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Your inside line on the new, unique and unmissable across 19 Muddy Stilettos counties

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32 brilliant days out with the kids

The weather's divine, a staycation is on the cards, and the children need occupying. Oh hello Muddy Stilettos!

BERKSHIRE BUCKINGHAMSHIRE CAMBRIDGESHIRE CORNWALL DEVON GLOUCESTERSHIRE HAMPSHIRE HERTFORDSHIRE KENT LEICESTERSHIRE NORFOLK NORTHAMPTONSHIRE OXFORDSHIRE SOMERSET SURREY SUSSEX WARWICKSHIRE WILTSHIRE

 

OXFORDSHIRE 

Broughton Castle, near Banbury

This 14th century Broughton Castle, complete with moat, is prettily situated a few miles outside Banbury and although not grand like Warwick Castle, there’s something really charming about it. I think the real pleasure in it is its laid-back, un-touristy and ‘do’able feel – because some days you’re just not in the mood to slog around a castle for six hours with four million other families, are you? There’s plenty to admire from the cannonballs fired at the walls during a Royalist siege in 1642 to the armour on the walls of the Main Hall.  The grounds are gorgeous, with lily ponds in the moat, grandly-planted borders, elderly trees that offer just the right amount of shade on a sunny day and flat stretches of grass for the children to bomb around on. Just be aware that as it’s privately owned it’s only open on Wednesdays and Sundays through the summer.  broughtoncastle.com

 

Cotswolds Wildlife Park, near Burford

Have kids who love all things furry, creepy and crawly? Cotswold Wildlife Park near Burford is a great way to get close to both the big guns (lions, giraffes, rhinos) and the little fellas (penguins, lemurs and reptiles) plus you can meet Baby Belle, the park’s first hand-reared white rhino calf. There’s loads to do with a cute railway, adventure playground and children’s farmyard but it feels manageable and much sweeter than a lot of the larger animal parks. Plus it’s in a truly gorgeous neck of our woods, of course.  cotswoldwildlifepark.co.uk

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CORNWALL

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan

This 200-acre estate and gardens have a mysterious and romantic history. 25 years ago they were lost under a tangle of weeds and a chance discovery led to the garden’s restoration. Throughout the year, there is loads to discover, including a giant rope bridge and natural sculptures, The Giant and The Mud Maid (check out the books in the Heligan shop that tell the magical stories of these). In the school holidays, the Muddy-Award-winning Heligan events team lays on imaginative, themed activity programmes for children, all focussed around adventure and outdoor play and there are also regular feast nights and touring theatre productions. This summer renowned Cornish theatre company, Kneehigh is bringing its nomadic theatre space – The Asylum – to the gardens, with three productions, including sing-a-long satire UBU Karaoke, Quentin Blake’s The Dancing Frog and FUP, based on the novel by Jim Dodge. heligan.com

 

Retallack Aquapark & FlowRider, St Columb

If you’ve got older children or adrenalin-fuelled teens to entertain this summer, I would highly recommend the water-sports on offer at Retallack Resort in St Columb Major. There’s a massive inflatable Aqua Park with a giant trampoline, catapult, water wheel, balance beams and more ‘total wipeout’ style fun. Sessions cost £15 per person and are suitable for age 6+, (under 11s must be accompanied by an adult). Then FlowRider is a surf simulator, guaranteeing fun in the waves whatever the surf forecast. Combining the experience of surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding, FlowRider creates safe and easy waves, giving beginners a chance to learn to surf in a safe environment, with the help of pro instructors. Check out the great value 7-day passes, if you fancy trying a few of the activities. retallackresort.co.uk

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SUSSEX

Arundel Wetland Centre, Arundel

Arundel Wetland Centre will make nature explorers of your kids, year-round. Part of the WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) its 65 picturesque acres are bordered by the river Arun and South Downs and include lakes, reed beds, waterfalls and channels. Have geese feed from your hands, see ducks diving for whitebait and (shhh) take to a hide to watch nesting gulls, oyster catchers, terns and lapwings. Out on the water, a boat safari will take you and yours in search of water voles and kingfishers. Look out too for pond dipping and craft sessions. This summer Dusty’s Wildlife Rangers encourages children to take on bushcrafts, orienteering, foraging and animal tracking challenges. As a bonus, Arundel Castle is in the same historic town. wwt.org.uk

 

Wakehurst, Ardingly, nr Haywards Heath

Sister site to world famous Kew, this botanical garden boasts the planet’s largest seed conservation project. What your children will want to know however is that there are woods to explore, a Tree Trunk Trek to climb and a Children’s Heritage Garden with a mud kitchen, and chances to plant and dig. This school holidays there’s a bumper Summer Explorers programme besides, with crafts like woodland printmaking, clay sculpture and wand making; nature photography for 7 -11s; guided tree climbing with proper ropes and harnesses; music crafts and sound ‘foraging’, and story-telling in the woods. You can also hire a Summer Explorer rucksack stuffed with activities. kew.org

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BERKSHIRE

Bucklebury Farm & Deer Safari Park, Bucklebury

Bucklebury Farm Park Bucklebury Berkshire Stag with antlers walking in field next to tractor

Let your kids run riot in 74 acres of Berkshire countryside without losing them *Phew*. Bucklebury Farm Park is a child’s paradise – and the answer to your prayers.   Meet the weird and wonderful farm animals – feed them, pet them, they will lick you; tackle the outdoor assault course, bounce around on the inflatable pillow, whizz down the zipwire, the deer safari is a must and don’t forget the whizzy slides. There are plenty of picnic spots or just pop into Woody’s Cafe, serving family friendly dishes. It’s great fun, probably best suited to under 11s. Oh, and Prince George and Princess Charlotte have been spotted here, too. Just saying. Under 2s go free, 3+ £9.25; adults £9.95, family ticket £34. buckleburyfarmpark.co.uk

 

Bray Lake Watersports, Bray

Bray Lake Watersports kids paddle boarding with jolly roger flag

If your kids like getting wet, then Bray Lake is a pretty much the perfect place to do it. A large, willow tree-lined lake on the outskirts of Maidenhead awaits them to sail, windsurf, and paddle at their leisure. There are a choice of  kids holidays activities, suitable for ages 8-15, available over a week or daily. Drag them away from the tech and sign ’em up. If thy’re not splash happy, perhaps a bungee jump, segway adventure or fishing will float their boat. Leave them in the hands of the instructors, grab a coffee and watch or gig out your high cut red swimsuit and practice your slo-mo run past the Braywatch Tower. braylake.com 

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CAMBRIDGESHIRE

Sacrewell Farm, Peterborough

Sacrewell Farm, just outside of Peterborough, is run by the William Scott Abbott Trust – a charity dedicated to connecting people with food, farming and the countryside. There is so much here to keep the family entertained and there are also loads of opportunities to get hands on and learn about rural crafts and farming experiences. Set in beautiful Cambridgeshire countryside, kids can try lambing, pond dipping, den building, bread baking and animal handling, and for adults, there’s even a chance to make your own cider. sacrewell.org.uk

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NORFOLK

Holkham Hall Estate, Holkham

With a great programme of activities to offer, Holkham Hall is an absolute must on your ‘to do’ list this summer. You can easily spend a day exploring the estate and that’s before you hit the beach! There’s the Field to Fork Experience with its very cool tractor simulator, cycle hire, nature trails around the park and a brilliant Children’s Woodland Adventure Play Area. If you’re brave enough you can let them loose on the lake in a boat – I’m imagining Swallows & Amazons?!? Of course the magnificent 18th century hall and the six-acre walled garden haven’t gone anywhere. A Discovery Trail and an exhibition with dressing up opportunities are great fun for little ones. I suggest a ‘time out’ for mums, if you can book yourself on the ‘Secret Passages Tour’ in the hall, it’s all very Downton Abbey and lovely. It’s also worth checking out their programme of events as they have some great outdoor theatre performances kicking off on 25 July with The Railway Children. And of course not forgetting the Victoria Inn, where you can grab a glass of something cold and bubbly as a reward for being such a fab Mum! holkham.co.uk

 

Bewilderwood, Hoveton

Home to Swampy and his friends – Mildrid the Crocklebog, Thornyclod the Shoe Loving Ppider and Hazel the Wood Witch – Bewilderwood is a seriously creative adventure park and well deserving winner of Norfolk’s Best Family Attraction 2018. Don’t be alarmed when you pull into a field and can’t see anything, it’s all very cleverly hidden in the woods and broads. Jump on a brightly coloured story telling boat and make your way up river, past the sneaky Crocklebog and into the magical world of the Twiggles and Boggles – the setting of local Author, Tom Blofields series of books ‘A Boggle in Bewilderwood.’ Disembark and find your way through the woods to the giant adventure playground, tree top sky maze, den building, zip wires, giant slides, craft workshops and story telling fun. This summer there will be daily silly parades where you’ll get to meet creatures who you may never see anywhere else in world! Perfect for toddlers to teens (mums and dads – you can jump on the zip wires and slides too), there’s plenty of fun and frolics to keep the family amused! bewilderwood.co.uk

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GLOUCESTERSHIRE.

Cotswold Farm Park, Guiting Power, nr Cheltenham

Adam Henson’s farm is a dream day out for toddlers to tweens, with its Touch Barn where kids can get up close and personal with chicks, rabbits, kid goats and lambs; a farm safari on a tractor; a rare breeds trail; play areas where kids can practise their driving skills at Tractor School, fly down a zip wire, scamper up a climbing wall, jump on bouncing pillows and, for the younger ones, fill their ears with sand in the sandpit. There’s also a maze with educational clues that test maths, observational skills and animal husbandry (no need to tell them that, but great to feel the glow of expanding the offsprings’ brain matter through play) and great one-day Bushcraft courses that include learning basic foraging skills, shelter building, game preparation (that’s preparing and cooking wild food for lunch!), fire lighting and whittling a memento with your newfound knife skills. It’s like a chapter out of The Dangerous Book For Boyscotswoldfarmpark.co.uk

 

Rush Skatepark, Brimscombe, nr Stroud

boy in skate park on scooter, helmet, blue top, ramp

Did you know that the wee village of Brimscombe near Stroud is the location for one of the biggest indoor skate parks in the UK? And quite a destination it is! Formerly the warehouse studios of one Damien Hirst, it is MASSIVE, with 40,000 square feet of fun in the shape of a street section, park and bowl areas, jump track, foam pit and resi (which is a ramp for anyone who doesn’t know their skate lingo). Family-run and family-friendly, the fully marshalled park is no gangsta hangout (there’s a strict zero tolerance policy to drink, drugs and bullying), but is still your über-hip hangout – it’s sponsored by clothing giant Superdry and makes a super cool day out. You’re also practically next door to the fab Stroud Brewery, whose bar (open Thursdays to Saturdays) dispenses fine organic beer and wood-fired, sourdough pizzas courtesy of Vélo Bakery. Perfecto. rushskatepark.co.uk

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BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

Willen Lake, Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes’ not-so-secret weapon is the 100 acre Willen Lake – an excellent outdoor foil to the indoor delights of Xscape, with its massive watersports offering and miles of walks and tracks. There’s a splash park, archery, treetop climbing, fishing, picnic and BBQ areas but if you want to get the kids on the water they can learn to sail, go wake boarding, open water swimming, windsurfing and kayaking. Go for the day or sign them up for a course. If you’re feeling adventurous you could try something new yourself and embarrass the hell out of the kids (my favourite holiday sport). willenlake.org.uk

 

Chiltern Open Air Museum, Chalfont St Giles

With this scorchio summer, an open air museum comes into its own, although if the sun gets too much there are plenty of buildings in which to hide. In fact, the aim of this determinedly lo-fi museum is to rescue threatened buildings and bring them to life, with costumed re-enactors and kid-friendly educational activities. You can wander round a reconstructed Iron Age Roundhouse, working Victorian farm, toll house and forge, a tin chapel, a Wychert cottage and 1940s Nissen hut. They are big on events and arts and crafts for kids to learn about life in days gone by. If you go this weekend, you can immerse yourselves in the less savoury aspects of the Victorian age with costumed re-enactors, including the rat-catcher and his revolting rodents, street urchins, a doctor wielding real leeches, rogues, pickpockets and vagabonds. Your little Oliver Twists will love it. coam.org.uk

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SOMERSET

Cheddar Gorge and Caves, Cheddar

The 450 feet deep, 3 mile Cheddar Gorge, one of the UK’s most spectacular landscapes, is an exhilarating day out – above and below ground – with subterranean caves, prehistoric discoveries and beautiful panoramic views on top of the cliffs. Explore caves with awesome rock formations (remember, stalagmites go up; stalactites come down) dating back hundreds of thousands of years. See where they found the 10,000 year old Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest most complete skeleton. Go on an expedition with audio guides to discover more about the beginnings of Gough’s Cave. Climb 274 steps up Jacob’s Ladder to the top of the gorge and its spectacular views. Then journey on the 3 mile Cliff-top Walk and spot an array of wildlife. From Weds 25 July–Sun 2 Sept, hands-on activities at the Festival of Archaeology. All done? Collapse, happy and exhausted in their café. cheddargorge.co.uk

 

Channel Adventure, Minehead and Taunton

SUP? Stand Up Paddlingboarding, that’s what. And sit on top kayaking, canoeing, swimming and coasteering (where you jump, swim, scramble along the coastline – eek), on the sea at Minehead, on the river Tone in Taunton and down on the coast near Torquay. The experts at Channel Adventure have exciting stuff lined up on dry land too: archery, tree climbing and – your kids will love you forever – axe and knife throwing (at targets, not each other). All under the guidance of fully qualified instructors.  You can try most activities in one-hour Give it a Go sessions and there are also Progression sessions for those who want to develop their skills, 1:1 lessons and two-hour kayak, canoe and SUP tours around Minehead Bay or on the river Tone. No need to bring your own wetsuit (or axe) – all the equipment you need is provided. channeladventure.co.uk

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DEVON

The Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth

children with donkey

Credit: Matt Austin

Step up Devon’s Muddy award-winning family attraction! Once, summer hols weren’t complete without a donkey ride and a Mr Whippy; nowadays you can meet donkeys by the dozen…for FREE! Literally hundreds of brown-eyed, droopy-eared, affectionate animals have been rescued and are loving life at the Donkey Sanctuary‘s brilliant Sidmouth HQ. And why wouldn’t they? As a visitor, it’s a cracking spot on Devon’s epic Jurassic Coast, with splendiferous views. There’s a seriously impressive cafe, worth visiting alone, interactive displays, trails, a play area, mind-boggling maze, plus plenty of opportunity to meet the stars themselves. There’s lots planned for the summer too, from Experience Days taking you behind the scenes, to the annual Summer Fair. Hee-hawesome! *thud*. thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk

 

Crealy Adventure Park & Resort

kids on a log flume against blue sky

Doing Devon with little people? Miss a day or two at Crealy Adenture Park at your peril. Seriously, why wouldn’t you put this park of dreams on the itinerary? It’s nice and convenient if you’re coming into the county from the M5 and once you’re through the gates, it’s impossible not to feel even a little giddy with excitement. Over 60 rides and attractions await, covering all ages with plenty of opportunity to splash, swoop and swing across the Devon countryside, there’s even a Meerkat Manor. It’s, frankly, brilliant fun bettered only by the fact that you can actually glamp here too, now. Yep, Crealy just dropped the mic… crealy.co.uk

 

The BIG Sheep, Bideford

sheep racing with teddies

You can’t loll around on the beach all summer, right? Before boredom kicks in, get thee to The BIG Sheep, pronto! This North Devon beauty knows exactly how to entertain families of all ages, all day, in all weather – and has been for over 30 – 30! – years. Yes, it’s a working farm at heart and yes, the live lambing events are legendary, but it also happens to have the largest rollercoaster in Devon, gentle rides for littlies, plus *cough* a g-i-n distillery and brewery for you! Throughout the Summer of Fun, they’re treating us to 11 live animal shows a day (duck trials, anyone?) and a Bubbilicious Bubble Weekend, plus a visit from Paw Patrol’s Marshall is planned. Cue one carful of sleepy homeward-bound passengers… thebigsheep.co.uk

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NORTHAMPTONSHIRE.

Rushden Lakes, Rushden

Child-friendly activities with a side-order of adult retail therapy – now you’re talking! The Nene Wetlands Visitor Centre at Rushden Lakes, is hosting six weeks of wildlife-themed activities this summer. The Mudlets will be introduced to all manner of creatures and natural wonders, including butterflies, flowers, birds, amphibians, mammals and insects. Activities range from meeting Archie the owl to decorating ceramic frog houses to take home. Once they’ve had their fill, you can mooch around the shops and refuel at one of the lakeside restaurants.

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HAMPSHIRE

A Day Out with Thomas, Mid Hants Railway Watercress Line, Ropley

Take a ride with the real life Thomas the Tank Engine, shake-hands with the Fat Controller then enjoy vintage fairground rides and story time with Rusty. watercressline.co.uk

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WARWICKSHIRE

Dragon Slayer, Warwick Castle (4, 10, 11, 24, 25, 26 & 27 Aug)

Looking for something exciting to entertain kids aged 8+? This is Warwick Castle’s first explosive night-time experience telling the tale of 10th century warrior Guy as he battles monsters and dragons in a bid to gain a knighthood and win the heart of his one true love – Princess Felice, daughter of the Earl of Warwick. It’s an epic tale depicted over the course of an evening using live action, animation, equestrian acrobatics, fire and pyrotechnics. Boom! Tickets start from £15 for show only with immersive dining packages also available, warwick-castle.com

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HERTFORDSHIRE

The Making of Harry Potter, Leavesden

The WB Studio Tour company never runs out of new reasons to get families back to this paean to the boy wizard. This summer, a special feature dedicated entirely to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth instalment of the magical film series, reveals secrets behind the characters, costumes and props that made it so popular. wbstudiotour.co.uk

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KENT

Wingham Wildlife Park, Canterbury 

Wingham Wildlife Park, near Canterbury, is a brilliantly manageable sized park set in a picturesque region of the county. Not only does it boast more species than any other zoo in Kent (including chimpanzees, big cats and penguins) there’s a Dinosaur Zoo too for any Jurassic-mad mudlets. If you’re splashing out, try one of the amazing day experiences – from Keeper for a Day or Meet the Tigers (arrrrgh) to Penguin Experience (awww) or Meerkat Experience (simples). winghamwildlifepark.co.uk

 

Bedgebury National Pinetum, Goudhurst

Bedgebury National Pinetum, Goudhurst, is a firm family favourite being one giant outdoor play place that suits all ages. Little ones will love the Gruffalo Trail and Gruffalo’s Child sculptures hidden over the forest. And there’s brilliantly designed play areas featuring pirate boats, climbing walls and treehouses. Older kids and teens can get their kicks from the tree-top obstacle course, Go Ape. Bring your own bikes or hire them from Quench Cycles choose your trail and picnic along the way. forestry.gov.uk

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SURREY

Godstone Farm, Godstone

Highland cattle at Godstone Farm, Surrey

More than just a farm, this is a mini adventure land – and there’s plenty to entertain kids of all ages. Set in beautiful open countryside just outside Godstone, there’s plenty of space to play and explore outdoors and indoors. You’ll find more than 50 animals at the farm including highland cows, reptiles, llamas, giant rabbits, horses, goats, pigs and chickens. Children can meet and feed the farmyard animals, and handle the rabbits and chicks. There’s a huge adventure playground with sand pits, zip wires, slides and climbing walls, as well as indoor soft play for those days when the weather isn’t so bright. There are also tractor rides, and a Dino trail to explore. A cafe serves food and drinks, and there are party barns for hire for birthdays or special occasions. godstonefarm.co.uk

 

Brooklands Museum, Weybridge

If you’re a fan of racing cars or flying, Brooklands Museum should be top of your must-do list. This is where British motorsports and aviation started. Built in 1907, Brooklands was the first purpose-built motor racing circuit in the world. It was also one of the most prolific aircraft production sites in Europe, with over 18,500 aircraft built or assembled here. These days you’ll find a wide range of exhibits, from race cars and motorcycles to airplanes. Plus the only Concorde in the south-east of England with public access. brooklandsmuseum.com

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LEICESTERSHIRE

Visit Conkers, Moira, nr Ashby-de-la-Zouch

There are 120 acres and hours of fun to be had here. Start with the activity trail challenge where kids can discover the Fairy Labyrinth, Wobbly Bridge and the Hi and Low Ropes course. Older kids may prefer an Outdoor Adventure and Experience Day which include mountain biking and archery but the fun doesn’t stop outdoors. Indoors, kids can enjoy the 4D cinema, explore the forest floor and enjoy a simulated tree top walk. This summer there’s animal encounters, science fun, circus workshops and so much more – we’re pretty sure you’ll have to drag the kids home kicking and screaming. Just don’t leave without riding the CONKERCHOO train. Choo choo! visitconkers.com

 

Tropical Birdland, Desford

Who needs to travel to the Amazon to find exotic birds when you’ve got some of the most alluring and colourful species from around the world right here on our doorstep! Tucked away in the village of Desford, Tropical Birdland is a 6.5-acre sanctuary for housing over 250 feathery residents including macaws, cockatoo and more. Follow The Parrot Path and get up close and interact with the birds before exploring the on-site aviary and chick room. The dedicated staff are more than happy to talk about the birds so make sure you pick their brains. The Macaw Cafe is the perfect place to feed and water your mudlets before exploring the park further.

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WILTSHIRE

Longleat, Warminster

Lion sitting down with blue flowers in grass with woodland in the background

Enter a land of adventure where lions roam, tigers stalk, monkeys swing and predators terrify in the new Predators Season – yep, the UK’s No 1 safari park just keeps getting better and better. With a safari drive-through, Longleat House and Grounds, Jungle Kingdom, Adventure Castle, Family Farmyard, Longleat Railway, Little Explorers Garden and a penguin walk-through (and that’s just for starters) it’ll keep your Mudlets entertained for a day or three. Or book into The Bath Arms next door and bunk up for the whole summer…New this July are the Amur tigers (the largest big cats in the world. Yikes), painted pop-up pandas everywhere you look and of course T.rex: The Killer Question. All the way from the Natural History Museum, T.rex is a prehistoric installation of epic proportions with 8 animatronic dinosaur models taking you on a journey to decide: was the T.rex  a predator or a scavenger? Phew! longleat.co.uk

 

Monkey World, Wareham

Forget crocodiles in the Cotswolds and pandas in Edinburgh, the most exciting – and arguably the most important – wildlife rescue centre in the UK is Monkey World. Home to over 250 rescued and endangered primates, including Europe’s only orangutan crèche (too cute), it’s the perfect place for an ethical family day out. A sanctuary for primates from all over the world (check in here to see orang-utans without having to hot-foot it to Borneo, gibbons, macaques, woolly monkeys, squirrel monkeys, marmosets and lemurs) it’s great fun, plus if your intellectual level is marginally higher than my lot, find out more about the conservation and animal education taking place here. So, you can be sure you are helping the apes while entertaining your Mudlets. Just don’t do what I did and take the wrong little monkey home… monkeyworld.org

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