I had an afternoon out at the National Cat Centre recently – a fascinating place. There’s a cafe and shop (a really good shop!) as well as a nature trail.
The whole thing has had a refurb and rebuild, as they only bought the site in 2002 – these are some of the catteries, which are beautifully designed. The stones in front are part of a flood defence.
Everybody in the area is very proud of the visit that JFK paid to the site, just a few months before he was assassinated in 1963. His helicopter actually landed at the Centre itself, which is quite something – he was visiting the prime minister of the day Harold MacMillan, who lived close by.
They do a huge amount of work, of course – neutering, rehoming, education (lots of leaflets to download free from their website). They get out and about a lot of the time too.
As an aside, it’s become a really good local alternative to Wakehurst Place, for locals to go have a coffee and a little walk – Wakehurst now charge for parking, they don’t have anything savoury in their free-to-access cafe, and they’ve dramatically downsized the amount of merchandise in their shop, which is weird. In contrast, the Cat Centre has free parking, lots of lovely nibbles in the cafe (it’s not as big, but there are outside tables too) there’s quite a bit of exhibition space, and even the 10 acre nature walk part of the site is free. Its an absolute bargain for a low-key afternoon out, with plenty of space for kids to run about.
Right next door is the Red Lion pub, a big, nineteenth-century country pub with modern facilities, and really friendly staff.
I had to pop in once I noticed their pub sign – which is a white lion. No one at the pub on the day knew why they had a white lion, but I thought it was pretty cute. There was more Macmillan/JFK memorabilia there too.
Just to finish up, this is confession time. I didn’t see a single cat, I didn’t go into the catteries at all. I just saw dogs! But it was all very lovely.