Thanks to Cuckoo Down Farm for inviting us to stay in exchange for this review
It’s almost 9pm on a Saturday night and my children have been running around in the evening sunshine for hours. Their hands and faces are sticky with a combination of dirt, sun cream and the remains of the marshmallows they were toasting on the fire. Their hair smells of campfire smoke and their clothes are stained with grass and mud. Sandals have been abandoned and their feet are dusty brown. There has been no TV or technology for two whole days.
I, meanwhile, am sipping a glass of white wine on the wooden decking while Cardiff Daddy puts some more wood onto the fire. The battery on my phone died a few hours ago and it doesn’t even bother me that I can’t charge it. I’m reading a book for the first time in ages; a solar powered lamp illuminating the words for me.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see two rabbits playing in the long grass a few yards away. When we do eventually go to bed it’s so dark and quiet that all of us are sound asleep within minutes.
This is life at Cuckoo Down Farm, a luxury glamping site around 13 miles from Exeter in East Devon.
And I love it. It’s a compete contrast from our usual Saturday nights in suburban Cardiff.
I feel relaxed happy and completely chilled out.
Run by husband and wife John and Becky Sheaves, Cuckoo Down Farm offers luxury glamping with four safari tents and two yurts in a spacious six acre meadow. John’s family have been farming at Cuckoo Down since 1959 and the couple and their children have been running the glamping site since 2008. Both Becky – who worked as a journalist in London but who grew up in Devon – and John wanted to offer families the same kind of outdoor free-range experiences they had while growing up. There are goats and chickens on the site, woods to explore, and they also run forest school activities. As John tells me, “We get a lot of children visiting from cities such as London and at first you can see they don’t know what to do with all that space and are hesitant to explore. But by the end of their stay they are a lot more confident and are running around in the woods on their own, building dams and so on.”
Although as a family we spend a lot of time outdoors I can see what he means in my own children. They quickly made friends with children in the other tents (including Alana from Baby Holiday’s two sons – she happened to be visiting at the same time as us and you can read her review here). All of the children were soon outdoors playing football, splashing in the stream, making up their own games, or creating dens in our safari tent.
The safari tent
Which brings me on to our wonderful safari tent, Blackberry. All of the tents are a good size. All of them can accommodate a family of six. The larger safari tents are suitable for up to six adults while the smaller yurts are suitable for four adults. The tents are really well equipped and full of luxury touches and comfortable soft furnishings such as sofas and rugs, pastel bedding and bunting and wooden furniture. Each has its own compost toilet – my children thought throwing compost over their excretions was brilliant fun. The safari tents have their own private showers with constant hot water and good water pressure. Blackberry also has a wood-fired hot tub (although we didn’t actually end up using this).
Much to my children’s delight, Blackberry has the added advantage of a cubby hole bed accessed by a ladder. Inside was a double mattress and, despite there being another twin room in our tent, all three of my children insisted on sleeping in the den bed both nights. By day it was a favourite place for all the children to play.
We were so impressed with our safari tent – it had everything we needed to make our stay hassle-free. The kitchen area had a four-hob stove and a traditional stove-top whistling kettle plus drawers and shelves filled with more than enough crockery and cutlery. There’s no electricity in the tent but a selection of solar powered lamps are provided (we’d also brought our own torches). This means there’s no fridge in the tent itself – although there is a good-sized cool box. A short walk away there’s a utility block where each tent has its own fridge plus a communal freezer with plenty of ice blocks available, meaning you can keep your essentials for the day or the evening in the tent.
The utility block also has more toilets and showers for the tents that don’t have their own; plus a mobile phone/electronic devices charging area with plenty of plug sockets.
The six tents are well spaced out and although we easily made friends with other glampers we felt like we had plenty of privacy too.
John and Becky live in the farm house on site so are on-hand to help during your stay. They also issue glampers with a jam-packed information book full of everything you need to know about your stay including local supermarkets and shops; restaurants and pubs if you want to dine out; and local attractions. We found this invaluable in helping us plan our weekend.
We loved the evenings at Cuckoo Down Farm – the children played until they dropped and then we sat on the decking outside reading by torchlight. The solar powered fairy lights around the tent came on automatically creating such a beautiful vibe. So blissful.
A day at Sidmouth beach
Wanting to keep our weekend free-range and cheap, we had a lovely day trip to the beach at Sidmouth. This is a 25-minute drive away from the farm and part of the Devon World Heritage Coast.
Sheltered by dusky red cliffs, it’s a great beach for families with pebbles giving way to sand and the low tide exposing endless rock pools to explore. The sea front area has shops and cafes plus toilet facilities and two good-sized car parks which cost around £5 to park all day. We spent a good four hours at the beach, building sand castles looking for crabs and paddling in the sea. We bumped into another family from the campsite who had also had the same ideas as us to head to the beach for the day and the children had great fun playing together.
The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth
Our other day trip was to The Donkey Sanctuary, also in Sidmouth which is free to visit although depends on donations to fund its work.
We hadn’t expected the site to be so big. As well as being home to hundreds of donkeys and mules there’s a café and large gift shop; a farm-themed play area; farm trails; and interactive zones telling you more about donkeys. There’s also a good-sized hedge maze to explore – which was great fun even if it did take us a while to work our way around it.
The Donkey Sanctuary is part of an international charity giving lifelong care to tens of thousands of donkeys and miles in the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe. It was founded by Dr Elisabeth Svendsen who made it her life’s mission to look after donkeys living and working in desperate conditions, or who had been abandoned; as well as pioneering donkey-assisted therapy for children with additional needs.
Cuckoo Down Farm, Lower Broad Oak Road, West Hill, East Devon, EX11 1UE
For more information visit the website
Prices vary depending on the accommodation you choose and whether its peak or off-peak season but costs are in the region of £400-£500 for a weekend or mid-week stay peak and £250-£300 off-peak; and £440 for a week off-peak and £800 peak.
Watch our vlog about our stay at Cuckoo Down Farm here
Follow Cuckoo Down Farm on Facebook here.