A large nature reserve near Fakenham, with plenty of wildlife and beautiful nature trails to explore
An Introduction to Pensthorpe Natural Park
Pensthorpe Natural Park is a wildlife nature reserve, situated near Fakenham. The majority of the park was created in the 1980's when gravel extraction left a patchwork of lakes. The site is located in the River Wensum valley which acts as a migration corridor attracting migrating birds from Europe and Africa. Since the 1980's the site has been continually adapted to attract both seasonal migrating birds and an increasing number of resident birds. This has been achieved by creating a diverse range of habitats, with hides allowing visitors to observe the birds at close quarters. This work has been extended to include conservation work, where the primary focus is the breeding of threatened species. A visit to Pensthorpe will obviously appeal to bird lovers, but also to walkers and gardeners. Families are also attracted to Pensthorpe by additions such as animal enclosures (eg Red Squirrel) and the large natural play area. The beauty and attraction of Pensthorpe did not go unnoticed and in 2007 it attracted the attention of the BBC, with Spring Watch being broadcast from the park for 3 years running. Pensthorpe is continually evolving and changing, just like the wildlife that lives here and passes through each year.
We start our tour of Pensthorpe Natural Park in front of the main visitors centre. A labyrinth of footpaths wind their way around the edges of numerous lakes, leading to all four corners of the park. The River Wensum flows through the middle of the park and many bridges take you over the various waterways. At every point of the journey there is an opportunity to see various kinds of wildlife, with each section of the park attracting different species. You will also find various pieces of metal sculpture scattered around to make the walk more interesting, particularly for children. Bird hides provide patient visitors the opportunity to spot rare wildlife without disturbing them.
Pensthorpe Natural Park
Wigeon, one the wading birds at Pensthorpe
One of the many footpaths around Pensthorpe
Visitors exploring the many areas of Pensthorpe
Sculpture of birds in flight, near the Wave Garden
Locust Sculpture near Moon Water
The view from the bird hide over-looking Wader Scrape lake
The Bug Hotels
Bugs shelter from bad weather and hide from predators in the smallest of places. Pensthorpe give the local bugs somewhere to hide in several bug hotels, scattered around the nature reserve. They are nice and dry, with lots of different shapes, which are ideal if you are a bug, such as woodlouse, spiders, earwigs, ladybirds, beetle, and centipedes.
Continuing our tour around Pensthorpe, Moon Water is one of the many lakes that make up the nature reserve and was left after around a million tones of gravel and sand was excavated from the Wensum Valley during the 1970's. The works were restored as a nature reserve during the 1980's with re-planting of native species and shaping of the shoreline, attracting wetland wildlife.
The View over Moon Lake
A chart showing the various types of wildfowl to be found at Pensthorpe (click to open)
There are plenty of seats to take a rest and admire the view
Redshank, with long red legs and a white V on the back
The Millennium Garden is the main garden at Pensthorpe and was created in 2000 and revised in 2009 by Piet Oudolf, a Dutch garden designer. Pensthorpe is one of the largest showcases of his work and his designs are known for their mixture of colourful perennials, structured with ornamental grasses. In 2000 Piet won a gold medal and Best of Show at the Chelsea Flower Show. His garden at Pensthorpe is at its best from mid-June through to mid-September.
The Millennium Garden
Paths and signs helping visitors find their way around
The Pond in the Millennium Garden
Adjacent to the Millennium Garden is Pensthorpe's Conservation Centre and Red Squirrel enclosure. Here visitors can meet close-up threatened species of birds and mammals, such as cranes, flamingos, storks and red squirrel. The centre helps to widen our knowledge and stock of these captive bred birds and animals, which are housed in a purpose built set of enclosures and hides. Pensthorpe also encourages children to enjoy nature with activities such as pond dipping, wildlife trails and a bug walk.
Whistling Duck in the Conservation Centre
Wear comfortable shoes (as there is a lot of walking) and bring a pair of binoculars with you!
Wild Rootz is a children's play area, where children of all ages can climb, slide and swing, while parents enjoy a few minutes rest on the picnic benches. A fresh water stream runs through the play area and children can enjoy wet play on warm days!
Wild Rootz Children's Play Area
Climbing Frames and Picnic Tables
Finally, you will hopefully find your way back to the main visitor centre, as this is the only way in and out of Pensthorpe. The centre has a well stocked gift shop, including a drink cellar, promoting local brewers. You will also find an indoor wade aviary, recreating the conditions found on the Norfolk Broads and North Norfolk Coast, and populated by wading birds such as Reedling. In the visitor centre courtyard is a cafe, serving hot and cold meals, snacks and drinks.
Pensthorpe Visitors Centre
Wildfowl in the Wader Aviary
The Gift Shop in the Visitors Centre
The Courtyard Cafe
Land Rover Tours around Pensthorpe
10 Things to SEE & DO at Pensthorpe Natural Park
Explore the numerous paths leading to all four corners of the park
Watch out for wildlife from the various hides and viewing points
Look out for various pieces of sculpture - including birds, animals and even locusts!
Investigate the bug hotels and see what creepy crawlies you can spot
Enjoy the beauty of the gardens - particularly the Millennium Garden in June to September
Visit the Conservation Centre and see the Cranes and Flamingo
Meet Red Squirrel an their dedicated enclosure
Lets the kids run around the Wild Rootz play area and mess about in the stream
Explore the visitors centre, complete with Wader Aviary, Gift Shop and Courtyard Cafe
Take a trip around Pensthorpe aboard the Land Rover Tours
Pensthorpe offers a unique mix of wildlife, zoo, gardens and play - all wrapped up in one fabulous attraction. There is something for all age groups and it is no surprise that Pensthorpe is in our list of top 10 attractions to visit in Norfolk!