Longleat is one of the most fascinating places in Wiltshire, England. Actually, you can’t call it a “place,” as it is really three different things:
First and foremost, it is the home of Alexander Thynn, the 7th Marquess of Bath. A very eccentric figure who resembles Richard Branson, the Virgin company tycoon, Thynn is married but has been scandalously associated with multiple women, whom he calls “wifelets.”
Longleat House itself is a stunning piece of Elizabethan architecture, set in 900 acres of Capability Brown-designed parkland, plus 4,000 acres of farmland and 4,000 acres of woodland. Originally an Augustinian priory, Longleat was purchased by Sir John Thynn in 1541 for a mere 53 pounds. The original house burned down in 1567, but was rebuilt by 1580, and has been added to and improved on by various family members ever since.
The house is actually rather warm and inviting, given what an enormous structure it is. There is a room full of the marquess’ paintings, and the library is fabulous.
The front of Longleat House, May 2013
The Adventure Park
We didn’t specifically visit the adventure park, but could see in the distance that it was a theme park sort of experience, with rides, slides, mazes, and animal-related exhibits.
The Safari Park
My husband and I stumbled upon Longleat while driving through Wiltshire, and saw a sign advertising a safari park. Not comprehending how there could possibly be a safari park in the rural wilds of the south of England, we followed the signs, where we came upon Longleat Safari Park, located on the grounds of the house. Opened 50 years ago in 1966, it was the first drive-through safari park outside of Africa.
We were positively entranced by the park, which is home to over 500 animals. They even have a wild cat enclosure, and it was a little Jurassic Park-like to have to drive through electronically-controlled gates that seal you into the enclosure while you cautiously drive through (windows closed!) where the lions, tigers, and cheetahs graze about.
As you drive through the monkey enclosure, the little critters crawl all over your car, looking for items to tear off and gnaw on. It’s difficult to see in this picture, but this little fellow had torn off the antenna of the vehicle in front of ours and was dismantling it.
Cheetah snack time
Tiger snack time
You wait very respectfully while animals cross the road in front of you!
If you will be in England and plan to visit such classic sites as Stonehenge, you should know that Longleat is only a 30 minute drive from Stonehenge, and is well worth spending a day there. www.longleat.co.uk