Sarah Dawson discovers a little bit of pre-schooler paradise, tucked away in the stunning North Devon countryside
Driving through winding country lanes, staring out across rolling, patchwork hills, I felt myself slowly start to relax. It’s hard not to fall under the spell of the beauty of the North Devon countryside and, as we pulled up at North Hayne Farm, I knew we were in for a very special stay.
Eight ‘wish that was my home’ self-catering holiday cottages, complete with private hot tubs (cheers to that!), as well as a purpose-built children’s farm, all spread across 10 acres of glorious countryside, make up this award-winning, family-friendly holiday destination – and we couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
Welcomes don’t come much warmer than the one we received from the wonderful owners, Cheryl and Roger, who gave us a quick tour around Jeremy Fisher – the gorgeous, super-luxurious five-bedroom cottage that was to be our home for the next few days – before we released our very excited children to explore.
Despite being a party of two families, with a nine-month-old, two-year-old and three-and-a-half-year-old between us, we’d managed to travel (relatively) light, thanks to Cheryl and Roger who have really gone that extra mile to think of everything families with little kids might need. Cots were set up, stair gates in place, toys ready to be played with, and highchairs and booster seats installed, so we didn’t have to worry about anything – or try and squeeze it into the car. We were greeted with a vase of fresh flowers, a delicious plate of homemade scones, clotted cream and jam (which we immediately tucked into, cream first – we are in Devon, after all), plenty of supplies to make a pot of tea and a bottle of local Devon cider – all very gratefully received. They’d even unpacked the food delivery we’d organised to arrive at the house, so our cupboard and fridge were full, and there was nothing for us to think about. It’s the little touches like this that make North Hayne Farm so fantastic.
There’s so much to do at North Hayne Farm, but for young children and toddlers in particular it’s a dream come true. Every morning and late afternoon, all the young guests are invited to help the farmer feed the resident animals on the children’s farm, which was a huge hit with our little ones. Feeding the lambs, chickens, rabbits, goats, alpacas, pigs and ducks guaranteed giggles and squeals of excitement as they got hands on, growing in confidence each day. It’s such a fantastic way of involving children and teaching them about how to care for animals – although a word of warning: my two-year-old is now pretty insistent we get some ducks of our own after falling madly in love with them. Who knew a two-year-old could have that much fun quacking at ducks and eating the bread intended for their breakfast?
Donkey rides each morning and the chance to walk one of the lambs were more super-sweet activities that our children adored. This is a place where childhood memories are made and I defy you not to get a bit teary eyed as your kids look up at you, huge grins on their faces, as they get stuck in as mini-farmers. The structured feeding routine and farm schedule has been carefully considered, to make it a positive experience for children with autism or special needs too, and everything is completely accessible, so wheelchairs can reach every part of the farm. Again, Cheryl and Roger have thought of everything.
If the weather doesn’t play ball, the purpose-built play barn is a life-saver. This is the playroom of dreams, with every toy, game and book you can think of to keep the under-sevens happy. Our toddler couldn’t believe his luck as he ran from pirate ship to mini-trampoline, causing utter destruction as he went – but that’s exactly what it’s designed for, so you can sit back and relax on the sofa, while your kids burn off some energy. In a true stroke of genius, the play barn is attached to the adults’ games room, so if you’d rather, you can play a pool or table tennis while keeping an eye on your children at the same time.
There’s tons for children to explore in the idyllic grounds, including a Stick Man trail, ride-on toy tractors and an outdoor playground, but the grown-ups haven’t been forgotten either. Each cottage has its own private hot tub and outside seating area with barbecue, so once the kids are tucked up in bed you can relax. There’s also the option of booking a holistic therapy treatment, where you can be pampered in the comfort of your own cottage.
With so much to see and do at North Hayne Farm, you really don’t have to leave during your stay, but with so many award-winning beaches, the Exmoor National Park and plenty of family-friendly attractions just a short drive away, it’s worth exploring the local area a little if you can. Just make sure you’re back in time for animal feeding or prepare to face the wrath of a grumpy toddler (still not forgiven!).
North Hayne Farm is one of those rare places that manages to tick all the ‘perfect holiday’ boxes for both children and adults. It’s a chance for kids to get into nature, make memories, get muddy, have fun and grow in confidence, while grown-ups get the treat of a luxurious cottage, indulgent hot tub and time to switch off from the busy-ness of daily life. As we headed home, complete with certificates and photos of their donkey rides and lamb walks for our little farmers (yet another thoughtful touch) we knew this was a place we’d come back to – even if it’s just so our son can quack at his beloved ducks again.
A week’s stay, for up to 10 people, in Jeremy Fisher cottage costs from £1,500 at peak times and £1,013 off-peak; a three-night weekend costs from £975 at peak times and £659 off-peak.
Cottages for smaller groups are also available, with prices from £537 peak/£376 off-peak per week and from £349 peak/£244 off-peak for a three-day weekend.