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Freedom, lambs, chickens, hay adventures and luxury camping on this idyllic working farm
Feather Down Farms

The term “glamping” was first coined to describe Feather Down Farms, but these impossibly wholesome escapes are so much more than off-grid stays in luxury tents, surrounded by bucolic views.

Crucially, they offer freedom - freedom for children to safely roam working farms, without being shadowed by parents, who are then free to finish a sentence / wee / bottle of wine within peaceful, rolling countryside. For city families, this is pure gold.

This was the secret to the perfect family break discovered by Luite Moraal, the former Disney exec who brought Center Parcs to the UK, and then followed it up with Feather Down Farms, 20 years ago. There are now 75 of these across Europe, and we head to their idyllic College Farm stay in the Norfolk Broads, for our own pastoral adventure.

College Farm Lucy

This award-winning farm retreat is run by Marcus and Lucy, who heads out of her ice cream pink farm house as our car rolls into their Beccles farm, to greet us. She’s the poster child for country living - sun-kissed, jolly and permanently relaxed.

She gives us a tour of our home for the next few days. There’s a paddock of sheep she introduces us to - they’re orphan lambs, who are as playful and affectionate as puppies. With helium baas they surround us like adorable clouds, vying for attention and strokes. 

There are the friendly chickens my daughter will fall in love with; gently picking them up; carefully gathering our left overs to feed them after every meal and excitedly collecting their warm eggs each morning, proudly bringing them back to our tent in her hat - a twee vision of rustic egg-bothering.

Boy and lambs

Lucy tells us to feel free to jump in and out with the animals whenever we fancy, which we all enthusiastically embrace over the following days.

The circumference of our childrens’ eyes grows wider, as the new world they are welcomed to wander - without pesky adult intervention - grows bigger.

The Hay Barn will become their ultimate playground; climbing, leaping into holes, making castles and restaurants serving straw food.

Feather Down Hay Bales

When we finally extricate them from the bales - with the straw-filled hair, mucky feet and melon wedge grins that will clothe them until we return to the city - Lucy shows them the giant trampoline, surrounded by more hay bales, within picturesque countryside dappled in honey light.

This is set within a playground of charmingly rustic swings, slides and climbing frames.

Feather Down trampolines

And beside the play area is the first of the eight tents at the farm - our home for the next few days. 

It’s a sophisticated, cosy home, with wooden floors, doors and canvas roof, lit by suspended candelabras and lanterns. It’s electricity-free and modelled on the simple interior of a traditional, 19th Century farmhouse, but with luxury additions. 

Feather Down Glamping

There’s a candelabra-lit wooden dining table with mismatched chairs opposite a sofa. The centrepiece of the room is a wood burning stove, to keep us toasty overnight and sizzle our bacon and coffee in the mornings.

The kitchen has a working sink, enamel and glass crockery and there’s a cool chest and ice bricks for milk and yoghurts - plus a proper fridge-freezer by the hay barn for meats and ice creams.

Rustic wooden doors lead to our ensuite, candlelit bathroom, with flushing loo and hot shower. Another section has a marshmallow soft double bed and behind a curtain, we find two wooden bunk beds.

Feather Down Tents

Hidden inside a cupboard, through double doors carved with heart-shaped holes, is a secret canopy bed, with another tiny door opening into our room - this proves to be the perfect nighttime solution for our three-year-old, who needs to be within bothering reach of us at nighttime. It doubles as a magical den for the day and the perfect, cosy coccoon at night.

The winning combo of these beds, and leaping around in fresh air and hay all day results in us all making a new family record of nearly 10 hours sleep, on our second night.

The tented cottages of this mini, hobbit village are spaced far enough apart for privacy, but close enough for our children to play with the new BFFs they immediately make and disappear off with into feathers and hay for the remainder of our trip.

College Farm Norfolk

Each tent has its own decking area with deckchairs, picnic table and firepit, which neatly turns into a barbecue for our lunchtime sausages.

And opposite our tent is a suitably cute, roofed pizza oven, which looks like a pixie house, framed by log benches.

My husband has made dough and packed pizza toppings in preparation. He sets about making our dinner, before realising we’ve forgotten to pack flour. 

Lucy zooms by on her golf buggy, loaded with with squealing little guests, who are begging to help with another farm chore. I explain our flour bother and she cheerfully zips back in the buggy, brandishing flour and a rolling pin, before zooming off for a glass of wine with a guest - a regular, who often rocks up with a hammock and cold beers, while her children gleefully roll about with lambs.

Feather Down Glamping

This, we think, is the life, as we eat our pizzas before retiring for wine by candlelight in our cosy, honey-wood lounge while the children sleep. The enforced, digital detox means we are also forced to (gasp) talk to each other all evening - our phones are charging in the Hay Barn for the night - which is rather lovely. And the tranquility is broken by the occasional baa from the lambs outside. 

We’re situated in one of the UK’s Dark Sky places for star-gazing, so my husband has brought his telescope, which looks strangely anachronistic, in this traditional, rustic setting.

Mornings here have all the best bits of camping - flickering fires and sizzling bacon with sunshine and nature just beyond the canvas - but without aching necks from lumpy sleeping bags, or pulling on wellies to go to a shared bathroom in the morning.

Feather Down Wood Burner

Here, we enjoy long, hot showers before our bacon sarnies, while our children run out to say morning to the lambs and chickens, and then nose dive into hay bales with their friends.

We all enjoy these calming, simple pleasures so much, that we only briefly pop out for a pretty walk past horses and cows for dinner at Wheatacre White Lion, their gorgeous local pub. The food is excellent - I have a perfect, pan-fried sea bass, with skin like crackling, on a gooey pea and lemon risotto with radishes and crispy prosciutto.

My daughter draws Lucy a picture of the farm and leaves it on our dining table as a parting gift, when we finally drag ourselves away the next morning. 

Feather Down Cows

Sadly, we aren’t able to say goodbye to Lucy in person, as she’s with a cow who has just delivered a calf - it is a working farm, after all, and these stays help to support British farms.

This has been the first time our children have had the delicous taste of true freedom and autonomy, so we feel like jailers, reacqauainting them with shoes and locking them into car seats.

But we assure them that we’ll be baa-ck for more woolly adventures.

  • Feather Down Farms, College Farm, St Mary's Rd, Beccles NR34 0BD. Prices from £405 for 2 nights. Including wood for the wood-burning stove (1 pack per day) welcome package with bed-linen, towels, candles, matches, washing-up liquid and other basic items.

  • Feather Down has 25 farms across the UK, each with the same accommodation and ethos, but with different country experiences, animals and options including dog-friendly farms, hot tubs and pools.

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