by Holly Tuppen
As all parents with little ones know, anticipation accounts for at least 50 percent of the value of any entertainment. Things looked good then when for three weeks prior to our Isle of Wight mini break my two-year-old beamed ‘CAR ON BOAT’ and ‘GOING TO FARM’ at least twice a day. For this toddler, putting our car on a ferry and crossing a sea to stay on a farm is almost too much excitement.
He wasn’t the only one full of anticipation. Over years of hen dos and festival-going I’ve developed a soft spot for the Isle of Wight, partly for the fact that chintzy teashops and naff seaside amusements aren’t part of a cleverly reconstructed retro wonderland—they are the real thing. It also has some of the best beaches and weather in the UK. As well as serving the partying masses very well, the island is a treasure trove for kids. With two little ones in tow, this time we were heading to Tapnell Farm, 2016’s hottest new destination for families, with eco-credentials that make it a deserving mention in this month of Earth Day.
With sweeping views of the Afton Downs, Channel and Solent, Tapnell Farm is worth a visit for the vista alone. It also has an eclectic past—hosting thousands for the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, producing gallons of milk as one of the island’s most prominent dairy farms and, thanks to Tom’s Eco Lodges, welcoming enthusiastic glampers long before ‘glamping’ was really a thing—you can read about their biomass boiler, solar panels, land-management that benefits wild birds, and other sustainable efforts here. The evolution continues and Tapnell Farm is on its way to becoming a destination for day-trippers and holidaymakers alike, offering something for all ages. Alongside self-catering cottages, a manor house sleeping 20, eco pods, lodges and safari tents, Tapnell Farm is in the process of opening a farm park, Moo-seum, indoor play barn, a jumping pillow, café, restaurant and shop.
After the somewhat overwhelming excitement of the ferry journey, we checked into Tapnell’s Dairyman’s Cottage, home for three nights. Sleeping eight comfortably, the cottage offered more than enough space for the four of us: three of the four bedrooms were en-suite, there was an additional family bathroom and the communal living room and kitchen were well kitted out for families.
Views from the bedrooms made us feel a million miles away from London and as well as a BBQ and sun deck at the back of the house, there was a fenced lawn for running around in the front. Although lacking in rustic charm (and maybe more practical for families as a result) the house has been beautifully renovated with soft interiors and ‘shabby chic’ furnishings. The sea is tantalisingly close to the farm and within half an hour we were unloaded and throwing stones into the wild waves of Freshwater Bay, whilst a dipping sun turned the chalky cliffs above us pink.
The next day was all about exploring the farm. A visit to the chickens was first up and conveniently provided us with breakfast. Close to the huddle of safari tents, in a field overlooking the Solent, were 40-odd free-range chickens with a retro trailer for laying quarters. Squeals of excitement, one cracked egg and a few run-ins with clucky hens later and we served up the freshest eggs any of us had eaten for a while. Next up were the cows. Before we could make it to the real thing, love was declared to a cluster of eight full-size painted ones known as the Wight Herd—designed by artists and local organisations from all over the island. Less docile were 50 or so Friesians who welcomed us to the cow barns with some overenthusiastic licking and mooing. Perhaps they knew where we were heading next…
On to the shiny new restaurant The Cow Co. for lunch, where a purpose-built barn adorned with cow paraphernalia, a rustic bar, big views and one of the best burgers on the island felt a little more Houston than Hampshire. On weekends The Cow Co. is open until 11pm and hosts acoustic evenings and ale festivals, and it will soon open for breakfast to nurse the consequent hangovers.
Once burgers had been digested, we headed over for a tour of what’s still to come: the Tapnell Farm Park. Cleverly separated from the overnight guests and the restaurant (to prevent noise and congestion), one of the Isle of Wight’s largest family attractions is soon to be unleashed. The Indoor Play Barn will have mini tractor driving, a climbing wall and three storeys of soft play, all overlooked by a family-friendly café. The Moo-suem will make use of the now defunct dairy buildings and machinery to educate kids about cows and dairy farming. Outside there will not only be farm animals on show but hands-on animal experiences and a pack of wallabies from a recently closed animal park nearby. An adventure play area for little ones, jumping pillow for anyone game and Adventure Centre for older ones will ensure outside fun is still paramount.
A world away from all this are the remarkably peaceful accommodation options on the farm. We will definitely be back for some family camping in the four-person safari tents, which come with fully equipped kitchens, hot showers, toilets, a communal pizza oven and pretty terraces with big views. If canvas isn’t your thing, the three-bedroom lodges offer a touch more comfort and the farm’s top sundowner spots. Both of these options are perfect for families with preschoolers looking for something a little different and adventurous but nervous about the levels of comfort and sleep involved in straight-up rustic camping. Alternatively get everyone involved for a 20-person party in the rambling manor house.
Beyond the farm, things to do and see with little ones are never ending—and considerably less crowded outside of school holidays. Pirate parks, steam trains, pier amusements, dinosaur museums, rock pools, butterfly gardens, nature trails, model villages and more. If embracing the great outdoors is more your thing then Tapnell Farm is the perfect launch pad, on the wilder end of the island surrounded by coast. The Needles, Compton Bay and the breathtaking coast path along Military Road are all within a ten-minute drive, as are the quaint tearooms and cosy pubs of Yarmouth. After three action-packed days it felt like we’d only just scraped the surface, so we’ll certainly be back to this little island for more big family fun.
We travelled to the Isle of Wight from Portsmouth to Fishbourne with Wightlink Ferries. For more information on things to do and events on the island go to www.visitisleofwight.co.uk. For more information about the farm itself head to tapnellfarm.com.