice-looking bird (how Essex can you get?), with yellow-ringed eyes who calmly sat on their wrists as they posed for photographs.
We move on to the Meerkat Lookout. Native to South Africa, meerkats move in groups called ‘mobs’ which create several different elaborate burrows and move from one to another. These Essex ones neither sit up straight and alert nor talk in a weird Russian accent like in a certain insurance advert but just keep burrowing like small brown, striped cats.
Further up more goats and sheep graze in the higher paddocks and Maya did her best to evenly distribute what was left of the feed among them, as they push their noses through the fence, climb on top of each other and generally, force their way into the bag. Job done, Maya climbs the Spider Tower, eight levels of trampoline in a vertical tube, while her friend hides her shoes. There’s a barn with a slide and ball pit for less sunny days.
Not for the first time I realised, as we all did, that these post-primary school girls were enjoying it as much, if not more, than if I’d brought them when there were younger. There are still animals we didn’t get to see such as llamas, cows, reindeer and more and we missed the guinea pig race (yes, really). Ultimately the only way for me to end this piece is by commending them for referring to You Tube as Ewe-Tube (although a suggestion from me is TripAdvisor becoming SheepAdvisor…).
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