WARNING: This is a v long post so get your cup of tea/glass of wine now (delete as appropriate depending upon time of day)!
Yes, we lucky people were fortunate enough to visit this fabby place last weekend. The other half and I had been there for dinner on a Friday night a year or so ago during a child-free weekend away at which time the Munchkin complained bitterly that he could not come to see "River Cottage man" so as soon as I received the email about this festival at which children were be allowed, I was straight on the case.
I'm sure most Brits will have heard of River Cottage but for those bloggers who haven't... Several years ago, a man named Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who had trained as a chef and worked for River Cafe in Hammersmith, rented for his family (shared with another family) a cottage in beautiful West Dorset (in Netherbury) for weekends away from London. He had all sorts of adventures with the wonderful local people, getting back to nature, much of which centred around growing veg and fruit and turning it into produce for sale at local markets and entering local competitions. He went foraging in the wild for more goodies and fishing for mackeral off the Jurassic coast. In short, he looked to be living the dream. He gradually spent more and more time down there as we TV viewers could not get enough of River Cottage and several series on Channel 4 ensued. He and his family eventually left London behind for good and settled in the West Country. He does not actually live at the place which is now the flagship of "River Cottage" (I think he lives in West Dorset).
River Cottage HQ as it is now known, has made its new home in a farm just over the Dorset border in Devon, nearest town Axminster. From here, they run all sorts of courses in things such as making preserves or bread, butchery, fishing, mushroom foraging etc. They also hold regular dinners where you sit at a long table in the barn and munch away on fabulous foods while chatting to your fellow diners. HQ is in the middle of nowhere, a really beautiful spot. You arrive into a car park (ie. field with a gravelled area) from where there is a glorious view.
The farm is down nestled in the valley which necessitates a walk down a steep track to reach it, or a ride on the tractor! I was eager, we walked but this looks like fun...
The old farmhouse has now been renovated and sits well at the heart of River Cottage. It can be hired out for special events.
In front, is a stunning kitchen garden.
Round the back, a trendy glass wall has been added.
There is this funky looking yurt (I think that's what they're called?) in the courtyard. This was set up as the "shop" with River Cottage books and DVDs etc and was where the book signings took place. When we attended the last time, they had a real fire going in there.
Even the loos are quite pretty!
Although for the eco-conscious (and brave/foolish?!), there was another option...
The big barn has been beautifully restored, and is the place where the River Cottage dinners take place, with a professional kitchen at one end. It was also the "canteen" for this weekend, serving up sausages in rolls and yummy chilli and some strange looking veggie concoction.
The surrounding field was home to all sorts of entertainment. There was a craft tent where this chap was demonstrating his woodworking skills. He was making tools and advertising workshops he runs doing the same (not at River Cottage).
Two local ladies were demonstrating the art of spinning wool. First they brushed out the fleece...
Which turned into a nice fluffy bundle like this...
Then they spun it into wool.
Et voila! What super-talented ladies.
Another stall was selling these painted plaques, some decorated with old cigarette cards. Good idea, hey?
I bought this one:
Another large marquee was home to various stalls selling yummy local foodie products. There were several stalls selling preserves, homemade cakes and bakes, veggies and salads, free-range chicken, duck and game, clotted cream and creamy yellowy milk, fruity wines and liqueurs.
We bought some divine honey fudge and a jar containing honey with some honeycomb inside from this stall. Ooh, I just love that beehive-shaped shelving unit...
There was also a lady face painting for the children (for free). She was very good. Behold the Munchkin transformed into...
...a sheepdog, of course!
All this admiration of crafts and gourmet foods was very tiring indeed so we set off in search of sustenance. There was a beer tent, with River Cottage's Stinger beer of course, and some very delicious fruit wines.
The River Cottage brand has opened a shop in nearby Axminster which stocks lovely local foods for sale and at the back, there is a cafe or canteen as they call it (v. good, we went there a while ago). The staff of the River Cottage Canteen in Axminster was present at HQ for the day to serve cream teas:
Have you ever seen such massive scones?
Even better, a local lass had brought her homebrew cider. Crikey, it was lethal (and delicious) and not surprisingly, sold out by about 1pm. Drat! I've always wanted a gypsy caravan so was very very excited indeed by this marvellous sight next to her cider stand.
We had a rest on a haybale to listen to the band and indulged in a sausage in a roll (which needed to be washed down with cider, naturally).
The Munchkin enjoyed watching two brilliant puppet shows put on by a very talented lady. The second show was about a cowboy so the Munchkin was in his element. She would be brilliant to have at a children's party but is based in Bristol so probably not an option for us. The children were enthralled...
We set off to wander the farm to view the livestock. I can only imagine this playground makes for very happy hens!
Up the hill, were the poor chickens destined for the pot. Looked like they were having a nice life though. What fabulous henhouses!
This one is obviously made of harder stuff.
The geese seemed very happy in their little stream.
Even the cows are gorgeous (Devon Rubies).
A local chap was demonstrating his willow weaving skills and had an attractive display of basketware:
Up in what I shall term the "boys' section", there was a gang promoting their "wilderness survival skills" courses (they were skinning a rabbit and cooking it over the campfire - not for me, thank you!)
There was also a blacksmith.
The weather chose to be very unkind for the latter half of the day and really threw it down. Luckily, there were lots of barns (or do I mean bars?) to shelter in.
The man himself made an appearance in the afternoon to sign books. The queue was pretty horrendous. My clever other half sussed that Hugh could be seen from the rear side of the tent-thing. So here he is, complete with his bottle of Stinger. Good man!
He seemed to having a good chat with people but I really didn't fancy queuing in the rain to exchange a few words.
Clearly, River Cottage is now a very different concept from Hugh's life in that little rented cottage years ago. That said, everything they do is backed by very good intentions; respecting livestock and giving them as good a life as possible , supporting local people producing quality goods, growing your own, being eco-conscious. We had a wonderful day, I highly recommend it to you all if it's your sort of thing. I need a rest now after that supersized post! Cheerio for now...