Northumberland College Zoo Review

We visited in July 2020 when some Coronavirus restrictions were still in place.  

Kirkley Hall Zoological Gardens has recently re-branded to Northumberland College Zoo. I do not know the reason behind this change and reckon lots of people will get mixed up with the other Northumberland Zoo further up the A1. Whatever the reason, it was a good excuse for us to revisit - the last time we blogged about Kirkley Hall was back in 2014!

If you are visiting during summer 2020, tickets should be pre-booked online. Their family deal is such good value if you are a family of 5 like us as it works out at just £4.30 per person which is a proper bargain. 

When you book, you choose a designated time slot. We booked for 1:40pm on a sunny weekday. We arrived at our allocated time and were greeted at the entrance by a lovely member of staff who ticked our name from the list, handed us a map, pointed out a few things not to miss and explained the one-way system.  You can spend as long as you like at the zoo and go around multiple times. 

The zoo felt really quiet, is 95% outdoor and the paths are fairly wide. Most of the animal enclosures have multiple viewing areas too so multiple groups can watch at the same time whilst socially distancing. There is lots of hand sanitiser around the whole site. 

Please note - the hall, gardens, tea room/orangery, high ropes and play area near the orangery are all currently closed to the public (July 2020). This may change so check the Northumberland College Zoo website & social media for updates. 

Northumberland College Zoo is not a huge place with lots of play equipment like Whitehouse Farm or Adventure Valley but this is reflected in the admission price. During the pandemic, there are no hands-on experiences or a chances to stroke / interact with the animals and there is no animal petting or keeper talks. 

The small animal petting barn is closed until September 2020 so if you visit in July/August, do not expect to see any guinea pigs / rabbits etc.....

However, do not let this put you off. There is still a really good selection of animals to see and learn about on the signs / QR codes. We loved our visit and would recommend to families who love learning about animals. We spent around 1.5 hours in the zoo. 

Northumberland College Zoo is mostly outdoors but there are a couple of indoor areas too. These are open with a one way system in place and clear signage. I do not know if the animals have missed seeing us humans but they were really active on the day of our visit and coming right up to the glass.

There are no official keeper talks but we were able to stand back and watch the staff feed the reptiles and meerkats. 

The Bush dogs were so cute. As we walked past they looked like they were all cuddled up and making little dream noises. So sweet. 

In the centre of the zoo is a large picnic area with a small play park which is suited to under 8s. You are welcome to bring your own picnic. The play park is open and has a sign on that one household should use one section at one time - everyone seemed to adhere to this. There is also hand sanitiser attached to the climbing frame and signage saying the whole area is cleaned regularly. 

There is no cafe open at the moment but there is a kiosk next to the picnic tables selling a range of small gifts for kids, drinks, snacks and ice creams. It is card payment (or contactless) only and the prices were really reasonable. 50p for a juice or £1.50 for coffee.

It is refreshing to visit an attraction and for them not to take your eyes out. The guy serving was lovely and chatty too. In fact all of the staff we encountered really made an effort to ask us about our day. 

There is a wallaby walk through which is open from 11am-12noon and 2pm-3pm. Hand sanitiser is used on entering and leaving and you get to be pretty close to the wallabies which is nice. 

The Peacock is still wandering around the site too - we are sure he was following us. 

Meeting this baby alpaca was a real highlight for me - he is 4 months old and here with his mama. So adorable! 

As there are no keeper talks at the moment, you can scan QR codes and watch virtual keeper talks instead. A nice touch. 

There are no shops, transport or takeaways to physically enter - everything is outside so there is no mandatory need for masks when visiting here. Some people did wear them in the reptile house but this is not mandatory / up to you if you wish to bring one. As I say, 95% of this attraction is outdoors. 

Northumberland Zoo is accessible - the walking routes are all surfaced and suitable for a wheelchair and pushchair. We spent a really lovely 90 minutes here. The staff were so friendly, there was lots of space, it was not over-crowded / busy at all and we got to see lots of animals and learn a little about them. 

Highlights for us included getting close to the baby alpaca, wondering why the peacock was following us around, seeing some tiny coloured frogs, watching the squirrel monkeys play, watching a chameleon's eye follow us about, seeing a porcupine, the wallaby walkthrough, watching the meerkats have their lunch, seeing the bush dogs dreaming and the raccoon dogs. 

I did miss the pigs as they are our favourite and I remember brushing them here a few years ago. I understand why this cannot happen right now though. 

If you are looking for a cheaper animal attraction where you can take a picnic and spend a few hours, I would recommend. 

  • Pre-booked visits only with limited numbers (it was not busy on the day of our visit)
  • 95% of the attraction is outdoors
  • One way system in place 
  • Virtual keeper talks
  • Lots of hand sanitiser
  • Play area open and regularly cleaned
  • Toilets open and regularly cleaned
  • No animal interaction/touching/feeding
  • Wide paths 
  • Picnic tables are 2m+ apart
  • Card payments only
  • Outdoor kiosks for food / gift shop sales behind perspex screens  

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Please follow social distancing rules & Government guidelines , respect the local area, leave no trace, take litter home, park responsibly and if somewhere is busy on arrival, please consider leaving and returning at a later date. 

Always check updated opening hours / protocols with venues direct before setting off as things may have changed after this post was published. 


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