The girls are giggling uncontrollably as we’re thrown around the 4×4, gripping onto anything that might keep us vaguely more stable.
Jasper Hart, the 77-year-old farmer here at Brook Meadow in Leicester, UK, is in the driving seat, steering us through muddy tracks and sploshing in and out of giant puddles, as we take a tour around the grounds.
It’s fair to say all farmers work hard – but Mr Hart is still going strong despite the ripe old age of 80 looming, having cancer twice, no toes on one foot and just one eye, which is also colour blind. His father bought the farm in 1913 and Mr Hart and his wife Mary have been running it for 30 years. Their daughter Claire is an architect and interior designer, who has come into the fold and transformed the accommodation, so you can now choose whether to camp, glamp or stay in wooden lodges.
Some fields are rented out for growing crops, outdoor sports, and even growing willow for basket making. But Mr Hart’s beautiful beef cows are his main priority. You can’t miss blonde Boris, one of two bulls here, making his presence known as he struts around a field, mooing at us interrupting feeding time as calves suckle nearby.
I’m here with my husband James and daughters, Rosie, 12, and Poppy, nine. We’re staying in Skylark – a two-bedroom lodge whose decor wouldn’t look out of place in an interiors magazine.
The hand-painted walls depict roughly sketched birds and botanicals, overlooking a perfectly pink theme with on-trend touches such as wicker lampshades and gold taps, alongside hand-stitched blinds and sheepskin seat cushions. Funky retro shapes meet modern designs and cosy textures; there’s a real effort to make the space a joy to live in.
You can open the doors up to dine al-fresco, or barbecue in the sunshine overlooking the lake, and wood-burners can be set up for toasting marshmallows and keeping warm as the sun goes down.
On our first morning, my reward for rising early with a sniffly child is walking out onto the deck, frost crunching beneath my slippers, the marmalade-orange sun on its way up and the lake looking mystical. White mist hums all around it, skinny tree branches reach across, and two perfectly white swans sit in stillness atop the water.
We’re visiting before peak season, when wood-fired pizzas can be gobbled hot from the stove, family outdoor cinema nights can be enjoyed under canvas and, most excitingly, you can book a stay in the fancy two-storey Marabou Safari Lodge – new to the site last year.
But whatever the weather and whatever the time of year, nature escapes are good for the soul. And we love nothing more than zipping up our coats, catching snowflakes on our tongues, and discovering life and each other on the farm.
There are delicious discoveries to be made nearby, too. Rosie’s eyes grow wider as we nibble on the pesto fromage at the outdoor French Cheeses stall in Market Harborough, a 15-minute drive away. Even in the cold, we could stand here for hours tasting all the cheeses, but it would probably leave me bankrupt (two small pieces cost £11.50/$20.50), so we wander past an onion bhaji the size of a small frisbee (£3.50/$6.20), sniff the most pimped-up doughnuts we’ve ever seen (£11/$20 for four) and chomp on freshly fried churros, dunked into hot chocolate sauce (£5/$8.80). The kids already think this is the best holiday ever.
If that wasn’t enough of a treat for one day, endless skies light up lush green fields, ravishing rape flowers and whirring wind turbines on our way to Harrington (another 15-minute drive away and full of long winding roads and picture-perfect cottages) to try the award-winning fare at the Tollemache Arms (thetolly.co.uk) pub.
Portions are enormous, service is wonderful and the food is great. The perfectly cooked hanger steak kebab with roasted veg, chimichurri dressing and flatbread (£16/$28.50) is worth the indulgence, but big enough for two, especially because the layered fondant-like ultimate posh chips (£4.50/$8) are an absolute must. And leave room for pudding – both the peanut butter creme brulee with choc chip cookie (£6.50/$11.50) and lemon posset with forced rhubarb and Chloe’s shortbread (she’s the head chef, £6/$10.65) are to die for, as is the homemade mango and passion fruit lemonade.
Back at the farm, we head over to Avalanche Adventure (avalancheadventure.co.uk), set up by Mr Hart’s late son and his best friend Robin, where we watch 4x4s wheel-spinning through muddy mounds as they whizz around the off-road tracks, and wait for our clay pigeon shooting slot.
Robin gives us the lowdown before we don ear protectors and attempt to shoot clay pigeons and rabbits (£35/$63 for one hour). Suitable for anyone over 12, Rosie gets sized up before chickening out, I take a couple of shots with a 50 per cent hit rate and James ends up firing solo. Poppy eyes up the quad bikes (£55/$98 per hour) but she might need to wait a couple of years before we get to test those out.
After working up an appetite, we brave the chill in the air and head over to the lake for our first family picnic of the year. We gobble up the cheese, charcuterie meats and freshly baked bread that was delivered in our hamper (the local honey, homemade jam and marmalade and buttery croissants were all devoured at breakfast) and while the time away chatting, as the ducks waddle around our feet, hoping for crumbs.
On our final morning, we learn all about the 12 onsite hens from Mary. Rosie and Poppy scatter seeds for them to peck at, as we tiptoe over to their hen house in the hope of finding some breakfast. Sure enough, after opening up the back, one chicken is laying an egg on cue. Poppy reaches in and picks out any already laid and Rosie carefully lifts the freshly popped egg, surprised that it’s still warm.
As we wave goodbye to farm life, we all agree it’s the perfect weekend escape and a real chance to slow down. The same can’t be said for poor old Mr Hart who’s certainly being kept busy – but Brook Meadow is a credit to him and his family, and we can’t wait to see Boris and his babies again soon.
How to plan your trip
Lodges at Brook Meadow start from £470/$834 for a four-night midweek break, and £510/$905 for a three-night weekend, sleeping four people. Non-electric grass camping costs from £24/$42.60 per night, peak season, including one vehicle and tent or caravan, or one camper/motorhome, and two people. Farm tours are available to book from reception. Hampers can be delivered daily. To book, visit brookmeadow.co.uk.
– With PA
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