Written by: Renee Wilson, Farmyard Owner
Farmyard Friends! I am back in the UK visiting some amazing people and places. You may have read the piece on my trip to England in November of 2019. That trip was scheduled shortly after I left my job to pursue my love for agritourism and to give my business the boost it needed. After the thick of the pandemic, the growth of my business and a tough few months that led to our rebuild, it was safe to say I was ready for new ideas and inspiration prior to our Grand Opening on May 21.
May 2 Depart USA, May 3 Arrive in U.K.
First things first, let me introduce you to my tour guides, cheerleaders, U.K. brainstorming team, agritainment guinea pigs, business challengers, idea sparkers and soundboard geniuses – Aunt Sandy and Uncle Kevin.
Notice that fancy swag? They wore their Farmyard t-shirts when they picked me up from Heathrow, London at 9am “their time.”
After a 7.5hr overnight flight and a five-hour time difference, they promised to “take it easy on me” during the first day or two. There was a map and excel sheet of 25+ destinations to consider on their kitchen table!
In the afternoon, we took a trip to Johnsons of Old Hurst, a place we toured before. They certainly have modified some enclosures, enhanced the layout (with a new ticket booth, parking lot, snack bar and seating area) and expanded their zoo animal lineup. To really appreciate hard work, you have to see the staff in action! We caught the guys in the process of building and it reminded me of our rebuild projects at home.
When I think of meat, I typically consider beef, pork and chicken, but Ostrich was in the display case at this location. There was a gift shop and a separate tea room to enjoy an afternoon Cream Tea (includes tea, scones, jam & clotted cream). Warning – you will see a lot of tea photos throughout this journey!
We watched a little England throwback family video too. For your viewing pleasure, I have included photos from our family’s trip roughly 20 years ago!
Baylham House Rare Breed Farm
Baylham House Rare Breed Farm is home to many breeds that are under threat and classified as rare through the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Here are the RBST goals:
- “A reverse in the decline of all livestock breeds on the Watchlist
- Create a comprehensive up-to-date Gene Bank
- Livestock genetic diversity recognised by government and wider society as a fundamental element of agricultural and biodiversity policy“
Is there a similar option in the U.S.? Yes, The Livestock Conservancy!
Does The Farmyard have any rare/threatened breeds? Technically, we do. However, because they’re not registered with the breed associations they don’t appear in their numbers.
- Peanut (KuneKune Pig)
- Benny & Dolly (Miniature Donkey)
- Gilly (Chinese Goose)
- Tiifu (Southdown Sheep)
- Tom & Tina (Bourbon Red Turkey)
Meet my friend, Morag!
Although Highland cattle are not recognized as rare breeds in the U.K. nor the U.S., Morag lives at Bayhlam House Rare Breed Farm and was quite friendly (or motivated by food). She has been my favorite so far. We might need one of these in Parkton!
The 750 acres at Stanwick Lakes allowed us to enjoy some outdoor health and wellness. This activity center and nature reserve is about an hour and a half north of London. The walking paths were wonderful and there were activities for families to explore gardening, bird watching, exercise, BBQ and hands-on classes.
Agritourism at a Larger Scale
We explored Cotswold Farm Park, owned by Adam Henson. He is a well-known farmer in the U.K. and can often be found as a “presenter” (or anchor in U.S. terms) on BBC Countryfile. I find myself with a list of three major considerations when visiting these farms – cleanliness, safety, and customer experience. This farm park did a phenomenal job with these categories and offered an added-bonus with their contributions to conserving rare breeds. We did make friends with a staff member. Who had no problem calling out “the Americans” for not participating in the bottle feeding session, so we joined in on the fun.
Time for a Break!
Please enjoy the following photos of some delicious coffee and tea. Despite the crazy demands of operating a farm at home, this trip was filled with pitstops and tasty sweets…. bad for the waistline, but great for the soul!
Villages, Climbing Hills & Shakespeare
If you’ve read the blog from 2019, you already know a little bit about my friend Suki. We rode the bus together to Hereford High. While we loved to share the latest gossip, she often had a pile of notes in her lap to prep for the next science exam. Her academic success in school has continued into her career in the U.K. gas industry.
It seems that Suki and I have a theme during these visits – gorgeous views, a “little” cardio and some traveling back through history. She and her boyfriend, Josh, gave me quite the tours of Evesham, Malvern Hills and Broadway (a village that looks and feels quite different than the place we all know in New York). If you’re planning to purchase a cottage along the main streets, there are a few currently available. Prices begin around 1 million pounds (roughly $1.3mil) and in true British fashion, you will have plenty of guests admiring your garden because the sidewalk is typically only a few feet away!
Our final stop was in Stratford-on-Avon, the birth and burial place of William Shakespeare. On a more serious note… Suki made sure I saw the cafe that allows people to dine with the rescued cats inside!
Suffolk Punch Trust
As most of you know, I have a soft spot in my heart for the BIG guys and an ever-growing interest in rare breeds. My amazing tour guides found a place that combined the two – The Suffolk Punch Trust. There are only 800 left in the world and we had the privilege of seeing them twice – on the farm and at a county show! In this picture, the staff provides a demonstration of mane braiding. Gremlin, their 2-year-old stallion, decided he had his own agenda. So, they improvised and moved him to a stall.
Animals making up their own rules… why does that sound so familiar?!
London & Greenwich
We took a train, then a tube (underground train), then a boat on the day we went to London and Greenwich (pronounced gren-itch). We have started a trend of “standing in two places at once” during my visits. We’re using the Greenwich Meridian to accomplish that task!
My uncle grew up sailing and always enjoys a chance to get out on the water. Hearing the stories of the Mayflower and other historical events made this trip and the architecture quite fascinating!
Racing to See More
It was off to the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket on our 9th day! If you find horses intriguing like I do, this is the place to be. The museum is filled with interactive and educational pieces from history to current breeding practices. I certainly learned new information and had a go at riding the racing stimulator, or as we called this mount – “Legless!” Picture 3 demonstrates the size of a horse heart (left) and a human heart. Although they are larger in heart size, their brains are half the weight of ours.
Sandringham – A Vacation from Vacation
My Aunt and Uncle have taken guests to visit Sandringham House, the winter home for royalty. Although we didn’t catch anyone this time, they have seen members of the royal family here before.
The country is preparing for the Queen’s Jubilee – a celebration of her 70-year milestone as queen. We saw a variety of decorations throughout my trip but the display at the end of the house tour was my favorite. They played a recording of the queen addressing her country at Christmas. The black and white video showed the queen as a young woman in her early thirties who read from a script with most of her lines memorized. It was a neat way to step back in time.
Look carefully in the second picture and you’ll notice a gardener in the ATV. I often enjoy identifying careers involved with agriculture that might not be as well known. This man would certainly fit in with our friends from the American Landscape Institute who focus on horticulture. These jobs play an important role behind the scenes.
If you enjoy shows like Bridgerton, which revolve around beautiful gardens and estates, this might be the place to add to your bucket list! Speaking of Bridgerton and hidden jobs in ag, we watched a show that featured a family and their cow Isabelle who can be found in the background of that famous Netflix Series.
I was incredibly fond of Cambridge during my last visit and we chose to go again. This day was filled with shopping and taking in the views. We had been on a mission to find the best sones and Fitzbillies took the Grand Prize in our books!
The Nottinghamshire County Fair was our final destination and a perfect way to enjoy agriculture all in one place. At home, our family can often be found inside a ring showing or dipping ice cream in the booth at the state fairgrounds. These experiences are something we’ve wanted to share with other families, so we have created a Livestock Program at The Farmyard.
Notice the color of the first prize ribbon here? Unlike our traditions of blue for first, and red for second, it’s the reverse in the U.K.
I met a boy named Joe who was attending his first competition. He was willing to do a quick video Q&A (coming soon). Little did I know, Joe is a local celeb himself! He has been on Springtime on The Farm, hosted by Cannon Hall Farm, another big U.K. agritourism location.
Joe’s hard work paid off and he took home first in his young handlers class! He wasn’t the only one receiving red ribbons that day. I made some new friends – Will, Harry, Charlie and Declan. Will’s Blackfriar Southdowns also had a successful day (video coming soon).
- One of my main takeaways this year was the considerate driving manners and respect for sharing space (disclaimer: this rule does not apply in London traffic!). Roads were slightly wider than the width of a single car, so pulling over to let oncoming traffic go by is just a part of the drive. Most people drive smaller cars, which means those “BIG” pickups we Americans drive would be nothing but a pain.
- Have you tried Weetabix? This British breakfast item reminds me of a cereal we have in the U.S. – Mini Wheats (minus the sugar). You have to have just the right amount of milk to Weetbix bar ratio. I jokingly polled some locals and the jury is still out on whether they’re great or not! Maybe it’s an acquired taste/texture?
- We watched some British Farming Shows that were impressively educational. As a farmer’s daughter, I struggle watching television that inaccurately represents agriculture. The following did a great job of exploring the industry –
- BBC One – The Farmers’ Country Showdown
- BBC Four – Secret Life of Farm Animals
- Joe is featured in one of the episodes on My5 – Springtime on the Farm – Season 1 – Episode 1 / Episode 1 (channel5.com).
I’ll end this blog with a shot of Uncle Kevin and I planning the next adventure. I hope you enjoyed these snippets from my trip and can’t wait to share the next one with you.