Tim Saunders - pictured with
his two daughters,
is a travel writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
In East Devon there is a positively thriving agricultural community. We discover this good news during our stay at Hawley Farm in Dalwood.
Graham and Pamela Perry arrived here in 1984 as tenant farmers and then took over the 176-acre farm, merging it with Harrisons, a couple of miles away where Graham's family had farmed since the 1890s. Today, the 120 or so cattle are still milked at this farm at 6.30am and 4.30pm every day. We all thoroughly enjoy a tour during our stay where we help feed the calves and milk the cows. Harriett (4) is engrossed with the milking process and she even helps to connect a cow up to the milking equipment. There are probably 20 cows down either side of the milking parlour, each with their rears facing us. We soon realize lifting tails are a sign for us to move out of the way quickly. What becomes clear is that Graham, Pamela and their son Winston are all absolutely passionate and committed to farming. When the blackthorn blossom disappears Pamela knows it is time to sheer the sheep. It is a risk to sheer too early because the sheep can roll onto their backs and get into trouble. The wool is used for many things including insulation and soundproofing. They have a range of cows; some being Holstein Friesians from Holland as you can see in the videos at travelwriter.biz.
“It has changed though,” admits Winston (17). “In the past a farmer could be a Jack of all trades; dabbling in cattle and crops but now it is necessary to be more focussed. East Devon has brilliant grass so we concentrate on cattle.” The farm sells its milk to Wiseman's Dairies which collects it every other day to be pasteurised. During our stay the 70 lambs, born a few months previously, are prepared for sale and we watch how difficult it is to herd these creatures. The farm lost its sheep dog in an accident and Winston is in the process of training Ruby, who is only a few months old. Without a sheep dog to do this arduous task it is extremely difficult for farmers to do and proves hugely entertaining for our two little daughters, who mimic the operation.
“Our lamb can be purchased in the local Tesco,” reveals Graham, who, with Pamela, delivers three calves into the world during our stay. Farmers have to be on hand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There is no rest, which is why it is important that it is a family concern. One day Winston will be in charge. Through rose tinted spectacles it looks an idyllic existence but today's farmers have to be very business savvy.
With that in mind five years ago the family invested a considerable sum in converting their Grade II listed stone barn into two luxury holiday cottages; The Cider Press and The Wagon House. It's a great location because this blissful countryside is easily accessible from the A35. We stay in The Wagon House, which provides extremely comfortable accommodation for the four of us. There is a large expanse of glass at the front of the property on both the ground and upper floor, which throws light inside and provides views from the large open plan kitchen/diner and sitting room to the private courtyard. No expense has been spared to provide ultimate luxury for the holidaymaker; there are immaculate furnishings, two bathrooms, a downstairs cloakroom and utility together with a sturdy oak staircase. It ranks among the best self catering holiday cottages we have stayed in. On a rare occasion where my daughters allow me to relax I pick up a local newspaper and read about a recent hedge laying competition; I didn't even think such things existed. But Graham and Pamela explain that there is an art to growing hedges and that by training them in the right direction actually makes them stronger and ensures that there is less need for upkeep in the long run. This part of East Devon is well-known for the hedgerows dotted with bluebells and the pretty pink Herb Robert. The tranquility of the countryside is very calming. Those who stay enjoy walking or cycling while others come to introduce their children to farm life.
It is pleasing to see a good selection of books on the landing and I open a James Herriot – Vets Might Fly – with a front cover by the famed Hampshire cartoonist Norman Thelwell. This book and the other James Herriot's here are so appropriate because they help impart a little knowledge of farming and veterinary practice.
Just down the road at Colyton there is a chance to board the Seaton Tram. This allows us all to not only travel back in time and savour the joy of riding in an unusual pink tram but to also see the wetlands and nature reserves on the wonderful Axe Estuary. It’s a unique narrow gauge electric tramway, running on a three mile line from Seaton to Colyton via Colyford. We see various wildlife including pheasants and deer. It is a bird spotter’s paradise. The air is so fresh and it is not long before we arrive at the seaside town of Seaton, the gateway to the Jurassic Coast. Here, after a stroll around the town we spy a bench and tuck into our packed lunch.
We can see how artists become inspired by the Devonshire countryside. We meet renowned wildlife artist Neil Cox, who has relocated to Otterton after living for many years in Budleigh Salterton. Some of his fine paintings appeared in this year's Delamore Arts at Ivybridge, alongside sculptures by Nicola Axe.
We are curious to visit Salcombe because we hear that it actually costs more to buy a property here now than at Sandbanks in Dorset. We now understand the attraction; stunning views across the bay and historic narrow streets lined with characterful properties. There is a thriving art scene. It is here that we see some great paintings by Michael Hill, a tutor at Salcombe Art Club. His work conveys a strong sense of place.
Just under two hours away we find The Big Sheep at Bideford, which claims to be Devon's best day out. This is home to an indoor barn of sheep and pigs. There are regular sheep races, too. We amuse ourselves trying to steer a swan-shaped pedalo. But it is the pedal go karts, the giant trampoline-like pillows and the tractor ride that we find most enjoyable.
We had heard that Croyde was a must to visit and so could not resist trekking a little further. The approach along the coast is magnificent and serves to remind us how picturesque parts of the UK really are. Narrow roads add to the character of this surfers' paradise.
Escot House at Ottery St Mary is a good way to end our trip. A Harris Hawk and an Owl fly among the visitors at the falconry experience and here we learn that owls are actually not that wise because their eyes take up a third of their skull, leaving little room for a brain! Escot is also home to red squirrels and we do spot one. Despite our two girls still being quite small they both really enjoy the woodland playgrounds, clambering up and sliding down the beautifully crafted hardwood slide in the bug playground (rope climbing frame). It is terrific how Harriett manages to climb this challenging structure at her tender age. Being enclosed means that mummy doesn’t worry too much. Watching the otters play and the peacocks display their feathers hold Harriett and Heidi’s attention, too. This is a must for older children who can take part in bush craft skills, arts and crafts and toasting marshmallows on the camp fire.
We have visited Devon before but it is only now that we appreciate the sheer size of the county and the fact that it really does champion farming. Forget days out at farm parks, parents wishing to introduce children to proper farming will not find better than Hawley Farm in East Devon for truly unforgettable experiences.
Saturday - Arrive at The Wagon House, Hawley Farm, Hawley Bottom, Dalwood. Relax with a homemade Devonshire cream tea welcome.
Sunday - Tour of Hawley Farm, meeting the sheep and milking the cows
Monday - Seaton Tram (Colyton to Seaton)
Tuesday - Otterton to meet wildlife artist Neil Cox - Budleigh Salterton - Beer – enjoying an ice cream
Wednesday - Delamore Arts, Ivybridge – preview of sculpture in the garden - Salcombe Bay
Thursday - The Big Sheep - Croyde
Friday - Walk around Hawley Farm and surrounding areas - Colyton - Honiton
Saturday - Escot House, Ottery St Mary
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