I’ve always been a big fan of farm holidays, both in the UK and abroad. In my experience they offer affordable, authentic and family-friendly accommodation. So I decided a farm stay in Dorset would be just the ticket for an extended family gathering this summer. Unusually for high season, we were able to book the three night August bank holiday weekend (I think I booked it about nine months in advance), just the right amount of time for three generations aged between two and 75 to be under two adjoining roofs together.
It’s unusual in this era of fancy cameras and Photoshop to be undersold a view, indeed I’m sometimes a bit underwhelmed when I visit holiday properties, such is the sophistication of manipulated images. However, on arrival at Rudge Farm, I was utterly delighted with what I found. It had been rather a long, tedious journey with slow traffic and bored children so to hop out of the car into the idyllic rural Dorset setting, bathed in afternoon sunlight, was a welcome treat (and a relief as I had chosen the destination for the rest of the family).
The ten farm cottages, converted from 200 year old diary barns, sleep from two to six guests, and are set around a rocky, flower-filled courtyard with far reaching views over meadows and hillsides. Paths meander through the garden past a sandpit and wooden playhouse to a spacious, gated field complete with boating lake and a pathway leading to a woodland walk (which we didn’t get round to doing but it looked enticing). The lake has two rowing boats and my sons and their cousin enjoyed being taken out for rides, an unexpected highlight of their stay. It’s also possible to fish in the lake, our neighbour had heard rumour of two giant carp lurking in the depths but the creatures proved elusive, although I did spot a water rat.
Our family group of nine stayed in adjoining vine-clad cottages, Thatchers and Carters. Both offered spacious rooms with good quality facilities. All of the properties have a BBQ and outdoor seating area, and some are equipped with a dishwasher. Unusually for a family holiday, I somehow managed to have an hour to myself, something to do with a snoozing toddler and everyone else desperate to remain at the beach. Anyway, I spent those precious 60 minutes sitting outside my cottage in the sunshine admiring the scenery and reading a book. There was a constant background noise of chattering sparrows, sheep bleating on the hillside and bees endeavouring to get through all of the honeysuckle that clung to my cottage.
Apart from the lake and field, our kids (aged 5 and 2) enjoyed playing in the sandpit and the pirate ship playground. However, there is plenty on offer at Rudge Farm in the two play barns for older children (or young at heart adults). My 40-something brother loved the pool table and table tennis and I would have liked more time to brush up on my table football skills. There’s also skittles and a giant Connect Four plus a good quality tennis court (watched over by a sparrow hawk one morning). If your teens want a bit more freedom, there’s a pub, the Crown Inn, about half an hour’s walk away in the village of Puncknowle (pronounced, of course, “Punnle”).
We had pretty good weather for our three day sojourn so we spent much of it at nearby Hive Beach in Burton Bradstock, part of the Jurassic Coast, Britain’s only natural World Heritage Site, owned by the National Trust. Part pebbly, part shingle, the beach offers enticing, crystal clear waters. On our first day the sea was perfectly calm and beautiful for swimming, belying a storm which rumbled ominously in the distance but thankfully decided to dump its rain elsewhere. We enjoyed brunch at the much-lauded Hive Beach Cafe which wasn’t as rammed with diners as I had expected although the toilets were a bit busy. The beach is backed by dramatic sandstone cliffs and grassy banks and the views along the coast go on for miles. I hadn’t visited the Dorset coast properly since my pebble-measuring, Durdle Door-marvelling school days twenty-something years ago so I was quite taken aback by the beauty of it all.
On our second day the wind picked up so we visited Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre which was well prepared for the influx of small children eager to learn about and find fossils. There were opportunities for fossil polishing and fossil rubbings for my five year old, while my toddler, not one for stationary pursuits, enjoyed hunting for crabs, anemones and other rock pool dwellers in the various display tanks. Despite the unpleasant weather, the beach was packed with fossil hunters, keen to take home something ancient to mark their visit to the Jurassic Coast. We were not successful (or rather, we were hungry) so we headed to Lyme Regis, along with most of the holidaymakers in Dorset that day it seemed, for lunch.
Unexpectedly for our large group, we found a table for lunch under a large umbrella, in the Courtyard Cafe at Townmill where we had an excellent meal. I only wish we’d had time to sample some of their cakes. We enjoyed ice creams while wandering along the packed seafront to the Cobb (the town’s oddly-named harbour) and then sat on the beach while the kids played with plastic RLNI toy lifeboats in the sand. In spite of the drizzle there were plenty of people in the sea and the beach huts were all busy. There’s something about British people enjoying themselves at the seaside, red-skinned not from the sun but from the shock of the water temperature, which makes me feel a bit proud of my little nation.
Our final day, gloriously sunny, saw us return to Hive Beach where the gentle lapping water had become rather more fierce and less inviting to my two year old. My older son however was delighted and spent hours jumping over the waves, a pastime which seems to unite all young people of a certain age in its unending appeal. We enjoyed some particularly tasty fish and chips from the cafe, with batter so perfect in its crispiness I would happily sit in another motorway queue with my cross children all over again just to experience it.
With bank holiday Monday drawing to a close, we consulted Google to confirm our fears: a highway of angry red dots from Dorset to Hertfordshire, so we decided to make a minor detour to the National Trusts’s Kingston Lacy while the rest of the country joined the tortuous migration home. Thankfully, Kingston Lacy allows kids to bring their bikes onto the estate (well, they do at 5pm anyway) so our boys enjoyed an hour of zooming along tracks and down slopes while we filled up on coffee. To further delay the end to such a great weekend, we popped into Ringwood for a peaceful dinner at Lovitaly (good pizzas and a delightful owner) before driving home in what felt like record time. We’ll definitely be returning.