Monday, 28 May 2012

Review: camping with a purpose

Tyre swings and a river on the left
A river, some goats and beautiful pastures are the three things that stick with me from the weekend I spent with the kids in tow at a campsite in rural Somerset. But what was also striking was the fact that the owners, a young couple who took on the site around 18 months ago, run this small site in a way that makes you think about the environment and experience a small slice of the farming life that dominates this agricultural part of the world.

Wookey Farm sits in the lee of the Mendip Hills, in central Somerset. It's about three hours by car from the Bush and is about as far from the big city as it's possible to get. The villages around are small and built of local stone, congregating around a single shop or pub. The local people work hard, but the pace of life has nothing to do with a rush hour tube. And therein lies the attraction. 

The camping area, with goat shed to the left
The site, which takes tents and caravans/motorhomes, is bounded on two sides by the river Axe which you get to by walking through a field. You can tell you've got there by the two hanging tyres on ropes by the side. And that's it – one babbling brook with clear (and icy) water and a riverside to sit on and relax. In our case this was in near 30 degree heat so the cooling river was just about perfect. And away from televisions, computers and little toys that make annoying battery powered noises you'd be amazed at how long a tyre on a rope and the opportunity to run as far and as fast as you like across a field of wildflowers before exploring a river can occupy young kids. It must be the sort of thing they did in the olden days.

Surrounding countryside
Ian and Sarah, the couple who run the farm, keep goats. And every evening these animals are hungry. There is an open invitation for those staying on the site to come along. In my London ways I'd thought this would be watching the animals expertly fed from a sanitised distance but it turns out that shifting clumps of damp hay by hand into troughs can actually be done by anyone, and that young children are not only quite good at it but they love it too. So they were put to work. Just like the olden days. 

The animals are clearly used to the not-always-gentle touches of small trainee farmers (and the flashing of lightbulbs as a cluster of city folk try and capture little Johnny's trip to the country) and it was the highlight of a perfect day for us. 

Apprenticed farmers
The site is basically a field with electric hook ups on each pitch and is sold as a unit - £10 per night for tents. Where else can you find somewhere as good as this for a tenner, I ask you? There is a single temporary toilet unit along with access to drinking and washing water, next to the recycling bins. There isn't anything as sophisticated as a shower block – but the green owners make a virtue of this by suggesting you use the river! 

The best thing for me on this site came at the end, and having spent a lot of time in this part of the world when I was younger I was looking forward to it. Sundown in this part of the West Country is something very special, and surrounded by the ancient Mendip hills you begin to realise why our ancestors in ancient times thought so too. Glastonbury Tor is very close by and you drive past StoneHenge to get here on the way from West London. 

As the sun slides down the side of a giant hill, turning the trees on top into mystical silhouettes, the field you're on turns as orange as the flames of the campfire you're sitting next to, and the shadows of the trees ark and glide across the ground. Later, the canopy of the sky is unveiled, revealing tens of thousands of stars, clearly visible sans the light pollution of London.

Chuck in a few beers and some good company and it's about as much fun as feeding a hungry goat! 

I would highly recommend this place, and wish Ian and Sarah all the best with it. I'll be coming back. 

Ian & Sarah


  1. Its nice to know that children can learn the basics of work at such a young age.

  2. I think this is a real great post. Fantastic.

  3. Great post, really inspiring. I have 3 boys and it sounds ideal.