Feather Down Farm Days are spearheading the new ‘glamping’ movement, putting the fun and glamour back into camping – even the likes of Cath Kidston is taking to canvas for a taste of the Great Outdoors these days. With 22 farms all over Britain, Featherdown offer a great soft-start to camping (you do after all get a real bed, running water and a flushing toilet in your tent), or maybe a re-introduction to the joy of sleeping in a tent.
I have to say we were very excited about our trip to Feather Down. We haven’t been camping since Boy (now 6) started to crawl on Dartmoor, and getting back into the swing of it seems to get harder as the years go by (and the children start to mount up…). It’s a difficult thing, to find a holiday which your 9 year old and your toddler (and you as parents) will all enjoy equally. But when I spotted the Feather Down web site, I couldn’t help but take a closer look. Firstly, I fell in love with the site itself – written beautifully, and sneakily engaging, before you know it you’re 12 pages deep and yearning for your own Feather Down experience.
We randomly chose site No. 15 – Billingsmoor Farm in Devon – but there was plenty of choice, and each farm is different.
The directions were good, and we arrived without mishap, despite the sat nav not having the faintest idea of where we were (it’s way way way down deep in the Devon countryside). Upon arrival you unload your car into wheelbarrows, and cross the field to your tent on foot. There are just 5 tents at Billingsmoor, and all spaced so as not to invade one another’s privacy. Our first sight of the tents reminded us of the Gold Rush pioneers (with a little 1920’s Boy Scouts thrown in). Inside we felt as though we had stepped straight into Davy Crockets quarters! From the wooden floorboards to the bedrooms created from apple crates, we just loved it. A knowledgeable friend had insisted that we should light the fire as soon as we arrive to be sure to have it ready for cooking on, but I laughingly dismissed her as an amateur camper, and decided we would certainly have no trouble with the stove. So I busied myself with making beds, unpacking groceries and generally setting us up for the week. The boys had a quick gleeful dash about bagsy-ing beds (I wasn’t sure if we would ever get No.1 to leave his bed-in-a-cupboard) and then promptly disappeared into the woods from some den making. Mr LittleStuff busied himself stopping Bear escaping (I think he was the busiest).
Around 5.30 I decided I ought to get the fire lit. So I grabbed a handful of kindling, laid a couple of the firelighters on top, lit them, watched the kindling start, then added a small log on top and closed the door, already anticipating the fresh coffee. 15 minutes later I checked, and there was not a smidgeon of smoke, let alone a nice blaze of flame. Sighing a little, I started again. This time I got some decent flames on the big log before I turned my back – only to see it had gone out 5 minutes later. Third exasperated try I hovered over it like a nervous parent, and really got some heat going before I relaxed. Of course it went out again. Mild panic was setting in now – it was nearly 6, and I still had no fire to cook on. By 6.30, I had not only seen the funny side, but also managed to get a really good steady blaze going (Mr LittleStuff had seen the way things were going, and kept himself and Bear noticeably absent during the Great Stove Fight). I popped the kettle on the hotplate, peeled the potatoes, and we were away. Only by 7 the water still wasn’t boiling, the children were tired and hungry, and I was a little bored with this back-to-nature malarkey.
Eventually I had to give in and get Bear to bed. The boys cheerfully filled themselves with bread and cheese and jam, thoroughly enjoying their first night’s camping adventure meal. The kettle began to boil around 7.30…
The next morning (after a deep and dreamless sleep in the incredibly romantic and unexpectedly comfortable bed), I gritted my teeth and lit the fire the minute I woke. I think I frightened it into submission, because it behaved impeccably, and my morning cup of tea took only an hour from firelighter to teabag ?.
In all we had such a marvellous time. The boys thrived on the fact that from the minute they got up they could leave and explore. The woods were theirs for the owning (and den building), the stream was to be dammed, the hens needed checking for eggs, the food scraps needed taking to the pigs… You could practically SEE them growing. If the weather had been nicer we would probably not have left the farm very often. As it was we explored the area well, and visited some wonderful places. Once I had mastered the art of the stove (I refused to allow Mr LittleStuff to take over; it became a matter of principle. Not that he fought me very hard…), cooking was a joy.
The farm shop had pretty much all the basics we found we were missing, and the farmer and his wife were incredibly helpful at obtaining anything else. We loved the honesty policy, and the fact that everyone stuck to it. Picking up milk straight from the cows after milking as we arrived back on the farm was a treat.
It’s not just camping y’see. It’s an Experience.
Sitting by the fire in the evening, listening to the children snuffle in their sleep as you read by the lamplight. Watching your family relax into itself, individual personalities learning to enjoy each other again. The lack of any kind of electronic noise. Simply grinding your coffee beans, making coffee with spring water and milk straight from the cow really takes some serious beating. Drinking it whilst eating still-warm double-yolker farm eggs on fresh bread fried on a wood stove, whilst sitting together in the sunshine looking out at the Devon hills really is a memory we will all carry always.
Happy Holidays indeed.
(you can read our ‘Top Ten Feather Down Farm Tips’ here.)