If Bashall Barns was near my home, I’d shop there all the time. This ‘food visitor centre’ in rural Lancashire is a model for farm shops everywhere, housing artisan food producers as well as producing its own range from local ingredients. We'd stopped off for excellent coffee and cakes in its family-friendly café and restaurant, where my boys were distracted from the giant noughts-and-crosses game and well-stocked toy-box by cows – in the artwork on the walls, but also in real-life form, through windows directly into the cowshed. Thankfully, they also distracted them from that fact that there’s an on-site ice-cream parlour. On the way out, we raided the large deli for treats to take back to our tent, including excellent homemade salmon- and crab-cakes, soups, breads, cookies, slices of ‘piggy pie’, eggs and beer (there’s a brewery on-site). It was reassuring to be well-stocked for our upcoming adventure but also a great pleasure not to capitulate and head for the nearest Tesco – always a danger when you don’t know an area well.
We were staying at Wyresdale Park on the edge of the little-known beauty spot of the Trough of Bowland. This 19th-century country-house estate, once used to trial pioneering farming techniques, slowly crumbled over the decades, until the current owners decided to open it up to tourism by setting it up as a Country Retreat and by taking part in the Channel 4 series Country House Rescue, with the latter resulting in the opening of the Apple Store Café, among other initiatives. (Editor's note: since the writing of this piece, Country Retreat has been rebranded The Wyresdale Collection).
The setting of our tent took my breath away: just back from the lake-shore with a beach and private jetty (boats can be hired on the lake), it conformed to my every forest hideaway fantasy. I immediately wanted to stay there forever. The 'encampment' itself – for this is no ordinary camping – included a main tent sleeping up to six in a double bedroom, a bunk-room and a cute ‘cupboard bed’ (if you’ve stayed with parent company Feather Down Farms, you’ll be familiar with the layout).
Much of our three-night stay was spent on practicalities – it’s not easy living a semi-wild existence without many of the mod cons we all take for granted. There was a constant gathering of tinder and firewood to feed not only the stove in the main tent but also the cooking cart (like an Aga on wheels), the campfire that we built, and the outdoor hot tub that comes with certain tents. If you want to use the latter – and you should; it’s brilliant fun! – you have to be very organised and start heating it two or three hours in advance.
If that’s too much trouble, each encampment has its own shower ‘tent’ with a hand-cranked shower made from a tin bucket with holes (hot water can be fetched by means of a barrel on wheels from a communal generator hidden in the trees). The only electricity in the tents themselves are for the lights, and that comes from a battery that you recharge by means of a static bike. The children loved this notion of course, although our initial battery never ran out so they had to make-believe.
So nothing is easy, and that’s part of the fun and surely the point of it all. Of course, if you visit with younger kids, most of the effort devolves to you as parents. But when they weren’t helping us collect firewood, my boys were very happy roaming the woods and shore and paddling in the water. Indeed my older ones, six and eight, ‘disappeared’ for a good few hours, lost in some complex adventure game. It was a great feeling to let them run wild and relatively unsupervised – as long as I could hear shrieking and laughing through the trees, I was happy.
There’s plenty to do and see in the Forest of Bowland, including the nearby Wild Boar Park and lots more foodie stop-offs on the Ribble Valley Trail, but it would have been a terrible wrench to leave the encampment. Having said which, we were slightly disappointed by the honesty shop at Wyresdale – compared with those of Feather Down Farms, this was very minimalist, and had we not stocked up at Bashall Barns, we’d have had to head out to the shops.
This seemed like a a missed opportunity for the Estate in that a better-stocked shop could help promote local produce and small food businesses. But there are shops in the nearby village of Scorton, plus restaurants, bars and cafés, and lots of farm shops in the region, making Lancashire a perfect spot to reap the many rewards of local travel.
Read more about family holidays and breaks at The Wyresdale Collection.