Once you all move away, get married and have children, it generally means it’s much harder to catch up with old friends. But 3 of us from school still just about manage to meet up a couple of times a year. We tend to find somewhere in the middle because we’re all 1-2 hours away, and the latest catch up we visited Butterfly World Project just outside St Albans.
One of my friends had been a few years ago when her son was still in a buggy, but we thought it’d be a nice place to visit with the children. She bought her husband and two children, so it was nice to see everyone.
Butterfly World Project is easy enough to find, and there’s plenty of parking. When we went the weather was looking ok to begin with and was quite warm as well. Although it was a Sunday during the summer holidays, it wasn’t too busy, and if the weather’s good then there’s plenty of space to get away from other people.
The place was built to increase awareness and understanding about butterflies and their habitats, and includes a tropical butterfly house, butterfly wildflower meadows, ant house, and a study centre. It’s well set up for children, although we did see a few adults there on their own as well, so plenty for everyone. The toilets are a site to see – they almost look like a beehive.
When we first arrived we couldn’t help but spot the Very Hungry Caterpillar vegetable garden.
This is a great little place, perfect for teaching small children about different vegetables both on the board, and in the raised beds. N was good at working out what plants we were looking at, I was quite impressed. Obviously the planting of veg at nursery has taught him quite a lot.
One sight you can’t miss is the giant ant sculpture, visible from around the main part of Butterfly World. The children were excited about seeing it, although it is a bit creepy walking under it!
After seeing the world at the centre of the spiral garden, the playground was the next attraction on the agenda. There were these really cute ‘sheep’, although N really didn’t want to sit on long enough for me to take a photo.
My friends children were straight onto the wooden bridge. It must be the biggest playground bridge I’ve ever seen, with steps down to it in the dip. We all encouraged N to have a go, but he really didn’t want to. He was happy enough running along nearby. But I could see him interested.
Eventually the other children wandered off to discover the next thing, we adults turned our backs and wandered off a way. Next thing I knew he was on the bridge…well, along to the halfway point when he noticed me with the camera. It seems he doesn’t like going on equipment with other children. It was the same as the slide. Got to the top, but then other children came up behind him and he refused to go any further. So strange, but I’m hoping he gets over that soon because he nearly ended up missing out on having a go. Every time he started to put a foot on the bridge, another child would turn up!
Around the playground there were other areas to explore. As well as another smaller, much wobblier balance bridge, there was this great willow tunnel (complete with numerous wasps at the end, quick retreat in the other direction required). Then some great slides and sand pit areas under cover.
We decided we had time to walk some of the wildflower meadows (there’s over 20 acres in total), to check out the Music Meadow. The path is fine for buggies and wheelchairs, although there are some alternate routes and areas that aren’t reachable around the site.
We did remark on the lack of native butterflies considering the point of the project was to make a safe and plentiful environment for them. Maybe they were all having a sunday lie in!
The Music Meadow was brilliant, although N did get fussy and refuse to play any of the instruments. Lucky really because as soon as we’d reached one instrument, the horrible children that we overtook would come rushing over to take over and hog the instruments, while their charming parents looking on dotingly and made no comments asking them to wait their turn or hold back. Just rude in my view, and I’d not expect N to act like that.
N was interested in the plastic guiro tube, but I gave it a go because he didn’t want to, but there were tubular bells style chimes, xylophone and many more reclaimed and creative percussion instruments. All good fun – we adults enjoyed drumming out music as much as any children would.
We kept wandering around, heading back towards the cafe for lunch, but had to stop at the wonder sunflower wild meadow. This area is designed in the shape of a butterfly which was quite spectacular. So pretty to see the colourful flowers. N was very taken with the sunflowers, and we did spot quite a few of the flowers we have in our garden.
By this stage, the sky had become grey and heavy with rain, then drops started falling, so we decided to head to the cafe and get a table before everyone else did the same thing. We had a brief and quick walk past the designer individual gardens. There really are some beautiful flowers both in these and the wildflower meadows.
I was really impressed with the cafe. The layout was a bit hotch potch because it was in the same place as the gift shop, and the tills weren’t laid out well, meaning you were paying while trying to balance trays on the counter corner.
But the food was brilliant and great value. N’s favourite, the children’s lunchbox was a bargain. I think I paid £3.99, for a roll with a choice of filling (you could choose from about 6 different options and just buttered and made up the roll yourself – ingenious, giving much more choice), crisps, drink, chocolate or roll of sweets and jelly. Much better value than other places, and more options for fussy (or unfussy) kids.
There were plenty of options for adults – baguettes, paninis, ‘food to go’ quick grab items, hot meals. One friend had a hot option, costing around £7. A good sized portion, and while it’s not the cheapest for lunch, it’s good value and tasty for a tourist place. As well as a really good egg sandwich, I also had a huge slab of cake which was also good. The only downside seemed to be that the rolls on offer for children were all seeded – not always the best for children.
The rain was pelting it down by then so after lunch we headed (like everyone else) to the study centre. Because it was the summer holidays there were lots of different activities and events on each day, but one of the other children wanted to do the daily insect handling. A couple of times a day, they get some of the insects out – stick insect, cockroach, snail – and people can hold them.
N didn’t want to handle any. He was quite happy just looking, although the queues were quite long. In the bad weather, the centre is small and gets hot and stuffy but you could still get right up to the glass to see the insects.
Of course, the butterflies are the big draw. These red and black ones had just emerged from their crysalises, and there were lots more to look at the different stages of development.
The other butterflies here were in the tropical house. We loved the blue ones in particular, but the children were loving trying to get the butterflies to land on them. The butterfly house is quite small, but there’s lots of butterflies, and some really strange mini guineafowl-like birds that N quite liked trying to spot.
N started moaning by that stage and had had enough, so we said our goodbyes after a lovely catch up, and headed back out to the car. The rain had just about stopped, so I divert N off to see a few of the designer gardens. He had a great time striding through them, checking out the different styles of garden.
I could have spent a lot more time in the gardens, and because of the weather other children’s activities were rained off like the fairground ride, but we spent a good few hours there. It’s good value for money, it was around £7 for myself, and we had a half price voucher for N. There’s plenty to do to keep children entertained and educated for a day.
Have you been here, or to another butterfly attraction?