Farm-stays are a fantastic option for a low-key, low-cost and green family holiday, especially for very young kids, who adore having friendly animals on tap and lots of space and fresh air to run around in. On many farms you can also join in with farm tasks, including feeding and egg collecting, and feast on home-grown produce. As such, a good farm-stay can be the perfect example of sustainable and local travel.
Feather Down Farms, Various Locations
A favourite with Takethefamily readers, Feather Down Farms offer short breaks in quirky tents on working rural farms around the UK, some organic, others specializing in cows, horses and or/sheep, from Easter to late October. They include Dolphinholme dairy farm by the River Wyre in Lancashire, with wild swimming, an indoor play barn with straw bales, woods in which to build dens, and an honesty larder with goodies including cheese from the farm’s own goats. The coast is just 15 minutes away, and you’re also close to both the wild landscapes of the Forest of Bowland and the funfairs of Blackpool.
North Wheddon Farm, Exmoor, Somerset
Slap-bang in the middle of Exmoor, this is a classic little farmstead where poultry, goats and kids can all run free in acres of space. There’s B&B accommodation in the farmhouse itself or self-catering in Farthingwood Barn (sleeps 6) or Eden Lodge (sleeps 3). But if you do self-cater, you should still enjoy at least one breakfast or supper up at the farm – there’s a touch of the Hugh FW about chief-chef Julian, whose seasonal cooking, much of it using farm produce, is glorious. Ask him for a tour to see air-dried hams hanging in the stables and the smoking-wardrobe (yes, wardrobe), from which issues the finest smoked salmon we’ve ever scoffed. Parents themselves, the hosts are more than happy for kids to lend a hand feeding the pet Kune Kune pigs and helping separate lambs from their mums at weaning time, and they may even get to examine incubating eggs with a torch.
Coldharbour Cottage, Knock Hill, Kent
When Coldharbour Farm's 17th-century cottage was renovated, a wealth of original features, including ancient oak timbers from Rye's shipyards and the Inglenook fireplace, were revealed beneath the rubble and six layers of wallpaper. It’s now a multi-award-winning self-catering gem, with ‘historical notes’ for each room enabling you to make a fascinating journey back in time while enjoying all mod cons. Sheep, pigs and chickens are all in residence; you can help the farmers look after them. But what makes this especially great for kids is the owner Andrew himself, a font of local knowledge who has also spent time with Ray Mears and offers themed experiences including bushcraft, exploring windmills and a Bonfire Night special with handmade Guy and fireworks. The cottage has a play area and games room, plus thoughtful extra touches – binoculars, bird books, a history quiz and a treasure hunt – that will encourage you to pull on your wellies and explore the working farm and its surroundings further.
Godshill Park Farm, Godshill, Isle of Wight
Just 10 minutes from Shanklin’s sandy beaches, this organic livestock farm makes a great self-catering base for exploring the family-friendly Isle of Wight. On site you’ll find cattle, rare-breed sheep, pedigree pigs, horses, llamas, rabbits, guinea pigs, poultry, and even a swan called Felix, most of them tame and strokeable. Kids can help groom the ponies. A visit to the quintessentially British Godshill Model Village is a must, especially for little ones; with older kids, bring boots and bikes, as the island’s excellent bridleway network makes for superb walking and off-road cycling (the Michelin-rated pub, The Taverners, is a quick pedal away…).
Birchill Farm, Torrington, Devon
Alpacas, ponies, goats and Dotty the sheep are just a few of Birchill’s distractions – the morning feeding round is a must. Add chickens and ducks for breakfast eggs, indoor and outdoor play areas, nature trails and a Woodland Explorers’ Club during school holidays, and you can see why families flock here. Surrounded by pasture and ancient woodlands, the six light and bright, child-friendly cottages (converted farm buildings) sleep 3-7. Even the smallest has a full kitchen; welcome hampers of local produce, Riverford Organic fruit and veg boxes and supermarket deliveries can be ordered for your arrival, or you can order in gastro-pub style grub home-cooked up at the farm and delivered to your door.
Tredethick Farm Cottages, Lostwithiel, Cornwall
Lambs to bottle-feed, ponies to ride, the secret to turning a pig’s tail straight AND free holidays for anyone bitten by a goat… If there are four better reasons for booking at Tredethick we’d like to hear them. Okay, so the accommodation at this working sheep farm is also top notch, the indoor pool is always toasty, and little extra touches – comfy sofas, the daily papers and free ‘proper’ coffee in the soft-play area – mean parents get to relax too. Be prepared to act quick or book well ahead to get in.
Higher Lank Farm, Bodmin, Cornwall
See our feature Green Places to Stay in Europe.
Troytown, St Agnes, Isles of Scilly
Like being time-warped into a Famous Five adventure, the Isles of Scilly are a wild paradise for kids and adults alike, but hotel stays can cost a small ransom. So pack a tent and head instead to Scilly’s only dairy farm, set on traffic-free St Agnes with its white sands, safe swimming, campfires, shooting stars, cuddly calves, never-ending supply of shells and seriously good ice cream. The other islands are a only short ferry-hop away too. If you can’t face lugging your camping gear over, there are two Bell tents to hire and three self-catering properties. Kids love the journey over to St Mary’s by plane, helicopter or ferry with Isles of Scilly Travel, then the inter-island ferry to St Agnes.
Gladwins Farm, Nayland, Suffolk
iPod docks, White Company toiletries and hot tubs might not have been on Old MacDonald’s list, but families looking for a farm with finesse will have a field day in one of these nine cottages in rolling countryside. The pick of the bunch are Chelsworth and Winston, sleeping 8 and 6. Outside are a small ark-load of animals to pet and feed, a play area, a woodland walk and a tennis court, while the indoor pool, hot tub, sauna and play barn provide a backup against the great British summer. For parents there’s the added lure of on-site health and beauty treatments and CRB-checked babysitters.
Lochhouse Farm, Tyninghame, East Lothian, Scotland
These six swanky safari tents (think Featherdown but – whisper it – even better equipped) boast a truly unruly location just a sand dune away from Lochhouse beach while offering all the fun of the farm on tap – kids can help with the hens, ducks and bunnies, bottle-feed lambs in spring, and go berry-picking as summer fades. Inland are woods, wetlands and lochs to explore (you can hire bikes at the farm), and Edinburgh is just an hour’s drive away. But what raises this up into the fantasy stakes is the chance to ride through the surf on either the farm’s horses or child-friendly ponies from the stables next door.
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