Tawny owls, that is. According to the Chestnut Centre in Derbyshire, tawny owls refuse to fly over water and as such they don’t get to set up home in Ireland or the Isle of Wight. This strikes me as being quite a shame, as they (and owls in general) are such beautiful and fascinating creatures.
Situated around half an hour from the outskirts of Manchester, the Chestnut Centre is home to the largest group of multi-specied otters and owls in Europe. A five to ten minute walk will take you through some stunning scenery to the little forest where the otters, owls and other wildlife are kept. The rolling hills of the Peak District pass you by on the left, and you can just make out the creamy white dots that are sheep in the distance. Glance to your right and you’ll be greeted by the sight of speckled brown deer happily grazing away. You really can’t get much further from the noise and pollution of the city.
The first thing you’ll learn when you get to the Chestnut Centre is that an otter certainly isn’t a uniquely British animal. Otters can be Asian, Eurasian or even North American. The centre has an abundance of short claw Asian otters, which are adorably cute to look at and make a sound almost exactly like that of a child’s squeaky toy.
Unfortunately the ‘Badger Rehabilitation Pen’ was empty when we visited, so we didn’t get to see any of the striped lovelies. We did, however, come face to furry bottom with a Scottish wildcat, which (in true dour Celtic fashion) was not in the mood for crowd pleasing. Pole cats and foxes were also listed on the leaflet, but we didn’t get to see any of these either. I can’t say I was too disappointed about the latter; we see our fair share of foxes digging around in the capital city’s overflowing dustbins!
One creature the Chestnut Centre did have in abundance was owls. Tawny, Spectacled, Long Eared and Barn all made an appearance along with my personal favourite, the Snowy Owl. The fluffy white Snowies (not to be confused with the Moshi Monsters of the same name) have won a place in my heart ever since Harry Potter. Of course, their adorably smug/content expressions do endear them to me even more. The smallest breed of owl in the UK, which I might add was no bigger than a hand span, seemed to be happily co-habiting with a couple of guinea pigs.
Now onto the more technical details. The car park is, at the time of writing, completely free. Dogs are (quite understandably) not allowed into the centre so be sure to leave your furry friend at home. Adult tickets cost £7.50 and a family ticket (which covers two adults and two children or one adult and three children) is £22.75. This may seem a little steep, but do bear in mind that the centre provides care for orphaned or injured animals who would struggle to survive unaided in the wild. Patronising places like the Chestnut Centre helps to keep the food forthcoming and the pens improving. Go for a nice little day trip and the chance to get up close and personal with animals that you may never set eyes on in the wild.