When I think of the perfect family weekend getaway camping is not the first thing that pops into my head; despite being a farmer’s daughter I’m more at home on an exotic beach than Barbour-clad in a muddy field.
However, when there’s a six-year-old boy to entertain during endless school holidays, you sometimes have to take one for the team. Somewhat reluctantly, I organised a Feather Down Farm luxury camping weekend in Somerset.
In my opinion no form of communal outdoor slumber party can ever be considered glamorous, although surprisingly, it can be fun as we soon found out.
Even though I like to think I’m capable of single-handedly looking after my son – I have limits – making fires and other such boy stuff demands a bit of burliness, so I rope in my brother-in-law, sister and two sons. The more the merrier in this case.
We rock up, after a somewhat nightmarish journey (traffic – lots) at Lower Rodhuish, a small village hidden down narrow country lanes on the edge of the Exmoor national park, where we are greeted by our hosts Paul and Charlotte and their brood of earthy children.
We chose a ‘frills’ canvas lodge furnished with ready-made beds (duvets and pillows), towels, a fully flushing loo and hot water shower, albeit intermittent. There are also communal washing facilities providing a less exhilarating experience.
Inside there is a fully equipped kitchen with pretty much everything you might need. Your hosts can provide a welcome breakfast box on arrival or ingredients to make a stew. The farm’s Honesty Shop has a plentiful supply of essentials such as medicinal wine, beer and bacon.
One of the first things my city-dwelling son notices when we walk into our canvas lodge is the Television, or lack thereof. Fortunately that was the first and last time he thought about modern technology. He spent the next 48 hours scampering through fields, feeding pigs and chickens and getting up to all manner of wholesome fun.
We quickly befriend our neighbours, a veteran Dutch couple with two sons who are on their sixth Feather Down holiday. They inform us that the concept was invented in Holland ten years ago, was exported here in 2006 and is now spread across 30 farms from Cumbria to Cornwall.
Striving to leave our fancy London ways behind, we all resolve to embrace the community spirit; we share marshmallows around the campfire, encourage our children to play together, ply everyone with wine and on the last day, we even cook and eat together.
Suddenly I’m warming to this camping caper; watching a pack of youths run wild through the rolling hills without the fear of cars or kidnappers is truly liberating.
All there is to do is sit back in a deck chair and relax. Well – sort of – there’s the firewood to collect, the cooking to be done and whose turn is it to do the washing up? But it’s a small price to pay for contented children.
Once the novelty of alfresco socialising has worn off, there are plenty of child-friendly activities within easy reach of the farm, including a trip to Blue Anchor Bay’s pebble beach, a ride on the West Somerset Railway steam train or a visit to Porlock Bay.
We opted for an excursion to Dunster Castle, which received big thumbs up from the boys. They tried their hand at archery, scared themselves silly in the ghost room of the crypt and soaked up a bit of 19th century life touring the castle.
Despite an enjoyable day out everyone is pleased to return to camp and the children are back to their feral adventures; climbing trees, falling in ditches and generally doing all the things they rarely do in the city.
Admittedly camping does not come naturally to me, but even I found snuggling up in the evening around a big campfire toasting marshmallows enjoyable; just for a weekend, leave the rat race behind and appreciate the simple life.
Within five minutes of returning to London I’ve already broken the no TV promise I made to myself. Still, a weekend of switching off and proving your offspring can survive without an iPad is certainly comforting.
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