It started with a Tweet. I was in search of a half lamb for the freezer, and knowing what a wonderful lot of smallholders, farmers and other interesting folk follow me on Twitter (@FabrikantArt, by the way), I tweeted asking if anyone reasonably local to West Somerset could help. I promptly had a response from Gavin Doyle at Fisherton Farm, asking if I’d be prepared to come as far as North Devon. I checked out his website (www.fishertonfarm.com) and knew I just had to follow it up.
Gavin and Jemma (also an artist) aren’t just farmers. Sure, they have a herd of pedigree Simmenthal beef cattle and a flock of Zwartbles sheep (of which more later), but they have also developed the most amazing concept in glamping – glamorous camping, for the uninitiated – in the form of a secluded dell with three vintage vardos, or traditional bow-topped gypsy caravans.
Arriving on a gloriously sunny day in early April, we followed Gavin’s directions and parked at the farm. We were immediately welcomed by Gavin and Jemma, and before they could even get the kettle on, by the world’s tiniest shepherdess, who insisted that we come and meet the orphan lambs who had been bottle-fed and were now skipping around the barn – a terrific advertisement for the value of farm life for bringing up small children.
Tea drunk and cake eaten, we were taken to meet the cattle – including the very handsome and truly vast bull – who were still indoors as, after this everlasting winter, the grass is still not ready for them. Simmenthals are beautiful, placid creatures with serious faces and long tan fringes of hair in their ears, and in return for coming to inspect some new humans they were happy for us to admire them, rub their noses and scratch their white, wavy foreheads.
Then we walked up the lane and into a rural idyll – when visitors arrive to stay in the caravans, they leave their cars at the farmhouse and Jemma walks with them up the lane, while their luggage follows courtesy of Gavin and a vintage red tractor. Up the lane, with no idea of where we were going – left into the field gate, remembering to close it behind us, down the field, round the end of the fence – and there they are! Three brightly-painted vintage Gypsy caravans, grouped together at the foot of a sloping meadow, complete with little stove-chimneys and tiny curtained windows.
I think the pictures speak for themselves – the whole concept is utterly charming. The quiet is profound – the walk from the farm is only a couple of minutes, but you walk into another world. Just below the caravans, in the bottom of the dell, is a real campsite complete with fire, seating under an awning, camp-cooking facilities (all you need – pans, crockery – is here, in large hampers), even a rope-swing over the brook. In summer, when the trees are in leaf, the campsite is protected from all but the very worst weather. Think Famous Five meets the Boden catalogue, with the charm and styling of Pretty Nostalgic Magazine, and you’re getting the idea.
Dear reader, I must make a confession. I hate camping. I decided at 21 that I was too old for roughing it. I simply could not see the point of being uncomfortable and away from proper sanitation, when you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself on holiday. The sheer gorgeousness of the Vintage Vardos is evidenced by my comment in the car on the way home, that I could actually quite see myself having a wonderful break there. The vans themselves are a joy – lovingly restored with amazing attention to detail, fabulous colours and textiles, and surprisingly Tardis-like in their spaciousness. The setting is delightful, peaceful and beautiful, with (should you actually want to drag yourself out of the hammock between the trees and go exploring) swathes of beautiful North Devon and Exmoor just a short drive away. Even the boring bathroom bits are quirky and effective – a shingled hut at the top of the meadow which boasts two composting toilets (no, don’t groan – these really work and are not smelly, I promise!) complete with library, and a shower (based on a huge vintage 1940s shower pan). Granted, you probably wouldn’t want to stay here in the middle of winter, but in the summer months I can’t imagine a more romantic, charming and memorable experience.
The camp is rented out in its entirety, so it’s just your party there at any one time – the vardos can sleep up to 12 . See the website www.fishertonfarm.com for more details. If you are suffering from holiday ennui, are tired of city life, want to spend good old-fashioned quality time with the children, or want to get away from it all with a group of friends, this might just be the answer!
Oh yes, the sheep. As if I’d forget! (Anyone who follows my textile art blog www.TheFabrikantBlog.com will know that I am, to put it mildly, a bit obsessed with sheep). The original purpose for going to Fisherton Farm was to pick up half a lamb for the freezer. The resident sheep at the farm are Zwartbles, a large bitter-chocolate brown breed with white socks and a white blaze down the face (Dutch zwart=black, bles=blaze) which were developed in the Netherlands for both milk and meat. Being half-Dutch myself, I am especially interested in this breed. I have worked with Zwartbles fleece and wool, and was keen to try their meat too – it is dark and lean, and apparently even people who aren’t keen on lamb like it! I have yet to put it to the test (the first installment is defrosting as I write) but I’m looking forward to it very much – and will report in due course!