Summer in England beckons us to the countryside, where rural allure is best embodied in the local farm shop, with its fresh produce, on-site delicatessen, and abundance of home-baked goods.
This selection of our favourites, chosen by our authors and perfect for any family day out, features a variety of localised experiences and, of course, plenty of picnic-worthy fare.
Apley Farm Shop, Shropshire
This is one of my favourite farm shops anywhere, with a food hall stocked with local cheeses, a butchery selling meat directly from the estate, and just-picked produce from Apley’s vast walled kitchen garden.
But the site is much more than a farm shop now. For fair weather there is Scotty’s Animal Park, offering close encounters of the alpaca, chicken, goose, horse, pig and sheep kind. The mile-long Skylark Nature Trail, beginning and ending at the car park, has periodic benches and seven information boards. When you need indoor activities, try Pigg’s Playbarn, a soft-play centre big enough for little legs to burn up energy and small enough for adults to be able to recline on the sofas, worry-free, with coffee and homemade cake. Both Pigg’s and Scotty’s incur an entry fee; Skylark is free. The independent courtyard shops include a pottery painting studio.
The Hollies, Cheshire
The Hollies is one of the best farm shops in Cheshire if not the northwest. What started as a stall on the roadside in 1959 has expanded into a booming business featuring a shop, gift barn, cafe and the recently added restaurant, 59 at The Hollies.
At its heart, The Hollies, run by the third generation of the Cowap family, offers a top-notch choice of produce from more than 50 local and artisanal suppliers, including fresh fruit and veg, baked goods, a grocery, meat from the in-house butchery, delicatessen fare, and wines and spirits. A good place to fill your picnic hamper or stock up if you’re self-catering.
Visitors can even stay in the grounds at a collection of five luxurious lodges, for four to six sharing, each of which comes with an indulgent outdoor jacuzzi. They also run a hotel, 32 by The Hollies, in nearby Tarporley.
Greendale Farm Shop, Devon
This exceptional place, on the right soon after Crealy Adventure Park, is perhaps the best of its kind in the region and – who knows – beyond. First, there’s its pedigree. As if it wasn’t enough to farm 1,500 acres, the family also have their own fishing fleet. That’s the secret of fish that was described to me as ‘the freshest I’ve ever tasted’. They do eat-in or take-out fish and chips, and have a range of other seafood dishes.
The fish counter is a marvel: you can see how fresh it is and there’s a huge variety to choose from including local lobsters (alive in a tank) and crabs. Did you know that male and female crabs are cocks and hens? I didn’t. The farm raises cattle and sheep and has its own butcher, so again you know that the meat is not only as local as you can get, but outdoor reared in the best possible conditions.
This place defines ‘locally-sourced food’ and I defy you to come out empty-handed. It’s child-friendly too, with two tractors for kids to play on, free-range chickens scuffling around and some contented-looking geese – and the ostrich.
Daylesford is far more than your average farm shop, though, and things have grown considerably over the past few years. There’s a cookery school on site, foodie and lifestyle events almost daily, farm visits, a café and restaurant and even an organic spa. Food from the estate, however, remains the core focus, and it is sublime.
The shop is renowned countrywide for its excellent produce, most of which comes from the estate, including fruit and veg from their market garden, cheese made in their creamery, breads, pastries and cakes from their bakery, and meat and poultry from the farm. There’s also a café serving first-class breakfasts, lunches and occasional evening meals – all using produce from the estate.
Middle Farm, Sussex
Right beside the A27 near Firle, Middle Farm has fair claim to be Britain’s very first farm shop, opened in 1960. It’s also home to the National Collection of Cider and Perry, with the largest choice of ciders and perries anywhere in the country.
As well as the bottled varieties, they have an astonishing array of cider barrels ranged in order of taste – dry at the left end, medium in the middle and sweet to the right, and you can sample them before you buy. They stock their own cider and apple juice too, and you can also bring your own apples in and they’ll juice them for you. The residual pomace is fed to animals, including geese, which are fattened up for sale for Christmas.
Peterley Manor Farm, Buckinghamshire
Neil and Helen Matthews
Peterley Manor Farm is the property of the Brill family, who originally farmed near Maidenhead before moving to the current site in 1982. Roger and his wife Jane developed the site from a derelict turkey farm, beginning with seasonal sales of homegrown produce at the farm gate, and gradually expanding to the current business which includes a thriving farm shop and plant nursery. Peterley was also popular from an early stage as a PYO (pick your own) location.
Both the shop and the on-site yurt café, Wild Strawberry Café, use local produce whenever and wherever they can. Lamb and pork come from Stockings Farm near Amersham, local beef comes from Native Beef in Chalfont St Giles, and the Chiltern Ice Cream Company uses Peterley’s rhubarb to create rhubarb ripple gelato (which we can confirm is delicious).
Udder Farm Shop, Dorset
This fabulously named farm shop sells a wonderful array of local produce and is a great place for self-caterers to stock up. There is an on-site butcher, a delicatessen and a large selection of gifts with a local flavour. The café has become the definitive place in the area to meet up with friends. It serves excellent light lunches and delicious cakes, has views of Duncliffe Hill, an outdoor children’s play area and wheelchair access.
The shop is the brainchild of local farming personalities Brian and Jane Down. They have created a hugely successful enterprise selling a tempting array of locally-made products. Brian finally gave up milking 18 months after the Udder Farm Shop opened but you can’t stop a farmer doing what comes naturally so he continues to run beef cattle.
Much of the beef you see in the Udder Farm Shop butcher’s corner is Brian’s, and the pork is supplied by his uncle. I asked who had come up with the name, and Brian took the credit and said they settled on it when Jane refused to wear the T-shirt bearing his first-choice, ‘The Crazy Cow’.
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