Breakfast with Monkeys Experience
Reviewed by Shelley Owens
There are those moments in your child’s life that you just know you will treasure forever and sharing the Breakfast with Monkeys experience at Monkey Forest in the snow with Emily was one of them!
Arriving at the Forest an hour before they open to visitors, we enjoyed exclusive behind the scenes access following the early morning feeding routine of the 140 Barbary Macaques, who inhabit 60 acres of beautiful woodland on the edge of the Trentham Estate. Trentham Monkey Forest is truly unique, the only one of its kind in the UK and one of only 4 in Europe, 2 being in France and 1 in Germany. Contributing to conservation and awareness for the survival of the species, the parks have successfully carried out 2 reintroduction programmes, returning 600 Barbary Macaques to Morocco boosting a wild population of what is estimated to be only around 10,000 in total.
Staffordshire is now home to 2 distinct groups of the Macaques descended from the original monkeys at the parks in France and Germany. Guided by our own personal expert, head guide Matt, we got up close and personal with this highly endangered species, observing them in their natural habitat albeit 1,000s of miles from their native home of Northern Africa. Here they are well adapted and safe from threats, living safely in optimum living conditions until the grand old age of around 23!
To encourage their natural foraging instincts, food is given in closely monitored amounts as the monkeys also graze on the Forests natural vegetation which depending on the time of year can be plentiful. We were lucky enough to be bearing one the monkeys absolute favourites – BANANAS!!! Roaming free and living as they do in the wild, feeding follows some important rules. Matt explained the rules of hierarchy – all males dominate females, having a strict ranking system based on personality and alliances and often carry the baby monkeys around to gain popularity. All females pass their rank positions to their daughters. Taking care to respect the natural order, we spent an amazing time distributing their favourite treats, Emily became chief banana thrower, quickly developing her own technique!
Emily says “Being so close to the monkeys was amazing! I really enjoyed observing the different ways that the monkeys ate the bananas, there were peelers and nibblers; biters and gnawers and the ones that store it in their cheek pouches for later! I loved watching the mischievous year old monkeys swinging from the tree branches, dropping to the ground and then running back up the tree to do it again. The macaques had some features that made it easy to see who was related to who, dark colouring around the mouth like a beard or by the eyes making them look Egyptian. Lots of the monkeys had human like traits; Barney is very shy, staying on the edge of the group and I enjoyed his company; Coco is very competitive although he is a low ranking monkey and this can get him into trouble and Wayne is the stereotypical ‘cheeky monkey’ and is popular in his group. I had an amazing time and I can’t wait to visit again!”
Being this close to the Macaques, whilst not disrupting their natural behaviour was an absolute privilege. Learning about their personalities, communication, ranks and lineage, whilst walking amongst them away from the public paths was incredible. Observing them playing, grooming and interacting within a few feet of us was an experience to remember forever. We had an excellent guide, who knew each one by name, many of them bearing names for comical reasons – female monkey J-lo and double act PJ and Duncan are amongst the most memorably named!
The Breakfast with Monkeys experience is truly exclusive, entering the park before opening and only 2 visitors are permitted to book per day. You will receive an exclusive insight into life at Monkey Forest, a photograph and certificate of your experience, a souvenir guide and a complimentary Monkey Forest ticket.
As a general visitor you won’t be disappointed either. The Forest is truly beautiful, with wide level pathways allowing pushchair/wheelchair access to almost every area and you certainly won’t feel that your experience is lacking with fabulous features to be enjoyed including trickling brooks and picturesque bridges. There is a free children’s quiz to complete as you enjoy your walk around, with a monthly prize draw and interactive signs along the pathways as well as pictorial guides to the monkeys communication techniques and behaviour.
Friendly, informative guides are posted along the paths, ready to tell you about the monkeys, their behaviour and give hourly feeding talks at 2 different locations. This is not a trip to be rushed, it is definitely one to enjoy at a leisurely pace, taking the time to watch the youngsters swing from the branches overhead or sit and observe a grooming session. You really do feel like you have stepped into their world rather than that they have been transported into ours!
On our snowy visit Emily and I enjoyed a hot meal at the Banana Café which provides delicious home-cooked meals as well as freshly made sandwiches, Panini’s and cakes, all baked on site by the friendly, helpful staff. There are children’s lunchboxes available and a microwave provided exclusively to warm your own baby meals or milk. The café is clean and well laid out, with panoramic views of the surrounding area, including the terrace seating area for sunny days and one of 2 well equipped adventure playgrounds. A path to the left of the main entrance leads to a further playground suitable for older children and a picnic area for the self-sufficient! The café also has access to the Jungle shop where I was pleased to see some lovely small pocket money souvenirs at very reasonable prices and the beautiful, exclusive cuddly Barbary Macaque, only available from Monkey Forest! As well as the exclusive Breakfast with Monkeys experience, the Forest has a number of special events on offer throughout the year, these can be found here.
Parking is free and prices for a family day out at this fabulous location are a reasonable £7.50 for adults, £5.50 for children and under 3’s are free with concessions for Senior citizens, students, disabled visitors and carers.
Next door to Monkey Forest is the very beautiful Trentham Gardens with its stunning Italian gardens, many trails, a huge garden centre and exclusive shopping village with restaurants. The estate now offers a joint visitors ticket allowing access to both the Gardens and Monkey Forest. Cleverly designed as a two part ticket, this allows you the option to have one huge family day out or to enjoy them separately on a return visit to the Stoke-on Trent location. Full price details for 2013 can be found here.
Easily accessible from the motorway and well sign posted, Monkey Forest can be accessed at the South Entrance of the Trentham Estate. Directions are simple to follow and can be found here.
Emily and I have had an experience to cherish and Monkey Forest has now been added to our list of “must visit” locations. We can’t wait to return in the warmer weather with the rest of the family for another memorable day out!
We give Trentham Monkey Forest a very well deserved 5/5 for being a truly unique experience!
For more information visit www.trentham-monkey-forest.com