With our interest in food provenance on the up, farmstays are booming; responsible travel.com has seen a 230 per cent rise in inquiries for British farm breaks over the past three years.
And farmers, increasingly turning to tourism for an alternative income, are becoming more inventive, with everything from “glamping” sites to spas diversifying the farmstay proposition.
Get hands on
Become an honorary “Junior Farmer” – whatever your age – at Swallowtail Hill in Sussex (0117 204 7830; canopyandstars.co.uk/swallowtailhill). Kids (big and small) can help out with the duties, from tending the menagerie (pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits, sheep, ducks) to learning woodcraft or driving a tractor. Accommodation is eclectic too: choose between the two secluded wood cabins (sleeps four; from £80pn); the Meadow Keeper’s Cottage, a crooked shack on wheels (sleeps two plus two kids; from £100pn); or fairytale Woodcutter’s Cottage (sleeps two plus two children; from £100pn).
Self-cater by the sea
Occupying the southern tip of west coast Scotland’s Isle of Bute, the sea laps three sides of Plan Farm’s 1,600-acre plot. You can happily holiday entirely within its boundaries: it has its own hill, the remains of a 6th-century monastery, 8km of coastline and a sandy beach where grey seals are regular visitors. Deer, buzzards and butterflies also flit among the farm’s 100 cows (which calve in spring) and 700 ewes (which lamb in April).
The recently refurbished Shepherd’s Cottage, a wing of the main farmhouse, sleeps four; the lounge is the best room, with its woodburning stove and west-facing windows, ideal for watching sunsets over the sea. Three nights from £329 (01700 831652; planfarmbute.co.uk).
Get on course
Kate Humble knows a thing or two about spring-watching, and her working farm in the Wye Valley – Humble by Nature (01600 714 595; humblebynature.com) – is geared towards teaching others rural skills. As well as courses in everything from animal husbandry to willow pea hurdles, there’s a range of new cookery courses for 2014: the upcoming Teen Cookery Skills (14 April; £95) and Make Hot Cross Buns (17 April; £20) will keep children busy.
Families can stay at the two-bed Piggery, a cosy cottage with a private garden from which you can pick salad and collect eggs (from £110 per night). Couples might prefer the Humble Hideaway, a luxurious shepherd’s hut tucked away in the woods (sleeps two; from £80pn).
Indulge with a spa
There’s no reason why farmstays can’t come with a hint of luxury. Cyfie Farm, a 17th-century converted longhouse and restored barns near Lake Vyrnwy on the edge of Snowdonia, offers five-star B&B; its three spacious suites have living areas and kitchenettes. But best is the new alfresco spa, with hot tub and sauna. Take a daytime dip for views of the hills, sheep, cattle and Welsh cob horses, or soak at night to enjoy the silence and starry sky. Doubles from £58pn; spa treatments from £20 an hour (01691 648 451; cyfiefarm.co.uk).
Focus on the food
Food miles are minimal at 260-acre Eckington Manor Farm, which ripples across the Cotswolds. Highland cattle, Gloucester Old Spot pigs, Lleyn sheep and the spoils of the veg garden and orchard all make it onto both the restaurant’s menu and the in-house syllabus: the ethos of Eckington’s modern cookery school is “from garden fork to dinner fork”.
Guest rooms are luxury-country-house style, with exposed beams and antique furniture; the farm is ideal for spring strolls, either by the River Avon, to the bird hides or to see the lambing in action. Doubles from £129, B&B; Midweek Cook & Stay breaks, including B&B and a half-day course, from £149pp (01386 751 600; eckingtonmanor.co.uk).