A couple of weekends back some girlfriends and I took our kids to Canfields, a Feather Down Farm in Horsham, West Sussex, for a weekend of ‘glamping’ (I dread this word, as I mentioned in my post 18 months or so ago about Mount Harry near Lewes, so as then I would rather here describe it as ‘camping with comfort’).
This was a chance for us to get together with a seven-year-old, a triumvirate of three-year-olds and an 18-month-old in a situation that has all the opportunity for the kids to go feral, but was less stress on the mothers thanks to the warmth of woodburning stoves, the convenience of a flushing loo (with three potty-training kids, this was a big plus), running water, and no tents to pitch. For me it was also a chance to take my boys camping solo, and possibly – only possibly – to look a little cool in their eyes.
We took two of the five permanent wood-floor canvas pioneer-style tents at Canfields, and within a minutes of arriving, our kids were forming a merry band with the children from the other three. Feather Down Farms are situated across the land, and at each, the tents are a sideline business for actual working farms, so they all offer a different – albeit always super wholesome – experience. Canfields is a dairy farm, so our ‘farm tour’ involved walking across lush autumnal fields to meet some calves, before slowly blackberry-picking our way back.
It was a very special weekend, and completely amazing for the children, who collected eggs fresh from the coop the first morning for our pancakes, became obsessed with the wheelbarrows for transporting luggage from car to tent, and wandered the woods behind the tents, with its leftover dens from other visitors, magical light and many tree swings.
In the evenings we put them to bed by candlelight – my two sleeping head-to-toe in a ‘cupboard bed’ (literally a cupboard, with a set of doors to the dining room and another to the room I slept in) – before reclining in massive deck chairs with massive gin and tonics.
Before you ask, no, this is not a cheap holiday, and to do it ‘budget’ the extras offered should be avoided and you should book out of season (as we did), or mid-week and term-time if your kids are small enough (or school is flexible enough). But overall is it worth it? Yes, yes, absolutely yes. What’s great too is that there are several within an hour of Lewes – Tunbridge Wells, Pett Level and Horsham being three.
On the second night, Farmer Tim lit an outdoor brick pizza oven – apparently a feature at every Feather Down Farm. An hour later, we wheel-barrowed pizzas, juice and wine over to cook our dinner and eat together al fresco. The farmer had told us shop-bought pizzas were best, and weirdly only the week before, kids food brand Little Dish had been in touch to offer me a basket of their newly-launched kids pizzas to try out. I asked the others what they thought – apologising for commercialising this small part of our experience – should we take these to Feather Down for the kids to try? They’re aimed at kids of 18 months to three years, so we fit the demographic and, well, we needed pizza for the oven. No-brainer.
Plus I’ve bought Little Dish ready meals from time to time while weaning and feeding both my boys. Made without nasties and kid favourites like bolognaise and fish pie, they’re brilliant for hauling from the freezer in those moments when there’s a looming hangry tantrum in the air.
But aside from these freebies being timely, I was genuinely interested to have my kids try the new ‘My First Pizzas’. We’re eating all together more now to encourage my fussy younger one to eat more adventurously (working!), and I make pizza and sauce from fresh once a week. But there’s always a place for quick, healthy food for date nights, when we need to feed them fast so we can ready ourselves and get them to bed before sitters arrive.
And what of my nearly-seven-year-old? Was this just toddler food? No, he happily polished off a chicken and pesto one while marvelling at the base – purposefully thicker and fluffier than normal pizzas to be easier for younger kids to chew. The bases also include hidden pureed carrot so that they’re counted as one of a child’s recommended five-a-day.
Flavours are ‘Classic Margherita’, ‘Pesto Chicken and Veg’ and ‘Mini Meatball and Veg’ – the meatball being the only one that was universally not a favourite. They all contain 35% less salt per 100g compared to the average salt content in all children’s chilled pizza found in the UK, and are made with 100% natural ingredients.
Little Dish did more than send me a box of pizzas though, they sent me some peace, by including two boxes of beautiful Stabilo colouring pencils (that become crayons and paints when angled differently or mixed with water – I love this innovative art supplies brand. Bags of Books in Lewes stocks lots of its stuff, including these); two huge colour-in tablecloths by Eggnogg; and two kiddie pizza cutters that were squabbled over throughout dinner. The tablecloths soon drew the other kids from across the campsite, bringing about 15 of them around the table.
So the camping was a total hit and the pizzas were too. The 18-month-old was the only one who polished off his entire pie, but I think only because unlike the others, he couldn’t take off at any given moment to go and torment the poor sheep.
Thank you Little Dish, for our basket of treats – you made a weekend of camping made easier, even easier. And though you didn’t know I’d be writing about you, thank you Tim and Sarah at Canfields, for our Feather Down experience and happy memories.
Feather Down Farm Days
Price: Mid-week (four nights) from £199; weekends (three nights) from £199 per tent (based on the standard Canvas Lodge for up to six people, with flushing loo. Note you can now have them with a shower and also larger tents for up to 10 people at some sites)
Disclosure: Little Dish approached me about writing a review in exchange for a hamper of complimentary pizzas after they offered me their new family cookbook to test out with my children (a review is coming soon – with a great giveaway). The timing was excellent as I thought cooking them in the pizza oven at Feather Down would be great. I’ve used and liked Little Dish as a brand since my older son was a toddler, so it is a natural and good fit and one I’m happy to work with. No financial compensation was otherwise offered or accepted for the writing of this review.
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