In springtime in our family, we always have the same old argument: where should we go on our summer holiday (I know, I know — we should have booked it months ago). Every year I make the same suggestion, and every year I’m shouted down. ‘Let’s go back to West Middlewick Farm,’ I say, more in hope than expectation. ‘No! There’s nothing to do there!’ reply my wife and teenage children. ‘But that’s exactly why I like it,’ I protest, before we go and book an overpriced villa in Spain or Italy.
This year, however, I’m feeling a bit more optimistic. The exchange rate is rotten, the British weather is balmy (hurrah for global warming) and the prospect of doing nothing on a farm in Devon is looking increasingly attractive, even to two jaded teenagers more accustomed to the Costa Brava.
I first came across West Middlewick Farm six years ago, when my daughter wanted to be a farmer (these days, there’s nothing she’d like to do less). It sounded just right for her — a working farm where you could help with all the chores: collecting eggs; feeding lambs and piglets; bringing the cows in for milking. It sounded delightful, and it was. Midway between Dartmoor and Exmoor, not far from the old market town of Tiverton, it’s surrounded by countryside, but well off the tourist trail. My daughter and I spent a weekend there and we had a great time. A calf was born and my daughter named her. We saw her take her first steps.
The next summer we went back with my wife and son and spent a week there, exploring the woods and meadows, pottering around the farm. You can camp or bring a caravan, stay in one of their comfy log cabins, or do B&B in the farmhouse. For townies, it’s a wonderful introduction to country life. We returned home with a tiny kitten who soon turned into a fierce tomcat. ‘You never should have got a farm cat,’ said our neighbours (after our cat had bitten them) but we adored him. He was a reminder of one of the happiest family holidays we’d ever had.
West Middlewick Farm is owned by a friendly couple called John and Joanna Gibson. John grew up here; his parents and grandparents ran this farm before him. Like a lot of farmers, they always had a few campers here in summertime. Unlike a lot of farmers, they always encouraged campers to muck in. Jo was one of those. She came here as a teenager with her parents, and fell in love with John, the farmer’s son. Today they run the farm with their three children. I’ve never met a family who seem more contented, despite the constant toil it takes to make a living from farming nowadays.
My fondest memory is watching John playing for the village cricket team. There were players of all ages and abilities, and that was what made it so special. Everyone knew each other. John had a fine innings and his daughter laid on a delicious tea. We went back a third time, but it wasn’t quite the same. I guess my children had outgrown it (childhood is so fleeting — especially if you’re a big kid, like me). This year, I’m hoping they’ll be grown-up enough to appreciate it once again.