Editor's note: Since publication of this piece, Dolphinholme Farm has be renamed Forest of Bowland Collection and is now a free-range egg farm.
If the strangulated bleating of goats giving birth doesn’t persuade you you’re in the depths of the countryside, perhaps nothing will. Indeed, if you or your kids are at all squeamish, Dolphinholme Farm may not be for you – its excellent play barn with its trampoline and straw-bale castle and slide adjoins a real barn housing the expectant mums, so you need to be ready for all the associated sounds, sights and smells, and the possibility that goats may actually give birth in front of you and your offsprings’ fascinated/appalled eyes.
Dolphinholme, the UK’s biggest goat farm, is part of the Feather Down group, offering a formula that's proven so popular with families with young kids that there are now around 30 working farms to choose from in the UK and Ireland, and others in the USA, South Africa, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany.
'It’s the kind of holiday where you can just let the kids run free in nature. Over three days, we played cricket and rounders in the big field fronting the 10 tents, waded in the stream at the bottom of the field, where wild garlic flourishes on the banks, roamed the woods, and basked in the sunshine reading books as the boys played with other kids staying on-site.'
A farm tour and the opportunity to help the farmer milk the goats makes for a great introduction to country life not as kids might see it idealised in books and on TV, but as it is – involving hard work, long days, muck, mess and the smell of poo. The result of all this labour is the delicious mild goats’ cheese that you can stock up on in the farm’s excellent honesty shop, alongside other wonderful local produce. We saw other guests unpacking cars loaded with shopping they’d done en route, unsure what was available on site. In fact, you need bring nothing – only the fussiest of families couldn’t make do with what’s on offer in the shop, supplemented by eggs to which you can help yourselves from the henhouse. One or two nights a week, the pizza oven is fired up and you can either buy some or make your own to load in. All leftovers go to the pigs – a task the kids relish.
This is local, ecologically responsible travel at its most family-friendly. Aside the play barn, tour and milking sessions, it’s the kind of holiday where you can just let the kids run free in nature. Over three days, we played cricket and rounders in the big field fronting the 10 tents, waded in the stream at the bottom of the field, where wild garlic flourishes on the banks, roamed the woods, and – in my husband's and my case – basked in the sunshine reading books as the boys played with other kids staying on-site.
If that makes Feather Down Farms sound like a lazy holiday, then it’s only partly true. A fair amount of time is spent tending the stove in the tent, for cooking, heating water for washing up, and warming the tent; it takes a fair while to get it hot enough to cook on, and if you don’t keep it stoked up, nights can be very chilly.
Feather Down Farm tents are cosy and charming, with a double room, a bunk room and a cute-as-a-button cupboard bed suitable for two, although – don’t tell anyone – my three sons insist on all piling in there together. There’s no electricity, but there are duvets and a flushing loo. Food is kept moderately chilled in a cool chest with the help of hot-water bottles filled with water and frozen, available free from the honesty shop.
Dolphinholme is in the Ribble Valley, on the edge of the Trough of Bowland, a beauty spot often unfairly overlooked by many in favour of the Lake District just to the north. It’s handy for all sorts of child-friendly attractions, from the Bowland Wild Boar Park and Clitheroe Castle to Blackpool Pleasure Beach. But if you’re only here for a three-night weekend or four-night midweek break (full weeks are also available), you may very well not want to move an inch from this rural paradise, however smelly and noisy it might get. I know my kids would go back like a shot, and so would we.
Read more about UK glamping holidays with Feather Down Farm.