We didn’t have to leave London for long to feel like we had escaped from it all. In the beautiful Sussex countryside lies Swallowtail Hill farm, a 40 acre conservation farm and glamping site made of wildflower meadows, ancient woodland, hedgerows and ponds. After months of unlimited screen time, this rural idyll proved the perfect place to down our devices and relax in nature. Read on to hear more about our post-lockdown staycation.
The Swallowtail Hill ethos: kids off-grid
Swallowtail Hill is somewhere you switch off from it all. You blinking well have to, as there’s no WiFi, mobile phone reception or electricity. If you’re worried how your family might fare with a digital detox, you’re not alone. Thanks to the global pandemic and lack of childcare, my kids have been glued to devices the last few months. But, very revealingly, at Swallowtail Hill they didn’t once ask for the iPad.
Instead we wandered through golden grass and watched the sky blush as the sunset over a field flooded with wildflowers. We toasted marshmallows to make a crispy shell the taste of fire, a soft melting middle its captive. We swept our nets across the fields and dipped them into the pond in search of bug life. We heard owls call through the night, and saw shadowy bats dart across the inky sky. We played board games, read books and drew pictures together. I was, in short, the parent I always dream of being, but rarely manage to achieve.
I was surprised by my own reaction to being off-grid. I found it a huge relief to know that I wouldn’t be receiving any app updates. Whilst I love my online community, here I realised I need more time offline to recharge.
The Meadow Keeper’s Cottage
We chose to stay at Meadowkeepers Cottage, a charming shepherds hut. Positioned right at the end of the track, you couldn’t feel further away from it all. Its diminutive size, curved wooden trim, and cheerful blue windows underlined with flowers make it look like something out of a fairytale.
Inside is just as charming, with exposed timber ceiling, chunky wooden table, gingham curtains hanging on branch poles, and colourful stained glass effect windows.
The cottage slept our family of four very comfortably, with a double bed and two sofa benches which double up as single beds at night. The bedding and double mattress is hotel quality.
There’s no electricity, but we didn’t miss it. Three rechargeable lanterns are waiting for you, and you can exchange them for freshly charged ones at the farm shop.
There’s a double gas ring and grill to cook on if you don’t want to cook on a campfire. Pots and pans, cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery for four are all provided. There’s a butlers sink to wash up in, or you can use the outdoor sink like we did.
Most of our time was spent outdoors. The Meadowkeeper’s Cottage has sole access to a wild swimming pond, with rowing boat. I hear we’re not the first to have capsized – fortunately it was easy enough to rescue. Back in the boat, I took each child out in turns under very strict instructions not to make any sudden movements!
We used the fire pit to cook our dinner and breakfast. You’re provided with another set of cooking pans, utensils and a kettle, solely for use on this fire. There’s a frame to hang the BBQ grill or cooking pots from. We toasted our marshmallows in the last remnants of the flames, much to the children’s delight.
We were left a generous amount of logs, enough for a couple of fires and a full tank of hot water for the shower. You can buy more from the log store near reception, and use a wheelbarrow to cart them back. We ate all our meals at the covered outdoor dining area overlooking the lake, but there’s also a table inside the cabin.
Even having a shower is an adventure – this one is wood-powered. It takes two hours to heat a tank, which you can use in the shower or divert to the washing up sink. Pay close attention during the induction talk – we managed a warmish shower but I think we could have got it piping hot if we’d done it properly! The water stays warm for hours, so we had water for later in the day. The shower cabin was spotlessly clean and even had organic toiletries waiting for us. It’s all a bit Heath Robinson and something else that makes you slow down.
The cottage has its own composting eco-toilet, nestled under trees a short walk alongside the wildflower meadow. We’ve used them before at various campsites, and this is definitely the best we’ve experienced. It was scrupulously clean and pong free. There’s clear instructions on how to use it for the uninitiated, and toilet roll and hand sanitiser are provided.
We were so charmed by the Woodkeeper’s Cottage, it was perfect for our family of four and we wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again.
Each of Swallowtail Hill’s six properties has its own charm and direct access to different parts of the farm. There’s places for couples, groups and larger families, some in meadows and others in woodland. One even has a wood-fired hot tub! So if you’re looking for a different type of break to ours, do take a look at their other properties.
Glamping vs camping
We’re very experienced campers, and have stayed in many exceptional and eco-conscious campsites. But we had never been glamping before. So how does a stay at Swallowtail Hill compare to nights under canvas?
Swallowtail Hill is much more secluded than any campsite we have ever been to – yes, even that one we had to park the car and push all our earthly belongings in a wheelbarrow for half an hour through woodland. During our two night stay we only saw one other group from a distance, and the only noise came from the birds and crickets. The washing and toilet facilities were just for our use, unlike the communal facilities of a campsite.
We didn’t need to bring anything more than if we were staying in a hotel. Before we go camping, Museum Dad spends a few evenings rummaging around the loft and repacking everything to make it fit in our car. At Swallowtail Hill everything is provided, from matches to pots and pans, down to toiletries in the shower. This means you can spend more of your break unwinding, especially knowing you don’t have to pack it all up at the end of your stay!
The Meadowkeepers Cottage was a lot cosier than our tent. When we camp I sleep in a very unfetching fleece onesie to avoid the cold. Here I accidentally brought my thinnest summer pyjamas, but was warm both nights. For those visiting on cooler days, there’s a wood burning stove. It was also a lot more comfortable than camping out, with its hotel standard bedding beating our self-inflating mattresses and sleeping bags hands down.
Glamping at Swallowtail Hill gave us the access to nature we love when camping, but with all the comforts of home too. They have set the bar very high for any future trips. No wonder it’s a finalist for Camping, Glamping and Holiday Park of the Year in this year’s Visit England Awards for Excellence!
Visiting during Covid-19
Swallowtail Hill is awarded the ‘Good to Go’ marque by Visit England. It’s a scheme which shows they are following all Government and industry COVID-19 guidelines, and have robust processes in place to maintain hygiene and aid social distancing. You can read more about their hygiene and social distancing procedures on their website.
I personally saw many of these measures before and during our stay. Two days before our visit we needed to complete a health questionnaire. If you show any signs of ill health, Swallowtail Hill move your booking to a mutually convenient date. They also took contact details for all adults in our booking for track and trace purposes.
We were given a unique check-in time, to welcome and transfer us to our accommodation without encountering other guests. Sarah wore a face shield and gloves for both check-in and check-out, and kept a friendly two metre distance when we saw her near the honesty farm shop on another occasion. There’s a screen on the golf buggy and all passengers have to sit at the back.
We had our own cooking facilities, toilet and shower, with soap and hand sanitiser provided. In the communal areas of the honesty farm shop and log store only one set of guests are allowed at a time, and you’re asked to use the hand sanitiser provided before touching anything.
Everything is cleaned before you arrive. Items you may not need to use like the children’s bedding is stored in sealed bags after cleaning.
Their enhanced cleaning procedures mean your check-in time may be later than you expect, and can’t be changed. Ours was at 4pm – however it wasn’t an issue when we were running slightly late due to an unexpected encounter with mud flats. Our request for an earlier check-out time was cheerfully accommodated.
I was very impressed by the measures taken to make our stay safe, especially as they didn’t impact on the overall impression of Swallowtail Hill as somewhere warm and welcoming.
Celebrating at Swallowtail Hill
We booked our stay to coincide with Museum Girl’s sixth birthday. It proved a fantastic place to have a celebration. We paid a small amount to have the property decorated. The balloons were one of the first things that Museum Girl noticed even in the buggy ride down. The look on her face when she realised they were for her birthday was priceless!
We pre-ordered a lemon drizzle cake, Museum Girl’s favourite flavour. It came beautifully decorated with edible flowers and berries in the shape of the initial of her first name. They even left us the requisite number of candles for a six year old! The cake was delicious and fresh, and the small size lasted the four of us a couple of days. I normally bake my children’s birthday cakes, so it was a delight to have a homemade cake without the hard work.
Our trip to Swallowtail Hill made a great alternative to a birthday party. Museum Girl felt special, and we had none of the hassle of organising or catering an event – or navigating the current social distancing guidelines. I’ve offered both children the option of revisiting Swallowtail Hill instead of a party next year.
Eating at Swallowtail Hill
Swallowtail Hill is self-catering, with great indoor and outdoor cooking facilities, as I’ve outlined above. There’s a coolbox underneath the cottage, and replaceable freeze blocks in the honesty farm shop.
You are provided with basics to help make your arrival easier, such as a pint of milk, sachets of tea, coffee and sugar and a bag of granola.
The farm shop at the entrance sells treats and snacks, such as wine, chocolate, marshmallows and skewers, ice-creams and hot drinks. It operates on an honesty policy. Larger shops are available nearby or you can bring your own supplies.
You can pre-order food boxes and ready cooked meals, made by a local chef. We booked a campfire supper for our first night, a breakfast box for the morning and a BBQ supper for our second night. Your first night’s and morning’s food are waiting for you in the coolbox, and the rest you collect from the farm shop fridge as you need it.
We opted for chilli with jacket potatoes for our campfire supper. The food was tasty and we were even contacted in advance to check which level of spice would be suitable for our kids. It was great not having to cook something from scratch, especially for our first night. The portion size was generous for a family of four. They even left a food thermometer so we could check we had reheated it to a safe temperature. We would definitely recommend this service.
The next day we cooked a full English breakfast over the campfire. Swallowtail Hill source locally produced foods, and organic wherever possible. The caramellised smoky sausages were a real highlight. A vegetarian breakfast box is also available.
Due to the rainy weather, we left the BBQ dinner in the fridge and opted for a fish and chip supper at the seaside instead. The next morning, Sarah from Swallowtail Hill packed our BBQ food up with ice packs so we could safely transport it home.
Places to go near Swallowtail Hill
We found Swallowtail Hill a great base to explore 1066 country, a beautiful part of Sussex with historic towns, dozens of cultural attractions and over 150 miles of coastline. The charming medieval town of Rye is a ten minute drive and the bustling seaside town of Hastings is half an hour away. Read more about our visit to 1066 Country in my forthcoming post.
Would we recommend Swallowtail Hill?
We wholeheartedly recommend Swallowtail Hill for a UK staycation. It’s a very special place, where our worldly worries receded and we were able to truly unwind in nature. We were made to feel both safe and welcome, which is no mean feat during a pandemic. All of the family absolutely loved it there and we hope to revisit again soon.
Disclosure: We were guests of Swallowtail Hill and 1066 Country and received free accommodation in return for an honest review. We paid for our food and all booked extras. I stayed in July 2020 with Museum Dad, Museum Boy (8) and Museum Girl (6).
Swallowtail Hill Farm, Hobbs Ln, Rye TN31 6TT, from £145 per night per cabin. Visit https://www.swallowtailhill.com/ for more information and to book.
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