I must admit to being nervous at the prospect of our family break at a Feather Down Farm. The brochure looked fantastic and the stories inside were appealing, but what if it rained all week or if my son Archie (almost 18 months old) spent the whole time running off out the tent? Plus my husband couldn't get away from work so would be commuting back and forth in the evening. I needn't have worried at all – we had a fantastic, relaxing holiday and are planning to go back with a group of friends.
We were met at Hollings Hill Farm by the lovely Faye Knowles and her brood of children. She showed us to our tent and pointed out the honesty shop, hot showers and henhouse where we could collect fresh eggs every morning. There were wheelbarrows on hand to take all our luggage up to our tent, which soon became a handy mode of transportation for the kids – who needs buggies?!
'The front of the tent can be completely open and you can even roll up the sides, although there are windows all the way around so you can keep an eye on the kids whatever you choose. We were lucky that the tent next to us was occupied by a family with kids the same age, and by the end of the week the kids were going from one tent to the other.'
The tent was exactly the same as in the brochure – down to the small tins on the kitchen unit – and was well equipped with everything from crockery and pans to whisks and corkscrews. There were a handful of tents, arranged around a large field with another henhouse (albeit no hens – they'd been caught by the fox some days before), some rabbits and a large sandpit.
It took a while to get sorted, taking all the luggage up to the tent (I was prepared for five days of rain so had boxes and boxes of toys and books), picking up the bed linen and making the beds, then going back to get the wood (probably one of the first things we should have done) to light the stove to make the tea.
We brought our own travel cot for Archie and a booster-style highchair, but it turned out they had both to rent. I did borrow a fireguard from Faye to go in front of the stove, as it is rather tempting for small hands. Tallulah, who is three and a half, insisted on sleeping in the cute cupboard bed but managed to fall out of it on the first night. After that we pushed the double bed under the opening so at least if it happened again it would be a soft landing (it didn't).
Every morning we were there, Tallulah woke up giggling with excitement as she remembered where she was. The kids soon adapted to this way of outdoor life and loved the freedom. The front of the tent can be completely open and you can even roll up the sides, although there are windows all the way around so you can keep an eye on the kids whatever you choose. We were lucky that the tent next to us was occupied by a family with kids the same age, and by the end of the week the kids were going from one tent to the other.
It was amazing how the long evenings with no TV and no laptop soon filled up. There still seemed to be the continuous tidying and cooking and cleaning, but it all happened in a far more relaxed way. There was also always something going on that we could watch intently from the tent – the vet looking at the horses, the sheep being rounded up and taken down to the farm (by Faye with one child on her back, carrying another and holding the other's hand while guiding the sheepdog!), the pet rabbits escaping and being brought back by farmer Austin…
We also enjoyed a great tour of the farm and helped bring the cows in for milking and then drank warm milk. And we had lovely dinner cooked in the bread oven (definitely something to plan before you go) – we cooked an incredible joint of beef, but pizzas or even stews would work really well too.
See also our feature on a family break at Feather Down Dolphinholme (now called Forest of Bowland Collection) in Lancashire.