It is strange, the older we get the more sentimental we get about things we never realised were that important. You can go about your everyday life, when something, someplace, someone triggers so many memories; you find yourself walking down memory lane.
On an outing to have afternoon tea with a friend at a location I had grown up visiting – many, many times; we chose to take a walk around the gardens, of course, it was a little wet.
The grounds are truly beautiful, but there is also this hidden world within.
Cricket St Thomas was home to many childhood memories, where we would spend a lot of our weekends; our family like a lot of the families in our area had family passes due to having milk deliveries, so it was mostly a reasonably cheap local place to have a family day out.
Remember pulling up in the car park, keen to run around, keen to see what things we could do, my Dad (may he rest in peace), absolutely loved going, insisted we went most weekends, I can remember having a little moan about repeatedly going, but looking back now as an adult I can see the attraction, especially with the family passes.
There was so much to see and do; so many animals – Lemurs, Otters Big Cats as well as the famous Sea lions, I remember there were regular shows involving them. There is the stunning Manor; it was once the setting for BBC show To The Manor Born. As well as the beautiful little church set within the grounds.
If we were lucky enough we’d get a ride on the railway, with two stations, it took us past the flamingos, through some woodland, I remember seeing a wooden play area, within the woods, the children who would be playing would wave as the train journeyed by. As we reached the stations and left the train behind us, we could hear the noises of the jungle cat jeep, and below was a steep d hill down towards the mill which looked out over the lake, there was a machine half way down on the railings, where you could buy duck feed; it would either not work at all, or give you lots of the feed. That is still there.
There were buildings looking out on to the lake, where at one point you could do crafts, but eventually became a little café, behind were stables, deer and horses (I think) lived there.
Beautiful picnic areas, the iron figures which were dotted around the park and the wooden play fort made this wildlife park a wonderful place to make memories. At the end of the day we’d follow the road, which felt like it was never ending out through fields, occasionally you’d see the animals as you drove by. It was almost like leading you to a sense of calm for on the way home from such a busy day.
Some years later, the park would become home to “Blobby land”…You know the Pink and Yellow weird looking character, which starred in television show Noel’s House Party. Crinkly Bottom came to stay.
A lot of the wildlife park became a village for Mr Blobby and even Noddy land had a special place too. There were still lots of things to do, and I remember the park remained busy each time we visited.
Sadly it didn’t last very long, and the new attractions began to close, things began to change.
The park slowed down, animals were moved out, and some of the rides were transferred to different parks. Before long the park closed as a Wildlife Park, turning into Lakes and Gardens, seeing the Manor turned into an exclusive adult-only hotel.
For a while after the main park closure, you were still able to visit with children, I was able to take two of mine for a short while, but it was never like how it was when I was growing up. 2009 was probably the final time we visited.
Until recently, when a friend and I went for afternoon tea in the hotel, once we’d finished we took a walk around the gardens, it felt as though we really were walking down memory lane. Only nothing was the same. Of course, the animals, the rides, the happiness were all missing.
My friend and I went on a Saturday afternoon; as a child it would have been busy with families, walking or sitting with their picnics. But it wasn’t.
There was an eerie feel to the park, as we walked we remembered the places which we spent many an hour at, there were parts we could no longer reach or see – the train was long gone, the water fountain redundant, discoloured from the lack of use.
The lake is still there and is still very beautiful, but it is without the flamingos or the sound of the train chugging by.
The train station abandoned, weeds overgrew what was once the track bed, bushes in front of us replaced what would have been the line which went from station to station.
The stables in which the horses once were, the area where it got busy with wondering children wanting to peer in at the animals, a bricked well stood in the middle, often parents would briefly rest there whilst the children explored the area. They were empty stables; a silence replaced what there used to be. The further we explored the sadder the place felt, it was almost emotional I guess, seeing the places that made such wonderful memories, is now nothing but empty rusty shells.
Walking further, what once was the food court, a place for ice cream, or a cuppa, is now ghostly, redundant chair and table stood alone and unloved.
Walking some more, more overgrown area, stinging nettles framed a footpath, a bridge over a miniature lake, stood unused and forgotten.
The iron statues which were a fun feature of the original park still live within the grounds; only now there are no children playing beside them, or copying their postures. No hugs from children pretending to include them in their play.
Beautiful buildings, and a forgotten land.
The Church remains a stunning building, both inside and out, tiny. My friend and I entered and lit candles for our babies, (for a donation), it was peaceful.
The Manor remains its beautiful self too, only rather than children playing on the lawns in front, there’s space for croquet and boules. This is lovely too. But it just isn’t the same.
It is wonderful the manor is still there for tourists, or for local adults; and that the greenery to some degree also stays, no houses have been built, other ugly buildings added.
It is just such a great shame, what was once such a wonderful place to be; which is now a place where time has forgotten. Most likely never to return, that is the sad part. It could be so much more; the estate has much more to offer. Maybe one day if the hotel chain is unable to continue; if the lakes and gardens were freely open for all, maybe someone could love the place (and financially able of course), to return it to its former glory. Our children could make the memories we once had.
Did you ever visit Cricket St Thomas when it was open as a wildlife park? It was well advertised on the television; and there were signs on the M5 too – they didn’t change until fairly recently.
I wish I had photos of what it was like before today.
Thank you for Reading.
The Red Head Diaries