The Farmyard Founder Travels to England

Written by: Renée Wilson

Standing in two places at once – the eastern and western hemisphere at Greenwich Meridian.

I had the opportunity to travel to England during the first two weeks of November 2019. I would like to send a sincere thank you to Sandy and Kevin Evans, my aunt and uncle, and Suki Ferris, a longtime friend from high school, for making this trip possible. They generously opened their homes, coordinated numerous day trips, supplied A TON OF TEA AND SCONES and much more.

Below is a breakdown of my trip and some highlights from each day. Enjoy!

Nov 1 Depart U.S.A., Nov 2 Arrive in U.K.

It has been almost 15 years since I have been to England, and I think it’s safe to say this visit was long overdue. I departed around 10:30pm (U.S. time) and arrived at Heathrow International Airport around 8:30am (U.K. time). My aunt and uncle brought me to their home in the village of Cambridgeshire. During my first night in England, we toured the shops and enjoyed TEA AND SCONES in St. Ives. Aunt Sandy prepared the majority of the meals and Uncle Kevin and I happily devoured them.

Side notes: 1. Jetlag is not a joke. I was exhausted for the first three days. 2. Tea is typically served with milk and sugar. According to my uncle, I use way too much milk (can you blame a kid who grew up on a dairy farm?). 3. About a week into the trip I finally stopped trying to get into the “wrong side” of the car. Thankfully I never drove while I was there!

Church Farm

Church Farm, in West Norfolk, was one of my first agritourism experiences in the UK. I would consider it the most similar to The Farmyard. It offered activities for children, interactive opportunities with animals, educational displays an indoor shop, tea area and birthday parties. Church Farm is also a partner of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST), a group created to help protect and re-establish the populations of rare breeds.

Side note: In the first picture Aunt Sandy and I are trying to make the swing move. After a few minutes, we realized it worked a lot better when you pushed it side to side (the correct way) instead of front to back.

A Day in London

We took the tube (train) to Westminster. Our trip included visiting the Mounted Guard, London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Birdcage Walk, Westminster Abbey and a few other landmarks. We also tapped into our “inner child” and went to Hamley’s, a store with 5 levels of toys and entertainment! Throughout my stay, I saw poppies pinned to people’s jackets, hanging on buildings and mounted on vehicles and poppy wreaths placed on statues and buildings in honor of Remembrance Day. One evening we watched a recorded broadcast of the ceremony, touching stories of military families and shots of the royal family participating in the event.

Raptor Center and Johnsons

On the morning of November 5th we visited The Raptor Foundation in Huntingdon. We found educational posters and other fun items in the gift shop, walked through the sanctuaries and enjoyed reading about the different birds. They offered a flying demonstration and Meerkat feeding. One of the birds, Quidditch, had made guest appearances for Harry Potter events.

Side note: No matter how many practices, animals will be animals. During the flying demonstration, buzzards flew close to our group and the owl went completely off script and back to natural instincts. The staff did a great job of explaining the situation and why the owl returned to his habitat. Sounds like something we would experience on the farm!

The afternoon called for a stop at Johnsons of Old Hurst. They house red deer, crocodiles, geese, cattle, rabbits and other animals. It was encouraging to hear about the evolution of many of these small businesses on my trip. My aunt and uncle had visited most of them in the past and were able to point out the new changes.

Ag Conference in Birmingham

I had scheduled my trip dates prior to learning about The Farm Business Innovation Show. Aunt Sandy, however, is quite the online search expert and gathered the details of this amazing event. With over 500 exhibitors and 250 guest speakers, we knew there would be some great opportunities for The Farmyard. Although it was a two-day event, we packed everything we could into our day visit. Talk about information overload! Between the three of us, Aunt Sandy, Uncle Kevin and I, we were able to divide and conquer. Some of the highest of highlights were:

  • Meeting representatives of Tractor Ted, a YouTube series that has gone viral (geared towards teaching young children about agriculture)
  • Watching a demonstration of making ice cream with liquid nitrogen
  • Hearing from the property owner of Highclere Castle (home of Downton Abbey)
  • Checking out all of the toys and playground pieces available

Side note: We spent hours mapping out our plan of attack the night before the conference. We knew which exhibitors we wanted to see and what topics would best fit The Farmyard Business Plan. I’m so glad we did because it was very easy to get distracted with such neat displays!

Schoolmates First, Now Lifelong Friends

Suki Ferris and I graduated from Hereford High School in 2012. She chose to go to the U.K. for college (or University as they call it) and continue her life in England. It’s always an exciting time when Suki returns to the U.S., and I couldn’t give up the opportunity to spend time on her “turf.” We were able to spend some time catching up over wine, cheese, SCONES AND TEA. We also went to a local market for lunch, took a tour in Oxford to see the colleges and enjoyed dinner at one of the pubs in Leamington Spa.

Sidenote: Check out the room with the lamps. Does it remind you of a movie? According to our tour guide, this room was an inspiration for Harry Potter’s Dining Hall. C.S. Lewis and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe were also mentioned during stops in the tour.

A Day Spent in a Castle

Warwick Castle, one of Suki’s favorite spots, was where we spent a good bit of the day. She was so knowledgeable about the history of the castle, that I was able to take advantage of having my own personal tour guide! The pictures show the views from one of the towers. That afternoon Aunt Sandy and Uncle Kevin returned to collect me and head back to Cambridgeshire.

Side note: Want a cardio workout? Go for the towers! The number of steps is tremendous and the narrow width will be sure to give you an extra challenge.

Wimpole Hall

Wimpole Estate is part of the National Trust, an organization that “has taken care of this country’s special places for nearly 125 years, ensuring that our vibrant history and nature is preserved for generations to come.” I was impressed with the information they provided for children and adults regarding the animals. We also visited the gift shop, tea shop, playground, walking trails, other historic buildings and a Christmas fair. Because of the cold and damp weather, we limited the amount of walking we did on the trails, but I’d love to return for some more exploring.

Side note: 1. Murphy, the Shire horse pictured above, greeted everyone that walked by his stall. He and many of the other animals were noted as animals on the Rare Breed Survival Trust list. 2. Although it’s not quite as large as Wimpole’s, be sure to join us at our own Farmyard Christmas Pop-Up Shop on December 7th & 8th.

A Day in Cambridge

Aunt Sandy and Uncle Kevin were back as tour guides when we visited Cambridge and the colleges within the University. One of my favorite stops at King’s College was King’s Chapel. Construction began in 1446 and it took 70 years to complete it. The first picture shows the side of the building, the second shows one of the numerous panels of stained glass. You may also be able to see the beautiful designs of the ceiling in the second picture. Later we also toured the shops, walked through the local market and enjoyed an evening of punting (pictures 3 & 4).

Did Someone Say Shopping?

After a quick visit to the local allotments (garden plots) and grocery store, I got to take a ride on a guided bus (last picture is from the front seat on the top level) back into Cambridge.

Side note: 1. When shopping in England, £1 (called one “pound”) is equivalent to $1.30. 2. My Uncle kindly helped me with the math – One U.S. gallon equals 3.79 liters. A liter of fuel costs about £1.30 or $1.69. So, the conversion is about $6.40 per gallon in the U.K. No wonder why riding the bus, train, cycling or walking are preferred!

A Day in London and a Night at the Theatre

Back on the tube (also known as the Underground) to London for another fun day! We could see the Christmas decorations beginning to take over the city. We went to the Lego store, Covent Garden (a beautiful shopping center), a local tea shop and restaurant and ended the night with a live show of Mama Mia!

Side note: 1. Big Ben was under construction and covered when we walked by, so I settled for a Lego version. Isn’t it huge?!

Snettisham Farm

On our last full day in England we visited Snettisham Farm, another agritourism attraction featuring a heard of 60+ red deer and other farm animals. Like cattle and sheep, deer do not have teeth on the top front part of their mouth. They allow the public to ride on wagons to the field and give them a treat. We walked through the rest of the farm and I felt quite at home with the cattle, chickens, goats, pigs and rabbits. They told us they are expecting to have 700 lambs born this spring!

Side note: I also found a goat that looked similar to one we have at home. Does she remind you of GiGi?

Final Thoughts Couldn’t Be Written without Tea & Scones

As I was on the eight-hour flight home to Baltimore, I thought about the laughs, fantastic meals, dedication to scheduling all of the visits, transportation and the unconditional support Suki, my Uncle Kevin and Aunt Sandy gave to my business…and then there was the last detail. I was waiting for my luggage at BWI. An incredibly sweet woman recognized the logo on my vest and introduced herself. She is the owner of The Hereford Zone Boot Camp. Her compliments of The Farmyard melted my heart as she introduced me to her friend. I love being involved in the agriculture industry and sharing my experiences with the community. I cannot wait to take my experiences from this trip to England and begin to incorporate many of them into The Farmyard.

Thank you to all of those who have supported and watched The Farmyard grow since 2016. Be sure to keep an eye out for new things in 2020. We’re just getting started!

Living, Learning & Loving Agriculture

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