For a gentle introduction to life under canvas, Georgina Fuller and her family sampled the little luxuries on offer on Devon’s idyllic Cuckoo Down Farm
The idea of camping with children may fill some with joy and others with dread, but Cuckoo Down Farm is not your average campsite. The four luxury safari tents and two yurts, which sit in a six-acre meadow, come with a number of family-friendly comforts, including a loo, kitchen and hot shower. One tent also has a hot tub and there is a washing machine, fridge and tumble dryer on site.
The farm, which is just a few miles away from some of Devon’s finest beaches, including Beer, Branscombe and Sidmouth, also provides holistic treatments, such as massages and reflexology, for frazzled parents. They have plenty of things to keep the children occupied while you’re relaxing too, including a three-acre oak wood, ponies, pigs, chickens, sheep, Albert the cat and Lily the sheepdog.
The latter was certainly a hit with our three, Charlie, nine, Eddie, six, and Jemima, four. They loved the onsite football pitch, feeding the chickens and riding Ebony the pony.
The Sheaves family have lived and farmed at Cuckoo Down since 1959. They have been running a small glamping campsite there since 2008, with help from the six children they have between them. Becky Sheaves, who runs the site with her husband, has put lots of thoughtful finishing touches to the tents, including Cath Kidston tablecloths, fresh flowers and some brilliant books. We found a bottle of wine and a jar of teabags and coffee waiting for us on arrival too.
We stayed in Poppy, one of the safari tents, which had two bedrooms and a very comfortable sofabed in the main area, which we slept on. We were able to sit on the veranda and drink prosecco whilst the children roamed freely around the meadow, exploring.
We also visited the nearby Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, which is home to hundreds of rescue donkeys and mules, a Nature Centre, maze, a farm-themed play area and, of course, the ubiquitous gift shop. The sanctuary was founded in 1969 by Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE and it runs various activities throughout the school holidays. Our nine-year-old loved doing the Donkey Sanctuary World Cup when we visited. The children enjoyed a ‘donkey bag’ lunch and we all gorged on the sumptuous cakes in The Kitchen café.
We then revisited one of my favourite childhood haunts, Lyme Regis, and went fossil hunting on the beach and for a walk along the famous Cobb harbour wall. I have fond memories of painting a ‘Devil’s Toenail’ fossil I found there with nail varnish and sticking it to a wooden plaque to proudly take into school when I was about six or seven.
After dragging the children out of the amusement arcade and off the trampoline on Lyme beach, we headed to the Dukes Inn in Sidmouth for supper. It was a perfect spot to watch the world go by, right on the seafront with an outside seating area and beer garden. I tried the delicious crab thermidor and a Torbay sole, while the children tucked into spaghetti Bolognese and pizza from the children’s menu. Afterwards, we headed to the beach to climb the rocks.
On the Sunday, we were fortunate to visit the famous River Cottage HQ, a 40-minute drive from Cuckoo Down in Axminster. We were met by a huge tractor and taken down to the cottage and farm where we enjoyed local apple juice and apple brandy made by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s son, Oscar. After visiting the piglets, chickens, cottage garden and kitchens, we all gathered around two trestle tables for lunch.
We were treated to delicious boiled eggs with wild garlic, pork crackling and leeks, then some slow-roasted hogget (lamb) served with roast potatoes and asparagus. Unfortunately, my requests for plain food for my fishfinger-loving children seem to have been overlooked. I can’t say any of them tucked into the hogget or the delicious rhubarb meringue we had for pudding. If your children are older, French or have a more refined palate, they may well enjoy it, but it was wasted on our three kids. They did hoover up the beautiful bread and butter though.
The atmosphere was very convivial and relaxed, and the staff were lovely and accommodating. One even brought over a ‘bath’ for our daughter’s unicorn, which kept her occupied while we were waiting for the second course.
Camping with children may not be for the faint-hearted, but glamping at Cuckoo Down Farm is brilliant for beginners.
Short breaks start at around £295 for three nights. For more information, visit cuckoodownfarm.co.uk
Photographs: Matt Austin