East of England Tourism Awards 2021-2022: Large Visitor Attraction of the Year finalists
- Credit: Emma Jenkins
This award recognises large visitor attraction businesses providing truly memorable visitor experiences and demonstrating excellence across every aspect of their business.
Audley End Miniature Railway
Opened by the late Lord Braybrooke in 1964, Audley End Miniature Railway (AEMR) is a family attraction in north Essex – comprising a miniature railway, enchanted fairy and elf woodland, adventure play area, woodland cafe and gift shop.
It has introduced various measures to stay Covid-secure, including a timed, one-way socially-distanced experience at 50% capacity, safe alternatives to craft-making and entertainment, and adaptations to its admissions, catering and retail outlets.
The judges said AEMR offered a magical, individual and enchanting experience for children of all ages, adding that it was decorated in a way that communicated traditional values without the lure of commercialism.
Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park
Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park is a working farm and wildlife park located close to Ipswich in Suffolk. It was opened in 2002 by TV personality Jimmy Doherty and his wife Michaela.
Open to visitors seven days a week, the farm is home to over 80 different breeds and species, including rare breed pigs, barbary macaques, camels and lowland tapirs.
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There is also a nature trail, woodland walk, adventure play area, retail stores and homemade food served in the 200-year-old barn.
The judges said Jimmy’s Farm offered an enjoyable and memorable day out for children, although thought has clearly been given to parents and other visitors as well.
Pensthorpe Natural Park
Pensthorpe Natural Park is a 700-acre family-friendly nature reserve located in Fakenham, 11 miles inland from the north Norfolk coast. Today’s Pensthorpe was created by Bill and Deb Jordan, who bought the estate from visionary conservationist Bill Makins in 2003.
The park features interactive trails, bird hides and boardwalks that weave their way through the reserve and present an opportunity to get closer to the native and visiting wildlife. There are also indoor and outdoor play areas for children, plus other activities.
The judges praised the wide range of activities and wildlife at Pensthorpe, as well as the park’s commitment to wildlife preservation and sustainability – from conservation and breeding programmes to education and outreach work.
RHS Garden Hyde Hall
Located on the outskirts of Chelmsford in Essex, RHS Garden Hyde Hall started as a farm in the mid-1950s and was bequeathed to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in 1993 to ensure its survival. A number of changes have since been made to enhance the visitor experience.
The garden has a wide-ranging mix of horticultural styles and hosts a wide range of art and craft fairs, exhibitions, live music and seasonal events throughout the year. There’s also a cafe, restaurant, garden centre and children’s play area.
The judges said the gardens were pleasant to visit, and that the food, drink and retail experiences were very good. They added that the Association of Essex Photographers exhibition showed its engagement with the community and local culture.
ZSEA Banham Zoo
Banham Zoo in Norfolk was opened by Martin Goymour in 1968 with a small collection of pheasants and parrots. In 2013, it became part of The Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA) charity, which also runs Africa Alive in Suffolk.
When the pandemic hit, difficult but necessary steps were taken, and a three-stage plan over the past 18 months has ensured the zoo’s survival, sustainability and revival. It is now on its way to becoming the UK’s first neurodiverse zoo.
The judges said Banham Zoo provided a great all-round day out, with lots of animals and other things to do, such as the safari train and birds of prey show. They also said the animal enclosures are perfectly kept.
The winners of the East of England Tourism Awards 2021-2022 will be announced at a black-tie event held at Imperial War Museum Duxford on Thursday, February 24.