Down on the farm in Devon
8th June, 2011
With luxury tents and a steady supply of organic milk included, as Matilda Lee discovered, a weekend under canvas at Billingsmoor Farm is far from basic
Tired and still in a London haze, we arrive on a Friday evening at Billingsmoor Farm in Butterleigh, Devon for a much-needed breath of country air. Only three miles from the motorway, Billingsmoor feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere and overlooks 350 acres of rolling hills and lush grassland on the Duchy of Cornwall estate. Run by Jayne and Robert Lammie, Billingsmoor is one of eight working farms on Duchy land. Plummeting milk prices have meant that the Lammies, like many other farmers, have been forced to diversify, so a few years ago, with the help of Feather Down Farms, Billingsmoor became a holiday spot with a difference – a chic camping spot that combines a luxe getaway with the chance to find out how a real farm works.
Hardcore campers might scoff, but I wasn’t about to complain when I discovered that our tent came with literally everything you could possibly need, including a toilet, running water and… beds. As we unpacked the food we brought from London into the cool chest, the kids left to explore the nearby woodland. They emerged about 20 minutes later, triumphant, having defeated the bramble bushes and escaped with relatively few war wounds. The sun was fading fast by this point, so we lit the candles and lanterns (there’s no electricity), which cast a rosy glow and added to the delightfully cosy atmosphere. In the fading dusk, I pulled out the guitar and let the kids suffer through my version of ‘Knockin on Heaven’s Door’ while the hubby consoled himself with a big glass of red wine.
One of the beauties of Billingsmoor is that it’s perfectly located - nestled in the hills between Devon’s sandy southern beaches and its rugged north coastline, and with both Dartmoor and Exmoor a short drive away. On Saturday morning we woke to bright sunshine so decided to hit the beach. After a slow start making coffee and porridge on the woodburning stove, we were on the road and at the Ottermouth beach at Budleigh Salterton within 20 minutes. Part of the famous Jurassic coast, there’s no shortage of pristine, family-friendly beaches to choose from on the South Devon shoreline. At Ottermouth, vast red sandstone cliffs fanned out on either side of the town, framing the beach and forming a backdrop to the pretty Otter estuary. Rockpools filled with crustaceans and tiny fish kept the kids happy while we dipped our toes in the brine, gritting our teeth against the chilly sea breeze. Defeated by the cold, we head back to Billingsmoor just in time for Jayne’s farm tour.
Without doubt, one of the highlights of our stay was seeing my son so intent on finding out more about cows and the workings of a dairy farm. Standing outside the milking parlour, he was absolutely entranced by the milking demonstration; seeing first hand how the milk goes from cow to vat before being collected by lorry at night. Everything from how long the calves spend with their mums to their sleeping arrangements fascinated him while Jayne answered the endless supply of questions heading her way. Whatever your age, a stay at Billingsmoor offers a real education. Jayne has made a habit of gathering all the campers around a campfire to tell the story of Billingsmoor – and it’s a fascinating one. After moving to the farm 10 years ago, Jayne and Robert faced a difficult choice: be forced into pushing their cows for more milk in order to meet supermarket demand or change they way they farmed. They chose to go organic and Jayne is adamant that it was the right choice. ‘We have a much smaller breed of cows: they produce a lot less milk but they are much hardier,’ she says. ‘A conventional dairy cow will give you on average about 9,000 litres a year. Ours are producing between 5,800 to 6,000 litres, a big difference. One of the biggest things we noticed when we went organic is that our veterinary bills changed absolutely dramatically. We didn’t expect it but our cows do live longer.’
Farm tour over and it’s BBQ time. Hubby’s snapping the tongs and tonight I’m the one on the red wine as I watched him reduce everything in our pre-ordered BBQ Box to charcoal. Luckily, the ‘honest shop’ at Billingsmoor had pretty much all we needed for a nice brunch, lunch or dinner - including milk and eggs from the farm and locally reared meat – so replacements were easy to come by. Blackened steaks aside, it was a wonderful way to spend our last night at Billingsmoor.
We left the next day wishing we’d had longer and kicking ourselves for not having done more. Had the kids been a bit older they could have done a day at the Forest School run by Philippa Chinn. Children aged seven and above have the option of spending between one and three days at the school, learning how to collect water from the stream, firelighting, cooking, building shelters and carving. We’ll have to come back next year for that. Instead, after a morning spent lazing in the grassland area outside our tent, we said goodbye to the chickens at the coop, packed up the car and headed back off up the M5 to London.
Billingsmoor Farm has 10 tents, each sleeping six. A week at Billingsmoor starts at £405. Book through Feather Down: www.featherdown.co.uk
In the area:
Billingsmoor is located on the edge of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty conservation area and is a short drive from Dartmoor National Park. Nearby beaches include the gorgeous Coryton Cove – a secluded Jurassic coast stretch of sand near Dawlish, which comes complete with gaily-coloured beach huts and plenty of rock pools to explore. Newton Abbot, a small Devonshire market town, is home to the pretty Elizabethan stately pile, Bradley Manor, and has a weekly cattle market. The city of Exeter is also worth a visit, with its majestic 12th century cathedral and ancient Guildhall. City tours are also available from Exeter Red Coat Guided Tours, and can be tailored to your interests. Other local highlights include the achingly pretty fishing village Clovelly, the gardens at the Shaldon Wildlife Trust and the Kents Cavern Prehistoric Caves near Torquay.
For more information, see: www.visitsouthdevon.co.uk
Billingsmoor is a three-hour drive from London. Trains to Tiverton Parkway, three miles from the farm, depart from London Paddington, with prices starting at £16 one-way.
For times and fares, see: www.nationalrail.co.uk
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