Lucy Symons visits The Balebarn at Wheatland Farm and is charmed by creative up-cycling, the gorgeous Devon countryside, impressive sustainability and the joys of electric bikes.
In a nutshell:
Four lodges and cottage on nature reserve in beautiful central Devon, within easy reach of the Tarka Trail, the Granite Way, Dartmoor, and North Devon's beaches.
Rooms: 4 lodges (sleep 8,6,4,4); 1 cottage (sleeps 4)
Price: From £160-£722/week. Shorter stays possible on request
Meals: Self-catering. Farm shop 0.5 mile, pub 1.5 mile
Open: year round
Facilities: Babies & Children welcome
Good for Green: Walkers welcome; Cyclists welcome; Electric bikes; Reachable by both train and bus; Natural Swimming Pool; Electric Car Charger
Our Review of Wheatland Farm:
The Setting: Wheatland Farm is just outside Winkleigh right in the heart of Devon. Half of the land of the farm is set aside as a conservation reserve. Owner Maggie, a PhD ecologist and science communicator, has always been passionate about conservation and being able to cultivate her own little corner of nature, Popehouse Moor (officially designated a Site of Specific Scientific Interest), is her idea of heaven. The farm has a fishing pond, a swimmable wildlife pond and a tree plantation, as well as fields for you to explore and for the wild orchids, stoats and voles to thrive.
Green Traveller's Video of Wheatland Farm:
The Rooms: I stayed in Balebarn Lodge, which has two double rooms with double beds and two twin with two single beds (one a set of fabulously rough hewn bunk beds). There's a giant sized kitchen/dining room opening on to a wrap around porch complete with private hot tub (optional, and heated with 100% renewable power) which overlooks the gorgeous pond and conservation area. There are two bathrooms (one a wet room which combined with the wheelchair ramp makes this spot accessible for everyone), and a sitting room with glass sliding doors allowing you to open it to the elements on one side; a wood burner lurks in the background, all pot bellied and friendly should you need it.
The barn was built by hand - mostly Ian's it seems, a jack-of-all-trades he popped it up in his spare time. It is ultra-low carbon, uber-insulated and energy efficient. Once just a tin-roofed cow shed it’s now a sleek and exclusive holiday rental accommodation built mostly from recycled materials, from the walls (bales of hay from a local farmer) up. Maggie was in charge of the decorating and it is this that is really the USP – everything is recycled: creative, imaginative, subtle and delightful with just enough of a sense of humour to have you chuckling with glee.
The Food: We had supper at a local pub, and generated an appetite by cycling the two miles. It was packed on a week-night out of season. We soon realised that this was totally understandable due to the excellent food. Local food is available at Fiona's Farm Shop, half a mile up the road. Fiona sells cakes, veg and high welfare meat raised on the farm. Winkleigh's Down Farm organic market garden sells its produce via the butcher in Winkleigh square. Groceries supplier Local Farm Box, based in Barnstaple, can usually deliver a next day order. Lots of pubs pride themselves on serving local food, and you can find a fully vegan restaurant in Okehampton, and even a vegan cream tea in the centre of Exeter!
The Activities: 'Farm' bikes are available to borrow - or Wheatland Farm will help you hire electric bikes. The Tarka Trail makes a brilliant day out, following the River Torridge on an old railway track. It's great for families and takes in some of the most astonishing Devon countryside. If you fancy something a little less energetic, or the weather is inclement, pop over to the Plough Arts Centre in the centre of Great Torrington where you will find a variety of art, workshops, films theatre and music as well as a lovely cafe. Or head south to Exeter (by bus, train or even car) for the cathedral, tours of the city's underground passageways, and lunch at the historic quayside. For the kids, there are swings and a slide at the farm, and boats and boards for the wildlife pond. For those who like to fish, there's a separate pond with carp and tench. There are rods to borrow and a catch is pretty much guaranteed for novice anglers! There were binoculars left in the barn for us, wifi and internet-connected telly or you may choose to just decompress in the peace and quiet of the bucolic surroundings. The barn has loads of information about day trips and Ian and Maggie are only too happy to give you a guided tour of the farm, or suggest fabulous things to do either in the bicycle saddle or out.
Eco-friendly initiatives: Maggie and Ian are quietly passionate about sustainability but have no interest in converting you through anything other than showing you another possible path. As well as installing solar hot water and becoming ‘nearly carbon neutral’ with an 11kW turbine, they have photo voltaic panels and lots of other less obvious energy management measures. Here are few of the stand out initiatives:
Electricity 100% renewable, mostly site generated.
Sustainability is at the heart of all purchasing decisions
Waste is carefully sorted and recycled - over 80% is recycled; food waste collected for biodigestion, any residual waste going for energy reclamation.
Wheatland Farm goes beyond minimising its impact; it's a 21 acre conservation project and nature reserve, so your stay leaves Devon even more lovely than you found it.
It has won more than 10 awards for sustainable tourism over the past decade.
Getting to Wheatland Farm the low carbon way: It's 4 miles to Wheatland Farm from Eggesford Railway Station on the scenic Tarka Line (Exeter to Barnstaple) - approx 45 min walk with some hills. Bus is 315 Stagecoach Exeter to Barnstaple service (stop is Winkleigh Turn). Wheatland Farm can collect and return you from and to local public transport. Once you're at the farm you can borrow free 'farm bikes' for local journeys, or hire fully equipped electric bikes from a local business (arrange in advance).
Top Tip: Hire some electric bikes and take off exploring Devon! I was joined by a cycling refusenik of twenty years, almost as surprised as me, he was actually a convert by the end of a two mile jaunt to the pub. You genuinely see things from a saddle that you don't see from a car. This is a perfect spot for a quiet week or two of revision or rewriting for the studious or a perfect midweek romantic getaway.
Verdict: You get a true sense from Ian and Maggie that it was inspiring, exciting to create this space - to invent new things with second hand stuff and make it stylish and something for anyone to aspire to. They are not banging the eco-drum, instead they have left it handily nearby with the sticks all ready for you to have a little beat, should you feel like it.
Or call Ian/Maggie on: 01837 83499 or 07780 708747.
Mention 'Green Traveller' to Ian/Maggie when you book and receive receive some freshly baked scones during your stay!