Both Cardiff Daddy and I remember visiting the Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo and The aMazing Hedge Puzzle when we were younger, him with his family and me with my school, so we were keen to take our own children as part of our stay in the area last weekend.
As I mentioned last week, we were staying in Foxes Reach Cottage in Catbrook, near Tintern in the Wye Valley. The centre is about a 20 minute drive from the cottage, so it made for a lovely family afternoon out. (It’s around 50 minutes from Cardiff, so equally very do-able in a day from here too.)
Our weekend break coincided with Cardiff Daddy’s birthday so we’d arranged to meet some of his family for the afternoon at the attraction, followed by an early evening pub meal at The Anchor Inn, opposite Tintern Abbey, which we loved when we visited last year.
We arrived at Wye Valley Visitor Centre at 2pm, six adults and six children ranging in age from 2 to 7.
For older children, there’s Warfare Laser Ops and a 12-hole mini golf course, but we were happy with the butterfly zoo followed by the hedge puzzle.
First up were the butterflies. Emma, the centre manager, suggested we take our coats off and leave them on the coat rail outside the butterfly zoo. This was great advice as it’s rather tropical inside – although I was pleased to read that it’s heated only with renewable energy. Emma also offered the children magnifying glasses and a butterfly identification chart, before sending the intrepid explorers on their way.
The butterfly house is home to exotic butterflies from around the world. They fly freely around the large greenhouse with visitors getting an insight into every stage of their life cycle, from eggs and caterpillars to chrysalis and then butterfly.
We managed to get really close to some of the butterflies as they feasted on plates of over-ripe fruit dotted around the enclosure, or on the flowers. So close in fact that we could see them using their straw-like tongues, which I discovered are called proboscis, to eat.
The children were all really excited at the prospect of a butterfly landing on them, and it wasn’t long before one friendly creature obliged.
This blue morpho butterfly, pictured, was so friendly, even happy to be passed from child to child (with the utmost care, obviously). When closed, its wings were a brown and black camouflage pattern but every so often they’d open to reveal the most beautiful bright blue colour.
The children loved looking at the smaller green house filled with cocoons ready to hatch. We even saw two newly-emerged butterflies, still clinging to their cocoons. This especially excited Toddler Boy I, my nearly three year old, as one of his favourite books is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so to see it for real was very special indeed.
It was interesting to read more about the zoo’s butterfly conservation. They manage their own nature reserve and also support sustainable butterfly farming across the world, which devalues collected specimens and preserves rain forests and other habitats.
We spent around 45 minutes in the butterfly house. The older children could have easily stayed for longer but the two toddlers had had enough and we could sense they needed a good run around so we headed to the maze, which is right next to the butterfly centre.
The Jubilee Maze was planted in 1977, by brothers Lindsay and Edwards Heyes, who still run it to this day. On our visit, we were greeted on arrival by Edward, dressed in a boater hat and striped waist coat.
We took his advice that as such a big party we would be better off breaking into smaller groups, and having a race to find the middle. We’d only been inside a few moments when Little Man O ran off, nowhere to be seen. While I was shouting out his name, hitting all the dead ends looking for him, I could hear him giggling and shouting “Mummy, I’ve done it! I’ve done it!” He had somehow in just a couple of minutes found the middle of the maze… although it took Cardiff Daddy a fair while to locate him. Proud of his success, Little Man came back to find the rest of us and guided us all to the middle.
At this point, you can either walk straight out of the maze exit, or try to find your way back through the maze. We opted for the latter, and even Little Man wasn’t so successful this time. We kept hitting all the dead ends, which the kids thought was hilarious.
A couple of the adults had headed to the viewing platform looking over the maze, which is the perfect place to guide those getting lost inside. Or to send them in completely the wrong direction, if you’re feeling mischievous.
We were in the maze for around half an hour. If the weather hadn’t been so wet, we would have stayed longer, as the kids were having so much fun running around trying to find their way.
But as it was we’d promised the little gang of cousins a quick dip in the hot tub before going out for our meal, so back to the cottage it was.
The Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo and The aMazing Hedge Puzzle, Wye Valley Visitor Centre Symonds Yat West, Ross-on-Wye, HR9 6DA. Visit the website here.
Admission prices as of March 2017:
Butterfly Zoo: adults £4.25, children 5-15 £2.75, concessions £3.25.
aMazing Hedge Puzzle: adults £3.75, children 5-15 £2.50
Butterfly zoo and hedge puzzle joint entry: adults £7, child £4.50, concessions £5, family (2+2) £20
Thanks to the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean Tourism and Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo and The aMazing Hedge Puzzle for inviting us to visit.
The rest of our party paid for their own tickets.