Thunderstorms continue to punctuate our days but England was at its most beautiful today despite the passing showers and grey clouds. In between were glorious patches of blue and magnificent billowing piles of cumulus, the fields and hills were brilliant green, the woods were dark and cool, and the sun, when it appeared, heated the countryside quickly.
Today we drove over to Woburn, where, courtesy of friends from Australia, Neil and Wendy Smith, we spent six happy hours experiencing the eccentric wonders of the safari park. I went there as a child, back in the early seventies, when we lived in England. I had no memories of it at all, apart from the name, but today I rediscovered its delights. We drove through the rolling green hills and marvelled at the incongruous wildlife – lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos. The monkeys were great fun, and yet amazingly the kids were equally excited by the native squirrels and rabbits which dashed between the trees and their more exotic companions.
What has certainly changed since I was there thirty five years ago is the development of the leisure area, which includes lots of smaller enclosures with even more animal wonders – everything from seals and penguins to lemurs and lynx and snakes and lizards. There was an Australian Walkabout enclosure where we wandered among some gorgeous furry wallabies, many of which were strangely albino with squinty pink eyes, quite an unusual sight even for us Australians. There was a monkey enclosure with some wonderful little squirrel monkeys from Peru, which scampered along ropes and walkways and high into the towering old oaks of the English estate.
There was also all sorts of play equipment, including an indoor play centre called the Mammoth Play Ark, housed in a huge wooden structure built in the shape of Noah’s old ship, but filled with climbing frames and adventure equipment and three huge slides including a red one which dropped almost vertically for the first 3 metres, creating (for our enjoyment) momentary terror in the kids faces as they plummeted downwards. Later we paddled around a small lake on swan shaped pedal paddle boats, and rode on a little train past camels and zebras.
It was a day to remember, and we drove home happily through country villages with funny names and crooked houses. Back home we spent the evening chatting with the Giles latest guests, the Eklund family, more Mercy Ships friends, just arrived in England from the Africa Mercy in Monrovia. They have two children, aged three and six, so the house is really buzzing with childhood fun and laughter tonight, although they are all gradually finding their way (with a lot of encouragement) to their beds.