With four children under six, the chances of us hopping on a plane are remote. I’m not sure our baggage allowance would allow for two travel cots, steriliser, double buggy and all the other paraphernalia! Our pixies are all fair like me, and none of us like the sun. Consequently, we tend to favour a good old staycation and, in a variation on the theme, this summer we went for a split-cation. Our destination was Devon Heaven. I really don’t know why the county is not renamed as such. It’s stunning. From the captivating landscape of Dartmoor to the classic, unspoilt sandy beaches, as a destination Devon Heaven has it all. And it has scones. Lots of them.
Devon Country Barns
Our first week was spent in Tractor Barn at Devon Country Barns, Lifton. Now, we have history with this place. We first stayed at this small cluster of thoughtfully and tastefully converted barns at our lowest point in the Wilderness Years. Our first IVF attempt had just failed spectacularly. We literally ran away, and into the arms of the Apple House and the warm welcome of Devon Country Barn’s owners, Richard and Ute. Since then, we’ve stayed several times as our family has grown and staying here genuinely feels like coming home.
Let me be frank (you can be Jeremy): Devon Country Barns does not market itself to young families, and nor should it. I’d hate to see this peaceful haven of tranquillity changed. Nestled in the Thrushell Valley, the Barns are marketed towards couples, families with older children and – most importantly – dogs. Dogs are really welcomed here, with the owners themselves avid fans of Flatcoats (although a Parsons Russell terrier has sneaked into their pack).
That said, if a family with young children books in, they are welcomed too. If your children need specific play areas and ‘organised fun’, then this is not the place for you. If, like ours, they can get hours of enjoyment from skimming stones on the river, having a ride in the owners’ golf buggy and exploring the fields, then they’ll love this slice of Devon Heaven. The barns are 5* luxury with all the mod cons and their decor is stunning. In fact, we totally copied the bathrooms when we renovated our own. Devon Country Barns always has been and always will set the bar for us.
Further afield, you are on the edge of beautiful Dartmoor. Every time we have stayed, we climb ‘our Tor’. With the Miracle in his wrap on my chest, Lovely Husband tried to bundle Little into a carrier for the four mile walk. Determined little character that she is, Little refused to be carried and climbed to the very top of the Tor herself! Big and Medium entertained each other all the way, loving crossing brooks on stepping stones and a good dose of Devon air.
Other excursions included a trip to Castle Drogo, rockpooling on Bude beach, a local activity farm park and a visit the infamous Country Cheeses shop in beautiful Tavistock.
Flear Farm Cottages
Our week in Lifton was over all too quickly, and we were soon packing our bags to cross Devon Heaven to the South Hams – East Allerton to be exact and to Flear Farm Cottages. This was our first stay here, but suffice to say it won’t be the last. Before we’d even spent our first night, we were online looking at all the cottage options to book for next year. Before we left, we booked a whopping three weeks in The Stables next summer.
So, why did Flear Farm invoke such a strong reaction from us? Put simply, it’s perfect. Intuitively designed for families with charming owners that have young children themselves, Flear Farm cottages themselves are brilliantly equipped for young families while still retaining the creature comforts and a touch of style and elegance for the parents. The cottages vary in size. We stayed in The Stalls with one double and two twin rooms, but the grandparents stayed in The Dairy – perfectly sized for two. Our pixies loved running between the two cottages.
Cottages aside, the facilities are fantastic. As you arrive you are greeting by a sweet natured pony, alpacas, Bantams, a peacock that just arrived one day and never left and a cat that’s also adopted the farm as her home. Once you’ve patted and petted the livestock, there’s the play barn. Now many cottages boast playbarns. These, in our experience, are often half-baked efforts. Flear Farm’s playbarn is exceptional. Boasting a climbing frame, swings, play house, toys, ride-ons and even bouncers for smaller children, there’s also table tennis, a trampoline, table football and pool for older ones. Amazing. Beneath the barn, there’s a swimming pool, hot tub, steam room and treatment room.
Outside there’s further play equipment, putting, tennis, a bridge for pooh sticks and a camp fire, on which we enjoyed making dough twists, burning sausages and mingling with fellow guests. The estate is vast and there are woodland walks, orchards and fields to explore. You really don’t need to leave the cottages; the estate itself offers multiple opportunities to create incredible memories.
That, however, would be a great disservice to a fantastic area. The South Hams boasts the best beaches in Devon. Picturesque Bigbury, with its tidal island, and beautiful Bantham opposite have both donated their sand to the floor in my car. Nearby Totnes and Kingsbridge offer a spot of boat watching and some fantastic places to eat. Our favourite eatery though has to be the Oyster Shack in Bigbury. With a menu that changes with the daily catch, this rustic and charming restaurant is brilliant with children without compromising on their exceptional food and ambience.
I’m trying to find a downside to Flear Farm, but I’m struggling. Even the streaming cold and lung proffering cough I developed didn’t put a dampener on our week there. If I’m being really picky, I’d love them to offer service washes rather than trudging off to the laundry myself, but if that’s the best criticism I can come up with, I think it’s time to stop digging. We’ve struck gold. Three whole weeks at this charming destination next year. I cannot wait.