If you find yourself at a loose end one weekend or during the school holidays, then head up to the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig, where the whole family will delight in a chance to see some really interesting creatures close up.
If you like twisty, scenic routes then head out through Ballater or Alford, then take the Cock Bridge to Tomintoul road, and then head through Grantown-on-Spey, then about 7 miles south of Aviemore where you’ll find the Highland Wildlife Park. You can also take the train from Aberdeen to Aviemore, changing at Inverness, though at almost 7 hours travelling time for the return journey, it’s a long day for smaller children.
However you get there, the Highland Wildlife Park offers a brilliant day out for the whole family, without being as rapaciously expensive as some other attractions. You’ll appreciate the fabulous Cairngorms scenery while exploring the 85 hectare park which is home to over 30 cold weather adapted species ranging from the fabulously fluffy to the ferociously fierce.
The major attractions include polar bears, European grey wolves, Amur Tigers (formerly known as Siberian tigers), lynx and snow leopards as well as appealing little bundles of fur like adorable Arctic foxes, red pandas and the increasingly rare Scottish wildcat. Down by the café, you’ll find an enclosure with a playful troupe of around 40 Japanese macaques, ranging from swaggering dominant males to tiny infants clutching their mothers and teenagers grooming each other. All the animals have larger enclosures than you’d find at a normal zoo and it’s worth walking round several times as you’ll spot something new on each circuit.
For a donation of at least £1 a head, you can ride along with one of the park’s staff, learning more about their work and the creatures they care for as you drive slowly round the roadways past small herds of elk, Bactrian camels, deer, yak and hardy little groups of Przewalski’s wild horses. This is the next best thing to bringing David Attenborough with you, as it’s clear
how much affection the staff have for their charges, and it lets you off the hook when replies to, ‘why is that camel trying to sit on the other one?’ are required. This also supports the work of the park, which is part of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. They also run Edinburgh Zoo and, in common with all other public zoos in the UK, receive absolutely no funding from the government.
There are picnic facilities, though the café is reasonably priced and does surprising good soup and bread, as well as good cakes and sandwiches. There’s even a small gift shop, but none of the hard sell and pester power merchandising you find in many attractions aimed at children.
At £48 for a family ticket for two adults and two children, it’s less expensive than many activities and will hold kids and adults alike spellbound throughout their visit. Children of two and under go free. www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk