Wensum, March 21, 2107

Red squirrel April with her kittens at Pensthorpe Natural Park
Red squirrel April with her kittens at Pensthorpe Natural Park
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Red squirrel April with her kittens at Pensthorpe Natural Park

This was before the official opening by the Duke of Edinburgh when the entrance area was dominated by pick-your-own fruits and the gravel workings had just been ‘converted’ into lakes. The planned park with the River Wensum running through it was at that stage in its infancy.

For our young family the sole attraction of Pensthorpe at the time was its wonderful strawberry beds. Nowadays the fruits are long gone and the fields beside the driveway have become grazing grounds for sheep or cattle.

The vision of Bill Makins to establish a natural bird reserve for both native and foreign species was carried forward by Bill and Deb Jordan when they acquired Pensthorpe in 2003.

In fact they have much extended this vision by setting up the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust which has helped towards saving endangered birds and animals such as turtle doves, corncrakes and red squirrels.

The couple’s investment in both indoor and outdoor adventure play areas for children has also boosted the 700-acre estate’s appeal.

It had already played a starring role in the BBC Springwatch television series in 2008 to 2010 and then in 2014 and 2015 was voted Norfolk’s Best Large Visitor Attraction.

As near neighbours we have taken advantage of the generous season ticket offer which pays for itself with comparatively few visits.

On the most recent of these we tracked a familiar course with the challenge of spotting early signs of spring apart from the flowers and shrubs.

Our reward was to see a breast-stroking frog, a pair of courting toads and a peacock butterfly dancing around our heads in the sunshine.

Ongoing work currently includes a new river hide which overlooks reed beds and is big enough to take a class of children. A new pond-dipping facility is also on the cards thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

If you and Pensthorpe have never crossed paths so far a good starting point might be the forthcoming Wild About the Wensum day there on Saturday, May 6.

Now in its 11th year the 2017 event will be opened by nature enthusiast and tv personality Jess French. Jess is a qualified vet with a practice in Norfolk and also works as a presenter for CBeebies.

Entrance fees have been reduced to just £3 per person and there are dozens of activities to enjoy in addition to walking the park itself.

The main theme this time will be to encourage more young people to get out and explore the countryside. Gates open at 10am and there’s ample free parking.

A reminder that the sixth annual Fakenham Gin and Beerfest event will take place at the community centre this coming weekend. It will kick off on Friday, March 24, at 7pm and will run on Saturday from 11am to 11pm and conclude on Sunday from 11am to 2pm.

In addition to beer, gin and cocktails, hot food will be available and plenty of local bands will be playing throughout. Funds raised will go towards improvements at the centre.