RIVER COTTAGE FARMHOUSE
A countryside retreat, with sustainability at the heart
Retreat to the countryside for an energizing escape, surround yourself in nature and relish in the utter peace, live off the land to a slower pace of life; River Cottage Farmhouse offers the most idyllic of jaunts in the Devonshire countryside.
I don’t think there could be a more restorative break than an escape to the countryside, whether its completely off-the-grid or just a chance to slow down, listen to the stillness around you, be at one with nature and take some learning back into daily life.
River Cottage HQ offers, what is probably one of the dreamiest locations, set in the Axe valley, amidst rolling hills, a stones throw from the Jurassic coast, on the Devon/Dorset border, with the fishing towns of Lyme Regis, Beer, Branscombe and Charmouth on the doorstep. The farm boasts breathtaking views, in the midst of a foodie haven, with Trill Farm’s Old Dairy Kitchen, just ten-minutes away.
Established by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, River Cottage has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, an ode to the hard graft of a team that evidently care about what they do.
When Hugh began renting the original River Cottage – a tiny lockkeeper’s cottage near Netherby in Dorset – it was meant to be a temporary bolthole from London, but the idyllic countryside got under his skin and before long he was inspired to leave the city altogether, to seek out a more self-sufficient and sustainable way of life, in the West Country.
The River Cottage story continued from there on, growing to become an organic smallholding, and home of the River Cottage Cookery School – having since grown in becoming the base for a year-round calendar of courses, events and dining experiences.
Hugh’s philosophy of respecting the environment continues, with the same ideals guiding him, since his journey in the countryside began.
The farm boasts 100-acres of land, where fruit, veg and herbs are grown organically, with chickens, ducks, sheep, cows and pigs raised to the highest organic standards.
Most recently the farm has welcomed the offering of brand new accommodation in the longhouse - dating back to the 17thcentury - allowing guests to stay at the heart of this peaceful haven, with the option of either an overnight stay, with a yummy farmhouse breakfast the following morning, or to rent the entire house for your own private group event.
Having been sympathetically refurbished with crafted fixtures and fittings from British manufacturers, the longhouse, now restored into a stunning living space, provides a remarkable spot for a peaceful countryside escape where guests can unwind to views across the walled-garden with homegrown seasonal-produce, picked a stones-throw from their doorstep.
The original farmhouse features have been retained, combining them with modern functionality, breathing new life into one of the most beloved buildings onsite.
Oh to sleep in the countryside
Fact – I always sleep better when surrounded by nature, and the long house was no exception.
With its dreamy views across the Axe valley and the smell of freshly baked bread wafting up the winding staircase, the farmhouse – made famous by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage TV series - provides a quintessential country retreat, sleeping six, across three spacious bedrooms, including a luxurious master-room with en-suite and a stylish twin and double-bedroom with a shared bathroom.
Simply-styled with painted wooden-floorboards, interiors are minimal; timber beds with Naturalmat mattresses - handmade in Devon, made up with crisp white-cotton and quilted-throws. Sheepskin-rugs drape over handcrafted-chairs, made from sustainably harvested timbers, to a backdrop of grey and neutrals, offset by hand-assembled Original BTC lighting. Walk-in cupboards offer ample hanging space and low windows overlook the pretty walled-garden.
Bathrooms are spacious with large walk-in rain showers - the master suite featuring a stand-alone bath – white fluffy eco-robes, towels and handmade toiletries packed with essential oils, by Bramley.
A simple design statement
The design of the entire house was undertaken by London-based designer, Anya Martsenko, who was tasked with retaining the historic fabric of the farmhouse, whilst updating the interiors with simple yet beautiful fabrics and furnishings – the result is a tranquil space to zone-out and while away the hours in, where interiors respond to the site philosophy, rooted in sustainability, with the surrounds of the breathtaking Devon landscape offering an idyllic backdrop for the design notes, fusing the outside with the interiors.
Whilst the historic fabric of the farmhouse remains, the interior has been revamped into a simple, yet stylish living space, using OOC-free paints and services.
Local custom-made products and upholstered furnishings - some of which feature bespoke colours - have been fused with original features including exposed beams, stable doors and large fireplaces, set against a pared-back contemporary palette of greys and neutrals, painted wood-cladding, timber and flagstone floors and sheepskin throws, providing modern-functionality to a centuries-old space, creating a minimal, pre-loved aesthetic.
Designed as an open house, breakfast is cooked up in the farmhouse kitchen, before being languidly served around a large wooden table in the dining room; tuck into delicious muesli and fresh berries with honey and yogurt followed by cooked dishes; smoked-Pollock with poached-egg and hollandaise and a farmhouse-breakfast; sausage, bacon, eggs, farmhouse-beans, seasonal veg, rosti and toasted-sourdough.
On arrival, one of the friendly team transported us by tractor down the winding-track to the farmhouse – a treat in itself with staggering views across the valley opening up before us. .
On site, we were able to wander-freely through a thriving organic smallholding, discover the walled-vegetable and herb-garden, polytunnels, free-range chickens and ducks, sheep, cows and pigs – all of which are raised to the highest standards.
Downstairs of the farmhouse features a spacious communal lounge/dining room with an open-fire, honesty-bar and a farmhouse-kitchen, with a fridge stocked full of essentials.
Relax over tea and homemade cake, before exploring the grounds, home to a bar and restaurant within an 18thcentury threshing barn - used for feast nights, events and tastings - a courtyard with outdoor-seating and bread-oven, meadow yurt and multi-award-winning cookery school, where you can learn how to cook, grow, gather and preserve, the River Cottage way.
A Farmhouse Feast
Principles of sustainability and seasonality govern everything within the River Cottage kitchen, with Executive Head-Chef Gelf Alderson, and his team passionate about local ingredients, liaising closely with the gardeners to grow, nurture and harvest the produce, onsite where possible - often foraging for wild ingredients from surrounding hedgerows, with strong links amongst neighbouring-farmers, growers and fishermen, keeping food-miles to a minimum.
During my stay at the farmhouse, I was fortunate enough to experience a River Cottage feast night – an immersive foodie treat, where we not only got to taste food that is organically grown on site, but also had the opportunity to learn about the origins and flavours, with the kitchen open to diners for a sneak peak of the prep, and a chance to ask the chefs questions, whilst they work.
Dining experiences - including Friday and Saturday night feasts and Sunday-lunches – are held in the barn, featuring four-courses of the freshest seasonal-ingredients, incorporating latest recipes, as well as firm-favourites.
Seasonal-plates, began with colourful-canapés of whipped-pork terrine on sourdough-toast with pickled-gooseberries and smoked ham-hock croquettes with fermented-chilli aioli, served with a seasonal aperitif in the meadow yurt, followed by Asparagus and steamed-Pollock, with mains of Smoked-mutton with leek-ash and slow-cooked mutton shoulder, finished up with almond cake and macerated strawberries – served across three long tables in the barn.
Restored, rejuvenated and inspired
River Cottage has a mission statement - ‘To teach and inspire people to grow, source and cook food in ways that enhance their lives, increase their well being and connect them more closely to natural, sustainable and ethical sources of food.’
The team, wholeheartedly achieve this by principles that are ethical, sustainable and respectful, with the longhouse providing the kind of retreat that envelopes - designed to inspire and invigorate from the heart, a space to take time out, restore balance and learn about the origins of your food, allowing you to take home a little knowledge and awareness, along with a new lease of life.
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