East of England Tourism Awards 2021-2022: Large Visitor Attraction of the Year winner announced
- Credit: Matt Brasnett, I Do Photography
Located 11 miles inland from the Norfolk coast in Fakenham, Pensthorpe Natural Park is a family-friendly nature reserve that was created by Bill and Deb Jordan, who bought the estate from conservationist Bill Makins in 2003.
Since then, the park has grown from 200 to 700 acres, and employs 40 permanent staff, increasing to 60 during peak season.
Interactive trails, bird hides and several charming boardwalks weave through the reserve, allowing visitors to get closer to the native and visiting wildlife. Over 1,200 different species have been recorded at the site so far.
Pensthorpe is also home to the award-winning Hootz House indoor play area, the natural outdoor play area, WildRootz, and other child and family-friendly activities.
The judges were impressed by the range of activities on offer at Pensthorpe and said that its commitment to wildlife preservation is clear, covering conservation work, breeding programmes and education and outreach work.
Deb Jordan, owner of Pensthorpe Natural Park, said: “We’re just absolutely thrilled; we weren’t expecting this at all. It’s a huge credit to the staff.
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“We’ve got an amazing site which is all about nature, all about educating children and families. We want them to come outside, get connected to nature and make memories together.
“After the pandemic, people are keen to get out, stretch their legs and get involved in nice things again. We’ve benefited from that too, which is wonderful.”
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Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park – Highly Commended
Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park in Wherstead, Suffolk is home to over 80 different species and several family-friendly attractions. The judges felt that the premises offered a truly enjoyable and memorable day out and enjoyed the down-to-earth ambience of the farm.
Banham Zoological Gardens – Highly Commended
Banham Zoo in Norfolk was originally opened in 1968 and is now on track to become the UK’s first neurodiverse zoo. The judges said that the attraction provided a great all-round day out, with lots of animals to see and other activities to enjoy.
Audley End Miniature Railway
Audley End Miniature Railway (AEMR) in north Essex comprises a miniature railway, enchanted fairy and elf woodland, adventure play area, cafe and gift shop.
The judges praised the experience offered at AEMR, which they said came across as “utterly enchanting” for children of all ages.
RHS Garden Hyde Hall
RHS Garden Hyde Hall outside Chelmsford, Essex boasts a varied range of horticultural styles and runs a number of exhibitions and events. The judges said that the gardens were pleasant to visit and that the food, drink and retail experiences were very good.