Best back-to-the-land foodie experiences
From making your own cider at Kate Humble's Monmouthshire farm to learning how to run a smallholding and smoking your own mussels, here are the UK's very best back-to-the-land experiences
Want to get stuck-in on a foodie holiday? We've got a guide to the world's best immersive cooking courses, right here.
Wild Food Micro Festival, Aberdeenshire
Charlie and Caroline Gladstone, of vintage homewares site Pedlars, and co-founders of The Good Life Experience festival in Wales, are hosting a series of four-night retreats, Camp Glen Dye, on their 30-000-acre Aberdeenshire estate this year. Think wild wellness, artisan crafts and, in June, Wild Food, a mix of fermentation, foraging, curing, smoking and local gin tasting mixed in among yomps through the hills, wild swimming, campfire sing-alongs and feasts cooked over fire. Pop-up 'supper clubs' will be conjured by the Free Company (known for its sell-out seasonal dinners on a farm near Edinburgh) with ingredients sourced from the estate's producers or foraged from the surrounding forest.
Guest teachers will include River Cottage HQ chef Gill Meller, mushroom maestro Roger Philips and Anja and Jan Jacob Baak of Great Glen Charcuterie. Accommodation, scattered through the forest and on the banks of the River Dye, is in cute cabins and cottages, a vintage airstream caravan and converted sawmill.
A decade on since TV presenter Kate Humble rescued a 100-acre Monmouthshire farm from the developers' clutches and set up her Humble By Nature rural skills centre there you can get your hands dirty dry stone walling, building a pizza oven or spending 24 hours up to your oxters in the lambing shed. Along with animal husbandry and traditional crafts many of the courses are food-focused from bread-making with Sam Wells of Hobbs House Bakery to curing and sausage-making with charcutier Graham Waddington and wild foraging with Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods.
If you’re a cider drinker, we recommend signing up for the cider-making course with James McCrindle. After a trip to a local orchard to gather apples it's back to the farm to wash, mill and press the fruit, followed by a tutored tasting. Make a weekend of it by booking into one of the Hayloft apartment, the Piggery (a traditional cottage) or the Humble Hideaway, an off-grid, wood-burner-warmed shepherd's hut.
Uncut: Lamb Course, Somerset
In a sleepy corner of Somerset you'll find cutting edge art - and Uncut food workshops - on Swiss art dealers and gallerists Iwan and Manuela Wirth’s 1,000-acre estate (which stretches to the Hauser & Wirth gallery, a chic farmhouse B&B - or holiday rental - and the Roth Bar & Grill). It's the full field-to-fork operation; the estate farms Aberdeen Angus, Wagyu and Hereford cattle, Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, Lleyn sheep and even produces wine from its own vines as well as collecting foraged ingredients from the estate.
The restaurant connects diners with the farm through its Uncut butchery days, chef and farmer lunches and courses ranging from cooking on fire to fermentation. 'Uncut: Lamb' starts in the field with the farmer explaining how the animals are reared before participants head to the kitchen for a day of butchery, boning and rolling. There's a nose-to-tail ethos and, in the afternoon, you also learn how to use lesser known cuts.
Spring Greens Retreat, Perthshire
Kat Goldin and Kevin Harrison are new-ish (five years and counting) smallholders who want to share their recently honed skills in animal husbandry, foraging and cooking. Their base is Gartur Stitch Farm, in Perthshire, from where the couple offer a range of courses. If you’re not sure where to start sign up for the Spring Greens Retreat in May, a 'smallholder for the weekend' taster experience, starting with foraging for your own toppings in the veg patch for a sourdough pizza supper cooked in a wood-fired oven.
Over the weekend you'll also milk goats, work sheep, feed hens and generally discover more about how to run a smallholding. There's a packed itinerary, with a sourdough workshop, introduction to smoking (along with a lesson on how to build a smoker from an old whisky barrel), a fermentation workshop, canning and preserving demo and introduction to beekeeping thrown in.
Cooking from the Coast, Devon
On Trill Farm, a 300-acre mixed organic farm, cradled by softly rolling Devon hills, Romy Fraser, founder of holistic beauty range Neals Yard, has created a bucolic retreat offering a range of back to the land experiences. Go on a fungal foray, sign up for a botanical stroll or learn about soil health. In the Old Dairy Kitchen practise the art of preserving, learn about game butchery or fillet a fish for the first time.
The Cooking from the Coast workshop focuses on how to prepare and cook fish and shellfish from the nearby Jurassic Coast, with recipes including foraged herbs and vegetables from along the shore. Accommodation is in a stylishly converted stable block - think a mix of shabby chic and contemporary design along with framed posters espousing the benefits of barley. For breakfast there's the farm's freshly pressed apple juice, honey, jams and eggs while the regular communal farm lunches are another highlight of a visit here.
Sourdough workshop, Cornwall
Surrounded by 66 acres of bucolic woodland and meadows Coombeshead Farm, in Cornwall, was converted into a five-bed guesthouse, field-to-fork restaurant and barn-based bakery by Tom Adams (chef-owner of London's Pitt Cue restaurant) and April Bloomfield (of New York gastropub the Spotted Pig). The farm rears pigs, sheep and chickens and grows much of the fruit and veg used in the restaurant.
You can check in for B&B, or dinner, or sign up for one of the farm’s regular sourdough workshops. Run by Ben Glazer on set Sundays throughout the year these cover how to care for your sourdough starter as well as proving, shaping and baking your loaf. Keep an eye on the calendar for Tom's rare-breed Mangalitzas pork butchery and charcuterie courses.
Smoke Your Own, Scottish Borders
After running a restaurant with rooms in the Highlands, and a smallholding on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula (winning a Green Award for their wind and solar-powered self-catering accommodation along the way), Bill and Sukie Barber now live the Good Life on a working croft in the Scottish Borders. Sukie is a chef while Bill offers two-day smoking courses covering everything from how to build your own smoker to brining and curing meat, fish (salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel) and vegetables.
Much of the meat comes from the couple’s croft (they rear Oxford Sandy and Black pigs) while venison is locally sourced. You can make a weekend of it and book to stay in the couple’s self-catering retreat, Fiddle Hill Cottage (fiddlehillcottage.com) built from local Douglas Fir timber.
Grow your own Veg, Monmouthshire
Green-fingered guests staying in the three cosy holiday cottages on Monmouthshire’s Old Lands estate (strewn with traditional Welsh blankets and antiques from the ‘big house’) can volunteer in the walled garden or simply stock up on baskets brimming with fresh organic veg while the kids go to Forest School or take a guided walk with owner and resident naturalist Sam. The 200-acre estate has been in the Bosanquet family for the past two centuries and they take their guardianship of the land seriously, running the estate on ecological principles.
Part of the estate is now under the guardianship of the Gwent Wildlife Trust, which is restoring the meadows to wildflowers and increasing its biodiversity. The organic walled garden, which has been using the no-dig method since 2015 (along with biodynamic preparations), is also used to teach children about food production. Keep an eye out, too, for occasional food-based courses such as fermentation workshops.
Kimchi to Kombucha, Somerset
Ten years ago Somerset residents Gordon Woodcock and Katie Venner built an oven in the woods and started selling sourdough baked in it to the village shop. Next they started holding Friday pizza nights in their garden and founded a farmers market with other like-minded producers in Wiveliscombe. Katie's growing interest in gut health and fermenting, meanwhile, meant that soon she was selling kimchi and sauerkrauts alongside the sourdough.
Today, she offers fermenting classes covering everything from kimchi to kombucha and kefir at the Tracebridge Sourdough and Fermenteria - in 2018 she even made it into the Guinness Book of Records for the largest dish of sauerkraut. Stay two doors down in the postcard-pretty Tracebridge Cottage B&B.
In the award-winning Bee and Heritage Centre, in the grounds of Lancashire’s Samlesbury Hall (a half-timbered medieval manor dating back to the 14th century) visitors can gen up on the history of the honeybee, and their importance to the surrounding countryside, plus stock up on local honey and honey-laced fudge.
If you want to do more than eat the stuff, visitors can sign up for a 90-minute Bee Experience (kit up in beekeepers’ protective garb to see bees bringing nectar and pollen back to the hive and creating the honeycomb) or one of several more in-depth Bee Experiences. These include a one-day Introduction to Beekeeping, a practical workshop in the on-site apiary run by Kath Cordingley who breeds the north-west's native black bee queens. Stay in the Shepherd's Hut Hamlet, a cluster of colourful, hand-crafted, en-suite huts set within the manor grounds.
Words: Lucy Gillmore. Images: Neil White
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