We’ve all been there – there’s only one more day before Christmas and you’re still recovering from the office party hangover/shame/food coma/all three so present shopping just hasn’t happened yet. Amongst the hordes bugging you for presents is an animal lover, and even worse, a London-based one. Their lack of exposure to the countryside means the fluffy adorability of most animals has not faded in the face of their habit of destroying things you love, and then thoughtfully returning it to you, via a trip through their bowels.
Puppies are obviously for life and not just for Christmas, so an off-the-cuff trip to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home is out for moral reasons. However, fear not, there are still ways for you to help you get them an animal fix in a way that is safe (for all parties concerned in case it seems unclear to you who would be most damaged by the experience) and you can just book online or over the phone asap.
TRENT PARK EQUESTRIAN CENTRE
Despite the built-up nature of London, being a capital city and all, horse riding in a nice green environment is possible. So if you know someone who is gooily sentimental about the idea of riding a creature that is “dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle” (to quote Robert Downey Jnr’s Sherlock Holmes) – this stables in north London offers some fun options:
Adult 3 hour pub ride (£80) – Fast riding and fast living provided for £80. (Presumably drinking does not take place on horseback – probably best to check though.)
Pony days & pony weeks (from £50) – This is an opportunity for kids and big kids to not only enjoy two hours of horse riding but also two hours of learning practical horse caring skills.
Hot chocolate ride and treasure hunt (£30) – does what it says on the tin, I really don’t need to sell it more.
Find out more here: http://www.trentpark.com/equestrian-events.html
BIRDS OF PREY CENTRE
This one requires a short train journey outside of London into Bedfordshire. A small price to pay, some might say, for the chance to feel like a medieval lord/lady of old flying a noble falcon from your arm. Or to just get close to a badass eagle. There are a variety of experiences on offer, from just a half day handling owls or eagles to a five-day falconry course. Oh, and if shooting (non-live) targets with lasers and arrows, as well as flying deadly birds from your arm is your thing, the centre now caters for that too. Check out the long list here:
The staff are friendly, there is a fantastic range of birds to observe and handle, and you really do learn a lot here. Such as the fact that tiny owls can swallow chicks whole. It’s digusting to watch, yet so fascinating.
ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF LONDON (ZSL)
ZSL operates two zoos, one in Regent’s Park London and another in Whipsnade. Both are excellent zoos with a good range of animals – Whipsnade is better if you like the bigger animals that need lots of space to roam such as elephants, rhino and brown bears. Plus it has some lovely sea lions.
Anyway, these institutions run some fine ways for animal lovers to get up close and friendly to wild critters:
VIP encounters at ZSL London Zoo
ZSL London Zoo offers the chance for visitors to feed the penguins and giraffes with its ‘VIP ecounters’. With the former you are allowed into the fancy new penguin enclosure to get acquainted with the penguins. With the latter you get to go up on the feeding platform outside their enclosure and watch their long black tongues demolish your offerings of branches. (In the winter you feed the giraffes inside their enclosure).
Prices range from £25 to £60 depending on which experience you opt for and whether you book for a weekend or weekday.
Keeper for a day
If you have a bit cash to splash – both zoos also offer an option for you to treat a loved one to a day of preparing meals for the animals, feeding them and then shovelling up the aftermath. Personally, I think the larger animals available at Whipsnade Zoo makes that one the more appealing option but meerkats and penguins may be a nicer option for the fainter hearted animal lover.
For the princely sum of £280 your recipient will get complimentary breakfast, lunch and refreshments, a t-shirt, certificate and goody bag and 20% off spectators tickets as well.