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Travel: Down on the farm

Taking your little ones on a farm holiday is a great way to teach them about the changing seasons, first-hand, to get a healthy dose of fresh air, and to get them so giddy with excitement about meeting and caring the animals that they won’t even realise they’re learning about where food comes from and how nature works.

So dig out your wellies and waxed jacket and join the Joules set for delicious taste of the Great British countryside.

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The Dandelion Hideaway

Where is it: Nestled on the edge of the National Forest in Leicestershire, The Dandelion Hideaway has six canvas cottages dotted around the 250-acre farm and its woodland, arable and grassland.

What to do: Owners (and farmers) John and Sharon make friendly hosts and are keen to involve guests in farm life, from a guided walking tour of the farm with John to helping look after the hens and collecting the eggs, milking the goats and grooming the mini Shetland ponies. There’s also a farm shop and a brand new indoor children’s den play area. Budding Ray Mears-types might enjoy the new bushcraft skills courses, too.

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When it’s bedtime: This may be “glamping” but you get all the creature comforts you could hope for, including proper beds, en-suite bathrooms with roll-top baths, a living area with a sofa, and a farmhouse kitchen complete with a dining table and a wood-burning stove. If you want isolation then opt for Bluebells Nest, a treehouse which sits by the wood and is perfect for two plus a baby (for larger families the adjoining Bluebells tent sleeps five more), while all of the other cottages sleep six – which will suit families with a growing brood. Older children will love the ‘secret’ third bedroom, housed in a wooden cabin within the tent.

Worth knowing: Pre-order one of Sharon’s farmhouse suppers that will be bubbling on the stove when you arrive, and the mini-tractors for toddlers are definitely worth pre-booking, too.

Canvas cottages sleep up to six, from £700 a week, www.coolrentalguide.com.

Pig bath

The Pig near Bath

Where is it: It sounds incongruous, a luxurious hotel based on a working farm, but The Pig is all about its surroundings. Set on a 500-acre farm, this Georgian house in deepest, rural Somerset is still within easy reach of Bath – a ten-minute drive away. The food in the hotel comes from the vast kitchen garden and fruit orchards, or is foraged from the land, while every egg comes from the farms hens.

Pig Bath

What to do: You may be on a farm, but there’s no roughing it here. Take a much-deserved hour of me-time in the Potting Shed Spa, which uses fab organic Bamford products; feast on the incredible food in the greenhouse restaurant, where almost all of the menu has been grown or reared on the farm or within 25 miles of the hotel; or don a pair of wellies and get muddy on the land. You can visit the pet pigs (rather than the bacon pigs out on the farm) and the chickens and quails, wander round the plot, greenhouse, smokehouse and orchards that feed the hotel, walk the nature trail around the farm, or head into the 20 acres of woodland and deer park in search of spring bluebells or summer wildflowers.

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When it’s bedtime: There are 29 delightfully shabby-chic (but absolutely NOT chintzy) bedrooms, with railway sleeper floorboards, sumptuous four-poster beds painted in Farrow & Ball tones, woodland inspired fabrics and huge roll-top baths.

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Worth knowing: If you’re really adventurous, you can go out with the hotel’s forager in search of mushrooms, wild garlic and other hedgerow bounty that makes it onto the daily menu. Each room comes with a free Nespresso machine and fridge larder stocked with complimentary goodies (it’s also handy for stashing baby purees!).

Double rooms from £139 a night, 0845 077 9494, www.thepighotel.com.

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Nettlecombe Farm

Where is it: Relive your childhood holiday memories at Nettlecombe Farm on the Isle of Wight, where life feels reassuringly nostalgic. The 150-acre farm is just ten minutes from the beach at Ventnor and houses nine self-catering properties in cottages and converted milking parlours and stables.

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What to do: With donkeys, alpacas, goats, reindeer, Buff Orpington hens and a goose called Gordon and a peacock named Percy, Nettlecombe is not your average farm. Children are actively encouraged to meet and pet the animals and can even feed the lambs and piglets in spring. The idyllic setting, in rolling countryside, comes with three fishing lakes, a grassy play area with wooden play equipment including a tractor and Wendy house, as well as dedicated toddlers’ play area. The farm has also ensured that its facilities and accommodation are all accessible for disabled children so that everyone can enjoy the country life.

When it’s bedtime: The simple, stylish accommodation ranges from the converted blacksmith’s forge that sleeps three to farmhouses sleeping four or five and cottages that sleep as many as ten.

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Worth knowing: You can arrange a supermarket delivery for when you arrive so that you needn’t spend your holiday schlepping round the shops, while the laundry room will be a godsend. There’s a library – but whether you’ll find time for reading is another matter!

Various cottages that sleep from three (from £300 a week) up to ten (from £545 a week), 01983 730783, www.nettlecombefarm.co.uk.

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Dolphinholme House Farm

Where is it: From your posh tent, beside the River Wyre – take a dip in it if you fancy a paddle or swim – you’ll feel at one with the fantastic natural playground surrounding you. The dairy farm, which is home to these glam tents, sits on the edge of the forest of Bowland in Lancashire, and is just fifteen minutes from the coast, should you fancy a picnic on the beach.

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What to do: The farm is home to hens (and children are encouraged to collect the eggs from the coop each day), dogs, cats, ducks and rabbits, as well as goats – it is primarily a dairy farm. You can help to milk, feed and care for the animals, then head to the Farm Larder to pick up some bread and cheese made using the milk ready for a picnic lunch. The all-weather play barn has a sandpit, swing and giant slide, but if the weather’s on your side, then go and build a den in the farm’s woodland.

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When it’s bedtime: As a Feather Down Farm Days site, you are guaranteed a top-notch tent that’s fully equipped with real beds and a wood-burning stove, and a working, flushable loo – which you’ll be thankful of when your little one needs to go ”right now” at 5am!

Worth knowing: Choose the “with frills” package and you’ll get your own private hot tub and shower, right outside your tent. And if you pre-book the premier service you’ll be greeted with your stove lit, candles aglow, beds made up, jacket potatoes in the oven and hot drinks in your tent on arrival – and relax…

Tents sleep six and cost from £245 for a four-night stay (01420 80804, www.featherdown.co.uk).

 

kinikini farm

Our favourite city farms – and they’re all FREE!

Heeley City Farm, Sheffield

This small-but-perfectly-formed farm sits on just four acres and is home to sheep, pigs, goats, rabbits, chipmunks, snakes and tarantulas. There’s a playground and fab café too, with farm-grown veg on the menu.

0114-258 0482, heeleyfarm.org.uk

 

Mudchute Farm, London

While Mudchute Farm is big – at 32 acres one of the largest in Europe – you won’t forget you’re in the capital thanks to the backdrop of Canary Wharf and the City. The River Café-trained chefs in the café are another reminder. Thankfully the horses, llamas, sheep, pigs, giant rabbits and hens will help you to forget all that for a while, at least.

020-7515 5901, mudchute.org

 

Gorgie City Farm, Edinburgh

It’s said that babies love looking at owls because their faces look quite human. So it’s worth betting that your tots will probably enjoy this farm, which has an owl, small pets and farm animals, as well as a play area, café, gardens and farm shop.

0131-337 4202, gorgiecityfarm.org.uk

 

Swansea Community Farm, Wales

Hidden away behind the old Walker’s crisp factory, you’d be forgiven for not realising that this farm existed. But it’s well worth seeking out: there are all sorts of farm animals alongside rare Welsh sheep and pigs.

01792 578384, swanseacommunityfarm.org.uk

 

Bath City Farm, Somerset

In the heart of this Georgian city, you’ll find Aberdeen Angus cows, Tamworth pigs and Orpington chickens to name just a few. Several footpaths cross it and visitors are welcome to climb in over one of the many stiles or through a kissing gate rather than being directed through a single entrance.

01225 481269, bathcityfarm.org.uk

 

Stonebridge City Farm, Nottingham

Urban, edgy Nottingham is the last place you’d expect to find a farm. This one may be small, but its got lambs and rabbits galore, as well as a café, shop, sensory garden and play area.

0115 9505113, stonebridgecityfarm.com

 

 

 

Great farms for day trips:

Big Sheep Little Cow, North Yorkshire

With a pig called Flossie and a tortoise named Flash, this compact farm has a vast range of animals that you’ll get to meet, hold, groom and feed as you take an exciting guided tour around the farmyard. It’s ideal for little ones as it’s not too big and the animals are friendly, too (even our 11-month old enjoyed stroking the anmals). The indoor soft play area is worth the entrance fee alone – the whizzy slide with its ball pool-landing is not to be missed!

Entry £6.95 (under 1s free), Bedale, 01677 422125, www.farmattraction.co.uk

 

Home Farm, The Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire

Specialising in rare breed sheep, goats, cattle, pigs and horses (as well as some noisy ducks and geese), this traditional farm is neatly arranged for little legs and has some fun extras including mini tractors, a straw bale maze and a milking machine. There are daily animal feedings and children can help to groom the donkeys, too.

Adult £7.90, child £5.20 (under 5s free) or half price for National Trust members, Royston, 01223 206000, www.nationaltrust.org.uk

 

Godstone Farm, Surrey

Nestled in a the folds of the Surrey and north Kent weald, this picturesque outdoor farm is ideal for sunny days thanks to its huge outdoor play area. The animals are spread out around a winding path down the gentle hill to the farmyard where you’ll find a “touch” barn of animals that children can pet and also hold (think rabbits, guinea pigs and hens). You can join in with feeding the pigs and ducks, take a hay-wagon ride, or head to the enormous play barn that will tire out even the most energetic of toddlers,

Entry £6.25 (under 1s free, 1-2 years £2.25), Godstone, 01883 742546, www.godstonefarm.co.uk

 

Pennywell Farm, Devon

The award-winning Pennywell Farm is not cheap but the entry includes half-hourly events and displays, a tractor and trailer ride, a train ride, and even a go-kart ride. The farms most famous residents are the micro pigs, which are just too cure for words, but you’ll find all the usual farm animals and smaller petting animals, too.

Adult £12.95, child £9.95 (under 3s free), Buckfastleigh, 01364 642023, www.pennywellfarm.co.uk

ALISON TYLER

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