We stay in an idyllic spot near Chipping Norton and visit Cotswolds Wildlife Park, Blenheim Palace and a crocodile zoo.
Violet is an enthusiastic tour guide. Energetically sprinting down woodland paths, she throws herself on to a trampoline and encourages our children to do the same. Violet is five. One of three generations who live and host visitors to Heath Farm Holiday Cottages.
Our daughter tries out the trampoline
Our children are wowed as she carefully points out the farm’s facilities, views over golden fields and the honey-coloured cottage which will be our home from home.
Heath Farm has five cottages on a 70-acre site on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds, near Chipping Norton. The views and atmosphere make you feel like you could be in the Tuscan countryside rather than the heart of England.
The Barbour family converted the site 25 years ago and still play a hands-on role welcoming visitors – owners Nena and David are there to answer questions and give tips on exploring the area.
Our children love doing their own exploring of the farm’s trails, trying croquet on the lawn and enjoying the pool and table tennis tables in the games room.
Our cottage, Cobnut, is traditional yet modern – wood furnishings mixed with modern appliances. There are two good-sized bedrooms with en suites, a dining room with spectacular views overlooking the farm’s pond and an outside table looking on to a colourful floral courtyard. We feel happy and comfortable there straight away. Read our full review of the accommodation plus see pictures and a video here.
We are hungry and we’ve brought our own supplies but you only need to travel a mile to find a good pub. The Boxing Hare is a modern restaurant with large garden for outside dining. There’s a good selection of freshly cooked children’s meals and the friendly staff make our two feel welcome with colouring books and pens. Plus the food is delicious.
The next day it is time to head out further into the surrounding area. First stop, Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens.
The sun is shining as we wander the beautiful grounds, spotting rhinos, lions and wolves. It is a large site, which takes the best part of a day to get around. Highlights for us include the adventure playground, the train which tours the park giving weary legs a rest and the clever fencing design which makes you feel close to the animals as you walk around. Read our full review and tips here.
Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens
Later in the day, at Crocodiles of the World, we get close to a three-metre slithering saltwater reptile. The UK’s only crocodile zoo has 160 different types of crocs, alligators and caimans to see. The enthusiastic staff talks are worth catching as they explain all you need to know about these rarely seen creatures. See here for our full review and tips.
Crocodiles of the World
Unfortunately, the Tuscan-style weather doesn’t last for our visit to Blenheim Palace the next day. One of the country’s finest stately homes, even on a rainy day there was more than just ancient artefacts to entertain our children.
This was the birthplace and home of Winston Churchill and for the first time, we tried our two with audio guides. They are aimed at adults and the commentary is detailed. But they loved wearing the headphones and operating the guides, which kept them interested in the stories of paintings, pictures and life of the Churchill family as we walked around.
Once you have explored the palace and magnificent grounds you can hop on a small train (50p per person each way) to the family pleasure gardens. This area has a butterfly house, maze, playground and small model village. Read our full review and tips on Blenheim Palace here.
Then we couldn’t wait to get back to Heath Farm. Our children urgently seeking out their on-site guide.
As they and Violet took turns on the swings hanging from trees, we couldn’t help but wish that every holiday home came with a fantastic five-year-old expert.
We take our children for a day out at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire
What is it?
Blenheim Palace is a grand historic house and gardens. This World Heritage Site was the birthplace and home of World War Two Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.
It has over 300 years of history and is now home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough.
Where is it?
On the edge of the town of Woodstock in Blenheim, Oxfordshire, eight miles from Oxford.
The Great Courtyard
What did we think?
This is a grand venue and our two were excited to be visiting a ‘palace’. It is set in spectacular grounds with a large lake.
*Our two really enjoyed having audio guides, which surprised us. There was no separate children’s commentary but we spent much longer inside the palace as a result of these devices, they enjoyed looking out for the portraits that were being shown and talked about on their handheld devices.
*You can walk or catch a little train from the car park to the Family Pleasure Gardens. Sadly, it was pouring with rain when we visited but on a dry day, we would have spent longer in this area which included swings, puzzles on the floor and a maze.
As it was raining we made a beeline for the butterfly house. It warmed us up and the children enjoyed being surrounded by butterflies.
*A 300-year-old cedar tree there, the ‘Harry Potter Tree’, was in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Snape was dangling from it in a flashback.
If it is raining, take a towel to dry the train seats and swings etc. And, try to do the inside areas when it is forecast rain – the palace, the butterfly house, the shops/cafes.
Blenheim Palace information
Food: There is a restaurant and three cafes including a pizza café next to the Family Pleasure Gardens. Picnics are also allowed.
Opening hours: The palace is open every day from 10.30am to 5.30pm, park open daily 9am to 6pm.
Cost: Adults £27, children aged five to 16 £16, children under five free, family ticket (two adults, two children), £67.50. The price includes the audio guide.
Best for: Ages six and above.
Time needed: Four hours.
Access and restrictions: The site is largely accessible for wheelchair users and for buggies.
The wildlife park is two miles south of Burford on the A361 on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, in Oxfordshire.
What did we think?
It is a cross between a traditional zoo and a visit to a National Trust-style stately home and gardens. There are lots of interesting animals for children to see, but adults can also enjoy strolling around the lovely gardens.
Watch our video below before reading our highlights, top tips and essential information!
*There are good views of the animals, even for little ones thanks to cleverly designed fences and slopes.
*You can get face-to-face with the giraffes as there is a high viewing point called the Giraffe Walkway.
*The adventure playground and skymaze is a fantastic play area for children, even those older and more daring.
The adventure playground
*The fabulous gardens – beautiful to walk through on the sunny day we were there.
*The range of animals include red pandas, giraffes, rhinos, penguins, lions, wolves, tropical birds, meercats, zebras, tapirs, camels, otters, lemurs, monkeys, snakes and crocodiles. In case you have an elephant-lover, note that there are no elephants at this zoo.
*There is a farmyard section where you can pet goats in an open field.
Our top tips
*We asked a member of staff for the best route to walk around the park and as we had arrived first thing she recommended we visit the walled garden first of all. See the penguin feeding at 11am and the lemurs feeding at 12pm in the Madagascar area, then head around the park either clockwise or anti-clockwise. That brings you into the grounds in time for a picnic.
A meerkat relaxes
*There is a little train which takes you around the park and which is worth doing to rest tired legs at only £1 per person (under 3s are free). It runs from April to October, weather permitting. There isn’t an organised queuing system though so make sure you don’t miss your turn to get on board. The train ride lasts around 10 minutes and departs from near the walled garden and playground. There is a place to leave pushchairs and wheelchairs next to the platform and there is room for two wheelchairs on the train.
*The lemur collection in the Madagascan Walkthrough, is only open for part of the day so check opening times if you are keen to do this.
*A guide book and map costs £2.50. If you just need a map there are boards around the site. Just snap one on your phone and take it round with you! Or click here for an online map.
*Dogs can be taken here as long as they are kept on a lead. There are some areas with free ranging animals that they aren’t allowed into including the Bat Belfry, Reptile House, Children’s Farmyard.
Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens information
Food: Picnics are allowed and there are plenty of nice spots and benches to eat them.
There is a restaurant – the Oak Tree Restaurant – behind the manor house. And seasonal (only open on busy days) kiosks selling hot drinks, ice creams and snacks.
Opening hours: Daily 10am to 6pm April to October, 10am to 5pm November to March. Last admission two hours before closing time.
Cost: Adults £16.00, children aged three to 16 £10.50, under 3s free. E-tickets booked online in advance are £14.00 and £9.50.
There are no disabled concessions but there is a discount for groups of six or more disabled people and their carers.
Best for: All ages but it is a large site so under 5s might get tired without a buggy.
Time needed: At least three hours, potentially all day if you take your time.
Access and restrictions: This is a flat site with good paths throughout so great for wheelchairs prams and buggies. There are disabled toilets in every toilet block as well as a Changing Places toilet near to the gift shop with a bed, ceiling hoist and shower (ask in the gift shop for the security code to get in).
There are wheelchairs available to hire for free. Mobility scooters can be hired for a charge and must be booked in advance.
Address: Cotswold Wildlife Park, Bradwell Grove, Burford, OX18 4JP
We review Crocodiles of the World in the Cotswolds and give our tips for visiting families
What is it?
This is the UK’s only crocodile zoo with 150 crocodiles and alligators plus other reptiles like Komodo dragons and giant tortoises. It was opened in 2011 by crocodile conservationist Shaun Foggett.
The centre wants visitors to learn about crocodiles and see them closely but safely, to boost awareness and conservation.
Where is it?
Crocodiles of the World is at the bottom of the Cotswolds, a mile off the main A40 to Oxford not far from Burford, in Oxfordshire.
What did we think?
There are lots of types of crocodiles, caimans and alligators – creatures you don’t often see in zoos, so it was great to get up close to some of the bigger ones! It is fairly small, the site is a little ramshackle in places and some parts are very humid to keep the crocodiles feeling at home.
*The zoo is split into four sections, the largest creatures are in the Crocodile House, smaller ones in the main zoo, there are also two outside areas including an education zone housing otters and meerkats.
*There are lots of talks through the day with something every half an hour between 10.30am and 4pm. The Croc Talk we attended was really interesting, relaxed and well delivered. We learnt plenty, including the difference between a crocodile and alligator (crocodiles have their bottom teeth visible when their mouth is closed, alligators don’t).
The croc talk
*The Komodo dragon is an interesting sight and has a reasonable-sized enclosure next to the picnic and play area. A good place to sit, eat and relax outside.
*There is a small playground with modern equipment outside, which is handy as the main zoo and crocodile house are both very hot and humid so the creatures can feel at home. You need a blast of fresh air so the playground is handy. There is a small slide for under 5s and some good monkey bars in a climbing area.
Watch our video below before continuing to our top tips to read before you visit.
Our top tips
*The biggest and most dramatic crocodiles and alligators are in the Crocodile House. It isn’t that well marked and we nearly left without seeing this area altogether!
*It is EXTREMELY hot and humid in the Crocodile House and can be close to unbearable for young children so head straight to the top section with the huge saltwater and Nile crocodiles then work back down. That way you see the best creatures before you get too hot and sweaty. Our son lasted less than a minute before he needed to go outside so missed this part.
This one is not real!
*The talks are good and well-spaced out through the day, try and combine one Croc Talk and a feeding session too to get the most out of your visit. The site isn’t huge so without doing the talks it won’t take long to get around everything.
Crocodiles of the World information
Food: There’s a small cafe – Croc Cafe – which serves hot and cold food, drinks and ice creams. Picnics are allowed with tables outside near the playground.
Opening hours: Open every day, 10am to 5pm.
Cost: Adults £8.95, children aged three to 16 £6.50, under 3s free. Family tickets (2 adults, 2 children) £27.00.
Best for: Children aged four upwards.
Time needed: 90 minutes, a bit longer if you want to hear more talks.
Access and restrictions: The site is flat and wheelchair friendly, especially the main croc house. There are a couple of steps in other sections. There are disabled changing facilities.
We find a winning location for a family break near Chipping Norton in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds
Heath Farm Holiday Cottages
Where is it?
Heath Farm is near the village of Swerford on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds, just a few miles from Chipping Norton, within easy reach of the M40 motorway at Banbury.
What is it?
Five holiday cottages around a pretty courtyard set in 70 acres of gardens, woodland and farmland which guests can play in and explore. The cottages are four and five star and are converted from stone farm buildings. Two of them sleep four people, the other three are for two people.
Is it family friendly?
Children are welcome with plenty of games, activities and lots of wonderful woodland to explore. Outside is a big green lawn with swings from the trees, a trampoline, football net, croquet and other sports games available. There is also an indoor games room with toys for younger children, a pool table, table tennis table and loads of games and dvds.
Our cottage, Cobnut, is beautifully done out with traditional Cotswold stone walls, wooden flooring, and has great views over the surrounding countryside. It has modern facilities including TV and DVD, WiFi, Bosch dishwasher and Neff oven.
Downstairs is an open-plan lounge and dining room with wonderful views and a compact kitchen with granite worktops. The kitchen has all the equipment you could need plus free dishwasher tablets, tea towels and washing up liquid. There was also a carton of milk provided and a delicious cake from Cotswold Baking, which has a premises on the site.
Upstairs there are two lovely bedrooms both en-suite. Both bedrooms can be converted into two single beds, or one king size double. The front bedroom has an en-suite shower room, the rear bedroom has a bath and shower.
There is a handy porch for storing wet boots and outside there is a dining table which looks over the lovely courtyard.
This was family-friendly when we visited, with a large garden with ten tables outside. Inside the recently renovated pub welcomed children with colouring books and pens. The children’s menu had classic dishes like fish and chips, burger and chips, macaroni cheese and sausage and mash. Our meals were very high quality, large portions, cooked quickly and with very attentive service.
The nearest large village is Great Tew, a picture postcard part of the Costwolds. You can stroll past thatched roofed cottages, enjoy walks in rambling countryside and indulge at the local pub the Farndale Arms or the tasty Bakergirl cafe and takeaway.
A few miles past Wigginton is a small children’s farm and playground. The site is a little rundown and overgrown but has a good selection of ducks and farm animals. The staff are happy for you to take time holding rabbits, guinea pigs and gerbils. You can easily pass an hour or two here.
Further afield you have the famous sites of the Costwolds including Chipping Norton, Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water.
*The gardens – 70 acres to explore is a child’s paradise. A safe, wide lawned area with swings, trampoline and croquet lawn is a good place to start. Then there are woodland trails and paths to explore. Most of the site is safe but watch children by some steep drops, particularly near the pond area.
Heath Farm has woodland walks
*The friendly hosts – you’re greeted by potentially three generations of the Barbour family. Five-year-old Violet showed us around, enthusiastically revealing hidden trails in the woods and picking raspberries from the fruit and vegetable garden.
Her grandparents Nena and David Barbour own the farm and renovated the holiday cottages – welcoming their first guests in 1992. They are on hand to help with questions, offer advice on the surrounding area and, if you are lucky, give away some homegrown fruit and veg.
Nena and David Barbour
*The quality of the cottage – traditional yet modern, the finish is of a high standard, it was extremely clean and tastefully decorated. We felt relaxed and comfortable straightaway.
*The games facilities – there are lots of games and activities to do. There is a large trampoline, croquet lawn, games shed full of golf, cricket, bowls and football equipment. Next to the courtyard is a giant chess and draughts board. If it rains there is an indoor games room.
*Towels and bedding are provided
*Our cottage had a washing machine/dryer. Guests also have access to a shared laundry room.
*If staying with young children note that the pretty courtyard which the cottages surround has a water feature and shallow pond.
*The farm produces walnuts and hazelnuts.
*Picnic baskets are provided so you can pack one to take out with you.