On one of the few dry days we’ve had in Edinburgh this summer, my husband Daniel, little girl Alexandra (15 months), sister-in-law, Justine (13 years) and I decided to go to The Almond Valley Heritage Centre in Livingston. From Edinburgh, it’s very easy to find as it’s clearly signposted off the M8 motorway. When you get there there’s lots of parking with an overflow car park, just in case it’s busy.
The entry costs were amazingly reasonable at £5 per adult, £3.50 per child (aged 3-17), or a family ticket (2 adults and up to 4 children) for £17. Once in the park, the only additional charges are for tractor and trailer rides (50p per person), train rides (£1 per person) and a half-hour play session in Morag’s Meadow soft play area (£1 per child), all of which I felt were very fairly priced. On entry, you are given an ’Almond Valley Heritage Centre’ sticker to wear to allow easy access in and out of the entrance, so you don’t have to stop and show a ticket.
Almond Valley has a good mix of activities and things to look at. In the entrance building, there is a museum dedicated to the history of West Lothian. There is a model mine that you can walk into, and a few interactive displays for children (and adults!) to explore. There are also tunnels and a few other games for the children to enjoy. Obviously, my little one was too young to appreciate this part, but the rest of us had a good time exploring!
The park is large, with many different enclosures for animals. In the Small Life Animal Area, there are rabbits and guinea pigs that you can try to pet. The guineas are pretty nervous, but the rabbits are lovely and patient, and very, very soft! There is also the Animal House, where there were supposed to be goats, cows, chickens and pigs, but there was only a lonely goat and a chicken in it when we got there. We had a lovely time stroking the over-friendly goat anyway, and there were goats and donkeys outside that we could look at. I think the other animals must have been hiding!
We followed the map given to us on entry to the park to find other animals, however a lot of the animals either weren’t in the marked enclosures or were in different fields. There were many geese and Indian runner ducks down at the pond, though, which Alex just adored. The pond isn’t fenced off, which I didn’t mind, but I had to keep an eye on Alex to make sure she didn’t follow a duck in!
In the Milking Byre we had great fun. There is an interactive cow that you can try to “milk”, a game of hoops to play, and a few giant bunny rabbits to look at. Outside the barn, you can go on into the Livingston Mill. Inside it aims to teach visitors about flour production, and there are some good interactive information boards on the walls. Again, it wasn’t too interesting for Alex, but very informative for us.
Further into the park, there are mini tractors for children to enjoy. There are only 5, but luckily it was quite quiet when we were there, so Daniel was able to take Alex in and help her have a go. It’s a really good little track for them to ride around, with little road signs and plants to drive past. There are also some trampolines, with 2 set aside specifically for parents and toddlers, which is a brilliant idea. It meant that I could safely take Alex on myself and not feel bad for taking up space! Next to the trampolines and outdoor play area, there is an interactive archaeology exhibit called Bones and Stones, which looked fantastic, but it wasn’t suitable for Alex so we moved on.
The wartime garden was good to look at, with some lovely strawberries growing in it which I could have just picked right off and eaten. There were some members of staff working hard in the garden at building a bomb shelter, which was very interesting to watch. We kept on walking down towards more animal fields, but they were empty and we felt it sort of fizzled out a bit.
For lunch, we went to the tearoom and bought food, which was fairly expensive for the 4 of us, but it was the price you expect to pay when there are no other alternatives. If you’ve brought a picnic with you, there are plenty of places to eat, both outside and in. We had a quick play in Flora’s Forest Baby Playroom, but Alex was pretty wiped out, so we decided to call it a day.
We had a good time at the Almond Valley Heritage Centre. I felt the learning areas were informative, and there was a good selection of fun things to see and do. It was a bit disappointing in places, as it felt a bit empty, but reading on their website, they are very frank about the selling on of animals, so you can’t expect to see massive amounts of animals every time you visit. It’s a good, clean, tidy place, with fun for all the family.
Reviewed by Amy Jackson and her family
For more information, please visit: http://www.almondvalley.co.uk/
Opening times: 10 am – 5 pm