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Jimmy's Farm (Wherestead)
Member Name: historywitch
Jimmy's Farm (Wherestead)
Advantages: Meet lots of animals, outdoor fun, full day of entertainment
Disadvantages: Somewhat pricey, especially if you want to buy food/snacks there.
The summer holidays are a bit of a nightmare when you have small children, because all of a sudden everything is suddenly overrun with larger children and their parents. I have been actively avoiding some of our usual hangouts because heat, crowds and lots of other children don't go well with my heavily pregnant and hormonal self. So it was with trepidation that I agreed to a day trip to Jimmy's Farm with my friend and her daughter.
***What is Jimmy's Farm?***
Since 2002 a production company have filmed the establishment of Jimmy's Farm, a pig farm for rare breeds just outside Ipswich (Suffolk). The eponymous 'Jimmy' is Jimmy Doherty, a friend of Jamie Oliver who had no experience as a farmer and who struggled financially to get the farm up and running, which of course made for some great TV. Since then the farm has not only survived but has marketed itself as a great day out, a place to buy high quality local produce and somewhere that is trying to reintroduce and market Rare Breeds of pigs, cows and sheep.
***Where is it located?***
Otherwise known as Pannington Hall Farm, Jimmy's Farm is close to the village of Wherstead, just south of Ipswich in Suffolk. It is relatively well signposted from the A14, although we did go round a roundabout a couple of times to make sure that we were going in the right direction. The access road is extremely narrow and pitted and we made slow progress getting to the car park (not just because at 36 weeks pregnant there is only so much jouncing I can take).
***What is there to do there?***
The farm experience begins the moment that you pull into the large car park as it has fields full of sheep on two of its four sides. After a 35 minute journey from Colchester with two stroppy four year old girls in the back of the car it was a relief when they spotted them (and the huge pink pig which is placed by the entrance for donations, which they were more interested in!). Once past the pig you enter the free part of the farm- the farm shop, barn, field kitchens and gardens.
The Farm Shop: A relatively small space of which half is the butchery area. All of the produce is supposed to be local and high quality and they have quite a large range of different types of sausages made from Rare Breed pork. Whilst my friend bought her 94% pork sausages I pottered around looking at the other products for sale. I have bought the award-winning Jimmy's Farm sausages in the past and have noticed no difference between them and the sausages I buy from my (already quite pricey) local butcher for half the price. Although I love to support local enterprise and buy local food whenever I can the prices put me off completely - there is being supportive and there is being a complete mug! The bacon which is so highly spoken of on the website looked ok, apart from the streaky bacon which was almost completely white with the tiniest pink streak down the middle, not very appetizing at all.
The rest of the shop is similarly overpriced - a small bottle of water is £1.20, a small smoothie is £2.20 and the (very small) range of vegetables were at least double what I pay from my usual farm shop. Certainly this is not somewhere I would trek to on a regular basis to buy my meat and vegetables for the week, especially as North Essex has a huge number of quality farm shops which are both closer and larger. It is also very narrow with small aisles and as I was shepherding around two excited four year olds I opted to escape outside as soon as possible.
The Barn: Situated next to the farm shop, the barn offered visitors a chance to sit down and watch episodes of Jimmy's Farm. As we were there on a glorious summers day with two small children we chose not to, but there were plenty of other visitors sheltering from the heat and watching the small TV. The Dung Heap (toilets) are situated next to the barn and were small (just two unisex cubicles) but clean and well maintained. The cubicles themselves were large but the outer sink area was not and I would be concerned about taking elderly people or those with additional needs in safely.
The Field Kitchen and Gardens: Down the side of the barn (past a peahen and her chick) is a small eating area called the Field Kitchen where you can purchase coffee, cakes, burgers, hot dogs, icecream etc. It is set in a pleasant small walled herb garden and there are plenty of tables and seats. Burgers were around £4 but we were too hot for cooked food and instead investigated the icecream area. Jimmy's Farm sell small tubs of local icecream for £1.95 each and smoothie type ice lollies for the same price. Having worked out that for all four of us it would be close to £8 we passed and went down into the vegetable garden. This area is relatively small but fits in a lot of different fruits and vegetables. It was ideal to show our children where our food comes from and we spent at least twenty minutes wandering around trying to identify the different plants. There is a larger area further on where vegetables for the shop etc are growing but we were all exhausted by this point and we didn't get that far.
The other part of the farm is the Nature Trail and animal area and this does cost to get in - £4.50 for adults and £3.00 for children. We paid £13 for a family ticket (two adults and two children) which saved us £1.00 each. I also forked out £1.00 for 2 small bags of animal feed for the girls to feed the sheep, goats and pigs as well. Once through the gates we strolled down a gentle hill (covered with molehills which is worth considering for those who are less than steady on their feet) with animal areas on both sides. Four very attentive sheep were loose and waiting eagerly to be fed, jumping up to try and reach the food. We all enjoyed getting close to the very friendly sheep and both children loved it (and the mums too!). Other animals in large penned areas include turkeys, chickens, ferrets, rabbits, pygmy goats and guinea pigs who have a little village made of tiny houses. There was also a very exhausted looking mother pig with her litter of ten piglets. Two members of staff were moving around the site and both girls got to hold a guinea pig and groom a goat under supervision, in addition to feeding the animals with the animal feed.
Another area that was very popular was a small adventure playground, securely fenced in and with enough there to keep our two occupied for twenty minutes or so. Nothing was very busy and we never felt crowded or as if we had to quickly move on to make space for other visitors - the site is big enough to absorb all the school holiday traffic and we had no trouble finding a shady place to sit and eat our lunch. Once we had visited all the animals (at least twice for each) we investigated the Woodland Trail and the Butterfly House.
The Woodland Trail: This is a long wide path that winds its way through the woods on the farm. Whilst there is a somewhat steep slope at the beginning of the trail it was not difficult to scale and we saw lots of pushchairs being taken up. Whilst efforts have been made to keep the path smooth, this is a wood and there were still plenty of obstacles etc to keep an eye out for. This was one of my favourite parts of the place, our girls raced ahead on the clearly defined path and we got to enjoy a leisurely chat in some lovely surroundings. My only complaint is that it was poorly signposted and whilst we didn't get lost it would have been nice to have had signs pointing in the direction of various activities, especially when there were several paths converging together. One nice feature was the Den Building activity, where a big pile of sticks had been placed in a clearing to be put together into lean-to shelters. We spent about 40 minutes wandering around in the woods, letting the girls get thoroughly filthy and collecting cobnuts and acorns to feed the pigs.
The Butterfly House: Two polytunnels have been put together and filled with a variety of tropical plants and beautiful butterflies. A small area but still interesting, although it was very hot and we weren't sure exactly what butterflies we were looking at. We were a little surprised by how few butterflies there actually were in there, but the plants were beautiful and if it hadn't been for the heat we would have stayed in there much longer.
In addition to all of this there are regular special events. We visited once before in the winter when a temporary ice rink had been set up and this time there were big signs up advertising the forthcoming sausage and beer festival (tickets £5). Farmer's markets are held every month, there are regular family fun days and plenty of other events including a Harvest Festival in September. More details can be found on the website.
9am- 5/6pm in Summer
9am- 4/5 pm in Winter
We had a thoroughly enjoyable day out with our four year olds and we did feel that we got our moneys worth out of the place in the 6 hours that we were there (I spent about £7.50). However, this is not somewhere we will be visiting regularly as there are much cheaper things available in the area. It is certainly worth a visit just for the friendly sheep alone but a packed lunch is a must unless you want to leave with a significantly lighter wallet. Overall it offers a great outdoors experience where children can get up close to farm animals in a well managed and safe environment, burn off a whole lot of energy and can learn about food production in an accessible way.
Summary: Worth a visit.
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