Saturday, 13 April 2013

Monkey Forest

On Wednesday we were lucky enough to have Foz's day off coincide with Bee's last day of Easter holidays freedom. We decided to do something nice together as (for various reasons) it would be our last trip out for a few months.
Somewhere I love to go is Monkey Forest in Stoke-on-Trent, a 60-acre forest where Barbary Macaques roam free in as natural environment as possible. There are no cages and 140 monkeys live in safety and freedom. The only fences are small, wooden ones that keep the visitors on the paths, the monkeys don't respect them! Monkey Forest also work towards the conservation of the species and have released over 600 Barbary Macaques back into the wild. I really, really like this place!

On arrival at Monkey Forest Bee immediately started with "pam, pam" as we parked. This isn't unusual, in unfamiliar places she craves the security of the pram and will absolutely refuse to walk. If we try she just crumples into a ball on the floor and won't move. So into the pram she goes.

We queued a little to get in, it's Easter holidays after all but we'd been talking to Bee the whole time about the monkeys we were going to see and she seemed very excited. At the ticket booth there were Monkey Forest leaflets so I grabbed one for Bee to look at before we entered. She spotted a baby monkey and that immediately captured her imagination, "baba oo oo mama!" with frantic pointing, clearly she loves baby anything, not just dolls!

We had to pass through the restaurant, gift shop, picnic area section of the park first before heading through the double gates and into the monkey's domain! We walked down the path through the start of the forest, watching all the trees and looking for monkeys but it wasn't until the trees opened out into a large grassed area that we saw them. Monkeys! Lots of them!

I parked the pram up next to a conveniently-placed bench and tried to interest Bee in them but as soon as she saw her first monkey she buried her face in the side of the pram saying "no, no" over and over. Oh dear. It appears Bee likes fake, cartoon or cuddly monkeys but not so much the real thing.

Despite this worrying start Bee wasn't crying, which was hopeful, so we ploughed on. It's a long, winding walk around the 60 acre forest, with the monkeys living in two troops, so there's plenty to see and even without them as an attraction it's a lovely stroll. We made our way around, stopping frequently to try and interest Bee, watch the monkeys or to take pictures. As the walk progressed Bee was more willing to watch the monkeys but still refused to get out of the pram. We unsurprisingly had more success with the baby monkeys, they went down relatively well.

We made a full circuit of the forest and then back out of the double-gate for a visit to the restaurant, gift shop and park.After a plate of chips for Bee (blame the dietician!) we had a mooch around the gift shop. It was very small and very busy. Bee picked a monkey cup and a monkey travel cup and we moved to the till. Bee managed to get herself stranded behind a line of other customers after moving away to look at some monkey teddies and promptly melted down when we tried to encourage her to walk amongst them back towards us. This involved tears and collapsing in a puddle of immovable flop on the floor. Once outside in the open space and away from all the people and chatter she was absolutely fine, meltdown over and done with, forgotten about.

The park went very well despite the gazillions of other (much larger) children charging around and the almost deafening amount of screaming and shouting going on. Bee needed support to play as the bark surface was very difficult for her to walk on and she couldn't walk without holding my hand. The equipment all had ladders instead of steps so I had to lift Bee on to allow her to use the slide, bridge or tunnel. She's getting mighty heavy too.
After a couple of turns on the slide and a stampy walk across the bridge Bee started asking for Peppa Pig. So we trotted back over to daddy, who was minding the pram with all our bags, picked up Peppa and made our way back. Bee was very eager to give Peppa a turn on the little rocking animals, we tried all three. One happened to be taken at first and Bee decided the best way to move the little girl's turn along was to stand right next to her and stare until she moved. Deary me. Still, Peppa got her turn and the little girl went to play on the slide. Everyone wins.


Of course then Peppa had to have a turn on everything!

It became obviously after half an hour or so that Bee was beginning to tire, she plonked herself in the center of the tunnel leading to the slide and refused to budge. No matter how many children pushed past, or clambered over and around her she wouldn't move. Plus the more that did so the more upset she became. I had to clamber up the ladder and half into the tunnel myself before she would make any effort towards getting herself out!

I wanted another trip around the monkey enclosure but Bee had spotted something far more fun.... a pay-to-jump trampoline! She does what she always does when she wants to show you something: grabs your hand and pulls you right up to the thing she wants or is trying to show you. The 6-bed trampoline had a large net around it and four other children already jumping away. We umm'ed and ahh'ed for a few minutes as, despite Bee's insistence that she wanted a go, we were unsure if she'd cope with the other children leaping so noisily around her. We'd of course already had the first meltdown in the giftshop and then the tired movement refusal on the park. But still, at £2 for 5 minutes we decided it was worth the chance. The lady supervising allowed me to hop on with her and this is how it went:


I had a little trouble during our 5 minutes as Bee couldn't understand why she had to stick to her own trampoline and wasn't free to climb across them all as she chose. Still in the main she loved it. She recently even began leaving the floor ever so slightly when she jumps, rather than just going up on to her toes, a brilliant achievement. Our 5 minutes were up all too soon and we had to get off. Bee was not impressed and asked for another turn but time was marching on, we had about an hour until the park closed and we wanted another walk around the monkey enclosure.

So, shoes on for the walk across to the forest. We hadn't taken 10 steps when Bee stumbled and fell. That's when we knew it was time for the pram. Bee generally is clumsier than others due to her delayed gross motor skills but when she starts to fall a lot we know her little legs are giving up for the day and it's time for a rest.

Daddy gets a kiss from Peppa
Back in the forest we decided to hover around the first grassy area rather than trek all around the forest. There was a large group of monkeys to admire and it was near to the exit for when Bee was ready to leave. I parked the pram up next to the fence and got my camera out to take some photos. It was at this point I was very lucky that a monkey decided to walk across the path right in front of me. Wow!

Only a few minutes had passed when Bee piped up with "me out mama", really Bee?? I was thrilled. It was the first inclination she'd shown to want to leave the security of the pram while we were anywhere near the monkeys. I lifted her straight out and plonked her on the path beside me. She stood at the fence for a few minutes watching the monkeys before I decided to push my luck. Moving father along the fence I shouted "come on Bee, come and see the baby monkeys" and to my complete surprise, she very happily followed me! 

We watched the baby monkeys playing for a while, they were very cute gamboling around the grass together. All was going swimmingly until Bee said something to me that I didn't hear. I leaned down to ask "pardon baby?" and my big DSLR camera, which I'd so cleverly hung around my neck so I could hold her hand, smacked her full in the face. Well that was it. There was no more co-operating, no more happy monkey-watching, she just collapsed into a big ball of screaming tears.

And that was the end of our day at Monkey Forest. Well done mama. Epic. Fail.

We made our way back to the car. Bee wasn't really hurt, it was more the shock that had made her cry, but she was too tired to want to interact anymore so we decided it was time to leave. The park was shutting in a little over 30 minutes anyway.

It was nearly teatime by this point and we had a 45 minute drive back to Warrington in front of us so we decided to eat out before we got on the motorway. I asked Bee if she wanted to and her answer was "nye num nums ow" (nice food out) in a very excited voice. So that was that.

I'll have this one Mama
We ate a carvery I know of in Stoke (where I went to university) which is by a small marina used by narrow(canal)boats. It's a nice view out of the windows for the middle of industrial Stoke, plus Foz and I love a carvery. Bee had a little plate of her own filled with carrots and green beans, which she shoveled in and still asked for more!

When we'd finished we had a lovely 10-minutes by the water, blowing bubbles for Bee then chasing them as the wind took them. Despite her tiredness she did a lot of happy-screeching and giggling, even running, in her own unique way!

Evening was setting in and it's still very cold here so our tired Bee hitched a ride back to the car with daddy. We find these days that despite how tired she is, or how long a day she's had she will never sleep unless she's in bed. She won't sleep in the pram or in the car. Mainly this is a good thing as it means she is always keen for bedtime but every so often Bee gets so tired that she makes a constant drone noise that doesn't end. It's purely how she deals with tiredness but it can be a little frustrating when we know all she needs is to just let herself drop off. On this day there was no tired drone, just contented quiet while she listened to her Peppa Pig CD.

All in all it was a very successful day out, Bee maybe didn't show as much interaction with the monkeys as we'd have liked and we had a couple of meltdowns but she coped admirably with the scores of children, all the textures and sounds and even did some walking around the forest to boot. I'd call that a win :)

Happy girl!

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