“Sure, enough there was a couple of monkeys swinging happily across a branch.”
Garry Llewellyn – The Silver Hedgehog
After what seems like years since our last day out, we decided to venture into the great outdoors, (whilst being covid safe). After a little bit of Googling, we decided on visiting the amazing sounding Trentham Monkey Forest, and dragging along a 9 and 14 year old for good measure!
We chose Trentham Monkey Forest as it is only 40 mins away from our location, very family friendly and not too expensive. To help with Covid guidelines you must book online and choose an arrival timeslot. They had plenty of availability and booking was easy, with an email confirmation arriving within minutes of completing the booking.
Trentham Monkey Forest traces its origins back to the late 1960’s when a monkey park opened in France, fast forward 35 years and 2 more parks across France and Germany and the decision was made to re-home two groups of barbary macaques in the UK. So, the first wildlife park of its kind in England opened in 2004 at the newly regenerated Trentham Estate. Housed within 60 acres of ancient woodland, the two groups of monkeys have settled well into the habitat.
The park is not just a wildlife attraction though, Barbary macaques are listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List due to loss of habitat and the illegal pet trade. Trentham Monkey Forest and its sister parks aim to raise awareness and conduct research into how to protect Barbary macaques. In fact over 500 monkeys from across the parks have been rehomed back in Morocco’s Atlas mountains.
Getting To The Forest….
Situated on the edge of Stoke-on-Trent, the Monkey Forest is really easy to get to. As you approach the forest on the A34 (Stone road) a large sign for the Trentham Estate points you in the right direction (just off an island).
As you turn off and follow the road towards the main car park, the tarmac road gives way to a gravel track. Unfortunately, this also hides several gravel potholes so consequently it’s an unexpectedly bumpy ride. The limit is set at 5mph but I witnessed several cars going faster and kicking stones up in the air and towards other cars as they passed by.
We arrived just before 11am and there were lots of free parking spaces available and the car park is directly in front of the main entrance, handy for disabled visitors.
Monkey Forest Experience …
The main entrance is the usual Zoo type affair. A couple of ticket booths either side of an entrance gate. Upon arrival I was asked to show the barcode of the prebooked tickets however my tickets did not have a bar code so I had to resort to shouting code out through plexiglass! The attendant either noticed I had children with me, or noticed it on the ticket and handed me a couple of activity sheets and let us through. It was only after I walked away from the booth that I realised that we had not told what the sheets were, or handed a pencil/pen. Most visitor attractions at least provide a pencil with their activity sheets!! As we had no pens with the kids just had to look at the sheets and they went straight in a bag – a bit of a waste of paper.
Once we had got through the admission gates, we found ourselves in a wide-open area with another entrance to the monkeys in front of us and a visitor centre to our right. The visitor centre consisted of an open fronted room with pictures of various monkeys and an educational video, toilet block, a café, shop and picnic area. First impressions were that it was clean, tidy, and social distancing was possible.
After a quick toilet stop (the toilets where nice and clean and no queue for the ladies!) we ventured towards the forest entrance. I could see a large perimeter fence and quipped to the 14yr old that it looks like Jurassic Park. Hardly – was the response, a tyrannosaurus rex could step over that, well that was me put in my place!
Anyway, next up was a safety video and an introduction from a staff member, with safety instructions such as distancing info, and messages about no food being allowed in the forest (in case it got stolen by pesky monkeys!)
As we entered the Forest enclosure the open expanse of the visitor area gave way to the enclosed atmosphere of the forest. Tall trees with expansive green canopies enveloped the start of our 3/4 of a mile walk. Within a few minutes of following the path our borrowed 9 year old shouted that he could see monkeys and was pointing excitedly up towards a very tall tree. Sure, enough there was a couple of monkeys swinging happily across a branch. After watching them for a few minutes we carried on the walk and the path opened into a small flat grassed area with more adult monkeys on. This was the site of the first of the two groups of monkeys in the forest. We were treated to several large adult monkeys sitting quite close to the path and walking by our feet on their way to get some food. Keeping an eye on the monkeys were several guides dressed in yellow tops. I witnessed a member of the public get told off for bringing in their own food, the forest guides take no chances with the safety of the primates. One of the guides pointed us in the direction of some recently born baby monkeys and we walked over. We then saw a 2-day old monkey being carried on the back of its mother; it was so cute! After watching them we noticed a couple of child monkeys play fighting nearby and a mom monkey babysitting. The guide was on hand to explain what was going on and the family dynamics the group of monkeys have. It was interesting but I sensed my entourage wanted to carry on with the walk.
As we moved onwards with our walk, the enclosed forest atmosphere returned as we walked up a slight uphill incline. After a couple of monkey false alarms we arrived at a clearing in the woods home to the 2nd set of monkeys. Again the yellow guides were on hand to provide useful nuggets of information and insight. To my surprise the monkeys had been joined by some other guests, several grey squirrels, a few cheeky wood pigeons and some ducks, all cohabiting the environment together without any cares in the world. It was all serene and tranquil until a couple of adult males decided to show off and the sound of trees rustling became the sound of monkey screech. Their argument didn’t last long, and the calmness of the area returned. Once my tribe had had their fill of this area and a few selfies we carried on the walk. The tree lined path continued, but soon wound its way down a hill and we followed a stream heading back towards the start point.
After The monkeys…
We decided to return to visitor centre we spotted near the entrance and grab some food.
The wittily named Banana Café is the typical self service type affair. Soft drinks and packaged sandwiches coupled with the usual hot food staples such as Jacket Potatoes (finished off in the microwave), deep fried frozen chips, and hot food specials like chicken curry. I say hot, it was more like warm chicken curry with cold rice, but it tasted nice, and I was hungry, so I did not mind too much. My tribe also told me that they enjoyed their lunch and had smiles all around.
The 9 year old that was with us spotted the shop had a good mooch around and came out having spent his pocket money on a toy monkey.
The monkey forest was excellent, and a week later the kids were still talking about the very unique experience it provided. It was fantastic to see the monkeys happily interacting with their environment and the care and respect that the staff showed them.
If you are looking for a day out, then it is worth planning another 1 or 2 activities for the day alongside the monkeys as it is definitely not an all-day experience.
Trentham Monkey Forest suggest that guests spend about 2 hours per visit, we completed the 3/4 of a mile walk in 70 minutes. So two hours seems about right for those that might want to stay longer and chat to the guides. Once you are in the forest you can walk the trail as many times as you like, but we found 1 lap was enough for us.
Its also worth pointing out that as the the monkey forest is a natural environment, it has a few steep hills, whilst the forest owners have made great strides in making it accessible to all, they do mention on their website ‘steeper areas may be inaccessible’ so worth keeping this in mind if accessibility is a concern. Although on our visit the monkeys tended to be situated in easy reach areas.
The entrance price seems absolutely spot on for the overall experience provided.
Getting To The Forest
By Car: Type ST12 9HR in your GPS and it will guide you to the Strongford Garage, we are directly opposite.
By Train: The nearest station is Stoke train station.
By Bus: From Stoke train station to Hanley bus station – Number 21/21A. From Hanley bus station to Monkey Forest – Number 101. Please visit First Bus journey planner before your journey.
By Taxi: Taxis can be found outside the train station. It is approximately 5 miles away and will cost roughly £10 each way
Child: £7.00 Age 3 – 14, under 3’s go free.
Concession (Senior Citizen/Student): £8.50 With valid student ID/ age 65+.
Disabled: £6.50 Proof required, blue badge or letter from local authority.
Registered Carer : Free
Photos Silver H Hog