Yesterday – Friday 22nd July 2016 – I enjoyed a family visit to the ‘War Horse Valley Country Farm Park’ near the West Devon village of Iddesleigh. The farm park is set in idyllic countryside at the end of a typical Devon high-hedged lane that neighbours Michael Morpurgo’s own ‘Farm for City Children’ – Nethercott House. Because there is a retirement home for old horses just down the road also – there are horses grazing the patchwork of rolling green fields as far as the eye can see; this corner of West Devon really is ‘Joey’ heaven.
‘Parsonage Farm’ itself – is first a working organic farm, with a large herd of dairy Friesian cows that get milked twice a day.
On the day of our visit – there were a group of calves housed in a big clean airy barn and we were able to go in and say ‘Hello’ and wander through their well-bedded stalls. Such inquisitive bright-eyed animals – if only all farms cared for their stock in such a wholesome way.
On our arrival – Farmer Ward was there to welcome us – his friendly way got our visit off to a perfect start. Our time at the farm – about three hours plus, was just so relaxed – it is no wonder that the livestock there are so stress-free and vital.
How we enjoyed our cream tea over-watched by a couple of animated pigs! As well as the delicious homemade scones, jam and cream – we also enjoyed a bellyful of laughs watching the antics of these two beautiful Gloucester Old Spots. (Not to mention the noises!)
All nicely served under a large, purple umbrella –
with wafts of Lavender from the well-tended garden.
Because of the Parsonage pigs we remembered a song from our youth. My Dad used to amuse us as children with a song called the ‘The Sow Song’ – and he’d make all the funny noises. When we got home from the farm – I found this on ‘You Tube’ – just watch it and laugh!
There is plenty to see at the farm – including a display of lovely old hand-tools and vintage farm machinery. Inside a long, converted byre – there is a ‘farming calendar’ showcasing each month of the year and the farming methods used a century ago – some of which are still practiced.
The farm’s Great War museum is inside a huge lofty barn and all the while we were engrossed looking at the large display of exhibits – chattering swallows were flying high above our heads – through the oak rafters.
There is a real warmth about the whole place – the buildings, the animals and from the owners themselves.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Without the impracticality of sinking knee-deep in hellish mud – there is an area on the farm where you can enter a credible trench – complete with sound-effect explosions. In the heat of the afternoon, the air inside felt stale and dark – and claustrophobic. With each intermittent blast – it was just palpable to envisage the menace of what it must have been like to be cooped-up inside a World War I trench with little hope of seeing daylight – or home ever again.Back outside – how different things would have been one hundred years ago for the two youngest members of our group – both sixteen year old boys on the threshold of life. One Devon born and bred and the other – half Viennese and a fluent German speaker. As they sat side by side on the swing seat after eating their cream tea – two cousins laughing and looking out over rolling green fields and hopefully to a bright future – I thought may they never know the true horror of war other than what they learn from history – and through the power of inspired story telling.
If you’ve read the book, seen the movie – and the stage play – you haven’t truly completed the War Horse experience until you have spent a blissful Summer’s afternoon at ‘Parsonage Farm’ Iddesleigh – and enjoyed the best homemade cream tea EVER – under a Devon Heaven.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I finished my visit gathering a handful of white feathers from around the farm pond.
100 years ago – white feathers were given to shame men who didn’t fight for King and Country; a white feather symbolised cowardice. Another aspect of the hostility of war.