Until recently, if someone had told me that there was a zoo in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, I wouldn’t have believed them. But there is, and it’s called Ponderosa Farm & Rural Therapeutic Centre.
It turns out that I’ve walked past it before. Back in 2009, I walked the Spen Valley Greenway, but the section south of Heckmondwike had been closed by Yorkshire Water. They were installing a new sewage pipeline, and had signposted a diversion. It just so turns out that this went straight past Ponderosa without me realising what it was.
I took Lizzie with me to visit on Saturday – Christine was working. It’s not very big, but it’s also quite cheap – £5 for adults.
I’d been a little hesitant to visit having read the reviews on TripAdvisor. I’d probably rate it three out of five, and I agree with some of the points made in the negative reviews. Namely, it’s rather run-down in places, and the animals have smaller enclosures than in some newer zoos. The lemur enclosure in particular was full of nettles, and some of the vivariums holding the lizards didn’t look very sturdy.
It’s also not a great zoo for photographers. Most enclosures are behind mesh that obscures the animals, unless you get very close up to the bars. This isn’t so good when taking photos of animals that are right up to the bars themselves, like this Asian small-clawed otter. The Yorkshire Wildlife Park is much better for wildlife photography, but it is also much newer.
Ponderosa is, however, a very good place to bring kids. There are several playgrounds, and when I went (which was a warm August weekend afternoon) there was a bouncy castle. The far end of the site has a huge sandpit as well. Its outdoor nature means that it’s only really suitable for good weather, but we could have probably spent far longer here.
There were some animals there that I haven’t seen before – the tri-coloured squirrel, for example.
Ponderosa clearly needs investment, and underlines why I have issues with local authorities (who often lack the relevant expertise) issuing zoo licenses. In my mind, licenses should be issued by a central government agency, possibly attached to DEFRA, that also carries out inspections. It’s also why I don’t plan to visit South Lakes Zoo any time soon.
That being said, I think we will go back to Ponderosa. Lizzie had a good time, it’s not far from us, and it’s cheap. Plus, Christine hasn’t been yet.