Changing nappies, bottle feeding and rocking the baby to sleep are among the myriad skills I’ve learned since becoming a dad, but building a fire has not been required until now.
I’m feeling under pressure as my wife has tasked me with ensuring a wood burning stove keeps the temperature up in our New Forest glamping tent at the start of our first holiday with our five-month-old baby Penny.
After finding enough phone signal to stream an instructional YouTube video, I carefully arrange the logs, ignite a firelighter, and keep my fingers crossed. Within minutes, the stove gives off a warm glow, and I breathe a sigh of relief. It must be my lucky night.
We were more than a touch apprehensive about taking a baby on a holiday in a tent, but Feather Down’s site at Midgham Farm is glamping on steroids. Our tent, described as a ‘canvas lodge’, is suitable for up to six people, so we have plenty of room.
There is a fully-equipped kitchen with running water, a living/dining area, and three sleeping areas, featuring beds with high-quality mattresses and fluffy duvets.
The most important factor is the ensuite bathroom, with a flushable toilet and a shower. My memories of previous camping trips are clouded by having to leave a warm sleeping bag and for a walk in the dark to find a toilet, so having a bathroom attached to our tent is brilliantly convenient.
I am pretty sceptical about what kind of water temperature and pressure will be provided by the shower. But thanks to the tent having its own boiler, a powerful jet of warm water is produced in just moments.
We had doubted whether a four-night holiday with no electricity would work with a baby, but we quickly adapt. There are candles and gas lanterns to provide light, we use the stove for cooking as well as heating, and we have tablets to sterilise Penny’s bottles in cold water.
Sammy Sykes, who owns the farm with her husband Henry, tells me the back-to-basics holidays “enable kids to get their parents back”.
She says: “There’s lots of interaction, such as lighting the fire. Plus children are often told to leave their iPads at home.”
The farm, which has been in Henry’s family since the 1700s, has eight tents and two log cabins located in woodland.
Most of the other Feather Down guests we see are families with primary school-aged children. As we take a stroll around the site, many of them spending time with various farm animals.
The chickens are the star attraction. Every morning, we see children in their enclosure, searching for freshly-laid eggs.
Four Gloucester Old Spot boars are also popular. They come scurrying towards us whenever we walk past their pen. A sign warning us to keep our hands to ourselves alludes to a previous encounter in which a guest got a bit too close.
A small group of friendly goats spend much of their time sitting on the broken trampoline in their pen, when they are not chasing each other around and being petted by young visitors.
As we make our way back to our tent while pushing a wheelbarrow filled with more wood for the fire, we spot a turkey standing at the entrance to the honesty shop, presumably making sure every item removed is recorded. The unstaffed portacabin is well stocked with essentials such as candles, toilet paper, snacks and drinks. We make a note of our purchases on a piece of paper so we can settle our bill before we leave.
Penny is a little too young to get close to farm animals, but her frequent giggles indicate she is taking well to the fresh air and having both her parents’ undivided attention. My wife and I spend many hours in the tent reading her stories and playing with her on a mat. I had avoided taking much time off work this year, so I could make the most of pandemic restrictions being eased, so I find the break from my usual routine and the digital detox invigorating.
Feather Down – which operates on 33 farms across Britain as well as others on the Continent – has seen demand surge during the coronavirus crisis, as many people are choosing domestic breaks over foreign holidays. Future bookings at Midgham Farm are nearly double pre-pandemic levels.
Various measures have been taken by Sammy and her team to make our visit as safe as possible. Guided tours of the farm are suspended, but fact sheets are available, providing information about the farm’s four-legged residents. We are also told that when we check out, we must put our bedsheets into a laundry bag, and leave the front of the tent open for ventilation. Given all the major impositions on normal life since March 2020, these steps are barely a mild inconvenience.
The farm’s communal pizza oven remains in use, and is lit twice a week. Although we have enjoyed using our stove to prepare meals such as bacon and eggs for breakfast, and pasta with chopped sausages for dinner, the prospect of cooking our dinner in minutes with minimal washing up is too good to miss.
A family sat nearby are eating pizzas they created themselves using bases and ingredients from the honesty shop. We are eager for something easier, so we buy fresh, ready-made pizzas from a supermarket in the nearby market town of Fordingbridge.
With a temperature of nearly 400C, it only takes five minutes for our pizzas to be cooked in the oven. The ability to eat them one-handed also means this is a rare night where my wife and I have dinner at the same time, as I am able to hold Penny while devouring several slices.
After a couple of days relaxing in our tent and exploring the farm, we embark on a trip to Bournemouth which is just a 25-minute drive away. We have a hearty lunch at the Durley Inn pub (harvester.co.uk) – perfectly located a few metres from the beachfront – before taking a stroll along the promenade. It is a blustery Wednesday afternoon, so there aren’t too many people on the beach, but the crowds will surge in the coming weeks, if last summer is anything to go by.
Another day trip is spent at Moors Valley Country Park (moors-valley.co.uk). The parking charges (£8 for four hours on a summer weekday) are a bit hard to swallow, but the site has an excellent buggy-friendly 0.75-mile walking trail around a lake, plus a 1.5-mile route which takes us to a lookout point, with excellent views of the surrounding forest.
We can’t spend too long admiring the scenery, though. The temperature is dipping, so I need to get back to our tent to prove my fire-building prowess was not a fluke.
How to plan your tripFeather Down (featherdown.co.uk; 01420 80804) offers a four-night stay at Midgham Farm in a canvas lodge for a maximum of six guests (up to five adults) with a private outdoor shower and flushing toilet from £430. Available on selected dates in June and September. There is also still some availability over the summer at other Feather Down Farms around the UK.