Cricket St Thomas used to be a safari park and the infamous home of Noel’s House Party.
Now Mr Blobby and the exotic animals have all gone home, leaving behind a beautiful, rolling country park and a new kind of stylish family lodge holiday.
If you’re old enough to be reading an article about holidays with kids, chances are you’re old enough to remember Noel’s House Party. When the Saturday night TV ratings winner reached its peak in the late 90s, one enterprising Somerset country estate signed up to become the ‘House’ of the ‘Party’. It proved to be a costly mistake.
The fallout for Cricket St Thomas led to the sale of the hotel, a legal battle with Noel Edmonds and the eventual closure of its safari park.
Now, nearly 15 years on from its brush with Mr Blobby, the next generation of the Taylor family, who own the estate, have transformed it into a peaceful, natural and gimmick-free zone.
We’re staying at Swandown Lodges, a small, intimate collection of luxury lodges at the top of the estate. The exotic animals may have all been re-homed, but the lush green parkland they grazed is still open for exploration, rolling gently down beyond our balcony towards Dorset, and a tiny sliver of blue sea.
Swandown is owned and run by the Taylors, who still farm the land at Cricket St Thomas, but it operates under the Hoseasons brand, Evermore.
There are only seven lodges available for holiday hire, of varying sizes. A few others are privately owned. Ours is one of a row of chalet-style additions, with an upside-down layout that maximises the beautiful view from the living area.
It’s light, airy and obviously five-star inside, with a high-chair, stairgate and cot assembled and waiting on our arrival. Other lodges are set apart, many with their own hot-tubs on the deck, so you can put the kids to bed and watch the meandering sheep in secluded, bubbly style.
It’s quiet here; relaxed and open. There’s a warm, safe indoor pool you can let yourself into at any time of the day, a games room with plenty to borrow, and a shed full of new bikes of all sizes, which you can sign in and out whenever you like.
Somerset has its own attractions, not least of which is cider. Perry’s cider farm is only a couple of miles from Swandown.
You can look around the 16th century beamed barns and marvel at the original cider presses (still in use) before sampling today’s brew on picnic tables among the apple trees. Even thimblefuls were enough to lift the spirits, so take it easy.
Axe Valley Wildlife Gardens are not far away either, and then there’s always Longleat.
But visiting the safari park at Cricket St Thomas’s erstwhile rival feels like a dirty pleasure when you’re staying here.
It’s a glimpse of what they might have had – the crowds, the queues and doubtless the dosh.
Thank heavens they didn’t. Instead Swandown offers something much finer – natural beauty, open space and a real holiday..
Emily Shelley stayed in Netherhaye Lodge at Swandown Lodges, Somerset, part of the Evermore Lodge Holiday Collection, courtesy of Hoseasons.
Accommodation: Consists of lodges sleeping four to six. A week’s stay at Swandown Lodges starts from £485 and short breaks start from £275.
For more information: About holidaying with Hoseasons in the UK and in Europe call 0844 847 1100 or visit their website at Hoseasons