When I was invited to try out Featherdown Farms’ version of camping at Upper Shadymoor in Shropshire, my first reaction was *not* to clap my little hands with glee and start exploring the website.
Camping and me? We have history.
My Dad was a scout leader and we spent many weekends huddled together over a leaky ground-sheet in some God-forsaken field or other, until my Mum saw sense, got divorced and took us all to a hotel in Ibiza.
Anyway, as it turns out, Upper Shadymoor is camping for wimps. I’m sure you’ve seen it in the Sunday papers and women’s magazines – large safari tents with wooden floors and proper furniture, including beds with duvets and linens. Roughing it is considerably easier when you have running water, a working bathroom and – sound the hallelujah chorus – a shower with hot water.
We arrived at Upper Shadymoor Farm a little after 7pm on Saturday evening, after spending the day at a conference. We were tired and ready to chill out – and this little corner of the English countryside is pretty much perfect.
Farm owner Kevan showed us to our tent, which is in a field behind the main farmhouse. Once the wood burning stove was lit, the tent was cosy and there are oil lanterns, tea-light holders and candle chandeliers over the dining table, which provide plenty of light.
Each tent has a large open plan kitchen/living space, with a small sink (with cold running water) and a wood burning stove. Behind that, there are two bedrooms (one double, one bunk beds) and a corner of the living room is boxed off to create another double bed, inside a cupboard – perfect for children.
The tents also have small bathrooms with a sink and flushing loo – if you opt for the Frills tent, you’ll also have a shower with cold and hot water, along with a deck and picnic table to the front of your tent.
It’s a ridiculously pretty, and magical little spot, and although you’re only an hour’s drive from Birmingham, Upper Shadymoor does feel very much ‘away’ from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, especially when you’re sitting in front of a wood burner, with the glow of candles and the smell of hot chocolate…
Compared to some Featherdown Farm sites, Upper Shadymoor lacks a play area, or lots of facilities, but you’re unlikely to be bored.
Kevan is an excellent chef and offers game-themed cookery classes to guests, while we spotted some of the family’s children fly fishing and feeding the rainbow trout in the lakes. There are even arts and crafts activities for kids, run by Joy, the farmer’s wife.
That said, there’s plenty of entertainment to be had simply from being on the farm – looking after chickens, helping with feeding the lambs, floating sticks down the stream, or just saying hello to the horses in the morning (although don’t do what I did and tell your child, “I’m sure they wouldn’t have electric fences without a sign, just touch it and see,” – they ARE electric and you’ll feel like the worst mother alive).
Early the next morning, we woke up and headed out to explore. On the decking outside our tent, we found a tin of chicken feed and tended to the two chickens in a coop next to our tent. On our second morning, we found a fresh egg, which was pretty exciting.
Flea was almost as thrilled to find a rope swing – although the field where the tents are is shared with sheep, and there was a lot of sheep poop, so Flea was pretty much covered within 20 minutes.
After an al-fresco breakfast of cereal (you can order fresh pastries to be delivered from the farm if you prefer, as well as hot meals cooked by Kevan), we joined our hosts for a walking tour of the farm, with the farm terriers, Bramble and Mouse.
The tour was a lovely opportunity to get our bearings, but also learn more about how this ridiculously pretty farm works, from the conservation policies that protect local birds, to the names of the wildflowers growing in the woods, and to even spot deer roaming around one of the three lakes on the property.
Seriously, if scenery like this doesn’t make you want to visit immediately, then nothing will…
Flea being Flea, of course, the highlight was seeing the wood chopper and learning about chainsaws, getting to test a real-life mole trap (with a teaspoon), and learning how the farm dogs are used for hunting. This certainly isn’t an idealised, chocolate box view of country life…
After our tour, we took the opportunity to explore the area around Upper Shadymoor – there are plenty of tiny villages and rolling hills to explore, on the recommendation of Joy we headed to Long Mynd – a long, plateau across the top of the hills that looks for all the world like the sort of place Heathcliffe and Cathy might be found, especially once the heavens opened. We stopped for lunch at a lovely tea house called Berry’s in the pretty village of Church Stretton.
As we headed back to the farm, the clouds parted and the sun shone, and we took the opportunity to fulfil one of Flea’s life goals – jumping off a water trampoline.
Upper Shadymoor has three lakes and guests can take advantage of them for wild swimming, kayaking and water trampolining, as well as fishing. For £95 per family, the farm offers guests exclusive use of the bottom lake, and you can swim and jump to your heart’s content.
It’s a beautiful spot, made even more so by the deer grazing around us, and the occasional trout popping up to the surface for food.
We swam and jumped and lazed on the wooden jetty. Although we didn’t try it, there is also a hot tub, which is wood-fired – book in advance and the farmers will warm the hot tub, which would be an idyllic spot to watch the sun go down.
We made do, wrapping ourselves in towels warmed by the sun, and walking across the fields back to our tent – stopping en route at the farm’s small honesty shop to collect some sausages (from Upper Shadymoor’s own pigs) and some delicious bread rolls baked for us by Joy, with a touch of molasses, making them dark and sweet, and perfect for sausages, with a spot of HP sauce.
We had a really lovely time at Upper Shadymoor. It’s not perfect, by any means – I had horrible sleep with 2 sheep outside our tent on the first night, which seemed to have multiplied, Alfred-Hitchcock-style to 12 sheep by the second night. Sleeping under canvas IS cold, and if you forget to fill a thermos flask before you go to bed then it’s a long 45 minute wait to boil the kettle on a wood-burning stove the next morning…
Having said that, there’s something very special about being able to give kids this sort of experience in 2016. It’s so rare that urban children like Flea get to see how a farm works, or swim in a lake that hasn’t been chlorinated and lit and lifeguarded to within an inch of its life.
Yes, it’s dirty and it’s a tad cold (bring a sweater or six, is my advice), but the great thing about kids is they consider sleeping fully clothed to be nothing more than an Excellent Adventure, and the dirtier they get, the better.
Here’s a quick video showing some of the highlights of our visit:
Disclosure: We were invited to stay at Upper Shadymoor for the purposes of this review. A three-night stay during June 2016 in a Canvas Frills tent (which has outside decking and a shower) costs £469. For more information, see the Featherdown Farms website.