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Britain holidays down the Farm

by Amanda Parsons

"Now, you are sure there'll be hot water, aren't you? " joked my husband as we drove down the motorway on our way to England’s West Country. We had both been a little sceptical about a farm-stay holiday because we like our creature comforts and have got used to things like en-suite bathrooms and TV in the bedroom. We knew that staying on a farm would be a great way to meet local people and tour the countryside at moderate cost but we didn’t want to go short on comfort.

Studying the website of Farm Stay UK (Britain’s largest consortium of this type of accommodation) soon reassured us about quality. All its 1,000 locations are inspected under the tourist board grading schemes and there are bed and breakfast, self-catering (holiday home) and caravan and camping options, all described and illustrated in its brochure.

Farmhouse holidays in Britain are growing in popularity and there is a long-term trend of farms diversifying into tourism. Nigel Embry of Farm Stay UK says he has seen an increase in both brochure requests and bookings. The website has also played its part, enabling would-be customers to find out more about the properties almost instantly. He often hears compliments such as: “excellent value for money,” (a night's bed and breakfast ranges from £15 to £40 per person, with an average of £22) and “the accommodation surpassed our expectations”.

There are farms in every region of the country but we chose two in the West Country, a region of rolling hills, picturesque fishing harbours and historic houses and gardens. Our two daughters were very excited, as Temple Farm in the village of Chedzoy, near Bridgwater, 156 miles south-west of London, was the first working farm they had ever visited. We got a warm welcome from the farmer and his wife, Andrew and Judith Denning and the room exceeded our expectations. It was a good size and had a television, hairdryer, tea and coffee making facilities and a spacious, clean en-suite bathroom. In a communal lounge next door there was a table set with complimentary tea of scones, cream, jam and home made cakes.

Judith's daughter Jess gave us a tour of the farm, our base for the next three days. We stroked baby chicks and ducklings and collected their eggs; saw a new-born calf; watched the cows being milked and the girls had a pony ride around the paddock.
Our evening meals were delicious. Judith prepares all her food from scratch using home-grown or locally-sourced produce wherever possible. She served us with home-made leek and potato soup followed by pork in cider sauce and, for pudding, strawberry cups – washed down with home made cider. Not all farm stay properties offer an evening meal (where they do an extra charge is made) but there are always recommendations for local pubs and restaurants.

Breakfast was another feast consisting of the eggs we had collected ourselves, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes and potatoes. The milk we drank was straight from the cows and the bread and preserves all home made.

Several designated cycle routes including the National Cycle Network's Bristol to Padstow trail, run past the farm gate (cycle hire is available in nearby Bridgwater). It was delightful to be cycling down leafy country lanes, stopping to enjoy the sound of birdsong and to let a herd of cows cross the road!

We took in as many of the sights as we could in our short stay, including Glastonbury, where we wandered around the grounds of the abbey and saw the legendary site of King Arthur's grave. We climbed to the top of Glastonbury Tor (stunning views) and followed in King Arthur's footsteps to South Cadbury, the location, according to folk-lore, of his beloved Camelot.
Beautiful countryside was all around: the Somerset Levels, home to potteries and other craft workshops; the Quantock Hills and, a little farther, Exmoor National Park – better known as Lorna Doone country.

A friend had recommended our second farm stay location: Penpont Farm near Wadebridge, further west in Cornwall. The Hawkey Family who have owned the farm for three generations raise cattle, sheep and arable crop and, in recent years, converted old farm buildings into comfortable self-catering cottages complete with a leisure centre (heated pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and solarium).

There was also an indoor pets area where the girls stroked rabbits, goats and lambs; tennis courts and horse riding was available and fishing and golf nearby.

With King Arthur still in our minds we decided on a visit to Tintagel Castle, his reputed birthplace, perched on the edge of a rugged cliff. We stocked up on some Cornish pasties (cooked meat and potato wrapped in a pastry case) from the bakery in the village then set off to walk a short section of the 630-mile (1,014km) South West Coastal Path.

We spent the next day cycling along the traffic-free Camel Trail, which follows the ever-widening Camel Estuary from Wadebridge to the harbour-town of Padstow, popular with gourmets thanks to the restaurants of chef Rick Stein. Another memorable visit was to the Eden Project near St Austell. This massive garden houses 100,000 tropical and sub-tropical plants from all over the world, housed in giant ‘biomes’ complete with large trees and waterfalls. Cornwall is known for its many luxuriant gardens (making spring an excellent time to visit) as well as its lovely coastline and man-made highlights such as the Tate Gallery in St. Ives and the new National Maritime Museum in Falmouth.

The West Country doesn’t have a monopoly on the best farm-stays. Among the other regions that offer good variety in this type of holiday are Mid Wales (pretty black-and-white houses; castles and steam trains to ride); the Scottish Borders (wild, sparsely populated landscapes but close to cities such as Edinburgh) and Cumbria (the scenic Lake District and Hadrian’s Roman Wall and forts).

Wherever you go, a holiday down on the farm will bring a rich harvest of happy memories.