You see, I love the outdoors. My whole family do. But I’m a terrible camper as I need my peace and quiet at night and something soft for my bones to lie down on. I don’t sleep a wink if I’m sleeping in a tent next to someone snoring or playing their ukulele, and get woken at 4am by the dawn chorus. And if there isn’t a loo or tap within a few metres, constantly taking my kids to the loo or making trips to fill up on water doesn’t constitute a holiday for me. So my long-suffering husband has sworn never to go camping with me.
But then a few years back a friend told me about Featherdown Farms where B. It was love at first sight. You get get a proper bed (tick), a loo (tick), and a tap (tick), in tents spread far apart (tick). And they’re not just any tents – they look more like mini barns from the outside, and on the inside are even more heavenly. I drooled over the photos of hazy days spent collecting duck eggs, kids stroking pony or chasing chickens, and generally enjoying the freedom of the farm. What stopped us was the cost (at £100 a night in school holidays its not cheap for camping), and the wood-burning stove being right plonk in the middle of the tent where I thought toddlers could easily get burnt. But since our kids are now 8 and 10, I thought it high time to try it out.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Take a look at these photos and you’ll see why.
Farmers from the UK (and other countries in Europe) agree to give over a field to accommodate 8 or so palatial tents. These tents had everything you could want without losing a sense of camping, from rustic farmhouse dining table and chairs, huge solid sofa, sink, stove, all the cooking utensils you’d need and old-fashioned camping crockery. Everything had a romantic, rustic, vintage touch, my favourites being the candlebras hung over a rough tree branch and the kerosene lamps that you could hang over the double bed. Reminded me of my days in Africa. The 3 bedrooms (yes, rooms!) were divided ingeniously by old wooden packing boxes, with the exception of the cupboard bed that was made from solid walls. That was by far the warmest and snuggest bed, and a big hit with the entire family (shame it wasn’t big enough to fit us all in!).
The tents were placed in a large field overlooking a beautiful valley, next to a field where horses ‘Pippin’ and ‘Chase’ spent their days along with a very amiable goat. My 10 yr old daughter fell in love with the horses and adored getting up at the crack of first light to nip up to the chicken coop and collect a few duck and chicken eggs. She’d return with the fresh croissants or bread delivery from the food store/honesty shop that we’d ordered the night before with a face redolent of the Bisto kid as she smelt their delicious aroma.
The farmer and his wife were the ideal hosts: relaxed, convivial and helpful. The farm tour gave us an interesting insight into modern farming life (he’d given up dairy farming for the more profitable beef farming) and the kids got feed new born lambs and watch the first hours of a new born calf. Joby, his wife, cooked delicious stews or cottage pies for those who didn’t want to cook or liked to sample the taste of their beef herd. These meals weren’t cheap, so we didn’t try them but we heard they were very good. Instead, we ordered ready-to-cook choose-your-own-topping pizzas for ‘pizza night’ when we all got to cook our pizzas in the purpose built oven the farmer put in our field. And we sampled their frozen beef steaks from the ‘Honesty Shop’ freezer for a BBQ. My meat-eating husband was in heaven.
In the evenings after a day out at any of the stunning local beaches (oh I do love Dorset!), the kids would help collect firewood and build a camp fire which was a great way of connecting with the other families and to gawp at stars in a way that my city kids rarely get to do. But the best activity for bonding and having fun was the kids grabbing your tent’s wheelbarrow and having wheelbarrow races. I even got in it once! Wheelbarrows are an essential item on these farms – for carrying your stuff to/from your car, collecting your daily ration of firewood or freezer packs for your (very effective) cold box.
The only downside to our holiday was the cold. We had wanted to go in May half term, but the farm we wanted was booked months ago, so we took the risk of going in April for Easter. I was assured by the lovely lady at Featherdown HQ that the woodturning stove (the source of all heat, hot water and cooking) made the tents nice and warm. Well, they made the living area warm, but not the bedrooms. Not when you have that unseasonal cold north wind blasting around and whipping up through the sides of the tent at 11pm.
Boy was it cold in the bedrooms! Sleeping in dressing gown, socks and hat became the norm, even with the lovely thick duvets they supplied. I even resorted to warming up a frying pan and putting it in my bed to warm up the sheets after one of our hot water bottles broke (I hasten to add the pan was clean and no where near hot enough to burn the sheets!).
So, if you do decide to go at the beginning of the season, bring a sleeping bag is all I can say! It also meant that whenever we were at the farm, tending to the woodburning stove became a constant occupation; I now fully appreciate the phrase ‘keeping the home fires burning’. It was like stepping back in time in many ways, giving us a taste of what it is like to rely entirely on the flame for your heating and cooking requirements. The pace of life, by necessity, becomes slower. (I do think a small gas burner would be really useful especially on days when you only need to warm up your washing up water or when its actually too hot to light a stove!)
We stayed 4 nights, which I’d say is about right, although if we went in warmer weather, 7 nights would be fantastic.
So if you love the outdoors but like a few creature comforts, want your kids to (re)connect with nature, enjoying meeting people, and would like a taste of farm and even 19th century life, go! We’d easily go back again – just a little later in the year! (Just make sure you switch off spell check if you write about it afterwards, or your post could be all about ‘galloping’ – Miranda would be proud!)
PS This was not a paid for or sponsored review. If only…..