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Blog: Canterbury Day Two

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Our plan on the second day of our trip to Canterbury was to SPRING out of bed bright and early and head straight to Howletts Wild Animal Park. It didn't QUITE go as planned, partly due to SOMEBODY setting the alarm for 8PM rather than AM (i was tired!), but also due to the fact that Premier Inn beds are SO VERY COMFY. Say what you like about the advertising industry, but they've got that one right!

Quite a lot of things didn't go to plan at this point, as my pre-visit research rather unravelled. We'd hoped to get a BUS to Howlett's but it turned out it wasn't running in this off-peak season, so I ended up having to ring the park itself to find out how best to get there. They were LOVELY - they first of all questioned whether we really wanted to go when the weather was so rotten (it rained a LOT), but then offered to come and pick us up THEMSELVES from the nearest train station! In the end we decided to get a mini-cab, but crikey, how many other places would make an offer like that?

With a whole new city of experiences on offer we made the brave decision to stride over the road to the Waitrose Cafe for breakfast - we SEASONED TRAVELLERS do like to live dangerously - before getting a cab out to Howletts.

As we arrived I was a bit worried about how much we'd actually see as it was SO grey and rainy, but as it turned out it was UTTERLY BLOODY AMAZING. The fact that we were there on a rainy Monday lunchtime in term time meant that we had the place very nearly to OURSELVES so could spend as long as we liked wherever we liked. Nearly ALL of the animals were out and about too - most of the small primates were (very sensibly I thought) staying inside in the warm, but we saw all sorts of INCREDIBLE animals. There were RHINOS and ACTUAL ELEPHANTS, there were (quite a lot of) wild dogs and wolves, TONNES of antelopes, big cats, monkeys/apes various, it was astounding. Sometimes I couldn't believe what I was looking at - could that really be a TAPIR? In KENT?

Before we went The Features In My Brochure had had a WISH LIST of animals she most wanted to see, and to my delight we saw THE LOT - Elephants, Tapir, Honey Badgers and Capybara, all of whom were GRATE. We also spent AGES looking in AWE at the Gibbons, basically stunned by the way they interacted and, well, just EXISTED as such beautiful beings. I also let out a YELP when we came round a corner and saw a RUDDY GREAT TIGER! It turns out I am SCARED of Tigers, and it also turns out I am right to be so, as we saw memorials around the park later to THREE keepers who'd been KILLED by them!

I'd been concerned before going about the ETHICS of this sort of place - this wasn't a ZOO but it was a place for KEEPING animals, so I was relieved to find that they all seemed very well looked after, with LARGE areas combining indoor and outdoor spaces, and going by the many displays all around LOTS of thought going into their care. Sometimes we'd come to what looked like a traditional ZOO viewing area - a sort of CABIN with a window on one side, with lots of animals inside it - where I'd think "this can't be right surely?" before noticing the VAST area outside that they were free to lope off into. This was especially clear when we saw the JAVAN LANGURS, who were all leaning against the window like a bunch of men leaning on a BAR waiting to be served, while through a FLAP they had access to about an ACRE of grass, trees and climbing frames. "Shall we see if we can get close without scaring them?" I asked as we crept RIGHT up, but all we did was PERTURB them by blocking their view of an (apparently fascinating) VAN.

I know this is getting to be a bit of a LIST but it was SO BRILL that I still can't comprehend we saw so much. There were some DUSKY LANGURS (i had no idea there WAS such a thing as Langurs before Monday) with BRIGHT ORANGE BABIES, there were Actual Gorillas, beautiful CLOUDY LEOPARDS, Lions, deer, bison, lynx - it was FANTASTIC!

After a lengthy wander round we got a taxi back to town with our minds TRULY BOGGLED by it all, collected our bags from the hotel, then went for some much needed LUNCH. Whenever we go somewhere new I always check to see if there's a Veggie Cafe because, well, One Feels One Ought, and Canterbury had The Vegbox cafe, which was LOVELY. It wasn't QUITE as old fashioned as i like veggie cafes to be (no BEAD CURTAIN into the kitchen) but they DID have the traditional cork board of notices, and downstairs there was a PROPER Vegetarian Shop which not only had a PILE of the sort of products you can only get in proper vegetarian shops (TEN kinds of pretend cheese for instance) but ALSO had its own cork board with a range of PETITIONS you could sign. LIKE.

It also had some BEER which I felt HONOUR BOUND to buy, and thus it was we clanked off to catch the high speed home. 49 minutes later we were back in The Olympic Village (well, back in Tap East, our local, but still) ruminating on how amazing it had been to get there and back so quickly and to see so much. We're already planning our NEXT Mini-Break: Norwich - it has a lot to live up to!

posted 5/11/2014 by MJ Hibbett

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