There is a whoop of delight from our four-year-old, Jemima, as we slow down the car to let a flock of baby red-legged partridges, with their bold, black-striped flanks and chestnut tails, scuttle across our path. As an opening scene for our stay at The Farm at Avebury, this set the tone – our children taking great delight each day in trying to “say hello” to the darting partridges as they zigzagged through the grounds.
This working farm is set within gently rolling green mounds at the foot of the mysterious Silbury Hill, and we have wellies at the ready during our short break here. They rear Hereford and Angus cattle, rugged sheep, and the newest residents: a litter of Oxford Sandy and Black piglets.
We are staying in one of six newly converted stables. They are clustered around a landscaped courtyard with bronzed planters and borders crafted out of Dutch corten steel, enveloping colourful bursts of cosmos, verbena and “Purrsian Blue” catmint. Eight thousand bulbs planted in and among these planters will see a riot of snowdrops, muscari and anemones giving way to daffodils, fritillaria and alliums. This courtyard becomes the focus of endless hours of play, as Seb, eight, and Jemima whiz around at breakneck speed on bicycles and scooters (provided by the farm) as we watch from the safety of the picture window inside Long Barrow – our retreat for the next few days.
There is a well-thought-out welcome pack, including sourdough bread, butter, milk, eggs and juice, all sourced locally. The interior is compact but cosy, with a vaulted ceiling; there are two bedrooms, both with en suites, and one is situated on an open mezzanine floor accessed via a built-in wooden ladder. Original artwork sits alongside contemporary pieces, and the colour scheme is muted and calming, with flourishes of blush pink. For those in need of extra provisions there is the option to order from the farm, or there are shops and pubs aplenty in nearby Avebury.
Shortly after we settle in, the children are whisked off by Jamie King from the outdoor adventure company Mud and Guts. King, who bills himself as the pied piper of the natural surroundings in Wiltshire, gets children to explore the nooks and crannies of local forests, farms and mounds. That night the conversation during dinner is animated. King has led Seb and Jemima around the estate and they have been building dens, lighting fires, whittling wood and learning about the geology of the local, ancient stones. Weeks later we are still finding bits of flint in coat pockets and bedroom drawers.
While the children are off embracing nature, we are treated to a yoga session with Maura Barber-Oosterhuis, who holds regular sessions in the barn – a beautiful, calming space available for hire, and for now our very own private sanctuary. As we stretch and bend and offer our salutations to the sun, our exhaustion at being full-time working parents begins to drift away.
The Farm at Avebury, or Galteemore Farm as it has been known since the 1890s, has been worked by the same family, the Hues, since 1922. Its newest custodians are Rob and Alice, both 38. They are the fourth generation to take it on and have reimagined it for the future of their three daughters.
Farming has undergone the biggest change in a generation, explains Rob, with the devastating impact of the pandemic, the removal of subsidies, the fallout from Brexit and the focus on climate crisis. Though the last is a positive and much-needed step, Rob says it has required farmers across the country to radically alter how they live and work in order to survive.
Brexit means the UK has left the EU’s common agricultural policy, under which farmers received about £3.5bn a year in payments based on the amount of land they farmed. In future, there will be payments of “public money for public goods” – that is, farmers taking measures to restore nature, nurture the soil, improve air and water quality, and provide habitats for wildlife, in return for taxpayer-funded support under a system of Environmental Land Management schemes, or ELMs.
“So we had to do something to protect ourselves for the future, and hopefully the income that we will lose from subsidies will be replaced by the income we will now get from the self-catering business. It’s the same for most farmers: if we want to carry on farming, we also have to do something else,” Rob says.
And with a quarter of a million tourists passing through historic Avebury – with its Unesco World Heritage stone circle site – every year, combined with a shortfall of accommodation in the area, it feels like Rob is hitting the right notes.
Wiltshire isn’t somewhere we had visited before, or even really considered (sincerest apologies to all “Moonrakers”), but it is the perfect getaway for a family with children, having so many fascinating sites in the vicinity to bring primary-school history lessons alive. There are visits to Stonehenge (a definite bucket list moment for me), but possibly the more interesting monument, and within walking distance of the farm, is the Avebury stone circle, a prehistoric wonder of epic proportions – and one where the children can actually pause, study and ask questions, without the tourist circus of its more famous cousin 30 minutes’ drive away.
Time on the farm in between the sightseeing was restorative. With what seems like the entire UK family holidaying population crammed into every square metre of Devon and Cornwall, give the farm, Avebury and Wiltshire a look instead.
A two-night stay costs £198 for a one-bedroom stable. The trip was provided by Kip Hideaways