Most families look forward to their treasured days out together, the days that will form the happy memories, the photos and the videos that will be reflected on for years to come, amidst the odd shudder at the bad hair and the funny-looking clothes. For one family this Easter weekend, they have just been through a day out that they will never ever forget. They will not need the prompts of visual media. It will be etched onto their memories for as long as they live. Welcome to one of the worst family day’s out on record.
It all started when a sweet mother caved in to her two children’s desire to visit the famous lions of Longleat in Wiltshire, England. This safari park was established by the uber-eccentric Marquis of Bath in his extensive grounds around his stately home. Visitors can experience a modest safari-like experience as they drive their own cars through the compounds where real wild animals, including lions, roam and graze.
Prior to today’s incident, driving through Longleat was most renowned for the danger of the monkeys stripping one’s car of all it’s detailing. They have wrenched off many’s a windscreen wiper, wing mirror and aerial in their time. Warnings are posted to this effect and most animal-loving visitors accept it with good grace.
On Good Friday, though, this family’s car caught on fire right in the middle of the lion enclosure. The vehicle began to overheat as it travelled slowly through the gated area and smoke poured from the engine.
Forced to abandon the clearly dangerous car, the family were then in the statistically unhappy position of being out of the frying pan and into the fire. They were then stranded amidst packs of grown lions.
Thankfully, the park rangers quickly moved the animals, closed down the section, and rescued the three individuals. Shortly after they did so, the car went up in a whoosh of flames. It was literally seconds after they evacuated that the vehicle combusted.
An onlooker, who was in the park at the same time, George Lear, said he could clearly see the lions intently watching the drama unfold. They did not take their eyes off the burning inferno and seemed to be bewitched by the fire and smoke. He said that the rangers had a hard job persuading them to move away. They were at a distance, said Mr Lear, but they were clearly intrigued. There are twelve adult lions in that part of the park and they were approximately 150 meters away from the car.
It all sounds a bit like one of those impossible after-dinner games where you have to elect which is worse, to burn to death, or be eaten by lions. The sign on the way in “Deadly Adventure at Longleat” never seemed more appropriate.
Another visitor in the enclosure at the time, Gabrielle Owen, praised the quick and effective response from the rangers which averted what could have been a “horrific story.”
No humans and no animals were hurt and the fire was extinguished.
For this family, the life-or-death dilemma of being burnt alive or eaten by lions was all but a whisker away, on a perfectly placid, sunny afternoon in the English countryside. As family day’s out go, it was action-packed, to say the least.
By Kate Henderson