Monk Park Farm is a petting farm in Thirsk, North Yorkshire that has new owners and managers. We decided it was time to go back and review the changes.
Like a lot of local people, Monk Park Farm is my son’s childhood. He adores the place and we have spent hours and days of our life there. Sadly though, over time, the farm became more and more tired and the animal care and standards seemed to go down. As animal lovers, it was so hard to see. We stopped going so often but Bear missed it so much.
Then the pandemic hit. There was a go fund me to raise money to help feed the animals and help them to be able to re-open when regulations allowed. This was then followed by news, spread via local Facebook groups, that the farm was for sale. We worried it was going to close forever and that it would be bought, demolished and then more houses would be built in its place.
I’m happy to say that it has re-opened and it’s on it it’s way to bigger and brighter things.
When we visited, I didn’t have it in mind to write a review or make a video, but when I said on Instagram that we were visiting and hoping to see an improvement, I had 5 messages in minutes saying that they were interested to see what we thought as there had been a negative review on Facebook, the day before. The issue was that a visitor was unhappy with the way a Shetland pony looked. They thought the hooves were overgrown and were worried about a small bald spot that the pony had on its skin.
After talking to the new managers and messaging a couple of people, they were interested to hear the other side of the story that hadn’t been represented and I decided I’d write a post to give my thoughts. My view isn’t on the condition of the ponies – I’m not qualified to pass comment but I can tell you how the situation was managed and a bit of the back story.
We visited on Sunday 18th April 2021. At this point, Monk Park Farm had only been officially owned for two weeks.
What they have achieved in this time is incredible.
Before the farm was bought, the new owners, a leisure company in York, asked a vet to come and check over all of the animals. They took a risk and began to invest a large sum of money into the farm, even before the sale had gone through and whilst there have been a lot of cosmetic improvements, money has been invested into the care of the animals and the staff.
With these ponies in mind, the managers of the farm told me that before they opened to the public, they invited a local riding school to visit and bath, brush and pamper the Shetland ponies for what could have been the first time in years. They have been visited by a farrier who has regular checkups booked and further vet checks are scheduled.
However, despite this, when the complaint was raised with the managers, they immediately called the vets, who were on site within half an hour. I was pleasantly surprised by this reaction. I’ve raised concerns in the past, over severely lame goats and nothing was ever done to my knowledge and the lame goats remained on view. The new managers, despite knowing that the ponies have been checked multiple times, put the animals and customers first.
I don’t know the outcome of the vet visit but they were still deemed fit and well to be interacted with (they are outside in a field, not confined to be petted) and I do know that these ponies have been aged at possible 40 years old which is 10 years past the average life expectancy.
Old animals often do look a bit scruffy and even more so at this time of year as they begin to shed their winter coat. Maybe they do need their hooves trimmed? I don’t know, but I do know that they are not just left in the field with no care.
One thing that the new managers are going to have to balance is customer expectations. Monk Park Farm welcomes visitors from lots of surrounding villages, towns and cities. I’ve seen people arrive in winter, wearing Ugg Boots (that absorb water like a sponge) stiletto heels and white jeans. For some people, farm animals are more exotic than they are to the locals and I think some people expect a sterile environment and cows and sheep that are cleaned daily.
Whilst I think farm animals are farm animals and visitors, especially in winter, should expect to see a bit of mud, I think a balance could be met as sometimes the animals that were inside to be pet and interacted with (currently closed due to covid-19 regulations) were caked in mud and poo. I don’t think a bit of a brush down or wipe of a calf covered in it’s stall mate’s poo is too much to ask. If a way could be found that works with health and safety rules, brushing some of the animals could be a fabulous visitor experience.
So what do I actually think of the changes?
So far, so good.
Throughout our visit, I saw members of staff all over. I saw someone taking straw down to the animals far off in the distance, I saw rubbish bins being emptied, the managers walking around and interacting with customers and other staff.
The staff all wear a noticeable uniform now and you don’t have to look far to find someone. Another change is the median age of staff. I have nothing against young staff – I started work at 13 years old but in the past, the petting barn would be run by 2 or 3 young teenage members of staff. Experienced members of staff were hard to find and customer service was occasionally nonexistent. I fully expect to see younger seasonal staff but I am confident that professional experienced members of staff will be visible as well.
All the main buildings have had a makeover, as has the entrance to the farm. Wooden swing frames have been replaced, new baby swings purchased, and I was really happy to see that a swing, suitable for children with disabilities has been hung. There’s been a lot of landscaping and the swathes of nettles have been tackled. There’s new safety flooring under all of the play equipment and the toilets are clean! Those that know, will know that this is a big change.
The barrel ride is not currently up and running but the managers told me that it’s because they have been sent off to be serviced so watch this space.
Also, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the inside petting barn is not currently open, nor Bear’s beloved straw barn play area but as soon as the government gives the go-ahead, they will be back.
I can confirm the lamb bottle feeding will be back as soon as covid restrictions on crowds allow.
Something to note is that you can now pay for everything on-site with your card with no minimum spend which is great.
What could be improved upon?
At the moment, the go-karts are missing which is a big change. I mentioned Bear’s disappointment over this (which was quite measurable – lol) and the managers said that they needed to be serviced and as yet, they weren’t sure if and when they would be coming back. I think that not bringing them back would be a massive shame. A lot of families visit with siblings or singletons like Bear, who’s 9 years old, and the ‘big kids’ need something to do.
Whilst they enjoy seeing the animals and walking around the farm for an hour or so, they need an area to ‘play’ and let off steam. This is why the go-karts were so popular with the older children and there’s not really anything else for them to do. We did notice a football goal behind a hedge but couldn’t see any balls and sadly the ground was really uneven and would be hard to run on.
Bear ran around with 3 or 4 older children but there were so many toddlers and younger ones around that these games had to be stopped. Indeed there was an accident between a big kid and a much smaller child and sadly this will probably keep happening as they try to make their own fun.
So that’s my biggest complaint however, I think we have to be understanding that they’ve only had the farm for two weeks and there is only so much that they can do in this time. As long as the go karts come back or something else is brought in for the older children (nothing that requires money please!) then we’ll still visit often.
I mentioned some accessibility points to the managers and they were very open to ideas and told me that they are aware of this and are trying to come up with a workaround. A new layer of stones/gravel seems to have been laid on the main pathway and whilst this is perfect for the farm vehicles and reduces the mud, a wheelchair, that I sometimes use when I visit, would find it extremely hard to roll over, if not impossible and I saw a lot of parents getting their pushchairs stuck in certain places and struggling to push. I’m confident however that this will be addressed as soon as possible.
Also, for those with disabilities or older visitors, the farm would benefit from more benches alongside the main farm walk. My back was hurting a lot and we couldn’t walk all the way around as I needed rest stops and there were few, and none that I could see near the ponies and at the back of the farm.
Something that I have always thought was missing from the farm is proper signage. Whilst there are some new signs to remind visitors of the dangers of infection and the importance of washing hands, I would love to see some more signs with photo’s about the actual animals – facts about the different breeds, etc so that you’re learning something as well. When Covid allows, it would be great to see some interactive signs.
Lastly, it would be nice to see the odd recycling bin dotted around in 2021 as we are all becoming more eco aware, especially at an attraction with animals as to me, animal care and the environment go hand in hand.
All in all, I was impressed. There are things that can be improved upon but it all takes time, especially in the current climate.
We’ll definitely be visiting again, probably when the petting barn and straw barn are able to open, and again, I’ll be interested to see what, if any changes have been made in there.
Currently you have to book tickets in advance in order to visit but they have a new website which makes it easy.
A video of our day.
Just a quick note about the food as again, I didn’t go to review the cafe – I think, as it has always been the past, The Hungry Monk cafe is almost a separate business but some changes have been made there as well. You no longer snake and queue almost within the kitchen, that smaller room has been blocked off and a new service area with the till has been created in the larger dining room which is great as you used to absorb the fried food smell as you queued and would carry it with you for the rest of the day.
As a vegetarian who doesn’t like cheese or egg, my only choices were a jacket potato or potato skins / chips which are ok but I would love to see a bit of salad or maybe a falafel and hummus salad sandwich on the menu!
However, on the day, Bear had a basic Jumbo Hot Dog for £2.50 which he really enjoyed and I had a huge portion of Potato skins with a sweet chilli dip (that was actually poured all over the skins and not an actual dip unfortunately) also for £2.50 which was good value.
One thing that I was disappointed to see was polystyrene food containers and single use plastic cutlery. As someone who is eco conscious, I felt really bad using these materials.
But again, The Hungry Monk is a local small business that has weathered the storm of covid 19 and needs our support. Hopefully, in time, they can transition to materials that are better for the environment.
All food, including picnics, is to be eaten outside at present and if you are visiting on a sunny day, I would bring a picnic blanket as at busy times, there may not be enough tables.
If you’re local, I hope this has been informative and will give you the confidence to return and help them rebuild and grow.
Thanks for reading,