Wildwood Escot animal park and country estate – an outdoorsy family day out near Exeter
Updated: Jun 7, 2020
#animalpark #woodlandwalk #adventureplay #wolves #falconry #outdoorplay #softplay #adventureplayground #childfriendlycafe #daysoutwiththekids #familydayout #honiton #exeter #wildwood #rewilding #conservation
Wow. I’ve just got back from a family day trip to Wildwood Escot near Ottery St Mary, and now I’m faced with the prospect of knowing where to start in writing it up. To me it feels like a ‘lesser-known’ attraction (I guiltily admit I’ve driven past the brown signs on the A30 to Exeter a hundred times and I didn’t really know what was there until a recent conversation with a friend), but I have been wowed by how much this attraction has to offer for all ages.
Escot was recommended to me by a mother of four (including triplets!) so she’s a pretty robust source of recommendations for a child-friendly day out, and I felt it was high-time we checked it out!
It’s very much an outdoorsy kind of day out (something I’d somehow managed to overlook in my outfit choice for the day – luckily it was dry but in hindsight sandals and a long skirt weren’t the most practical choice for a woodland jaunt) but it’s very much an all-weather, all-year-round attraction so long as you’ve packed the right gear – boots/trainers/wellies and waterproofs would ensure you’re covered to make the most of this trip.
This was our first visit and we were generously gifted admission today, but as ever, I only ever post about places that I genuinely recommend. The entry fees are £35 for a family of 2+2, or if you’re likely to return they offer a direct debit membership of only £8.50 per month for 2 adults and up to 6 kids – that, to me, sounds like amazing value for a larger family and it’s open all year round – more about pricing later.
So, where is it and what is it?? Wildwood Escot is an animal park and family attraction that occupies the countryside estate belonging to neighbouring Escot House (a country mansion wedding venue), approximately 15 minutes East of Exeter and 10 minutes from Honiton by car. The clue is in the name ‘Wildwood’ – this is a charitable enterprise focussing on the rewilding and conservation of endangered species of animal native to the UK.
There are winding trails through wild woodland and walled gardens, animal enclosures with some really interesting and rare occupants, several adventure playgrounds, the tallest drop-slide I have ever seen (one for the daring and most macho of Dads!), an entire Saxon village, indoor soft-play, trampoline, a beautifully-kept hedge maze, child-friendly café, picnic areas and gift shop, as well as a programme of animal talks and displays throughout the day- that’s a lot for your money in my opinion.
At Wildwood Escot you can come (almost) nose-to-nose with a resident pack of wolves (I’ve never seen a real wolf, have you?), wild boar, lynx, wildcats, red squirrels, otters, birds of prey, foxes, and more – and the odd tame peacock roaming around the picnic area hoping to pinch a salt and vinegar crisp!
Included in the entry price are a number of animal talks and displays which are subject to change, but today included a red squirrel talk, wolf-feeding (we went to this session and the handler was clearly passionate about her animals and very knowledgeable and engaging, talking us through the dynamics of the pack and giving the audience lots of interesting info), a birds of prey show (sadly we missed this as we were too busy scoffing in the café!) and otter feeding in the afternoon. I was impressed that this was all included as I know similar attractions sometimes charge extra for this sort of demonstration.
On arrival you collect a map of the grounds and an optional clue-hunt animal quiz (an extra £2 and each participant gets a little goodie bag on their way out) – the clue-hunt is well worth doing as it ensured we visited every corner of the attraction and I feel like we might’ve missed some of the more hidden gems like the huge rope swing had we not been on the hunt for clues, and it's particularly good for the older children as each clue gives an interesting fact on some of our native species of animal.
Our girls stormed through the entrance like rampaging bulls not knowing where to tear up first, but before long (and after an unplanned wildwood bush-wee from the 3-year-old) we’d stumbled into the Saxon village with its authentic cob and thatch buildings, flour mill, cob oven and real fire. For a small extra charge you can fire a saxon coin which looked like a great hands-on activity, but at this early stage in our visit our girls were just too frenzied to settle into an activity so we were rushed off by the promise of the play barn (beloved soft play.)
Saxon stocks put to good use
The soft play isn’t a super-modern affair but is well-equipped and the kids thoroughly enjoyed the ball pools, tube slides and multi-level play zones while us grown-ups made use of the hot drink vending machine and planned the rest of our visit. The height restriction for the main soft play is 4ft11” (maybe roughly age 11/12?) and there’s a separate, caged off (yes! excellent!) area for the under 5’s. There’s a handy baby-changing station in the soft play barn and ‘rustic’ toilets are situated outside, in keeping with the wildwood theme of the attraction! (Remembering this is an outdoorsy sort of place, you need to become one with nature!)
From there, we hit a play area with picnic benches (plenty of seating dotted around the site for those all important and irritatingly frequent snack stops), climbing walls, and an epic zip wire for the over 7’s (in theory, we may have let both girls have a little try/fly….). This lead us on to the wolf enclosure and the wild boars – I stumbled across an actual wild, not fenced off boar once in a wood on Dartmoor but that’s another story, I was glad this time they were safely enclosed.
Filling in the clue hunt sheet in my most practical woodland walk outfit
Next on our route was the legendary drop slide – legendary because Darcy visited on a school trip a few weeks ago and the teachers did not allow the kids to use it (don’t blame them!!) so it had become like a forbidden fruit 20ft slide of dreams. Darcy couldn’t quite pluck up the courage to use it but Dad did and didn’t stop harping on about his bravery for quite a long time afterwards.
We then wound our way through some lovely trails that took us through woodland and pretty gardens in search of the pirate-themed play area, which is pretty much adventure playground heaven and suitable for children up to early teens with lots to climb and discover.
By this time we were ready for refreshment so we found our way to the pretty courtyard café, which, by the way, you can visit without paying to enter the park, so is a good one for anyone looking for a child-friendly café as there’s a safe space to play outside (complete with wendy house and wooden play bus), box of toys inside, high chairs and baby-change facilities within.
We’d sadly missed the falconry display but finished off our visit with a go on the trampoline, the girls buoyed up by their chocolate milkshake and half a sausage roll & chips, before checking out the well-stocked gift shop on our way out. (I couldn’t resist buying the girls a colour-change sequin snake each as a souvenir, especially after finding out that the attraction runs entirely as a charity and they’re saving up for some great projects to further enhance the estate and its offerings.)
On to some practical information. As I’ve mentioned, you need to go prepared for a woodland type day out (so don’t be afraid to crack out those walking boots, ladies, as sandals didn’t really cut it.) Having said that, it was a dry day in July and it wasn’t muddy, but some of the paths and walkways are leafy and rough. The terrain would be ok for a sturdy pushchair and I saw a Dad pushing a double buggy around with no issue.
The toilets are dotted about but quite far apart so while Livvie did decide to water a bush, you might want to bring a potty if you’ve a recently toilet trained toddler. A couple of us got bitten by insects as it was a warm day after a wet day so the bugs were out in force, so if you often get targeted like me, insect repellent might be a good idea.
Pricing-wise, admission is as follows:
Adult (18yrs + ) £10.50
Child (3 - 17yrs) £8.50
Family (2 adult + 2 child) £35.00
Or, you could opt for a membership which entitles you to unlimited access for a year to Wildwood Escot, and its sister estate in Kent (also a major attraction with a large selection of rewilded animals including bears!). I like that there’s an option to pay for a membership by direct debit (only £8.50 per month for a family membership of 2 adults + 6 kids) so you don’t have to bear the full yearly fee upfront.
The staff were all genuinely passionate about the work of the Wildwood Trust and what was going on at Escot, from the friendly and enthusiastic reception staff even to the groundsman who stopped his strimming work to help us locate a wildcat hiding in its enclosure and give us some info on the animals’ habits throughout the day.
Summing up, I was really impressed by how much Wildwood Escot has to offer and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to families looking for a great-value but loads to do type of day out. There’s a huge amount for the kids to do, but also interesting and enjoyable for adults too!
It was great on a summer’s day but I’m a big fan of the welly walk so will look forward to returning in autumn for a good stomp around the woods and another go on the rope swing.